bride and groom dancing at the end of wedding reception

How Long Should a Wedding Reception Be?

Nov 16, 2021
By Wedding Spot

Wedding timelines can be tricky. When you’re planning the nitty-gritty of the wedding day timeline, you may have asked yourself more than once: How long should a wedding reception be, really? In this guide, we go over what’s traditionally “accepted,” as well as what you should do given your own unique circumstances.

Keep in mind that there are lots of factors to consider when making this decision. Discover what they are and how to strategically plan your wedding reception below.

So, how long should a wedding reception be?

Depending on who you ask, four hours is typically considered long enough for a wedding reception. But the truth is that it may not be up to you, and reception length can vary due to a ton of different factors. For example, many wedding reception venues have a set amount of time you're allowed to use the space built into the contract.

If the venue doesn’t have a set start time, they may have a strict end time. You can expect a more conservative reception venue to end the party around 11 pm or midnight depending on a few different factors, including:

  • what they have booked the next day

  • how they plan their clean up (some do it immediately, others wait until the morning, others expect you to handle it before you leave)

  • the noise ordinances for the area

If you’d like to save a little bit on this area of your budget and an early night sounds like the perfect way to kick off your marriage, consider bringing it up when discussing pricing with the venue.

RELATED: Questions to Ask a Wedding Venue: The Ultimate List

Some wedding venues are more relaxed than others. They may even give you access to the space the week leading up to the wedding. You can use this time to arrange furniture, bring in decor, and set up your larger electronic equipment such as lighting and music. If you do get to enter the venue ahead of time, you may be able to save on your rental fee by limiting your time in the space on the day of.

If your venue is flexible, your wedding reception may be able to go until the same time bars in the area typically close. But before you commit to a late-night party, ask yourself whether or not your group of wedding guests will be interested in staying that long. Some weddings have crowds that prefer to end too early than let it drag on too late. Others could dance the entire night away and do it again the next day. The truth is: Every wedding is different, and what works for one couple and their guests may not work for the next.

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There are pros and cons to hosting a short wedding reception. For starters, a wedding reception that lasts less than four hours will be cheaper to host than one that lasts longer than four hours. Less time at the venue equals more time for the venue to prepare for or book other events. It also means you may limit your wedding reception to just cocktails and dancing rather than a formal sit-down dinner, which is another budget-saving wedding idea we love.

On the other hand, shorter wedding receptions may mean that the fun gets cut off before everyone is ready to wrap up the day. No one wants to feel like they have to leave when they’re right in the middle of the fun. Shorter receptions also leave less time for activities such as entrances, speeches, cake cutting, first dances, and wedding reception games.

If your venue has a strict cut-off time but you want to party well into the morning, consider having a backup venue booked or on standby regardless of how long you want your reception to go. You may discover that a short reception isn’t long enough or that you all still have quite a bit of celebrating in you just as your reception venue is shutting down.

The best after-party locations for wedding receptions include private homes, bars, and clubs. If you choose to go this route, make sure that everyone is getting to the after-party safely and responsibly. Ideally, it will be within walking distance from the other location, or you’ll have a shuttle or some other type of ride-sharing option.

Use these tips to make sure your wedding reception doesn’t start to feel too long

  • Keep guests busy with scheduled and unscheduled activities. For example, scheduled activities may include the start of a self-serve buffet. Unscheduled activities include signing the guest book or participating in the photo booth.

  • Limit dancing to two or three hours max if you don’t anticipate your wedding guest list being a lively bunch.

  • Communicate the reception timeline in written form with cards on the table and verbally during the welcome speech or DJ shoutout.

  • Entertain guests with live music, wedding activities such as the bouquet toss, and a send-off.

Now you know how long a wedding reception should last!

If you’re planning to host a wedding cocktail hour in addition to a reception, check out our wedding cocktail hour ideas that your guests will love.

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Wedding Spot

The Wedding Spot blog is designed to help couples navigate every step of the wedding planning journey. From before the engagement to after you say “I do,” our goal is to give you the tips, ideas, and inspiration to prepare for your big day — and all that comes with it.