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Typical Length Of A Wedding Reception

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  • 24-10-2022
Typical Length Of A Wedding Reception

Are you asking: what is a typical length of a wedding reception? We look at what is done at a wedding reception and how log we should expect to spend for each activity.

How Long Should A Wedding Reception Last?

To ensure your big day runs smoothly, you need an efficient timetable. Thorough preparation beforehand allows you to relax when you finally arrive at your wedding reception, knowing everything will play out as you've planned.

A wedding reception schedule typically lasts about four hours, with wedding ceremonies typically running between half an hour to an hour. While these timescales are only a rough guide for an average wedding reception, with some ceremonies or receptions being much shorter or much longer, they give you a rough outline to follow.

Planning five hours' worth of a wedding reception may sound daunting for some people, but weddings are thankfully formalised for such major events, with set stages at set times, making them easier to plan.

Even still, it can be difficult to know where to start, especially if you've never been involved in the wedding planning process for a reception before. You've likely never considered how long each part of a wedding reception will last. How long do speeches take? How long can everyone dance for? How long will people wait before they start demanding their food?

That's not to say you should stress yourself out trying to control every little detail. That would be impossible and will only ruin the day for you. Whatever wedding reception timeline you decide on should only be considered as a rough guideline, with a little leeway for every stage.

Remember, it's supposed to be a joyous celebration of your union with family members and friends, not a military exercise. You can also work out any kinks in the wedding itinerary at your rehearsal dinner.

For example, it isn't the end of the world if the bride or groom arrives either early or late for the wedding ceremony and reception. Every wedding timeline will fall off schedule at some point, but you can amend this at a later stage.

For instance, if your caterers are struggling to set up the kitchen facilities, you might extend the champagne and canapés to account for it. Ultimately, everyone at a wedding reception is there for the bride and groom, and they likely won't even notice when the speeches go over time by half an hour.

Of course, if you're renting a location for your reception, there are specific start and end times, with a certain order for everything in between. But don't get too hung up on seeing everything run like clockwork. The schedule you send out with the wedding invitations is only a guide. 

 What Is A Typical Length Of A Wedding Reception?

What Is Done At A Wedding Reception?

Again, four or five hours may sound like a lengthy reception event, and it is, especially from a planning perspective. But it's comforting to remember that there are set activities to perform during that time.

From toasts to speeches to the main meal and dances, all you really need to do is put them in the order you want at the times you want. But while these set activities provide a little framework for your plans, you'll want to build in some times for more personal moments.

After all, you'll need time to mingle with your guests, celebrate a little private time together as bride and groom and any other personal moments you want to include. This is why having a plan is so important for your wedding reception. Once you've informed your vendors, caterers and other essential team members of your plans, they'll know what to account for and when to expect it. 

Since these professionals will have attended more weddings than you've had hot dinners, they will be able to follow any wedding day timeline you can come up with. The first stage in putting your reception plan together is to write down all the activities you want to include.

Once you've worked out what you want your wedding day to involve, you can talk to your wedding coordinator and the wedding venues you've chosen. They will then help you to craft the perfect timetable, where all of your necessary stages can be worked into the period of time you have available at your reception venue.

As a rough guide to what a typical wedding reception can include, we've put together a wedding reception of our own. Naturally, this is only intended as a suggestion, and your day should be your day. You can remove whatever you wouldn't like and include anything you would into this timetable.

But, for those struggling or worrying about planning their reception, we hope this provides a little guidance and encouragement when having the ceremony and reception at the same location.

What Should You Not Do At A Wedding Reception?

What Is Done At A Wedding Reception?

Champagne, Cocktails and Canapés

Once the ceremony is completed and the bride and groom are official, the wedding guests can make their way to the wedding venue for cocktail hour at the open bar.

Family and friends can introduce themselves and gush over how beautiful the happy couple looks.

With flutes of champagne and hors d'oeuvres in hand, your guests can relax and swell in anticipation of your arrival. 

Champagne, Cocktails and Canapés - Typical Length Of A Wedding Reception


For the bride and groom, this is the ideal time to have your official post-ceremony photos taken by your wedding photographer. With everyone comfortably getting the celebrations started, you are free to disappear for a little while to get those perfect wedding photos.

Of course, you should ensure your groomsmen and bridesmaids know your timeline and guest list so they can greet guests and corral them into the reception area when the time comes for people to take their seats. 

Wedding Guests Take Their Seats

Once your guests have gotten to know one another and your official family portraits are perfect, your guests can enter the reception space.

Again, your groomsmen and bridesmaids aren't just there to look pretty - put them to work and have them guide your guests to their tables. 

Enter the Bride and Groom

When your guests are happily sitting in front of their place settings, your master of ceremonies will announce the bride and groom for you to make your grand entrance.

The bridal party and pages will lead you in to raucous applause and cheers of adulation.

Welcome Toasts

Depending on how hungry you think your guests might be at this point, you may want to save toasts and speeches until after the meal.

If you think the canapés can tide them over, the father of the bride can toast the happy couple. Of course, any other loved one, parent, or sibling can make similar toasts and speeches.

Wedding Party Toasts - Typical Length Of A Wedding Reception

Wedding Party Toasts

After the bride's father toasts the bride and groom, it's time for the other wedding party members.

Typically, the best man goes first and (hopefully) gets everyone laughing.

After this, the maid of honour provides a speech, along with any other loved ones who'd care to say a word for the newlyweds.


For a traditional, seated dinner, your guests will start with entrées (or first course) and wine served directly after the toasts and speeches. 

Alternatively, if you opt for a buffet-style meal, your guests will be guided table-by-table to go and fill their plates.

Entrées - Typical Length Of A Wedding Reception

Dinner Is Served 

Again, for a traditional dinner service, once the entrées are finished, the caterers will bring in the main course for your guests, followed by desserts.

You may want to give your guests a little time to let their food settle before you head to the dance floor. 

First Dance

Once the meal is finished, your band or DJ can strike up and fill the edges of the dance floor. But why only the edges? Because the bride and groom need to take centre stage for their first dance, of course!

After the groom has had his own dance, the daughter dance with the bride, and her father is usually next. This is usually the longest set your band or DJ will play for an evening wedding.

Cake Cutting and Thank Yous

Before everyone's completely exhausted their repertoire of dance moves, it's a good idea to take a break in proceedings to go and cut the wedding cake.

While you have everyone's attention, you can also take the opportunity to thank your guests for attending your special day.

Bouquet Toss and Garter Toss 

If you plan to take part in the traditions of throwing the bride's bouquet or garter to the guests, these typically occur once the cake has been cut and handed out.

Afterwards, your guests can resume mingling and dancing, with the bride and groom finally finished with formalities and free to celebrate as they see fit.

Reception Ends

There are a few different ways you can choose to end your wedding reception depending on your personal taste.

Those who want to make a grand exit can have sparklers, confetti, and other celebrations as they wish.

Some married couples may simply want to slip away quietly for the wedding night, while others will want to move on to the after-party - the choice is yours. 

Reception Ends - Typical Length Of A Wedding Reception
How Long Does The Dancing Last At A Wedding Reception?

How Long Does The Dancing Last At A Wedding Reception?

When you consider that your entire wedding event will take roughly five hours, and you can take around 2 hours out for eating and toasting, you've got around three hours to play with. However, you might have elderly visitors that won't be able to handle a 3-hour dance extravaganza.

Not to mention your band may not have that long of a setlist. Therefore, you can expect your dancing to be anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours to remain comfortable. For more formal dances, you may make this shorter. 

What Time Do Most Wedding Receptions End?

Again, the time your reception ends depends on a few different factors, but ultimately on how long you think you and your guests can last. Still, average wedding receptions typically last until around 23:30 - 00:00.

However, do have a specific time in mind for when the party ends since you'll need to warn your band or DJ when you're having your last dance and goodbyes with family and friends. Additionally, more conservative reception venues may kick you out early, so it's best to check with them. 

We hope this article helped you plan the perfect wedding reception. Are you planning a wedding in Suffolk or Essex? We offer a beautiful Tudor wedding venue located between Ipswich and Colchester.

Follow the link below to find out more about booking our wedding venue in Hadleigh, Essex.