Katie Jaynes Photography Blog





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For Brides

June 6, 2022

Wedding Reception Planning Tips

When it comes to the wedding reception, the possibilities are endless! So many brides get more stressed about the reception than about the ceremony itself.

You know what the end goal of the ceremony is – get married! But the reception is totally different. There are no guidelines for how long “cake cutting” should last or when you should have your first dance.

Well, that’s what we are hoping to do – give you a rough idea of how to plan your reception, and give an example timeline of a reception. Obviously, every reception will be unique and have its own flair.

Cocktail Hour

Recommended time: 1 hour

Right after the ceremony, as soon as your guests get to the reception venue (or after they’ve prepared the space), you can have a cocktail hour to help keep away the hangry guests. Obviously, you don’t want everyone waiting around for hours to eat dinner, but you also don’t want to rush everything else just to get to the food.

Most of our couples take this time to do some “just married” portraits, either at the ceremony spot or near the reception venue;. It’s a great time to get away and breathe as well as sneak in some cute pictures.

Wedding Party Introductions

Recommended time: 5 Minutes

After you’ve finished up your just-married portraits, you can start your introductions and get the party popping! Not every couple does wedding party introductions, but if you are, make sure that someone lets the DJ know the order and when to start. You don’t want everyone waiting onside for a cue that’s never going to come.

First Dance

Recommended time: 10 minutes

Now is the time to have that first dance as a married couple!

The only special note here is to have a key for the DJ to know when to end the song, unless you plan to dance to the whole song. Be warned, it might feel much longer than it really is.

Any Special Dances

Recommended time: 10 minutes

If you’re also having any other special dances, most couples tend to go directly into those dances right after the first dance. It’s a logical segway, but other couples prefer to move these special dances until after dinner. Either way, leave 10 – 15 minutes.


Recommended time: it depends! 

There are some different aspects to account for when determining how long to leave for dinner (or lunch depending on your ceremony time). At a minimum, allot an hour for your guests to eat, and that’s on the short end. If you have a larger wedding or there are several courses, then it’s obviously going to add time.

What’s important about scheduling time to eat is that you can have other events at the same time. If you want to leave more time on the back end, then you can start some of these next items as guests are finishing up their food.


Recommended time: 15 Minutes

It’s hard to estimate how long speeches will take, but it is the PERFECT time to start all of the speeches while your guests are still eating. This allows you to keep your guests engaged in the events and give them something to do while listening.

Open Dance Floor

After the final speech is finished, you can go straight into the dancing. Having the speeches gives the best segway into opening up the dance floor to all of your guests.

If you’re interested, tell the DJ which song you would like first, and then you and your new spouse can start the dancing with your favorite tune! Make sure it’s a bop that will give everyone moving.

Sunset Portraits

Recommended time: 15 minutes

As photographers, WE LOVE when couples set aside time during the reception for sunset pictures. We know nobody wants to leave the party, but the glow from a sunset is ALWAYS worth sneaking away for a couple of minutes to get some pictures around the reception venue.

Bouquet Toss/Garter Toss

The traditional events, like bouquet toss and garter toss can really go at any point during the reception, but we’ve found that it can be a great way to get guests back into the party after the dance floor has been opened a bit. It’s nice to spread the events across the evening instead of doing them att at the start.

Cake Cutting

The cake cutting can go a lot of different slots in your reception timeline. We have some couples who go straight from The speeches to the cake cutting, while others like to wait a little longer. In this example timeline, we assume that eating will be on the quicker side (think buffet-style meal).

If your meal time is shorter then cutting the cake will not be very late. If you have a longer dinner, then you will probably want to move cake cutting to right after the toast so your guests can enjoy the cake before some of the early leavers hit the road.

Exit (or Staged Exit)

After all the dancing is done and the cake has been eaten, it’s time to get those exit pictures. Most couples don’t consider how long getting all of the guests lined up and ready will take. For example, if you plan on doing a sparkler exit, plan on it taking at least 15 minutes to get everyone lined up.

If you’re not ready for the party to end, but you still want those amazing exit pictures, then a staged exit will be your best friend. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You have all of your guests line up and you go through the whole thing as if you’re actually leaving.


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