Wedding Sites & Services Blog

Is Cocktail Hour Really Just One Hour? (All the tips and tricks to a successful timeline)

Question: Help! I am not certain about the order of events for my wedding and I feel clueless! I mean is cocktail hour really just one hour?
Answer: We know that planning the logistics of your big day can be very overwhelming. You shouldn’t have to spend your entire day organizing each event or watching the hands on the clock hit the next hour. In fact you shouldn’t even know what time it is at any given point. This is why we – your venue coordinator, or a hired wedding planner are here to assist and keep your stress level as low as possible. Photographers are also a very reliable source for timing, as their entire day revolves around an agenda. We also have a lot of trust in DJ’s as they are our right hand in keeping the night and flow of everything on schedule.
You shouldn’t know how a normal wedding timeline looks, unless you also do this for a living… leave it up to the professionals. Your hair and makeup artist will know how long each of you need, and will tell you when she or he needs to start, and from that, your photographer can start planning their day based on how long you have hired him or her for. Sit back, relax, and let us plan the logistics for you. However, for those of you that need to have a basic idea to make sure you aren’t spending a ridiculous amount of time on vows, cocktail hour, toasts, and dancing then let us guide you below... Remember, there is no wrong way to plan your wedding.
Ceremony: This is the most personalized for you as a couple. You may be getting married in a church or you may just want to get straight to the kiss with as little attention as possible. All of this is all up to you and your fiancé, and the rest of the night will follow based on your decisions here. Most traditional ceremonies last about a half an hour. If you are having a traditional catholic mass or many readings your ceremony, this may run an hour or more. You may want a receiving line to greet guests before you recess into pictures, or you may just see them once the reception begins – do what feels right for you.
Cocktail Hour: This is important for a few reasons. The first being, if you are off site for a ceremony this will allow travel time for your guests. It also allows time for your reception venue to get everything set up or flipped over from your ceremony. Cocktail hour lasts typically a full hour, depending on the picture time needed from your photographer. However, if it needs to be an hour and a half – no one will complain, trust me…as long as you provide a drink and a few appetizers to occupy your guests mingling time. This is also an important time where you will take majority of your pictures with your new spouse and your families so you can enjoy the reception later. This is also a time to consider a first look. If you have decided to see each other before hand, you will cut back on the afterward picture time and can join in on your own cocktail hour.
Reception: Once all their guests take their seats, you will be announced into your reception as a married couple for the first time. Many decide to introduce their bridal party at this time. From here you can have a welcome or blessing and head straight into dinner, or maybe you want to get right into your first dances. Again, assess the vibe of your cocktail hour. If you feel that you fed your guests plenty to hold them over then maybe you want to spend time focusing on your first dance and speeches prior to dinner.
Dinner: Generally not much more than a half hour has passed since the guests have entered the reception. Having a guest served buffet verse a plated meal, as well as your guest count, will factor in the length dinner should last. Once everyone has been served dinner, toasts usually begin.
Toasts: Guests can still be eating at this point, you just want them to be sat down in their seats and at least have started eating their meal when toasts begin. The trick here is to allow guests to have something to eat while they listen to speeches that way when toasts are over so is the meal. Servers then can quietly start to bus the plates as needed. Toasts usually last about five minutes per person (you know your crowd) with the Best Man first, followed by the Maid of Honor and then usually parents want to say a word or two. If your entire toast time is running longer than forty-five minutes, then we have probably gone overboard with the speeches. As toasts are complete you are probably now two hours into your reception.
Cake Cutting: This is a five minute deal. If you want to make a bigger deal about this part of the night because it’s funny to shove cake in your spouse’s face, that’s fine, but it’ll take a few more minutes to wrangle your guests attention once that is done. Once you cut your cake and capture the moment, head straight to the dance floor and let the staff handle the serving of dessert. Dessert will be served by the time first dances are done for guests to enjoy. (Make sure you let someone know that you want to save some of your cake before it’s all gone, unless you get an anniversary cake from your bakery – ask about it if they haven’t offered)
Dancing: This is where you will start off your traditional first dances, unless you have already done your first dance during your introduction into the reception. First will be your couple dance, followed by dancing with your parents if you choose to do so. From here, the dance floor is open and it’s time to party! You should have about 2 hours of dancing before your night is over, three sounds more ideal but sometimes it’s honestly too long. (Check with your DJ, they will be the best guides here)
Again, this is your wedding and you should make it fit your style and needs. There are always plenty of alternatives depending on what your desires are. You know what you like best, however we highly suggest hiring a wedding professional to help you stay on schedule as you will find by the end of the night it was well worth the money and you will be able to enjoy your night stress free.
Many thanks to The Barn at Raccoon Creek for contributing this blog. For more information, please visit them here.
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