Skip to Content

How Long Should a Wedding Reception Be?

*This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read my disclaimer for additional details..

The wedding reception is a huge part of your wedding day. It’s important to make the most out of your wedding reception and enjoy the celebration with your family and friends.

Here are some guidelines and ideas to make your wedding reception a fun-filled, magical and unforgettable night to celebrate love.

bride and groom with guests taking photo

How Long Should a Wedding Reception Be?

Most wedding receptions usually last about 4 to 5 hours. This is the average reception hours and is enough time for cocktails, dinner, toasts and dancing.

Most wedding venues and catering packages also follow a 4 to 5 hour time period for the reception. Of course, you can always choose to have your wedding reception shorter or longer than the average time.

But then having your wedding reception for less than 4 hours might create a rushed atmosphere and cause you to feel pressure to finish all the activities you’ve planned for your reception.

Longer than these hours might feel dragged out and can bore and tire your guests.

If you do have a lot of activities and festivities to keep you and your guests entertained for more than 5 hours, you will need to coordinate it with the venue and your hired staff.

Be prepared to allot extra expenses for extensions as most wedding packages and venues have a contracted time of about 4 to 5 hours on average.

How to End a Wedding Reception

When all the important activities and key elements of the wedding program are done, it is time to bid farewell to your guests.

If you’re not ready for the night to end, organize an after-party with your friends and family at your favorite bar or a designated after-party venue.

There are many ways to end a wedding reception in a beautiful and special way.

If you’re not sure how to end your wedding reception, here are some enjoyable ideas to end the night on a high note.  

Last Dance

When the wedding program is finished and your guests are having fun on the dancefloor, you can ask the DJ to announce the last song. This will make everyone go to the dancefloor for one last dance before the night ends.

Pick a special song for the DJ to play where everyone can sing and dance to. Whether a sweet and sentimental song to cap off a romantic day or a favorite upbeat song that will leave you all in high spirits.

Grand Exit

A grand exit is a classic way to end your memorable night. Coordinate with your wedding planner to usher the guests to the area where you will have your send off in your getaway car.

Add a fun element to the farewell by providing your guests or the bridal party with bubbles, sparklers or flower petals to send the newlyweds off into the night of romance.

married couple watching fireworks

Fireworks Display

To make everything grander, plan a surprise fireworks display. This is a great way to make all your guests go outside and witness the bright display of colorful lights.

Performance by the Newlyweds

Surprise your guests and give an outstanding performance to end the reception.

Sing or dance and make a show-stopping performance that will entertain your guests and make it a night to remember.

Host an After-Party

If you don’t want the night to end, you can extend the fun by inviting your family and friends for an after-party at your favorite bar, a hotel room or any venue that might be suitable.

You can now dance freely and party the night away with the special people in your life.

What Should a Wedding Reception Include?

Every wedding is unique and the wedding reception should match the bride and the groom’s style and preferences.

But if you are wondering what usually happens in a wedding reception and an approximate time for each activity, we’ve gathered a sample timeline to help you with all the wedding planning.

Feel free to change and adjust the activities and the order of events so it perfectly fit your needs and desires. After all, this is your wedding night so everything needs to be suited to your taste.

At the end of the day, it is important that you and your special someone can have an amazing, romantic and magical wedding night you won’t forget.

Here is a sample of a wedding reception timeline to guide you to create a memorable and fun-filled celebration of love.

bride and groom cutting cake at reception

Wedding Reception Timeline

Cocktail Hour: 1 Hour

Once the wedding ceremony is done, the guests are now headed to the reception area. This is the time where the guests can relax and settle in before heading off to the main reception.

An hour is enough time for the guests to taste some hors d’ oeuvres, enjoy a few drinks and mingle with other guests.

A break in between the wedding ceremony and the reception for the guests to re-energize for the night ahead.

Usually, this is the time when the bride and the groom take formal photos with the wedding entourage and their families.

Seating and Wedding Entrances: 20 – 30 Minutes

After the cocktail hour, guests are now ushered into the reception hall. You have to take into account the time for the guests to find their seats and get settled in.

Once everyone is in the reception hall, it is time for the wedding party entrances. Your wedding entourage and immediate family makes their entrances and introductions in the reception hall.

Make it fun and lively by making them do a funny dance upon their entrance.

At last, the bride and groom grand entrance. The bride and groom will be introduced for the first time as husband and wife and will enter together to be welcomed by their family and friends at the reception hall.

First Dance: 5 – 10 Minutes

When the newlyweds have been introduced, this is the perfect time to do the first dance. A romantic first dance of the married couple is a great way to start the reception.

A magical moment between the bride and the groom will fill the air with sweetness and romance.

Welcome Speech and Meal Blessing: 5 – 10 Minutes

Welcome everyone to the wedding reception with a short message to all the guests. This can be done by the newlyweds or the father or mother of the bride.

Afterwards, a blessing of the meal by a family member to start the dinner time.

Dinner: 1 Hour

At last, dinner is served! Guests can now eat their dinner in a buffet or plated meal.

The newlyweds can also use this time to greet the other guests or take photos with each table.

Toasts: 15 – 20 Minutes

The guests are savoring the wonderful meal that has been prepared. While the guests are in their seats finishing their dinner, this is a good time to start with the toasts.

Start with the Best Man and Maid of Honor toasts and then anyone that you have asked to give a toast. 

Dances: 15 Minutes

The sentimental moment of the special dances between the father and the bride, mother and the groom. After the special dances with the parents, invite the guests to join on the dance floor.

Bouquet Toss, Garter Toss and Cake Cutting: 15 Minutes

bride throwing boquet at beach wedding

Take a break from dancing with some fun activities and desserts. If you’re into the wedding traditions, you can do a bouquet toss and a garter toss. These are not mandatory and you can skip them if they don’t suit your style.

If you have any other entertainment or games you want, you can include them here. The cake cutting ceremony is reserved for the very last part of the wedding reception activities as it signals for the reception program to wrap up.

Open Dance Floor: 45 Minutes

Once the cake is cut and the sweet desserts devoured, now is time to dance and celebrate the wedding with your family and friends.

Have your DJ play some wonderful hits for everyone to enjoy and dance to.

This is the time for the newlyweds to mingle with the guests as well and to thank them personally for witnessing this grand day with them.

Last Dance and Grand Exit: 10-15 Minutes

The last dance should be done at least 15 minutes before you plan to wrap up the reception.

You can have the DJ announce the last dance so it will give the guests the chance to dance one last time before the celebration ends.

Once the last dance is finished, ask your guests to line up outside where you will be waving your final goodbye.

Create a magical send off atmosphere with flower petals, bubbles or sparklers for the grand exit.

The newlyweds can now go off into their first night together as a married couple and enjoy their happily ever after!