Ela's Guide to Reception Planning
Author: Erin Wasem
Despite attending numerous wedding, you probably haven’t paid much attention to how long each individual aspect lasts. At ELA’s, we have it down to a science. Here are our tips for keeping your wedding moving, without feeling rushed or ending up with weird chunks of time where nobody knows what to do.
First, it’s important to note that timelines are simply a suggested guideline for the day. Starting and ending the wedding on time is key; and while hitting everything in between in order is important, you usually have to adjust a little to the particular set of people and circumstances.
Maximum gap between ceremony and reception: One hour. Any more than that, and we recommend suggesting places for your guests to visit between the ceremony and cocktail hour.
Ideal reception length: Six hours. This allows an hour for cocktails, two hours for dinner, and three hours for dancing.
Order of Events
First dance: The most common timing is immediately after the bride and groom enter the reception, but you can also do your first dance following the conclusion of dinner or right after dessert.
Father/daughter dance: Immediately following the first dance.
Mother/son dance: Immediately following the father/daughter dance. Or, sometimes, this dance is shared with the father/daughter dance.
Welcome toast: Given by the father of the bride or by the bride and groom.
First course (salad/appetizer) served
Toasts: Ladies first! Start with the maid of honor, followed by the best man.
Second course (main course) served
Toasts: The bride and groom can give a toast here, if desired.
Guests invited to dance: Open up the dance floor, and get the party started!
Cake cutting: Two hours before the reception ends. However, other couples opt to cut the cake following their introduction or the toasts in order to ensure that all guests see the cake being cut. This also eliminates one more obligation throughout the night for the bride and groom.
Bouquet and garter tosses: Right after the cake cutting, or about two hours before the end of the reception.
Late-night snacks: Many couples start passing around bite size snacks at this point to refuel guests.
Farewell: If you’re doing a sparkler farewell, for example, have guests start lining up about 10 minutes before you plan to exit.
Invite time vs. start time
The “invite” time is the time on your invitation. The earliest guests will show up is about half an hour before this, so be prepared for that. And no matter the size of your guest list, you can put money on the fact that ten of them will be around ten minutes late, even if they’re all staying down the street from the venue. Do yourself a favor and plan on starting the ceremony fifteen minutes after your invite time.
Timing for dinner depends largely on 1) what type of food service you’re having and 2) how large your guest list is. It takes about 20 minutes for 100 guests to get through a buffet. Plated courses are usually spaced about 45 minutes apart. And family style also takes about 15-20 minutes for 100 guests to be served. Plan accordingly—we suggest starting with a minimum of bread on the table to give guests something to snack on while they wait for their turn at the food, although plated salads are also a great way to start out an otherwise buffet meal for the same reason. Always discuss timing with whoever is serving your food—they should have the best idea for your particular menu.
We encourage people to do toasts during dinner—so you don’t have to carve separate time out of the day for them to happen… and your guests are much more tuned in at this point. It’s a good idea to make sure to tell the catering staff that they should continue to serve/clear/etc. while people are speaking (they’re good at doing this discreetly).
Note what time it’s going to happen! You’re going to want to think about lighting, especially if your event is happening partially outdoors.
Many couples do formal portraits before the ceremony, because otherwise you’re stuck wrangling people during cocktail hour. But a couple should also consider a second set of portraits right before sunset—the light is totally different, and you’re finally married and much more relaxed! You really only need to budget 10-15 minutes for these, and you should plan on it being just the two of you and your primary photographer. This mini session also has the added benefit of giving you a short break away from the crowd.
Traditionally it’s considered acceptable to leave a wedding once the cake has been cut—at that point you know that nothing else major is going to happen (except for your cousin doing the worm). So if you plan for it to happen later in the evening, keep this and your older guests in mind.
You don’t have to make it official, but it can be a helpful sign to people that they should start preparing to leave.
If your venue has strict timing rules, or noise restrictions, or you’re paying a staff hourly and they’re going to go into overtime or time-and-a-half at some point, don’t forget about breakdown. While generally faster than set up, give yourself and hour… maybe even two! Think about all of the things that are going to need to happen once the lights go on and how much time that will take, and plan the end of the night accordingly.
At ELA’s Blu Water Grille, private function space is available for receptions of eight to 88 people. Our chef and catering professionals are available to plan and guide you, utilizing numerous resources and years of industry experience when planning your special day. Give us a call at (843) 785-3030 or visit us online at elasgrille.com.