Wedding Reception Program 101

Every couple’s wedding ceremony will be unique and different depending on things such as their religious beliefs, cultural background, and personal tastes—but what about the reception? While every culture varies, there is a general guide for the wedding reception program.

If you’re currently planning a wedding of your own, it may be helpful for you to check out this traditional wedding reception program structure. If you know what usually happens, you can go from there and decide what to keep, what to omit, or whether it’s perfect for you just the way it is.

At Imperial Event Venue, we host hundreds of wedding receptions a year. Here is the traditional wedding reception program that most couples decide to follow.

Right after the wedding ceremony…

Cocktail Hour

Cocktail hour is optional, but very popular with most couples. This is the time when your guests can mingle, enjoy hors d’oeuvres, and have a drink as they are waiting for the bridal party to finish having their photos taken.

Wedding Reception Program 101

Some couples also choose to have small games set up in the cocktail area, such as Jenga, tic-tac-toe, and cornhole.

Cocktail hour is a perfect way to get your guests warmed up for the wedding meal and a fantastic night of dancing.

Hashtag Announcement

By now, everyone knows what a wedding hashtag is. If you’re opting to use one for your big day, this is the best time during the wedding reception program to announce it.

Have your MC or wedding coordinator announce the wedding hashtag (and exactly how to spell it) now, before the bridal party entrance.

Entrance Of The Bridal Party

Once your wedding coordinator has gotten the wedding guests from the cocktail area to the reception hall and everyone is seated, the bridal party will be announced to enter.

Wedding Reception Program 101

This is when each individual bridesmaid/groomsman “couple” who walked down the aisle together will enter the room.

Many couples allow their bridal party to enter to popular songs, dancing their way in, and others choose a more traditional route where they simply walk in.

Some couples also choose to add information about the bridal party, such as, “Miss Janet Brown, friend of the bride since middle school.”

This is a great opportunity for the bridal party to cut loose and have some fun.

Entrance Of The Newlyweds

Directly following the bridal party entrance, the newlyweds will be announced and will enter the room.

Again, many couples choose to have something prepared, such as a choreographed dance or a song when they are announced. Others simply kiss and enter the room. It’s a personal choice for every couple.

Blessing Of The Meal (Optional)

Just before the meal, there is traditionally a blessing for couples that are religious. This can be done by anyone of the newlyweds’ choosing—a family member, friend, officiant, or even the couple themselves.


Whether you are having family style meal catering, a buffet, or table service, be sure to have determined the best room flow for the serving style beforehand. Knowing the fastest way to get your guests their food will ensure that their meal is served hot and fresh.

Wedding Reception Program 101


About halfway through the meal, the toasts should begin. Try to keep them at a minimum, and no longer than ten minutes long each. Traditionally, those who give toasts are the best man, the maid of honor, the parents, and the couple.

Cutting Of The Cake

After the meal, everyone will be excited for the cake. This is the last must-do tradition before the dancing begins, so it’s very important to remember to do this before everyone gets onto the dance floor.

First Dance

After the cutting of the cake, the MC will announce that it’s time for the couple’s first dance. They will enter the dance floor alone and dance to a song of their choosing.

Wedding Reception Program 101

Father-Daughter Dance (Optional)

Directly after the newlyweds’ first dance comes the father-daughter dance.

Mother-Son Dance (Optional)

Directly after the newlyweds’ first dance comes the mother-son dance.


After these traditional dances, the MC will invite all guests to enter the dance floor. This is typically when things start to get more energetic, and the vibe of the evening begins to take shape.

Wedding Reception Program 101

Some couples have certain dances at this time, such as the money dance or a choreographed dance from the bridal party.

Bouquet Toss (Optional)

After a couple hours of dancing—when everyone is feeling loose and having fun—the bouquet is typically thrown. While many couples decide to omit this tradition, it’s still popular with some, and this is the ideal time to do it.

Garter Removal/Toss (Optional)

Right after the bouquet toss comes the garter removal and toss.

Wedding Reception Program 101


After the bouquet and garter toss, usually the MC will invite everyone to keep dancing.

Late-Night Snack (Optional)

Many couples choose to arrange for a late-night snack for those guests who have made it this far into the evening.

Whether the late-night snack is a food truck that they have reserved to come by or they have spoken to the caterer in advance to provide something, this is a move that is always appreciated by the wedding guests.

Distribution Of The Farewell Items

Couples tend to present their guests with “farewell items” to use during the wedding send-off. This is what makes those goodbye photos so memorable. Whether it’s sparklers, bubbles, confetti, balloons, flower petals, or anything else, this is a very big part of the wedding reception program.

Guests are given their send-off item just before the farewell.

The Send-Off

Now that the guests all have their farewell items, this is the time when they all gather outside of the reception venue to say goodbye to the newlyweds.

Wedding Reception Program 101
Image: Pat Furey Photography

We hope that this list has been helpful for you! Remember, it’s just a guide. Every couple should carefully choose their own wedding reception program schedule in order to truly reflect who they are and what they want.

If you’re still looking for your ultimate Los Angeles wedding venue, please check out our gallery at Imperial and let us know if you would like an in-person tour. We would love to host your wedding!

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