8 Traditional Elements of the Wedding Reception

Events that Keep the Party Rolling Along

Laughing bride and groom cutting cake during outdoor wedding reception
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images 

The dress, the tux, the flowers, the guest list... Planning a wedding comes with its fair share of decision making, but don't let the smaller details muddle the bigger picture: a joyous day full of love, laughter, and celebration. To help you get the party started, here are eight wedding reception traditions to consider adding to your post-nuptial itinerary. 

The Cocktail Hour

Couples who choose to take pictures after the ceremony or host a receiving line usually provide cocktails and hors d’oeuvres so that guests are entertained during the newlywed couple's lengthy absence.

An open bar is a nice gesture to thank guests for their patience, but cash bars are common. Soft background music and reception games enliven the party, so consider offering guests activities that get them mingling and laughing, such as a photo booth or lawn games. A guest book station is a great way to keep guests occupied and memorialize their presence at your wedding in one fell swoop.

The Introduction of the Newlyweds

Typically, the newlywed couple makes a grand entrance after all the guests arrive at the reception venue. The DJ generally announces the parents first, then the wedding party, saving the newlyweds for last.

The newlyweds usually head straight to the dance floor for their first dance as a married couple or to the head table so that the formal dinner can begin. 

The Dancing

Celebrations of happiness are almost always accompanied by music and dancing. Even if you're a bit shy on the dance floor, there are several special wedding dances that take place during the reception.

Traditional dances include one with the newlyweds together and then with their parents, the entire wedding party, cultural performances, and guest group dances. The DJ is responsible for moving the festivities along, but you should choose the music. You may also want to consider compiling a do-not-play list while you're at it.

Afterward, the dance floor is open to anyone who wants to boogie.

The Food

The source of physical and spiritual nourishment, every culture celebrates life’s greatest joys with food. It is how we embrace family, welcome guests, and give thanks for our blessings. Whether it is a formal meal, family-style buffet, or simple platters of meat and cheese, most receptions include food. One of the best ways to honor your cultural heritage is to add your favorite ethnic dishes to the menu.

Once everyone is seated, play a photo slideshow of your journey together as a couple. Cultural performances or live instrumental music are also common during the dinner hour. 

The Toasts

There is typically a dedicated time for guests to offer the newlywed couple their well wishes for a happy future together. The best man is responsible for kicking off the champagne toasts. The maid of honor then shares her speech, which often consists of childhood memories and blessings. The rest of the wedding party and the immediate family should be invited up to offer a few words as well. Since all eyes are on the couple, this is also the perfect time to add a short unity ceremony that could not fit into the marriage ceremony.

The Cake Cutting

Everyone gathers around the newlyweds as they hold hands, slice the cake, and carefully—or not so carefully—feed each other a small piece to symbolize their commitment to providing for one another. Some cultures incorporate other activities into this portion of the reception, including speeches, unity ceremonies, and the cake pull. 

The Bouquet Toss

Most cultures have some way to predict who will tie the knot next, whether it is finding a certain trinket hidden in the wedding cake or catching the bridal garter and bouquet.

Traditionally, only the single men and women of marrying age are dragged onto the dance floor, but many couples are now choosing to invite everyone to participate. 

The Grand Goodbye

After the newlyweds have one last dance, the guests closely gather near a doorway to shower the couple with well wishes as they head for the getaway car.

The cheering crowd might toss rose petals, blow bubbles, or light sparklers to bless the newlyweds with a long and happy marriage.