Find out what’s supposed to happen—and when—during your wedding reception.

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So you want your wedding reception to be the best party of this year, but worry about throwing a good bash, especially for the family members who might like things a bit more traditional? A great thing to know when throwing a fabulous wedding celebration is being aware of what’s supposed to happen when. So I’ve made a timeline, based on a traditional cocktail hour and grand reception, to give you an hour-by-hour guide to the day’s post-ceremonial events. And if you want to stick to the traditional time line that’s up to you!

00:00 | The Cocktail Hour and Aperitif

After the happy moment of being pronounced husband and wife, the newlyweds are often the first to leave the wedding ceremony, heading off (with photographer in tow) for pictures together before the partying gets under way. Your guests will head to the reception site for cocktails. Depending on the logistics of the event, your cocktail hour will begin immediately (if the ceremony and reception are held at the same venue), or it might start more than half an hour later (if there’s travel involved). Cocktails will kick off your reception and will last for at least an hour. During this time the staff will serve stationary or passed appetizers and drinks, which will get people mingling and in the mood. It’s great to have some music or mellow entertainment during this time, to ensure everyone is enjoying the time when the “stars” are not around!

01:00| Mangia, Mangia

Time to enjoy the main course. If you’re having a seated meal, the band or DJ will play subdued, conversation-friendly background music as the waitstaff makes the rounds. If you’re having a buffet, your coordinator or DJ will let everyone know how the rotation will work by calling each table when it’s time to head to the front of the line. Just remember: The bride and groom need to do everything possible to take their seats and eat!

02:00 | First Dance

In many cases, your newlywed first dance will begin as you step out onto the floor and into the spotlight after being announced. In Europe this usually happens after dinner, in other places this might be a little different. Either way enjoy the moment and shortly afterwards hopefully your eager friends and family will be eager to join you in cutting a rug on the dancefloor.

03.00 | Cheers & Toasts- Normally around dessert time

Following your first dance, you might want to take the opportunity—while all eyes are still on you, since hopefully no one yet has had too much to drink—to thank everyone en masse for taking part in your wedding. Then, since toasting signifies a transition in the course of an event, the mother and father of the bride will thank guests for attending and invite everyone to enjoy the celebratory meal. Keep in mind that the toasts given by the best man and the maid of honour sometimes can  occur between courses, to spread out all the high-emotion, much-anticipated moments and keep guests in their seats.

04.00 | Party Time

Guests are going to follow the lead of the bride and groom. Once dinner dishes are cleared, the newlyweds should be the first ones on the dance floor so people know it’s time to start partying. Throughout the jammin’, the music will stop for any extracurricular activities you’ve planned (also known as the bouquet toss, the garter toss and whatever else you’ve dreamed up). If you do choose to toss the bouquet, make sure to get a tossing bouquet from the florist so you can keep your original one as a memento.

05:00 | Cake Cutting

About one hour before the conclusion of the reception, when the party starts getting a little too rowdy and the bar starts getting a little too empty, your waiting staff should start preparing tables for coffee and dessert. Since the cake cutting generally signals guests that it’s okay to leave soon thereafter; be sure not to do this too early or things could start wrapping up before you’re ready.

06:00 | Shake a Leg

Once the cake is cut, the band or DJ should start right back into swing and rock music for those wanting to trade in their slices for another turn on the dance floor.

07:00 | Last Dance

End your wedding on a high note and choose a dance song that will leave a lasting impression. You’ll want everyone to have a chance for one last twirl, so select something fast and festive.

08:00 | Final Farewell

Now the time has come to say good-bye. You can either  make your grand exit from the reception, friends and family can blow bubbles, light sparklers, or toss rose petals—and cheer to your successful celebration and future together. Or (as we did!) you can party into the early hours with your nearest and dearest!

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