What Happens at a Traditional Wedding Reception?

Updated on October 22, 2019
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Natasha is a psychology enthusiast who enjoys sharing insights about planning and attending events.

If you've never attended a wedding reception before, you may be wondering just what to expect from the experience.
If you've never attended a wedding reception before, you may be wondering just what to expect from the experience. | Source

While there are no set rules or procedures for wedding receptions, many do follow a traditional formula. If you've been invited to a wedding but don't know what to expect from the reception, check out this overview of what is likely to happen at a "typical" wedding reception. Even if the event you are attending is informal or avant-garde, chances are at least some of the following components will be involved.

What to Expect at a Typical Wedding Reception

  1. The Welcome Process
  2. The Arrival of the Newlyweds
  3. The Wedding Speeches
  4. The Food
  5. The Opening of the Dancefloor
  6. The Cutting of the Cake
  7. The Departure of the Newlyweds

1. The Welcome Process

After the ceremony, the bride and groom often go out for photographs with the bridal party while the guests commute to the reception venue.

When guests arrive at the venue, they are likely to encounter a table-list. This is a mounted document that lists each guest's name next to their table number. Once guests have found their assigned seats, welcome-drinks are typically served. Alternatively, guests may pick up their welcome drinks at the venue's entrance near the table list before proceeding to their seats.

Typically, a gift table is set up somewhere in the room. If you brought a wedding gift for the bride and groom, you can place it on the gift table before taking your seat. Once seated, guests typically mingle with others at their table until the bride, groom, and wedding party arrive.

At many wedding receptions, mounted seating-lists are displayed to help guests find their assigned tables.
At many wedding receptions, mounted seating-lists are displayed to help guests find their assigned tables. | Source

2. The Arrival of the Newlyweds

Most couples hire a D.J. or musician to create ambience in the venue. Typically, background music is already playing by the time guests arrive. Once the bride and groom are finished with their photos, they enter the reception venue where they are greeted by either a song of their choice or "Congratulations."

In most cases, once the bride, groom, and wedding party proceed to their seats, the bar is opened and starters are served.

3. The Wedding Speeches

Once the starters have been cleared, an M.C. may welcome everyone and propose a toast to the bride and groom before inviting the best man to the stage. The best man often thanks the bridal party and bridesmaids for all their hard work then delivers his speech about the bride and groom. The bride's father usually says a few words once the best man has finished. Finally, the groom delivers his speech.

Wedding speeches are meant to be fun and short, but in most cases, they tend to go on for a bit. Speakers often embark on trips down memory lane or spend time thanking particular guests for coming from far and wide to be with the happy couple on their big day. Once the speeches are finished, the main course is served.

The throwing of the bride's bouquet is a longstanding wedding tradition that is still practiced by many.
The throwing of the bride's bouquet is a longstanding wedding tradition that is still practiced by many. | Source

4. The Food

Buffets are common at wedding receptions, but some couples choose to have food served to guests at their tables by catering staff instead. Three-course meals are popular and usually involve a starter, a main course, and a dessert. These courses are sometimes followed by cheese and biscuits later on. Music continues to play in the background while guests eat and socialise.

Wine and champagne are typically provided to each table for toasts during the wedding speeches. Some couples choose to have an open bar at their wedding reception (usually paid for by the groom), while others prefer to provide only table wine and have a cash bar service available for guests who are interested in additional drinks.

5. The Opening of the Dance Floor

After dessert is eaten, the bride and groom enjoy their first dance to a song of their choice. In many cases, the newlyweds then dance with their parents. The bridal party are usually the next to join in. After these first dances, the floor is open to the guests and it is time for celebration and fun!

At some point, the bachelors at the wedding may be called up to the floor for the throwing of the garter. The groom removes the bride's garter then throws it blindly into the crowd of bachelors, and the individual who catches it is predicted to be the next to marry. A similar ceremony is then performed by the bride. She throws her bouquet into a crowd comprised of bachelorettes, and the individual who catches it is predicted to be married next. The two lucky singles who caught the garter and bouquet may then dance together.

At many receptions, the newlywed couple cut their wedding cake hand-in-hand before it is served to the guests.
At many receptions, the newlywed couple cut their wedding cake hand-in-hand before it is served to the guests. | Source

6. The Cutting of the Cake

The bride and groom usually cut the wedding cake together. Sometimes, the flower girls are tasked with handing out slices to the guests. As the cake is consumed, the socializing and dancing usually continue for a short time longer before the event begins to wind down.

7. The Departure of the Newlyweds

Typically, the newlywed couple are the first to leave the reception. Guests often join together to form a tunnel with their hands through which the couple may exit the room. As an exit song plays, the bride and groom leave from their seats and file through the living tunnel, thanking guests along the way.

After leaving the reception, the couple usually head to a hotel to get some rest before jet-setting off on their honeymoon. Guests are usually welcome to stay and dance after the couple departs, but in most cases, this is when the music ends and people begin to leave. A member of the bridal party is usually tasked with removing the flowers, wedding cake, and gifts from the venue.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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