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Wedding Reception Etiquette; Planning the perfect end to your wedding day

Updated on June 28, 2009

After the formal ceremony, the wedding reception gives everyone the chance to let their hair down and catch up. The bride and groom get a chance to talk to their guests, speeches are given and fun is had. Although the reception is generally less formal and can take any guise there are a few traditions that have stood the test and help smooth things along.

Before the event

The first decision to make is the venue and this should be dictated by the number of guests as well as your personal taste and budget. Catering arrangements are usually made at the time of booking, especially if the reception is being held in a hotel. However, whether the catering is professionally done or prepared by yourselves you should take into consideration any dietary requirements of your guests, for example, vegetarians, vegans or any food intolerances. This will avoid any embarrassment or unpleasantness for you or your guests.

The receiving line

Formal or even semi-formal receptions should have a receiving line to welcome the guests as they enter. The line traditionally consists of the bride's mother and father, the bridegroom's mother and father and the bride and bridegrooms themselves and in that order.

The best man may or may not be included, if he is he takes his place after the bridegroom. Each guest should be greeted in turn and any personal touches can be added here. As the bride and groom are engaged with the act of marrying during the ceremony this may be the first chance they have had to greet and talk to their guests. It is usually the best man's job along with any other attendants to take the guests to their seats after they have been greeted.

Seating arrangements

Searing arrangements can be difficult to make and will vary depending on the desired mood and the number of guests. A formal reception, however, should have a seating plan with a 'top table' where the bride and groom and the principle wedding party members sit. Usually the job of planning the other seating falls to the bride, her mother and the bridegroom's mother as together they should have a good knowledge of their guests and hopefully an idea of whom to put where. As no family is perfect there may be problems about grouping certain people, in these situations you can only do your best. Try not to let this worry you, if all is handled with discretion then their should be no worries.

The order of reception events

1. After all the guests are happily seated the food can be served. The bride and groom should be served first or they should serve themselves first if the food is buffet style.

2. After the final course or halfway through the meal, depending on your preference, the toasts, speeches and cake cutting can begin. If you have a master of ceremonies he or she will introduce the first speaker, if not the best man can do this. The speeches are traditionally kicked off by the father of the bride who proposes a toast to the bride and groom, the groom then follows usually giving thanks to the bride's parents and the speeches conclude with the best man. If the bride wishes to make a speech this is usually less formal and will follow the speech given by the best man. Giving speeches can be difficult and nerve-wracking, for more information on how to prepare and give a speech at a wedding please click here.

3. After the speeches have concluded it's time to cut the cake! Traditionally the bride should hold the knife in her right hand and the bridegroom should place his right hand on top of hers with the brides left hand on top of his. After the first cut and photo opportunity is over the rest of the cake can be cut up to be eaten by the guests later.

4. If the cake cutting has taken place after the meal then the party can begin! The band or disco should start now and this signals the first dance. In a formal wedding reception the bride and groom must take the floor first followed by the best man and chief bridesmaid, then the parents of the bride and groom and then and only then the rest of the guests. Don't worry about having to out do Torvill and Dean just have fun with it and enjoy your moment.

5. After you feel you have talked to everyone and everything is going well you can slip away and change into your leaving clothes.

6. As the evening is drawing to a close you may want to choose a final song for everyone to dance to and remember.

7. Before leaving the bride traditionally throws her bouquet into a throng of elbowing women. This is a fun gesture and always goes down well.

8. It's time to leave for your honeymoon now!

Whatever reception style you choose for your happy day, knowing when and how events should occur is key! Of course you should opt for a reception that is going to suit you and your guests but a little tradition thrown into the mix can make it all the more special.


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    • bugsy81 profile image

      bugsy81 8 years ago from Devon, England

      Hello, thanks for your comment. The bridegroom usually sits to the right of the bride. I keep meaning to add a seating chart. I will get around it soon - I promise!

    • profile image 8 years ago

      You don't mentiomn if the bride should be seated on the right or left of the groom. Which is usual?