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Wedding Reception Itinerary

Amy Hoover
Bride and groom filling plates at the wedding buffet

A wedding reception itinerary is necessary to keep the reception running smoothly and to avoid forgetting an important part of the evening.

Reception Organization

Couples planning a wedding ceremony and reception often concern themselves with wedding reception protocol, worried they may offend someone by not following proper etiquette. Part of keeping guests happy and the evening problem-free is to create an itinerary that keeps the evening flowing. It can be just as rude to forget to let guests know when the cake is being cut as it is to skip writing wedding thank you notes.

An itinerary does not have to be timed out to the minute, but it does need to serve as a basic outline for managing reception activities. Without some organization to the reception, guests will feel bewildered about reception activities. The excitement of the evening can even cause brides and grooms to forget an important tradition they wanted to include.

Sample Wedding Reception Itinerary

Wedding receptions often have two main elements: the dinner and the dance. Not every wedding has a dinner or dance, so modify a sample reception itinerary as needed.

Dinner Itinerary

The meal at a wedding can be a seated dinner or buffet. Even receptions without a full meal, such as a dessert reception or appetizer reception, can use an itinerary to make sure the reception stays on schedule. Follow this itinerary for the dinner portion of the evening, adapting as necessary:

The dinner portion of the reception usually ends with the bride or groom giving a short thank you speech to guests, inviting them to the dance that follows. Some couples may choose to have parent speeches given at this time, with the father of the bride inviting everyone to the dance portion of the night.

At weddings without a dance, couples may choose to give a short toast to each other, ending with a thank you to the guests for their love and support. Mingling over drinks and dessert may follow.

Dance Itinerary

The wedding dance follows the dining portion of the wedding reception. The wedding DJ or bandleader usually serves as the emcee for the evening, directing activities. Couples who choose to use wedding reception music on an mp3 player or burned CD need to ask someone, whether a trusted friend, relative, or even wedding planner, to announce each activity. A sample dance itinerary may follow this schedule:

Bride and groom sharing their first dance

Couples may choose to include games, dollar dances, wedding line dances, anniversary dances or other special activities during the reception. Work each element into the dance itinerary as desired.

Combined Itinerary

The dinner and dancing portion of the wedding reception do not have to be separated. Instead, combine elements by:

  • Dancing the first dance and bridal party dance right after the wedding party grand entrance song, then opening the dance floor to guests.
  • Skipping the bouquet toss during the dance and instead giving the bouquet away during dinner to the couple attending who has been married the longest.
  • Cutting and serving the cake after the first dances, but before the dance floor opens to guests.
  • Giving a thank you for coming speech by the bride and groom just before the last dance, rather than during the meal.

Couples who choose to skip the grand entrance can ask their DJ to announce the wedding party members during the bridal party dance. Brides and grooms who hire a wedding planner can get ideas from him/her about creative ways to order their reception activities.

Itinerary Tips

A wedding reception itinerary serves as a wedding planning guide for couples on the big day. To plan an itinerary:

  • Observe the order of things at family and friends' weddings. How well are things organized? Was there too much time between the dinner and dance? Did the guests seem rushed to eat?
  • Ask the wedding caterer advice on how much time to allot to dinner, based upon the type of meal served and number of guests attending.
  • Get help from the reception site coordinator, who may have several sample itineraries available.
  • Remember to ask the wedding reception bandleader or DJ for advice on the reception itinerary. He or she often has sample itineraries available and can serve as emcee of the evening.

A wedding reception itinerary does not have to follow a prescribed order of the evening. Couples should keep in mind the comfort of their guests to have a successful reception. Serving dinner after a full dance will leave guests hungry, but having a slightly different order to the night will be something guests remember long after the last dance played.

Wedding Reception Itinerary