Best Wedding Reception Timeline (And Why)

  • By Derek Hoffman
  • 28 Sep, 2017
For most couples we work with, this is their first (and hopefully only) wedding. So creating a timeline for their reception isn't something they're particularly experienced with. If you've hired a coordinator, or a kick-ass photographer - they may have helped build a timeline with a huge focus on the beginning of the day and the ceremony.

Now, if you'd ask us for help with a timeline or order of events before the reception, we tend to quote the great Rhett Butler (aka Clark Gable):
Thug Life
But the reception timeline? We got you covered.

Because your DJ or Band has been assigned the honor of creating a great and memorable reception, we want to ensure we're set up for success. We do so by recommending the order of events below... Be warned, it's a little unorthodox, but we have our reasons. Now, before you get scared this blog may be a little too much to consume and you won't be able to decipher it all, we've made a handy little (simplified) list you can view for free here .

So, here is what we've found to be the best reception timeline... and why.

1. Grand Entrance (duh)

No worms were harmed in the making of this grand entrance
Now before you're introduced in to the reception, your DJ or Emcee should meet everyone outside the entrance and line everyone up in the order they planned to be introduced. It's also a great opportunity to make sure we have name pronunciations correct.

This part of the reception has come under scrutiny as of late. In each couples never-ending quest to be "different" from everyone else, some are opting to forego the grand entrance and we respect that.

It is a great way to try to get your guests hyped for finally getting to eat. But before they line up for the buffet or the servers start bringing out their food, we recommend a 

2. Quick Thank You Speech From the Couple

Just from experience, I'd venture to guess approximately 60% of your guests are pissy by the time they get to the reception.
Wedding Timeline Sweaty KC Wedding DJ
100% if you had an outdoor ceremony.
Why would they be pissy? Well... most of your guests dressed up for the wedding. Some probably had to find babysitters. All should have dropped some cash on a toaster or a "personal neck massager." They are devoting their entire day to you AND they chose to come celebrate your love instead of sitting at home in their underwear, eating Cheetos and catching up on some Game of Thrones.

By grabbing the microphone the second you walk in the door and giving a quick, "Hey everyone, thank you SO much for coming. We have plenty of food, an open bar and all your favorite hits ready to play so make sure you have a good time tonight." Will make all the difference in the world. Bonus points if you throw a "thank you" in there for anyone who financially contributed or volunteered/donated their time. (EX: a bridesmaid who hand-wrote 200 invitations or a parent who paid for the open bar, etc.)

They'll forget all about Cheetos and  Jon Snow and their hearts will soften... shoot, their hearts may even grow 3 sizes.
"Okay... I guess I'll have a good time."
Now, if your guests complain about having a bad time at your wedding, you can blame them . You've called out all the awesome stuff you have planned for them and are providing for them. Thanking your guests at the very beginning sets a great tone for the rest of the night.

Now, we're almost ready for grub. But first we have to play a

3. Dinner Game (then Dinner will be served)

For lack of a better word, we call our game the " Scavenger Hunt " and most couples cringe when we first mention it. Their reactions are typically "Eh... we're adults... we're not playing kids games at our wedding."

And after explaining what it is, we'll gladly leave the decision in their hands.

How it works:
  1. The wedding party is usually dismissed to fill their plates so they can spectate the entire game.
  2. We devise a way to nominate 1 person from each table to be their "table captain."
  3. Each captain brings their chair to the dance floor and lines it up in front of everyone.
  4. We then let them know we're going to send them back out  in to the crowd to grab an item.
  5. The item can  NOT be theirs but it does  NOT  have to be from  their table.
  6. While they're out grabbing that item, we take a chair or two away.
  7. If there is no where for them to sit when they get back, they're out of the game.
  8. Repeat until one person is left sitting.
  9. The person left sitting is the winner of the game and they (along with their table) are the first ones dismissed for the buffet or their table is plated first.
These people REALLY want to eat first.
Why we do it:
  • This gets EVERYONE super pumped up and hyper for the rest of the celebration.
  • People REALLY get in to this game.
  • It ENGAGES your guests from the very beginning.
  • It provides ice-breakers for guests who are sitting with strangers and builds an instant camaraderie.
  • It lets your guests know your wedding is going to be different than anyone else's and they're going to want to stick around the whole night to see what else you have planned up your sleeves. (hint: you don't have to have anything else up your sleeves, they won't be disappointed after playing that game... unless you have a cash bar)
Now, like I said, it's not for everyone, but we encourage it as much as possible because very few guests have seen it before and it tends to be the one thing your guests continue to talk about for years to come.

After the winner has been declared, their table will be excused through the buffet line and someone (usually the DJ) will dismiss the remainder of the tables however they see fit. Typically it's family, then a free-for-all.

By this time, the happy couple have finished masticating their filets and this is a great opportunity to sneak away for some killer sunset shots OR go and mingle with their guests.

But once everyone has been through the buffet line or served their entree, we move on to,

4. Cake Cutting

Ten bucks says she smashes it in his face.
But wait, Derek... this is usually where toasts go.

I know, figurative person whom is conversing with me. But why would you put the toasts here? Because your sorority sister put it there for her wedding? Or your Mother-in-Law said so. (Mother-in-Laws are always the pushiest).

Now think about it. If you were to say your toasts now, what is the common event to happen afterwards?

That's right... most people hear the heartfelt, well-written, amazingly delivered toasts, then immediately smash their faces with cake that looks like a piece of art . If the couple makes a mess, they'll require a 5-10 minute interlude to clean up and freshen their makeup before jumping in to the important dances.

How disjointed does that roller coaster of events feel?
  • Heartfelt toasts
  • Cake smash
  • Long awkward clean up
  • Emotional  dances.
Nope - we recommend cake  immediately after dinner because the transition from
  • Cake to 
  • Clean up that's less awkward because everyone should be anticipating toasts next.
  • Toasts to 
  • Dances 
Feels so much more gracious and it's a nice steady build up.

On top of that, do you realize how much cake we see go to waste? So many beautiful massive works of sugared art end up in the garbage because it's cut so late in the night and people leave or forget about it all together (regardless of how many announcements we make).

Great, the cake has been cut, now lets move on to:

5. Toasts

Now, we've already covered a lot of the reasons why toasts  should come after cake, so the only anecdote we'd like to add here is the  *order* in which toasts should be given. If you know your Best Man is a dud and the Maid of Honor is a hoot who has spoken in public on many occasions, make the MOH go last.

Do you have any idea how intimidating it is to follow up a phenomenal speech?

So, if you're planning for more than 2 speeches, try to order them by whomever's speech will suck the most to whomever's speech is going to make you laugh, cry and maybe accidentally lose control of your bowels.

If one of the parents would like to say something, the very beginning of the toasts is the most proper or fitting moment for a parent to speak (and also thank the guests for coming to see their kid get hitched).

Now toasts are out of the way, it's time for the big dance!

6. Mother/Son Dance

"Dammit, Derek... why are you throwing us off again... this is where the first dance goes... that's why it's called THE FIRST DANCE."

Au contraire, The "first dance" can also refer to the first dance as a married couple. Heck, the "first dance" didn't even originate until some time after 1922 when everyone decided Emily Post can go kick rocks .

You'll soon learn why I recommend this order. (And if you're a same-sex couple, just know, we're not excluding you, you can totally eliminate whichever parent dance you need to... we 100% support same-sex weddings .)

Mothers of grooms tend to feel left out of the whole process. Neglected. Over-looked. Mistreated. And many other multiple syllable verbs they use in order to generate sympathy. Letting a mother dance with her son first is the ultimate compliment, alleviates resentment and lets them feel special too. After all, it's their baby boy who is being married off.

So naturally, the next dance would be the

7. Father/Daughter Dance

"But... but... but Derek... this always goes last."

Sheesh imaginary person... you're starting to bug me.

know it usually goes last but why in the world would it? There is a 45% chance the man she is dancing with footed the entire bill for the evening. Forcing him to go last is kind of a dick move. Let him feel important too.

But here's the real sweet part. In doing the dances in this order, we get to:
  1. Build up anticipation for the most important dance of the night: The first dance as a married couple and 
  2. This allows the bride's father to "symbolically" hand his daughter over to her new husband. This time on the dance floor instead of at the altar.
Now as long as her new husband is silently waiting in the wings for the father/daughter dance to wrap up and cut in to dance with his bride, this flows super smoothly into the

8. First Dance (as a married couple)

"Sheesh... finally this guy let us get to it."
Awwwwe... the moment we've all been waiting for. (besides the bar finally opening up). The newlyweds get their chance in the limelight.

So why do we recommend this going at the tail-end of the all the main dances? Well, we think of it this way... If you go to a concert, when does the "headliner" play? At the end. Why is that? Because it builds anticipation and the organizers want everyone to stay engaged for all the performances. The added bonus to having the newlyweds go last, as Jim Bob (yes, that's his real name and yes, I'm totally jealous) of Power Shots Photography pointed out, this order allows a photographer to adjust their camera settings for the best image of their first dance. Photographers are able to make ISO, aperture, shutter speed adjustments, etc. through the parent dances so by the time the couple is ready, the camera is ready.

Now that the couples' feet are warmed up this sets us up perfectly for what we call, the

9. All Couples Dance

Now this a trick we use to pack the dance floor while also paying homage to a select few couples.

The way we do this is:
  1. If the couple doesn't want to dance to the whole 3 minutes and 30 second song they chose for their first dance (that can feel like eternity), we'll cut in after the first chorus and invite the couples who've been married the longest to join them. If we  know that a couple has been married for 56 years, we might start by inviting all couples who've been married for 50 years plus to join them.
  2. If we don't know how many years, we may take a safer bet and start at 30.
  3. If the couple prefers to dance to the whole song themselves (which we usually encourage), we'll follow it up with an entirely different slow jam and invite those special couples to join them.
  4. If the couple prefer not want to do a bouquet/garter toss, this is also a lovely opportunity to hand the bouquet over to the longest married couple for a sure-fire "AWWWWWWW" from all your guests.
  5. After we've had a moment to honor and recognize the longest married couples, we'll then invite *ALL* the couples to the dance floor. Married or unmarried. Everyone whom is there with someone they love should head out to the dance floor for a nice, romantic slow dance. As soon as that song is over, we kick it off with BOOM,

10. Booty Shakers

The cupid shuffle is my favorite to kick off the dance party because almost everyone knows the moves to it and if they don't know the moves, the lyrics literally tell you what to do . We have all these couples already out on the dance floor, at least 60% of them should know the moves, encouraging everyone else to stay out there and try it out.

Now, we don't get too crazy by expecting the dance party to keep popping for long at this point. Usually people aren't intoxicated enough to awkwardly shake their body parts all over the dance floor. We might follow it up with "Shout" by the Isley brothers for the photographer to get an awesome picture of everyone throwing their hands up in the air and then maybe 1 current hit, before we move on to the,

11. Bouquet/Garter Toss and Dollar Dance

Here's another divisive topic. Not everyone wants to do these events and that's okay.

We prefer to do them 2-3 songs after opening the dance floor (see number 10) to capitalize on the inevitability of the dance floor's near death while everyone restocks their rum and Coke, chardonnay or Budweiser.

Bouquet, Garter and Dollar Dances are dance floor murderers. We're supposed to purposefully kick people off the dance floor for these events in order to have only the single ladies or single fellas. So we've chosen to force it in when we know the dance floor is inherently going to meet it's temporary demise. We also get to keep your guests engaged without long breaks between events.

Now, it doesn't really matter what order we do these in, unless your photographer is on a time crunch. Then we'll do bouquet/garter toss first.  Then after the bouquet/garter tosses, we strongly encourage the dollar dance for these reasons:
  1. You get 1 on 1 time with each guest (which is almost impossible to do at any wedding)
  2. We get to slow down your dance floor for a few songs and let those who prefer to slow dance to do so off to the side.
  3. Some guests anticipate a dollar dance and that's how they plan to give you your gift. (It's not just singles, most couples make off with $20's, $50's and some Benjamins.)
  4. You make money... there's really no downside here.
Traditionally, the bouquet toss was the very last part of the night, but we've moved it up to,
  1. Again, keep your guests engaged.
  2. To make sure your hourly limited photographer can capture it and 
  3. Make sure there are plenty of people still there for the pictures and participation.
So now the dance floor is dead from all the dance floor killing activities. What are we going to do to relaunch that thang?

12. Group Photo

Also a great time to finally let go of that SBD you've been holding in and blame it on grandma.
This is another favorite and can be done with or without the photographer. However it's a lot more fun WITH the photog.

What we'll do is have EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. join the newlyweds on the dance floor.
  • The newlyweds go in the very front of the crowd. Dead center.
  • The wedding party/family behind them and 
  • Then the remaining guests behind them.

The photographer (or DJ if the photog has left) will stand up on a chair/ladder and get a killer shot of the couple with all their guests... who are... conveniently... on... the... dance floor.

So guess what we do? That's right, Wobble that party back to life. Nothing left but enjoy the

13. Dance Party

Now we go with the flow here. We remind guests to sign the guest book, eat the cake, tip the bartenders, and make requests.

We may fit in some sing-a-longs by some of your guests who happen to be drunk American Idol drop-outs, throw in a dance competition, more line dances, etc. and we also try to slow it down for a few songs here and there for those who prefer not to twerk their night away.

Another thing we'll do is try to create "rock blocks" of genres. So if someone requests AC/DC, we might follow it up with some Def Leppard or Whitesnake. If we get a request for Friends in Low Places, we might follow it up with some George Strait or one of my favorite sing-a-longs: Sweet Caroline (BUM! BUM! BUM!)

Anyway, we'll keep the party going til the venue shuts us down or the couple have decided to call it a night. And when they do decide to call it a night, we try to do it with an epic

14. Send Off

My personal favorite song to go out to, for your listening pleasure.
One more time, (just in case) CLICK HERE for a very simplified version of the timeline we strongly encourage.
Photo credits to:
EpagaFoto
Mike Tsai
Sara Marie Photography
Becca Blake Photography
Captured by Lani Michelle
Nick Allen Photo

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KC Mobile DJ & Photography Blog

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Now, if you'd ask us for help with a timeline or order of events before the reception, we tend to quote the great Rhett Butler (aka Clark Gable):
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