The Ultimate Wedding Reception Run-Through

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So...What’s A Wedding Reception?
A wedding reception is the latter part of your wedding day. It typically happens after the ceremony (check out our Wedding Ceremony Guide for a full run-through of your ceremony program) and can also be recognized as the party time. You’ve sealed the deal and now it’s time to celebrate with food, entertainment, and those who love you.
What Happens At A Wedding Reception?

The great things about wedding receptions is that they are completely customizable. There is no one thing that absolutely has to happen at your wedding reception-- except possibly feeding your hungry guests. Here are some of the standard elements of a wedding reception:

Cocktail Hour

Newlywed Entrance

Food and Drink


First Dances

Open Dance Floor

Cake Cutting

Last Dance

Read thesethree sample wedding reception timelinesto get a more detailed feel of your options!

No need to stick with the traditional way; it’s your wedding, so make it your own!
Reception Elements

We’re going to take some time to go a little more in depth on each of these elements. Keep in mind that elements are not concrete and can be moved around, personalized, added, and removed depending on your personal taste and wedding wants. No need to stick with the traditional way; it’s your wedding, so make it your own!

Cocktail Hour

You need something to keep all of those hungry guests at bay until the reception actually starts right? A cocktail hour is the perfect way to get your reception started without actually starting it. Check in with your bartender to make sure all of your specialized drinks are in order and your catering to decide on any hors d’oeuvres you’ll want served during this time. This also gives people time to arrive at the new venue if your reception is in a different space than your ceremony. If you plan on having multiple venues, here arefour things to keep in mindwhen deciding on a space.

Newlywed Entrance

The party doesn’t start until you two walk in. Even if you aren’t typically one to make an entrance, this is your day, your spotlight. And your guests are all here to focus on you and your partner, so enjoy it. Show off your ceremony attire; you didn’t go through multiple fittings for nothing. Although you might choose to do asleek outfit changefor your reception so you’re a little more comfortable and ready to party.

For your newlywed entrance, consider any performative elements you might want. Is someone introducing you? Will the DJ play a particular song? Are you and your partner-- excuse me, your spouse-- performing a dance routine of some kind? Remember, it’s your spotlight. Make sure you shine.

Food and Drink

We have a more detailed Food and Drink Guide here, but the basic components of your food and drink will be your hors d'oeuvres, bar, entrees, and desserts. And there are couple serving options when it comes to feeding your guests that you may want to consider: seated family style, seating individual servings, stations, and buffet style. Read our article to go more in depth on thesereception food serving options! Another point to consider is whether you want an open or closed bar, specialty drinks, or even a self-serve situation when it comes to your reception drinks.


The toast is a way to refocus everyone. Choose you or your partner’s best person or just someone close to you both and ask them to say a toast at your reception-- make sure that they’re comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. This is the time to send positive energy and thoughts toward you, your partner, and your marriage on behalf of everyone in the room. Send this article over to them for somecheers-worthy toast/speech ideas.

First Dance

The first dance at a wedding reception can actual consist of multiple dances. Traditionally, this is where the newlyweds take the time to dance with their parents and have their one-on-one spotlight moment with each other on the dance floor. We recommend having a conversation with your partner about your first dance in advance so that you can plan out any steps that have to be taken-- such as dance lessons, choreography, musical performers, etc.

And if you aren’t feeling the traditional first dances, here are someentertaining first dance alternativesto choose from!

Open Dance Floor

After you’ve had your time to shine on the dance floor, then it’s time for your guests to have that same moment. This is also your booked entertainment’s starring moment. They’re setting the vibe and getting people up on their feet. Check out theseten songs that your guests won’t be able to resist.And in the chance that your venue doesn’t have an open dance floor or a period of dancing isn’t on your checklist, here are somenon-dancing optionsfor reception entertainment that will ensure that you and your guests have a good time.

cake cutting
Cake Cutting

The delicious cake cutting portions of your reception is what you and your guests have been waiting for… partially because that opens up your dessert bar for everyone to indulge. Traditionally, the newlyweds are hand over hand cutting your main wedding cake or indulging in your main wedding dessert together. A way to elevate this moment is by incorporating any kind of music or performative element. Take a look at thesesix super sweet cake cutting songs.

Last Dance

Close out your celebration with another dance floor spotlight moment between you and your love. Many couples choose to do something theatrical and different for this moment or their first dance. Watch these17 choreographed wedding dances sure to make you smile.

The decoration of your ceremony venue is a little different from your reception venue, if they aren’t taking place in the same space.

The decoration of your reception space is a little different from your ceremony--take a look at our Wedding Reception Guide for decoration tips specifically for your reception. You will have guests walking around, mixing, and mingling, so take that into consideration when decorating. And before you get to gathering your ideas, figure out yourwedding reception styleto guide all of your decisions. Once that is decided, go through these main decor elements of your reception space:

Main Entrance




Walls and Ceiling

Dance Floor/Open Space

Read our article for somepicture-perfect Etsy ideasto decorate your reception venue!

Best Places To Browse Reception Decor
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For Your Party
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Hope over to our Wedding Ceremony Guide for some insight on how to coordinate photo and video shots with your photographers.

Get Creative

If we can give you any advice, it would be to make sure that your reception is fun, interactive, and representative of both you and your partner. Take all of these possible elements and think of ways to switch it up so that it’s a day that you and your guests won’t forget.

So basically...

Hopefully, this gave you some guidance into the run-down of a wedding reception. There are some need-to-know basics and traditions..but the key is to learn the rules so that you can break them. Take the average tradition reception and make it completely unique to you and your partner. Check out the articles below for some more ideas and inspo in the meantime. And happy planning!