The Ideal Wedding Reception Length — 5 Steps To Find Yours

When planning your wedding reception, one question that each couple will have to answer for themselves is how long the reception will be. While it may seem like this is a fairly straightforward question, the answer is best tailored for your particular plans. Here is how you can come up with just the right length.  

1. Start With Non-Negotiable Items. What are the non-negotiable times on your big day? The reception center itself may have a cutoff time or a set package. Will vendors need to finish by a certain time or charge more for their staff to be out late? And what about the start time? Is your early afternoon or sunset wedding ceremony a must-have? These are the parameters that will serve as a framework.   

2. Decide on the Reception Traditions. Most receptions have a certain number of to-do items on the list — things like taking wedding party and family photos, having dinner, cutting the cake, a first dance (or dances), and a toast. Write down the traditional reception activities you want to participate in. The more on your to-do list, the longer you'll need. Consider prioritizing these items so that you'll know what to cut if time becomes an issue later. 

3.  Estimate Windows for Each Activity. Start adding up how much time you need for each planned aspect of the day. First dances generally need about 15 minutes, for instance, while dinner typically needs a one-hour window. Speeches or toasts can last bout 20 minutes. Cake cutting, though, is quick — perhaps only needing a 10-minute window. As you add up the times, you'll start seeing how much unstructured time you have to party. 

4. Think About Your Guests' Personalities. Before finalizing plans, consider the makeup of your guest list. If they're generally older or less exuberant partiers, a 10:00 pm end time might be just right. If they're all in vacation mode, though, you may want to stay up later. While a reception's primary focus should be the couple getting married, be realistic about how your guests will want to party.  

5. Be Flexible. Finally, the reception timeline shouldn't be written in stone. If you add in buffers of time, you have the option of spending more time on toasts or having a spontaneous dance party with your Grandpa. And if you see that guests are tired and leaving early, don't feel obligated to try to keep things going until midnight. The point is to have fun on your big day. 

If you follow these few steps, you'll soon have an idea of how long to plan the party for and you'll have created a wedding day timeline. With those under your belt, you'll be able to move on and start filling that timeline with all the other activities that will make your day special. 

To learn more about your options, contact a reception center.