My Wedding Reception – How Long Is Too Long?

A lot of considerations must go into the length of your wedding celebration. Here’s a guide to determining how much time you’ll need to schedule for the biggest party of your lives.

Let’s get some of the exceptions out of the way first. Some Indian wedding celebrations take several days. Some Middle Eastern weddings last 12 hours or more. And we’ve done a few Irish weddings that stretched to 8 or 9 hours, with a packed dance floor at the very end. But most weddings don’t last that long.

Is your ceremony part of your total time schedule? If you’re hiring a Chicago wedding DJ, and you need him to provide music and a microphone for your ceremony, you’ll need to factor in that time.

There are a lot of moving parts in a great wedding. After the ceremony, you’ll have cocktail hour, wedding party introductions, toasts and a blessing, cake cutting, dinner, your First Dance, special dances for the bride and father, groom and mother, and the bridal party, a bouquet toss, garter toss, perhaps a Dollar Dance, Hora or other traditional dance, and of course plenty of open-floor dancing by your guests.

Are your ceremony and reception at the same venue? That shortens the time you’ll need, because your guests won’t need an hour or more to drive from one venue to another. Plus, having your ceremony late in the afternoon mitigates some of the summer heat, and affords you the most favorable lighting for photos, including that wonderful kiss at sunset.

Ideally you don’t want your cocktail hour to last more than an hour. If it goes much longer, your guests will fill up on appetizers, or worse, extra booze, even before dinner starts.

Dinner typically lasts an hour and a half. A buffet or family-style dinner can shorten that time. A full 7-course plated meal with dessert can easily drag on for two hours.

Try to set aside about 3 hours for dancing. That’s enough for most parties. If the dance floor is still full after 3 hours, and your venue doesn’t mind staying open for an extra hour or more, and you have the budget for it, then party on!

The rules are different for Friday or Sunday weddings. On Fridays, some of your guests will work all day, then go to your wedding; so there’s a good chance they’ll run out of gas around 10pm. On Sundays, some of your guests will need to leave around 9 or 10pm to get ready for work the next morning. In either event, don’t expect every single guest to stay for the entire reception.

So how long is the ideal wedding reception? It’s possible to fit a single-location ceremony, cocktails, dinner and dancing into 6 hours if you have a planner or a DJ who is good at keeping everything on schedule. If it’s just a reception for a few dozen close friends and relatives, then 5 hours may be enough. If the vast majority of your guests are under 40, they’ll probably have the stamina to go longer.

Should we consider a grand farewell picture or video? Some couples love to have that in their wedding albums or videos. But if you’re having only 100 guests, most of them will be gone after 6 hours; so you and your photographer or videographer may wish to “stage” your farewell a little earlier.

Should we schedule a gala Last Dance? If you’ve invited a big crowd, there will be plenty of guests left for a last dance. If your guest list starts small, and there are just a couple dozen people left at the end of the night, your dance won’t be so “gala.”

So a typical wedding celebration runs about 6 hours, with or without a ceremony. Consider the factors we mentioned above if you want to schedule your day for 7 or 8 hours. You wouldn’t want to spend the final hour or two with just a handful of people in the room. That would be wasteful. Smart planning can ensure that everyone has a great time, and you leave ‘em wanting more!

© Fourth Estate Audio, 2016 – Jay Congdon is president of Fourth Estate Audio, a professional Chicago DJ and Chicago Wedding DJ company.

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