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How Long Is A Typical Wedding Reception? [What Can You Expect]

The wedding reception is one of the most joyous parts of any wedding. Following the ceremony, it’s a chance for the bride and groom to celebrate and with their bridal party, family and guests and provide hospitality in the form of food, drink and entertainment. But how long does the typical wedding reception last? Whether you are planning your own wedding or have been invited along as a guest its always good to know. I spent some time researching to find out what is most common and what you can expect.

So, how long is a typical wedding reception? A typical wedding reception usually lasts between 6-8 hours, usually starting the late afternoon and going onto the late evening. During this time, drinks, dinner, the speeches, the first dance and the cutting of the cake take place.

For some weddings, the reception will simply follow the ceremony at the same venue. Others will involve some travel, especially for any religious ceremonies that involve a church. Of course, the time it takes to get from a-b will need to be considered and ultimately is involved in the timeline of events.

And while the wedding reception takes up a considerable amount of the wedding day, the exact length it will go on for will depend on the married couple and what they had planned in advance.

Let us now take a closer look at what you can expect at a wedding reception, including the typical order of events. We will also be breaking down the main components of the reception and how long you can expect each one to last.

Finally, we will take a look at when you can expect the day to end which is in many ways essential for knowing and planning any travel arrangements and planning such in advance.

What Happens During A Wedding Reception?

As previously mentioned, the wedding reception is essentially the celebrations that occur following the ceremony.

The ceremony is typically the shortest part of the day, lasting only up to 1-2 hours.

For most weddings, the receptions are reserved for the evening, but can sometimes be organized earlier in the day if the ceremony was to occur during the morning.

That being said, the ceremony and reception and considered to be two distinct parts of the day.

Below we will look at the most common and traditional timeline of events, in the order in which they usually occur and the timeframes you can expect.

  • Drinks Reception and Pictures (1-2 hours): Thetypicalwedding reception starts with a few celebratory drinks, often put on by the bride and groom. This is usually when the bubbles (champagne) and a selection of canapés and food items are served. During this time, many of the wedding photographs are taken, especially with the bridal party and close families.
  • Receiving Line (15 minutes to 1 hour): The length of time this tradition takes depends on the number of guests and not all weddings will have one of these. The receiving line is essentially where all of the guests are greeted personally by the bride groom and their families.
  • Wedding Breakfast (1-1/2 hours): During this timeall of the guests will be provided with their meal (depending on what was selected and previously organized by the bride and groom). This meal can consist of 1-3 courses.
  • Speeches (1-1/2 hours): The speeches by the bride, groom, best man and fathers then comes next. Depending on how many speeches, whom wants to talk and the length of each piece roughly will dictate how long this will go on for.
  • Cutting the Cake and Desert (10-15 minutes)
  • Room Turnaround (30 minutes to 1 hour): Some venues will require some time for the venue to be transitioned ready for the evening events and to make space for the dancefloor. During this time tables and chairs may be cleared and a quick general tidy up by the catering staff is completed. 
  • First Dance (5-10 minutes): Where the bride and groom will dance to their chosen song in front of their guests.
  • Dancing (1-2 hours): During this time, the guests can take to the dancefloor dancing to the band, musician, group or DJ.
  • Evening Catering and Drinks (1-2 hours) Additional food will likely be put out for all of the guests, including those whom came or were invited just to the evening.

As you can see, there is a lot of moving parts at a wedding and a lot of planning that is required in order for the day to run to schedule.

While not all weddings will follow this schedule, it is typical and what you should expect in advance.

Whether or not all guests need to stay for the full duration depends on whom they are and the relationship they have with the bride and the groom.

Example Timeline Of A Civil Ceremony Wedding Reception

1pm Civil Ceremony
1:30pmDrinks reception, canapés and photographs
3:00pmReceiving line (optional)
3:30pmWedding breakfast & Speeches
6:00pmCutting of the Cake & Room turnaround
7:00pmEvening reception guests arrive
7:30pmFirst Dance
9pmEvening Catering Served
12amMusic and evening reception to end

Example Timeline a Church Ceremony Wedding Reception

2.10pm Leave Church and travel to venue
2:20pmDrinks reception, canapés and photographs
3:50pmReceiving line
4:20pmWedding breakfast & Speeches
6:50pmRoom turnaround and reset (if required)
7:45pmEvening reception guests arrive
8:30pmCutting of the Cake
8:35pmFirst Dance
9pmEvening catering served
00:00Music and evening reception to end

What Time Do Most Wedding Receptions End?

Most wedding receptions will end in the late evening, usually between the hours of 11 pm-1am. It ultimately depends on the married couple, and the agreements that they have with the venue.

However, just because the formal wedding reception ends does not necessarily mean that the celebrations come to a halt.

Some couples like to throw a wedding after party that extends into the early hours of the morning.

Whether this be another local venue or a bar, or even at one of the guests accommodation!

For the most part, the bride and groom are not usually in attendance, but it is common to see an after party even after a long day and eventful wedding reception!

In Summary

A wedding is truly a long day from start to end. But all that planning and all that investment seems to fly by in the blink of an eye when the day does come around.

Whether you are getting married, a member of the bridal party, a family member or a guest; knowing how long the wedding reception is can help you to prepare, plan and set your expectations in advance.

Hopefully by now you know a little bit more about the course of events during the wedding reception, and that can expect an evening of celebrations.

While the average wedding reception lasts for 6-8 hours, consider that this is just an average and will depend entirely on the type of wedding, the venue and the personal desires of the bride and groom.

Some wedding receptions are a little shorter, whereas if you include the after party, some are even longer!

Nevertheless, the wedding reception is a wonderful time to celebrate, and one that you should hopefully enjoy.

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