Is four hours long enough for a reception?

Guest post by Ang
I have just a quick question:

The venue we're looking at allows us to be there for four hours.

Is this long enough for a reception?

We're not doing a cocktail hour but we'll have dinner and an open bar.


Short answer:

Yes, if you've got someone who's great at herding cats in your midst, minimal fanfare, and a smallish guest list. (Ha ha, that rhymed.)

Long answer goes like this:

The less time you have, the more likely it is that something is going to happen to screw up your time. (Human/Drama Element + Time Constraints) x Number of People = Chaos Percentage. Now, there are ways that you can minimize chaos percentage, which I'll give you in handy dandy list form.

Keep your guest list small. People herding is one of my best skills, and honestly, I wouldn't feel comfortable getting in and out of a venue for a full reception of four hours with anything more than fifty people max. Look at it this way: you're going to want to eat, to dance, talk to people, etc. If your guest list is fifty people, and you do nothing but go guest to guest — don't eat, don't pee, don't dance, don't drink, don't do anything except have people rotate in front of you — there's only time for 4.8 minutes of conversation with each of them. That's not including getting people into and out of the building which is going to take another fifteen to twenty minutes.

Don't do a buffet. I LOVE buffets, I had a buffet for my wedding, but the very nature of a buffet means that people are sitting there doing nothing, or pondering, “Do I want the smoked sausage or the spiced sausage?” while everyone else is shifting around with plates in hand. Instead, have servers with heavy appetizers or do something seated. Family style is a great option because then you don't have to worry about who gets what. It's like a seated buffet with no lines and no waiting.

wedding schedule alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)

Make your schedule public. Most weddings run with a schedule, but only the behind the scenes people are aware of it. A sign at the entryway with a “Schedule of Events” is a great way to bring attention to “Come 9pm our asses have got to be out of here, regardless of if you've gotten to do your version of ‘Put a Ring on It' or not.” List times and events, and about fifteen minutes before you have to be out of the venue put “[Name] and [Name's] send off!” If you want to continue the party somewhere else, that's fine, but the old adage of “You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here” applies.

Keep it simple. When you've got a limited time frame, any variables are dangerous. That means things like trivia games, choreographed dances, videos, slideshows, skits, toasts, etc. might have to be cut short or dropped entirely in order to make it work.

Have a first look. Usually, if the couple doesn't do a first look, the time for pictures is between the ceremony and reception. This can severely cut into your party time, especially if you're trying to finagle large group shots. Doing portraits before the ceremony can free up time in the middle to get straight into celebration mode. If you don't want to do a first look, talk to your photographer to see what your options are. Maybe there's a location nearby that you can utilize while it's still light, or they could bring extra night equipment to make it work.

Talk with your vendors. Vendors usually have a pre-set idea of how much time they have to do things and arrange their own schedules that way. If you have a limited time at the venue, let them know as soon as possible so they can work with it. Last thing you need is your DJ assuming he has an hour between ceremony and reception to set up and not having any music til halfway through because he wasn't prepared.

Hire a Bad Ass. You love your friends and family but some of them can't take a hint, or they're reluctant to leave an open bar. So have a person who's responsible for getting guests in the reception as soon as possible, and out when everyone needs to be out. They don't have to be a dick (so stay away from “drunk with power” types), but should be “endearingly forceful” when the situation calls for it. Friends usually pull this off much better than family, or if you have a coordinator this is a perfect way to utilize their skills.

Here's a general list of time frames that need to be taken into consideration when planning an event:

  • Arrival times: Travel time plus 5-15 minutes per 50 people without a receiving line.
  • Eating: Seated, plan on 45-60 minutes (not including dessert). For a buffet, add to that two seconds for every foot of food per guest. (So a 10 foot buffet x 100 guests = 2,000 seconds or 33 minutes for everyone to get through the line.)
  • Toasts: Toasts should be about 2-5 minutes in length per toaster.

Of course there are a ton of variables, but these are good logistic rules to use. So yes, you can totally do a reception in four hours or less — you just might have to make a few sacrifices.

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Comments on Is four hours long enough for a reception?

  1. I think the hire a badass bit is the best advice ever! I ended up being the bad ass for my friends 4 hour reception and there was definitely alot of it that ended up needing to be done.

    • I ended up doing a bit of this at my own wedding. We had people to wrangle for group photos but I think the fancy venue and laid back atmosphere (which we totally wanted the rest of the time) took over and if we’d waited for someone to politely go around each little group and ask for the people needed in the photos, then go back and get the ones who’s wandered off again we would have spent all day on photos.

      So instead I stood in the middle of the area and used my “hearding cats…I mean children, in from the beach” voice from my gap year to make announcements like “If you are related to the bride you need to be in this photo!”

      I think a few people were suprised, but it worked.

    • Yes the basass part is the best! It’s just nice to have that friend that bosses people around without being a dick!

  2. Huh. We had a four-hour afternoon reception for 150 people, with buffet and no official people-herders, and it worked terrifically. We did go directly from ceremony to reception without pictures, which probably helped, and didn’t really do Official Wedding Events much– we had three toasts and a swordfight, on improvised scheduling for when people seemed to be slowing down a bit on food– but it wasn’t a high-stress event at all.

    Then again, we may have just gotten lucky on our chaos percentage. πŸ˜‰ I could believe that. It was astonishingly seamless for a laid-back hand-wavy event.

  3. Four hours is totally long enough. My wedding reception lasted around four hours, and I don’t know if I would have wanted it to be any longer. For the record, we did NOT do a first look. Instead, we kept our formal portraits to a minimum. We also had a buffet. We had around 90 guests. While I didn’t get to speak to everybody, I did get to visit with most of our guests.

    Before the wedding, I was pretty worried that we would be rushed. However, everything worked out fine, and many of our guests told us that we had one of the best weddings they’d ever been to.

  4. I want to make sure everyone realizes that you can TOTALLY do a kick ass wedding reception in 4 hours or less. I’m not saying you can’t. I’m saying that if you’re concerned, these are things to keep in mind that can help you out.

    The great thing about weddings is everyone’s is different. Some people whip through a buffet, others meander through while guests behind them are dying of starvation. Some people are efficient movers, while others have to be dragged to the reception area because they’re still talking to people in the parking lot twenty minutes later.

    It’s all about finding your balance and priorities πŸ™‚

    • “..because they’re still talking to people in the parking lot twenty minutes later.”

      Oh heavens, that sounds EXACTLY like my family. At every event, even just leaving after church.

  5. I think four hours is fine, especially with no cocktail hour. You can definitely do it! We had a five hour reception, which included a cocktail hour while we took pictures, plus speeches and a buffet and dancing and dessert and more dancing, for 75 guests. No problem.

  6. We’re planning a short reception so we can go rock out at Future Hubby’s band’s rock concert in our wedding garb πŸ™‚ best part of the niiiiight!

  7. I actually think the advice is spot on, especially after having a small wedding on a tight schedule a month ago. It worked out because all of our vendors (the staff at the reception site, the photographer, the DJ) knew the schedule and helped us be on time, but it could have easily felt rushed. We were overwhelmed by the events/floating around so could not actually keep to the schedule by ourselves (hence, it is a good idea to post the schedule and have a “bad ass” that keeps everybody in check).

  8. Thanks everyone, that really helps! I’ll start looking for a badass now πŸ™‚

  9. Ours is going to be 4 hours, including the ceremony. It goes like this 11am- family portraits, 12:00 everyone starts showing up (brides already there!), 12:30- The hitchening, 1pm, ceremony over and we all walk to the building right beside the ceremony for buffet sandwich/soup lunch, toasts while people are eating, followed by board games. 4:30- get the F’ up out of here… 4 hours from start to finish. We wanted to keep it short and lovely!

  10. This is super helpful, actually! We’ve got about 5 hours for our ceremony AND reception (same location) plus an hour before for set-up. We’re doing a buffet, but this was still reassuring. Thanks!

  11. Our whole wedding was about 4.5 hours: noon ceremony (20 mins or so), a quick cocktail-type time, a buffet lunch, Bingo, and done by 4:30 or 5ish. We listed the event as noon-5 on the invites but it naturally wrapped up a little before that.

    Things that made the event relatively brief: short ceremony, short toasts, no dancing, no cake cutting, no bouquet toss, no DJ, about 90 guests. We took nearly all of our photos before except for a quick stroll outside with just me, my husband, and the photographer for about 10 minutes.

    Despite all of that, I wish our wedding had been just a little longer. I got to say hi to everyone, but for a couple of people “hi” was all I got to do. I don’t think it bothered anyone, but I wish I had been able to enjoy their company for a little longer and show how grateful I was for them coming.

    I think the guests had a great time. It would be helpful to note on your invitation what the end time is. Our invites said something like, “Ceremony at noon, lunch reception to follow until 5:00.” People knew when they were eating and when they would be home. That way people can arrange babysitters, travel, and the rest of their day.

    My parents hosted an after-party for our relatives on one side, as many of them came from out of town. While my husband and I didn’t go, it did help my relatives spend more time together and make their trip more “worth it.” I’d highly recommend it if you have people traveling. I had cousins get married on both sides within a couple of weeks of me, so those were other opportunities for me to socialize more with my family. This is one of the reasons I didn’t feel too guilty about not having quite enough time at my own wedding.

    • I have been stressing about being able to talk to the 100+ guests at our wedding and still being able to get to dance all night to our awesome band. Your comment gave me a lightbulb moment – my sister is getting married 2 weeks before me, and many of the guests will be the same, so I’ll be able to spend time with them then! Yay!!!

    • I forgot to mention that our wedding was all at one location (in one room, actually). That makes a difference!

  12. Here’s my view on things, coming from a (former) waitress’s point of view…

    Imagine a stereotypical evening reception. Guests usually show up about 8 ish and the bar (at least under UK licensing law) shuts about 12 ish. Thats about four hours, but at that point the day guests have already been eating and drinking and the dancing part is normally starting up at the 8ish time. What I’m saying theres the proof it’s possible to enjoy a reception with a buffet within 4 hours, thousands do.

    Things to consider:
    It generally takes people quite a while to fill a dancefloor without encouragement. You might have to get people dancing quickly in order to enjoy it.

    On the other hand you could have a no dance reception and find other things to fill the four hours with.

    You’ll have to time the food well. About 1.5 to 2 hrs and lasting say 45 mins to an hour in will stop the dancing (so you’ll have to start it back up again) but you could quite easily multi task by having a buffet or something similar and having speeches during that time, culminating in a “now get your asses back on the dancefloor” type thank you speech from the couple.

    Dependent on the time of day your four hours is, you could encourage revellers on a pub crawl afterwards. Say your 4 hour reception takes you until 6pm, your older relatives will be happy to leave and your partying (and possibly older too) relatives will quite happily join you on a night out or at least a relocation to your favourite bar.

    Food wise I suggest keeping it light. After a heavy meal there is usually a lull of digestive slumber which would waste precious time.

    It might be an idea to inform your guests of the short time scale by advising people book taxis home at this hour etc on invitations/websites etc.

    Otherwise I’d suggest keeping it pretty much unstructured apart from the things important to you. We once had a wedding of a bride who was an event planner. She had the entire day planned to the minute (“0703- Dad uses toilet. 0705- bride uses bathroom…. 1524- dessert served…”). It planned so meticulously but it all went to pot, running about 2 hours behind. You can over plan in any time scale.

    • Holy crap! If I wasn’t getting married in a mountain canyon, I would definitely do a pub crawl.

  13. I did photos of just myself at 3:30 until about 4:00. Then drove over to the location. Got married at 4:30. Did photos with husband and family at 4:50. Went back to the hotel and re did my hair (outdoor wedding, curly hair, misty rain on and off). Then drove over to our favorite restaurant for dinner at 6:30, got to the new hotel for fun wedding night by 10:00. This however is only with 12 people including husband and me πŸ™‚

    • That is a fantastic idea! I am having trouble trying to get the photos I want, without taking a ton of time. My girls and I can get ready, take some pictures before hand, and still have lots of time to herd the cats!

  14. We are having our wedding ceremony AND reception in 4 hours with roughly 80 guests! Yikes! We’ve eliminated a lot though. No cake cutting, our cocktail hour will consist of 10, maybe 15 minutes and there will be food and drinks passed around. We will also have a buffet but the salads are sit down. I hope to get at least 2 fantastic hours of dancing in! That’s really what we want anyway.

    • I think it will be fine! Sometimes, receptions can be way too long. It does seem like the unfun ones just never end, and are 8 hours long. πŸ™‚

  15. My ceremony started at 8 and the reception ended just a little after midnight, and the timing seemed perfect.
    We had about 100 guests.
    But we did start taking pictures at like 4:30 so the majority (like 99%) were done before the ceremony. And we still did a 1st dance, cake cutting, newlywed game, etc.

  16. Another factor might be how far guests are traveling, and whether they plan on traveling home afterwards. Our ceremony and reception lasted 3.5 hrs (rather than the 4 we had originally planned) because many of our family members had 2-6 hour drives home afterwards, and left early. (55 people attended)

    • This is one of the reasons we are having an afternoon wedding that is 4 hours long, it allows the out of towners to get in and get out if they want to, whereas the ones who want to stick around are having an “after party” that night and we are doing a rehearsal dinner the night before…..

  17. I wish this had posted before last Sunday (my wedding day)! I really had no idea how much time everything would take. I had 130 people, no seating chart, and a live band! Everything worked out pretty well, but it definitely could have run a lot smoother. We didn’t have time for a first dance and the cake cutting was “cut” short! There is some really good advice here people…really plan out the logistics before the wedding day, then delegate to someone to make sure you stay on schedule. Happy weddings!

  18. Great Article. We had a destination wedding with a 3 hour reception on the beach. The last thing you want it to be having a bunch of fun and your venue wants to kick you out. It goes by so quick, I definitley reccomend going for the longer time.

  19. Personally I don’t think that four hours is long enough no matter how many guests you have.. I just think I could get enough picture-taking, canoodling with guests, eating and dancing in four hours! I love love love lots of your other tips πŸ™‚

  20. Good post. Four hours sounds like it would be squishy for me. Like, maybe it would work out… but maybe it wouldn’t.

    In your experience, what’s a more conservative time frame to plan on?

    • It depends on the individual wedding (Super helpful, I know) For instance, is your reception close, or far away from your ceremony? The further out, the more buffer time you’ll need for people to get there.

      What are your priorities? If you want to get tons of dancing in, or really want to do your best to meet and greet every single person, you need to account for that.

      What are the venue’s rules? If the venue has to be cleaned up before you leave, you might have to cut the party aspect short so you can include time to tidy up and load up cars.

      The most common “comfy” time is about six hours. Now is everyone going to stick around that whole time? Hells to the no! But I’m REALLY big on having a back up plan, and that allows for you to be able to include most things that you want to do, have time to breathe, eat, talk to people, and not feel rushed.

      Full disclosure here, I know I said I’d never do a wedding of more than 50 guests with a four hour time frame. Well I just booked a venue for a couple of mine, 100 guests, three hours. BUT I know that their wedding can handle it. There’ll be no set up, no tear down, the ceremony will be right down the road, no big organized events, and most people will be going out to party afterwards.

      So it all depends on the individual event and it’s needs.

      • Six hours? None of the venues I looked at offered a package with that much time. 4-5 hours including cocktail hour seems to be pretty standard where I have been looking.

  21. I just want to throw out there that even if it cuts into your own dancing and partying time, it’s so so so important to slap eyes on each and every guest at least for a minute or so and say “thank you” on your wedding day. They’re there because they love you and they’re happy for you, and gratitude for that is a beautiful thing. We had an hour’s cocktail and appetizer buffet while pictures were taken (we didn’t do a first look) and then had a four hour lunch reception (noon-4). My husband and I spent about an hour total visiting our 128 guests at their tables during the sit-down meal (they’re captive while they’re eating, so if you can grab a little plate of noshies to bring with you, you can snack AND visit). We still had plenty of time for dancing, cutting the cake and listening to toasts from our maid of honor and best man. I think if our reception had been longer than 4 hours it would have been too much because by the end I was EXHAUSTED!

    • You are so right! Everyone is dying to congratulate you, and even just a quick chat is so sweet!

  22. I just got married on Sat and we had a park pavillion from 5-10, with just over 100 people. We had help, and here is how it went:
    5:00-5:30 Set up and photos
    6:00 Got married
    6:15-about 6:30 or 6:45 reception line and people finding their seats
    6:30-10 Buffet dinner, drinking dacing and fun!

    The park closes at 11, so a couple of us actually stayed longer than the 10 pm reservation so we could help the DJ pack up.

    I think it depends on what kind of clean up and set up you have to do before and after, but I’d say 4 hours is plenty of time for a party.

  23. Better to leave guests wishing it had been longer than having it be so long that they start to wonder if it’s okay to leave already. For us, our weddings are one of the biggest days of our lives. For the majority of the guests, it’s not among their biggest, most important days. We could easily party all weekend. Our guests? Not so much. So just because we could or would party for six or eight hours, doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to expect our guests to do the same.

    How long to have a reception will depend on ow many speeches and first dances. I went to one that blocked an hour for speeches and an hour for first dances (groom’s dance with mom and bride’s dance with dad were different songs, then bride’s danceS with each grandpa AND her father-in-law, groom’s danceS with each grandma and mother-in-law…), then dinner, then dancing, then 15 minutes to make a big show of cutting the cake…

    You don’t need to make sure you have 10 minutes per guest. It’s ludicrous to spend 10 minutes talking to Aunt Tillie, then to turn to Uncle Billy for another 10 minutes. We spent some time with each family or table. Like for one table of eight, everyone was is good friends, and it would have been odd to pull people away one at a time (if I were a guest in a group like that and was pulled away for “my time”, it would have felt uncomfortable with the bride and groom versus me while knowing they had blocked in a set time for me, oops time’s up). 20 minutes at that table was more productive and fun AND took about half the time as the ~5 minutes EACH you think is too little. You need to stop looking at this in terms of raw numbers and look at it instead in terms of groups it will be realistic to visit with.

    I suggest getting the pomp and circumstance out of the way early into the reception, then leave the rest of the reception open to dancing, talking, etc., and make sure that the venue and vendors allows events to run over (and know what the fees are). If it runs longer than 4 hours, fine, but it it would wrap up on its own 3 hours in, then the speeches and cake and all are out of the way.

    For the record, the best wedding I personally attended was over in about 4 hours from start of ceremony to end of reception with each being in a different location. It left guests wanting more instead of wishing they should leave without being rude.

    • That’s a good point to consider your guests’ comfort. I’ve definitely been to weddings where after a few hours I was like, “Ok…. ready to leave…” but the bride and groom hadn’t cut the cake (I’ve heard that’s it’s considered rude to leave before the cake cutting, if there is to be a cake cutting). Also, depending on who the guests are, a shorter time frame might be wise. We had some people at our wedding who love to party, but keeping it to a four hour reception in the early afternoon insured that there was no sloppiness (ok, minimal sloppiness) at our wedding – I heard that they saved it for the hotel later that evening.

  24. I really wish I’d coordinated my time better … for the whole day. But for the reception specifically?

    Our ceremony was 15 minutes. If we did a half-hour of photos, we would have been at the reception at 6:15. But!!!
    Our families stepped in like Uncle Bob has the tendency to do and hijacked our photo time … which was fine because we have some great family pics. But we have like NONE of the bridal parties. In fact, I have zero photos of me and my bridesdude. None. And we wound up being an hour late to the reception. So when we showed at 7:15, we had about 15 minutes of toasts. Then had to take more photos as it allowed. I think I had like 2 drinks, 3 appetizers and barely had time to say hi to each of our 50 guests. But I did dance. I had to. It was the only way for me to not get pissed off.

    Moral of the story? Schedule wisely. And make sure your hair and makeup don’t take so long that you only have 5 minutes to get into your dress before the ceremony.

  25. We actually did have a 4-hour reception, with a buffet and with 150 people. However, it was an afternoon wedding, there was no dancing, and my brother–who is super anal and a stickler for keeping things on time–was serving as wedding coordinator. It totally worked out fine–we had plenty of time to talk to people and it was laid back. So, it can be done. πŸ™‚

  26. We had a wedding with under 30 people and chose to keep the party shorter. We had everything set up the day before and the room was ours pretty much all day.
    5:00 (1/2 hour late) Final pictures, especially with family
    6:00 ceremony
    6:40 chat and relax (and start prepping for dinner)
    7:00 food arrives and gets set out
    8:15 (or 8:30) toasts
    9:00 fun, photobooth
    9:30 dessert was set out
    10:00 people started up Rockband
    11:15 hubby and I left and friends and family cleaned up

    It’s doable but it depends on what you want to include. My dad decided to open the floor to other toasts so those went on longer than I expected. I knew I wasn’t going to get to sit and chat with everyone but I did my best and ensured that I had a great time. We had a brunch the next day so I could see the guests who traveled a bit more. So if you feel like the reception isn’t long enough, maybe add in a simple brunch or gathering the day after if you can’t extend the reception but want more time with guests. πŸ™‚

  27. We didn’t have a bridal party, and that SERIOUSLY cut out any time management issues. When it’s just you and the groom to worry about, there’s no stress.
    We had 150 people.
    Photos where an hour before the ceremony right at the church. We got to greet the guests as they were walking in to find their seats. The ceremony was 30 mins, with 30 mins to get to the restaurant for dim sum. The restaurant gave us 3 hours to eat and leave, and everyone had finished eating within 2 hours.

    Many of my relatives came up to me and thanked me for doing something simple and different, as there were a lot of families with small children. Plus, that side of the family is huge and we go to so many weddings.
    So. many. weddings.

    It wears you down.

  28. I agree with some of the other comments that 4 – 5 hours seems to be the standard offer from venues. The layout of our day is very different, and now I hope it’s not too long! But, for those of you who feel that you would need more time, I thought I would share how mine is going for inspiration. Granted, this is the timeline of our venue. At first when I saw it I was completely turned off, thinking that I wanted to do things at the times I wanted to do them! But, the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It’s all day. Oh, and about 100 people.

    Ceremony (on-site): 12:00ish ours will probably be relatively short (under 20 minutes), so may have it a bit after 12:00 so ppl don’t get to schnockered
    Cocktails (pics): 12:30ish – 2:00 I am hoping to take pics in under 45 minutes, so that we can actually enjoy the cocktail hour too
    Dinner: 2:00 – 4:00 in dining room, plated – toasts at this time
    Reception: 4:00 – 8:00 drinks, dancing & cake cutting etc., in separate *ballroom* i.e. reception hall

    After that, we’re even extending the party for those willing because there is an outdoor heated pool and a fire pit, and this is in December in NH. But, it gives an on-site option for those who want to keep partying.

    This was the second venue I looked at that offered this timeline/setup. So, it can’t be too uncommon. It may make a difference that I was looking for hotels, so that the winter wedding could be entirely enclosed.

    I worry a little bit that it will be long, but it is a pretty comfortable place so I am hoping it will be enjoyable. I personally love the idea of being able to wear all of my pretties for longer!

  29. Holy cow, I feel so silly! I didn’t even think to check the time limits on my cocktail hour and ceremony at my venue. I’ll be sure to give that contract an extra-careful scope before I sign it now.

  30. What’s a good rule of thumb for the length of a cocktail hour for 65 people? We’re getting to the reception space (an art gallery) at 6:30, and only have 4-ish hours after that. Was thinking of going straight to dinner (a buffet), but an event planner friend recommended a cocktail time as people come in as a good transition. How much time should we allot for that?

  31. All of our family is from out-of-town, so we are having a brunch the day after the wedding at a local restaurant. We’re reserving a room and everyone knows they will have to pay to get in, since it is buffet. That way, people who didn’t get to hang out with us or other family can do so there.

    I’m hoping this will help to off-set not being able to talk to everyone the night of.

  32. We had a 4-hour reception (6:30-10:30pm) after our wedding last month, for 60 guests, and it worked out perfectly. I initially thought it would feel rushed, but in the end, I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any longer.
    1. We did almost all of our photos before the ceremony; we only did a few afterwards of the groom and me alone.
    2. Our ceremony and reception venues were just down the block from one another.
    3. We had people assigned to the schedule to keep things moving – we hired a couple people to staff the party, and my sister gave cues because she has good party timing. Time moves at triple speed on your wedding day, so have someone else who keeps track of time and judges when the next thing should start.
    4. We did a short cocktail hour before dinner (just wine and beer). Then made an announcement to be seated for dinner. It was a buffet, but each table was called up individually, which kept things moving.
    5. The toasts (near the end of dinner) were actually fairly long, but there was plenty of time for them; we knew it was an important part for many people, and it was worth the time.
    6. We didn’t do any extra stuff (cake cutting, bouquet toss, etc) – we just went straight to dancing.
    7. At 10:30, dancing was naturally starting to wind down (always end it while people are still having fun!), and we announced we would be moving the party to the bar next door. At that point, the remaining older folks went home, and our friends joined us next door for buy-your-own drinks. Helped keep the party going, but also cut down on costs.

    • OH, and another key to our success was having a Welcome Dinner the night before for ALL of our guests. That (and at the reception after-party) was when we got to do most of our talking, catching up, etc. The reception itself was mostly a whirl of hugs, congratulations, etc.

  33. AH! This article sent me into a near-panic! We only have 3 hours for our reception! We’re different, though, because it is all at an all-inclusive resort. So, that mean it will be ok, right? RIGHT?! I have a 40-person guest list. We’re keeping the dances/toasts and everything to a minimum, people onlt have to walk 50 ft from the ceremony site, and people can still go to the resort bar after the party. Am I crazy or can I do this?

  34. Excellent article! One thing I would add that I find as a wedding planner that really helps make an efficient reception, especially for shorter timelines is to do a number of scheduled activities at one time. For example do the first dance, mother son dance, father daughter dance, toasts and cake cutting all in a row. Every time you have a scheduled activity you have to get the guests to pay attention, make sure bride/groom/family/wedding party is ready, then make sure photographer and band or DJ is ready to go and this can easily take 5-10 minutes per activity. If you have 5 typical wedding activities scheduled separately you could use up 50 minutes just gathering and organizing. This will also give you a larger chunk of free time just for dancing and socializing.

  35. I am doing my reception at a brewery, NOT reserving it either. The brewery is first come first serve and opens at 1pm, I confirmed that we can bring food and non alcoholic drinks, I asked if I could have my reception there, they said yes. So as soon as they open, party time……beer, food, games, no dancing except for 1st dance, and more games……..the brewery closes at 10 so we can stay as long as we want, but I think people will leave early because they are expecting dancing and all the traditional stuff. I’m just happy I get to spend time with my friends and family without all the unnecessary dance music that I loathe and music so loud it’s hard to socialize with those guests you see only every few years. Those were my main concerns with a traditional reception, you have so many obligations and it’s so loud, you never get to spend quality time with your guests. 4 hours is enough time to a lot of people, but with so many people flying into town for me and my fiance, we wanted quality time with no loud music and obligations to do this that and the other every 10 minutes.

  36. Our reception venue had time constraints as well… everyone had to be out and the place had to be cleaned up by 10 pm. That meant people had to be out by 9 so the wedding party and our families could work clean-up magic. It was fine though and some of our friends actually told us that they liked it because they left feeling great about the party and were ready to head to another location on their own to finish the night. I had supplied a lot of ideas on our wedding website to guests from out-of-town on places to visit and things to do. My parents also had a conference room reserved at a hotel where most of them where staying so that people staying there could gather and mingle.

  37. We did not have a wedding planner, but our DJ was excellent at keeping us moving through the different “activities” scheduled for our reception.

  38. We just pulled off a 4 hour reception! Things that helped: smaller guest list (65 adults). We took first look photos and bridal party photos before the ceremony. After the ceremony all that was left was family photos, we prepped a detailed shot list beforehand to help keep this part moving along. We had a seated dinner instead of a buffet. They served us first and we were able to finish each course first and visit other tables as everyone was eating. We were going to use an iPod but ended up hiring a DJ/day of coordinator and I must say that was very helpful to keep things moving! Afterwords I changed into a more casual dress and we opted to move the after party elsewhere! It can be done!

  39. I am so glad this topic is being discussed! We are narrowing down our venue search, and have decided to do first looks, with an afternoon ceremony around 3-5pm and evening reception within 20 minutes of the ceremony site. Of our two favorite venues thus far, (both all-inclusive), one (with the 20 minutes drive, friendly coordinator, more flexible on time, cocktail hour included) allows for a 6 hour rental, while the other (more rules/structured, specific timeline, ceremony and reception at same site, no cocktail hour), allows for a 4-4.5 hour reception, and strongly prefers vendors that understand their timeline. We are inviting about 110-120 guests (all of our guests live within three hours of us, so likely a high turnout). We don’t want to be rushed, and I would rather have fewer events than try to squeeze everything in and rush through the evening. I want us to be able to spend a few minutes with each of our guests. If we wantake to maximize dancing, how much time is needed? For anyone who has worked with someone who doesn’t want to be rushed, what would you say is a good help in making a decision? We preferred a buffet, but since dancing is more important we may go for plated. I am not keen on doing traditional things just for the sake of tradition, so a few special dances, maybe garter or bouquet toss unless I think if something more creative. I also think guests don’t have to be constantly entertained, so I am going for a relaxed, plein-air terrace/lodge feel focused on enjoying the present moment. We have been to great weddings that were different, but this is what we are going for. Thoughts would be so appreciated!

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