Wedding Planning

How to Plan out Your Reception Timeline

April 6, 2020

I’m Kristen.
A mom, wife, and creator of pretty pictures and a stress-free photography experience. Use this blog to see more real families, couples, wedding days, and get all my favorite planning tips!
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Maximizing Reception Events

Most of the time, the reception timeline is planned out by the DJ and the wedding planner, if you have one. However, this is usually planned without the ending coverage time in mind for the videographer and photographer. Now, I will say that I have stayed well past the time I was due to leave a reception because I knew that my couples would be missing very special events from their wedding album. This is not something that every photographer will do, so you will want to make sure that this part of the night is planned out accordingly. One way to make sure that your videographer and photographer are able to be present is to work with your DJ to plan out your reception timeline so that all of the events are within the first 2 hours.

Another thing to think about is that some of your guests may need to leave early. Grandparents and guests with small children are usually among the first to leave the reception before the end of the night. So, how do you maximize the window of time before your guests start leaving? How do you make sure your videographer and photographer are there during the events of the night? Well, I have created a sample reception timeline based off of a 4pm ceremony, so you can see how the evening will flow together:

4:00 – Ceremony
4:30 – Ceremony Ends/Cocktail Hour Begins
Family Formals (20 Minutes)
– Romantic Portraits (40 Minutes)
5:30 – Guests Asked to find seats
5:45 – Grand Entrances into First Dance & Cake Cutting
6:00 – Dinner Begins; Salads Served; Bride & Groom have Entrees
6:20 – Salads are cleared; Parent Dances
6:30 – Table Touches
6:50 – Speeches Begin
7:10 – Open Dancing
8:15 – Faux Exit
8:30 – Coverage Ends
Party continues!!

The reason this timeline works is because most of my couples do a First Look. If you have chosen not to have a first look, that’s okay! But, you will want to make sure that you work in additional time during the cocktail hour to fully be able to have your family formals, wedding party, and all of your portraits. Usually, this means extending your cocktail by an additional 30 minutes.

Now that you have an overview of what the evening would look like, let’s breakdown each section of the night to explain what they are.

Cocktail Hour

Cocktail hour is designed to accomplish family formals and those just married photos so that your wedding party can head off with the rest of your guests to enjoy cocktail hour. Family formals do not have to take more than 20 minutes. You can find additional tips about how to efficiently plan Family Formals here. This leaves a full 40 minutes for those romantic portraits you’ve been dreaming of.

Grand Entrances to First Dance & Cake Cutting

Moving into the first dances immediately following the grand entrance is the perfect way to set up your evening. All of your guests are already sitting down and so excited to see the newlyweds share their very first dance! This is one of the highlights for many of the guests as it’s such a beautiful moment of the reception.

hawaii wedding photographer

Once the first dance is over, the bride & groom head to the cake cutting table as the salads begin to be served. In the last 5 years, the cake cutting has become something of a private, but traditional, moment. This adds in an extra few minutes of time for the couple to soak up the moment and share in a private toast after the cake cutting. An added benefit is that the cake will be cut and ready to serve in time for your guests to enjoy during speeches.

hawaii reception timeline


I cannot tell you how many weddings I have photographed where the bride and groom did not have this built into the timeline. Or how many times I’ve had to make their plates and MAKE them sit down to eat. This is not what I want for my couples. By building it into your timeline, this ensures that you will have time to sit down and eat at the same time as your guests.

hawaii wedding photographer

Parent Dances

After dinner, it’s time for your parent dances. Guests are still seated and ready to witness another very special set of dances with your parents. These dances tend to be super emotional, especially for the parents. Guests, love seeing this heart-warming part of the night as parents are leaving their children to embark on this next chapter of their lives. As a mother of two boys, this part of the night almost always has me in tears.

hawaii reception timeline

Table Touches

If you have never heard of table touches, you should really consider adding them into the reception timeline. Table touches allow you to go table to table to take photos with each of your guests. It usually takes 1-2 minutes per table, but I have completed 18 tables with couples in 20 minutes. This part of the night usually happens as the champagne is being poured and helps fill in the quiet time. This part of the night is actually really exciting because you will see friends and family you didn’t even know were at your wedding!

hawaii reception timeline
2nd Shot for Regina K Popova


This is one of the parts of the night you definitely want your videographer to be there. While I make every effort to get to know my couples, this part of the night is one that is quite entertaining! Hearing your Maid of Honor talk about the crazy times you shared to how you changed, in a good way, after meeting your husband. From hearing the Best Man describe how his best friend grew up after meeting his bride. These moments are ones you definitely want captured by your videographer! Speaking from experience, I don’t remember everything said during our speeches, and I am so grateful we were able to have this part of the night on film.

hawaii reception timeline

Faux Exits

Whether it’s with bubbles or sparklers, all of my couples love their specialty exits. But what if your photographer and videographer are due to leave before the end of the night? Well, faux exits will consist of gathering y9our wedding party and immediate family to create two lines for you newlyweds to run through. While we are busy capturing the exit and final portraits of the night, the party continues on inside uninterrupted.

hawaii reception timeline

To summarize, planning out your reception timeline this way does a few things for you: 

1.) It ensures that your guests are present for the first dances, cake cutting, and speeches. This is especially important if you have guests who  may need to leave prior to the end of the reception, usually grandparents and young children are the first to leave. 

2.) This makes sure that you have time to sit down and eat!!!

3.) This timing ensures that your videographer and photographer have the ability to capture the important events of the reception.

4.) By planning the speeches before the dance floor opens, this allows for the dancing to continue without being interrupted. I mean, who really wants to stop the party for speeches?

Tell me your favorite tip of the reception timeline planning below!

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