How Long Does a Wedding Reception Last?

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Just as the name implies, a wedding reception is the time for a newly married couple to receive and greet all their wedding guests. Whether it's a garden brunch or a formal evening reception held in a hotel, each couple's personal tastes and budgets will dictate the length of their reception.

Average Lengths

Just as each couple is different, so is each wedding reception. Although there is no specific length that a reception should last, most receptions that include a full sit-down meal last around four hours. Some couples will extend the party by planning a five- or six-hour reception, while others plan an after-party at a second location. Guests who are invited to an after-party can plan to spend an hour or two at this event.


There are several factors that dictate how long the reception will be. The reception venue might only be available for a certain length of time. Most reception venues charge the couple by the hour, so a couple on a tight budget might opt to throw a shorter reception. The longer the reception, the more food and drinks guests will consume so a shorter reception also saves on catering costs. Personal taste can also dictate the length of the reception, because some couples will prefer a quieter event while others will want to hold an all-night dance party.

Reception Events

The events that a couple chooses to include in their reception can affect the party's length. Most receptions follow the same basic order of events. Once the guests have arrived, the DJ announces the bridal party and the couple, who immediately share their first dance. Dinner is generally served next, followed by a few hours of dancing and entertainment. If couples opt for a cocktail hour or serve a multi-course dinner, these events will stretch the length of the reception by an hour or two.

Spreading the Word

No newly married couple wants to end their reception by asking guests to get out. If a reception has a set end time, couples should include the time on the wedding invitation by writing something like "Please join us for a reception to be held from six o'clock to 11 o'clock ..." Couples who want to spread the message that the night is almost over should ask their DJ to announce the final song. If the overhead lights are turned on, that's the final sign that it's time to say good night.