Wedding Reception Timeline

Get ready for toasts, speeches, dancing, cake-and don't forget to eat! Use this guide to make sure your reception flows smoothly.

The Bouquet and Garter Ceremonies

Toward the end of the reception, the master of ceremonies may ask all eligible ladies to gather in the middle of the floor for the bouquet toss—the lucky recipient of which is said to be the next woman to marry. The bride should turn her back to the crowd and lightly toss the bouquet over her head to the female guests and bridesmaids. (Or you may want to face everyone and take aim for a particular friend or relative!) Another way to throw the bouquet is to toss it out the window of your car or limousine to the waiting crowd as you leave for your honeymoon (or first night accommodations). Many brides now have two bouquets—one being a smaller, less expensive version called a tossing bouquet or nosegay, specifically made for tossing so that the bridal bouquet can be preserved as a wedding momento.

In the garter ceremony, the groom removes the garter from the bride's leg and tosses it in a similar fashion to the eligible men. According to legend, the man who catches it is the next to marry. The man then puts it on the leg of the woman who caught the bouquet. Both of these ceremonies are optional, and many couples today choose not to include them.

When to Leave

It was once customary for the bride and groom to make a getaway during the reception to begin their honeymoon, and that was also the signal that the guests could start to leave. Today, however, many couples choose to spend extra time with their out-of-town guests and stay at the reception until the very end. You may still change into going-away clothes (check with your reception site about changing rooms) and then come back to bid your guests a final farewell. Guests may throw rice, birdseed or potpourri, or blow bubbles, as you and your new husband make your exit.

Reception Timetable

The typical wedding reception lasts four hours—plenty of time to celebrate in traditional fashion. Here's a quick look at the usual timetable, complete with don't miss rituals:

Hour One: Bride and groom, attendants and family pose for wedding pictures (unless they were taken before the ceremony). Receiving line is formed as the bridal party arrives. Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres are served.

Hour Two: Guests take their seats for the first course, kicked off by a champagne toast, usually offered by the best man. Others, such as the bride's father or the maid of honor, may also say a few words. Some couples prefer to have their first dance, followed by father-daughter and mother-son dances, now.

Hour Three: Bride and groom my enjoy their first dance, and other noteworthy dances, if they haven't already. The main course is served, and guests mingle and dance.

Hour Four: The cake is cut and served. The bride tosses her bouquet, and the groom tosses her garter (both are optional). Guests begin to leave. If yours is a group you know will want to party on, inquire with your reception site when you book about paying for extra time. This will require either a set fee (to cover the staff) or a per-person fee to keep the bar open, or both. You'll also have to pay your band or DJ extra, naturally. Another option: Designate a nearby club or bar and let everyone know they can head there to continue the fun.