The Perfect Party

The wedding reception is most likely the biggest, most expensive party you will ever plan. It is the ultimate celebration of this glorious event in your life. After the many, many months you have been planning and looking forward to this day, it is time to relax and enjoy with your family and friends.

What Happens When

A wedding reception has three basic parts: the cocktail hour, meal service, and dancing. Here are brief explanations of each part:

  • The cocktail hour lasts for approximately one hour (sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more). It allows the couple and wedding party to finish their photos and freshen up before the grand entrance. Now, if you feel uncomfortable calling this time a cocktail hour — because of the time of day or even due to religious considerations — simply call it a gathering time.

  • At the conclusion of the cocktail hour, the guests are escorted to the dining area for the meal. Once they find their seats, the first order of business is the grand entrance. Then the wedding meal is served. Traditional elements continue throughout the meal and remainder of the evening.

  • Once the meal is complete, dancing begins and the party really starts. More than likely, there will be formal protocol dancing and then the guests will be invited to join in. The cake is cut, and the bouquet and garter are tossed.


There are many ways to structure the flow of events at a wedding reception. It depends on what you want to do and what kind of reception you want to have. You can work with your wedding planner, location manager, and musical entertainment to personalize or develop your itinerary. Use the following list to determine which traditions you want to include in your reception timeline.

Keep in mind, what all these traditions mean and what they are for, as you prepare the reception timeline in Chapter 14. At that time, you will be formulating the specific details of these events as well as selecting appropriate musical selections to accompany them.


Grand entrance. The grand entrance is the first introduction of the bride and groom at the reception. This is generally the first order of business once the guests are in their seats, as everyone's attention is focused. Traditionally the bride and groom, as well as the entire wedding party, are formally announced into the reception, but recently, couples are making a change and introducing only the bride and groom.

Welcome by the bride's father. This is an optional activity. If you choose to include it, the father of the bride (or host of the wedding) usually greets and welcomes the guests soon after the guests take their seats, prior to the best man's toast.

Toast by the best man. The best man traditionally makes the first toast to the bride and groom. His toast should take place toward the beginning of the evening, either prior to the meal service or at some point early in the meal service.

Bride and groom greet the guests. This is a popular option in lieu of having a receiving line. During the meal service, the bride and groom go from table to table to greet the guests and thank them for coming.

First dance. Traditionally, no one should take the dance floor until the bride and groom have their first dance. There are many opportunities to do the first dance earlier in the reception so if your guests are feeling the music and want to get up and dance the floor will be open.

Father/daughter and/or mother/son dance. The father/daughter dance can be held after the first course is served or once the meal concludes. The groom and his mother may join in during this dance or dance to their own song.

Wedding party dance. Each attendant dances with the partner he or she walked down the aisle with or dance with a spouse or significant other.

Cake cutting. The bride and groom cut the first piece of cake together. A small slice of cake is placed on a plate, and then the groom feeds the bride a small bite, followed by the bride doing the same to the groom. Cake is then served to the guests.

Bride and groom toast/thank-you speech. At some point during the reception, the groom toasts the bride, the bride toasts the groom, or the couple thanks the guests for coming.

Garter and bouquet toss. The long-standing tradition of these events is that whoever catches the bouquet or garter will be the next to marry. The single men/ladies at the reception usually gather in a particular area so the bride/groom can (blindly) toss the garter/bouquet. If you are planning to include the toss, ask the florist to make you a toss bouquet, which are usually included at little to no charge.

Send off or getaway. This is the formal exit of the newlyweds and the conclusion of the event. Either the couple can stay for a last dance and then make their way to the getaway car or a more complicated exit can be orchestrated utilizing bubbles, sparklers, and so on.

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