What Is A Wedding Reception: What Happens And More

The answer to what is a wedding reception is it’s a party to celebrate the marriage of the couple. The wedding reception happens after the ceremony and also serves as a way to thank the guests for coming. 

We will discuss the origin of this celebration and how it differs from the wedding ceremony in more detail below. And in case you want to elope or have a civil wedding, you can read how to throw a reception-only wedding to have a wedding party with the guests still. 

what is a wedding reception


Everything To Know About What Is A Wedding Reception

The wedding reception is a type of wedding party or celebration that usually follows the wedding ceremony. From the name itself, the reception is also a way for the couple to receive and accommodate their guests and thank them for coming to their wedding. 

The wedding reception is usually upbeat and lively, but the couple can customize the elements and traditions they want to happen in it. Nowadays, reception venues are no longer limited to indoor locations and might even occur during the daytime than the usual nighttime celebration. 

For couples who prefer to elope, have an intimate wedding ceremony, or do a civil wedding, the wedding reception is the opportunity to celebrate with more people. Also, since it’s more of a cocktail party, you are less restricted compared to the conservative and formal wedding ceremony. 


History of wedding receptions

A wedding ceremony after the reception might be related to weddings during Medieval times. Remember that after the exchange of rings, a typical wedding during these times has elaborate feasts. 

This celebration of the couple’s marriage became expected over the years. It can also be related to how in some cultures, there are feasts, or one family might formally host a party to welcome the other family. 

There are also expectations that if the family is well-off, they’ll have a grander wedding reception. But nowadays, wedding receptions are no longer a way to portray the family’s socioeconomic status but a party to celebrate the union of their child to another. 


What Is In A Wedding Reception?

A typical wedding reception is composed of the following elements: 

  • Grand entrance of the newlyweds and the wedding party
  • Introduction of the newlyweds
  • Cocktail hour or wedding receiving line to thank the guests for coming
  • The couple’s first dance and other dances in the reception
  • Wedding speeches and toast
  • Wedding toss
  • Dinner
  • Wedding cake-cutting
  • Final toast to the newlyweds
  • Dancing and shows
  • Grand exit

Note that not all wedding receptions must have these elements. You can make your wedding celebration as grand, long, short, or lowkey as long as your budget allows and how memorable you want to finish your big day. 


Sample wedding reception timeline

Here’s the typical wedding reception order and duration:

  1. Grand entrance and introduction of the newlyweds for a couple of minutes
  2. Cocktail hour for an hour where guests can mingle and have drinks 
  3. Couple’s first dance for at least 5 minutes, and the parent-child dances for 3 to 5 minutes each
  4. Welcome toasts by the couple’s parents
  5. Dinner for 45 minutes
  6. Speeches by the wedding party for 10 minutes
  7. Bridal bouquet toss and garter toss for 10 minutes; the bachelorette and bachelor who caught the bouquet and garter can also dance 
  8. Open dancing, drinking, games, and other performances for 2 hours
  9. Cake cutting can happen for about 10 minutes before the last song
  10. Wedding exit by the newlyweds; you can also read how to leave your wedding reception in style for ideas


What Is The Difference Between A Wedding And A Reception?

The wedding venues for the wedding ceremony and wedding party can be different. However, it’s also possible for the ceremony location to be the same reception venue. 


Wedding ceremony

  • Usually formal and conservative
  • Traditional and religious weddings must follow a specific flow of elements for the ceremony
  • For the union to be legal, the wedding ceremony legalities and necessary documents for the marriage should be accomplished 


Wedding reception

  • More relaxed and informal
  • Rules are not that strict as the reception is not necessary for a legal union
  • Can happen anywhere and any time of the day, but is best done at night on Fridays and weekends to celebrate all night long with the couple


What Do Guests Do At A Wedding Reception?

There are different reception venues and celebration themes, so practice the proper etiquette specific to the wedding reception you’re attending. But in general, guests are expected to engage in the following activities at the wedding reception: 

  • Mingle with each other during cocktail hour and dinner
  • Dance, drink, and have fun with the couple
  • Some guests might also provide toasts and speeches
  • Participate in wedding reception traditions like tosses and games


What Is A Wedding Reception Dinner?

Most wedding receptions have dinner after the welcome toast. Depending on the venue or type of event, it can be a sit-down dinner or a buffet. 

Some wedding receptions might also replace dinner and only serve appetizers and drinks for a cocktail party. 



And that’s it! To recap what is a wedding reception, it’s the celebration after the wedding ceremony. 

It’s less conservative and formal because it’s a way to mingle and party with everyone. The couple is also formally announced as newlyweds, and you can expect tosses, dances, or dinner at a reception.

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