Planning your wedding means making numerous decisions. Some are easy and while others need planning and thinking. Mixed into the many questions is often: “How long should a wedding reception be?” The answer to this will vary depending on the couple, but in most cases, the simple answer is generally 4 hours – which is the industry standard for most event venues.

Planning Your Wedding Reception

If a 4-hour wedding reception seems impossible, then consider these potential timelines. (Each of these timelines assumes the ceremony and the wedding reception will occur at the same venue.)

Wedding Reception Timeline 1

This approach anticipates having a First Look and the majority of the pictures taken prior to the ceremony.

  • Eating – Plan for 45 minutes to 1 hour for a seated meal. For a buffet, in order for everyone to get their plates, sit down and eat,  you are looking at approximately an hour for around 100 guests.   150 people would take about 1 hour 15 minutes.
  • Toasts – These should be between 2 and 5 minutes per person speaking. Try to minimize how many people are speaking to save a few minutes.  Opening up the floor for toasts can really eat into your time in most cases; however, if you do not have guests that enjoy dancing, this might be a good option.

This approach can leave you just over 2 hours for dancing, cake cutting, and all the fun.

Wedding Reception Timeline 2

  • Cocktails/hors d’oeuvres – 30 minutes to1 hour (bridal parties often gets pictures done during this time
  • Bridal party enters/introduced – 10 minutes
  • First dance(s) – 15 minutes
  • Dinner (Seated/Buffet) – 45 minutes to 1 hour
  • Cake Cutting – 10 minutes
  • Speeches/toasts – 20 minutes (Could also be done towards the end of the meal)
  • Dancing — this leaves about 1 ½ hours to dance!
  • Wedding reception ends

Why You Don’t Need a Long Reception

However, some couples will push for their party to last far into the night. If you find yourself leaning in this direction, consider these reasons for sticking to the shorter time-frame:

  • If you plan on serving alcohol at your reception, then 4 hours of unrestricted drinking is enough. Past that point, and you -or someone else- will need to take responsibility to see that guests get home safely.
  • Be considerate of those working your reception. Sure, they want you to have a great wedding reception, but they also want to go home before the next sunrise! Clean-up cannot begin until your last guest(s) leave.
  • The longer your reception last the higher your tab is going to be. Unless you have an unlimited budget and are not concerned about the cost, keep in mind that a 5+ hour reception can cost you several thousand extra. The alternative? Choose a second venue that people go to, with the understanding that they are responsible for the cost of drinks/food. Do be sure to notify the secondary venue ahead of time so they know a crowd may head their way.
  • The longer the wedding reception, the higher the risk of drama or drunken accidents.
  • You are going to be tired. Weddings are a lot of work, especially on the big day.

Adding extra hours is always available; however, it not only costs extra for the venue itself, but you also have to pay extra for catering/service staff, bartenders, DJ, coordinator, photographer, videographer and any other options you have added to your wedding.

Your wedding reception can be a great time of fun, laughter, and memory-making. So, plan it with those goals in mind. After all, keeping it to a realistic timeframe that both you and your guests can enjoy will make everyone happy.

If you have questions about putting together the perfect wedding reception, talk to one of our Gala wedding planners. They can help plan every part of your wedding so that your wedding day is everything you have ever wanted it to be.