Your wedding reception is a chance to welcome your closest loved ones after you tie the knot. All the little details of your celebration are an opportunity to represent who you are as a couple. But with so many moving parts, where do you begin? Our wedding reception checklist explains how to plan a reception with clarity and ease.
Every wedding celebration is divided into two main parts of the day: the ceremony and the reception. Though both parts of the wedding showcase you and your partner, your wedding reception should incorporate and engage your family and friends too. Everything from the creative reception activities to the wedding reception songs help to bring the two sides of your world together for an unforgettable day.
To get started, consider the typical wedding reception order of events and which elements you want to include. Next, consider how to design your reception and how to let this style shine through in things like your wedding invitations, place cards and even your wedding photo book design. There’s no need to feel overwhelmed with these customizable checklists, select which tasks are relevant to you to print a personalized list or print out our ultimate wedding reception checklist below.
- 10–12 Months Prior
- 6–9 Months Prior
- 3–5 Months Prior
- 6–8 Weeks Prior
- 3–5 Weeks Prior
- 1–2 Weeks Prior
- Day Before
- Day Of
10–12 Months Prior
Just around the one-year mark, focus your attention on wedding reception planning. Many venues start booking dates during or even before this time. Most of the larger decisions are made during this time, leaving all the smaller design details for later.
Find Your Planner
Wedding planners take a great deal of pressure off the design and execution of the big day. They typically offer full-service packages or day-of planning tailored to your budget. If you’d like help working through your entire wedding reception checklist, meet with wedding planners before you even look at venues.
Set the Date
When choosing the best wedding date, consider the following other family weddings, holidays, events, seasonal preferences and other factors that may impact availability and price.
Write Your Guest List
Brainstorm your early guest count to narrow down reception venue options, budget choices and the structure of your reception. This list does not have to be set in stone, but your approximate number affects most decisions early on.
Build Your Budget
Your guest count and wedding reception budget guide you toward the right venue. About 60 percent of your overall budget goes to reception food, drinks, decor and entertainment, so keep this number in mind when moving into the next step.
Once you have your desired date in mind, begin contacting reception venues. During your visit, make sure the hall has plenty of space to comfortably fit dinner, dancing and cocktail hour for your guest list.
Book Your DJ or Band and Photographer
These professionals often get snatched up a year before wedding dates. Book your entertainment, photographer and videographer right after you lock down a venue.
Build a Website
Before announcing your date, build a website for guests to read more details about the day. Make sure to include the date, time, location, registry links, dress code and the dinner options that your guests can choose from.
6–9 Months Prior
Now’s the time to choose how you’ll design your evening. Do you want to include fun things like reception games, special songs and wedding favors? This is also the time to send out save the dates, or in the case of destination weddings, send out invitations.
Choose Your Wardrobe
Many couples choose a different outfit for their wedding reception after the ceremony. As you search for your wedding dress or suit, begin searching for a reception wardrobe, shoes and accessories.
Design Your Decor
Choose your wedding reception colors, flower choices and centerpiece designs. Build your shopping list and determine which items to DIY and which are worth purchasing.
Hire a Florist
Florists can take your dream floral wedding reception decor and turn those dreams into realized designs. Do you plan on including boutonnieres, bouquets or a feature piece like a flower arch? Mention this and any other flower-related ideas from your wedding reception timeline.
Book a Baker
Unless your catering package includes a wedding cake, figure out your cake design and arrange cake tasting within this time period.
Solidify Your Timeline
The timeline of your wedding reception helps you wrap your head around how the night will go. Standard order includes announcement, first dances, dinner, toasts and dancing!
Make Meal Choices
Select your final meal choices from your venue or caterer’s list. This allows you to give guests the selection when sending their RSVP.
Order Your Invitations
Now that your details are set, design and order your wedding invitation suite. Be sure to include a place to RSVP, envelope and envelope liners and registry information. If you choose to keep your ceremony small, create a separate invitation for the reception only. Otherwise, everything can fit onto one invite and RSVP card.
3–5 Months Prior
Now’s the time to make final decisions and clarify design details. Cut down your wedding to-do list down by placing large orders and arranging additional vendors. Plan any remaining details like a big end of night send off!
If you require a shuttle from the hotel to the ceremony and reception space, book a bus early. Include this information on your website and alert your DJ and photographer of this schedule.
Pick Your Music
Now’s a good time to chat with your band and DJ about songs you’d like included or excluded on your wedding reception playlist. Include the order of dances, such as your first dance or father daughter dances—as well as your musical picks for each.
Finalize Wedding Reception Games
Perfect for kids and adult guests, wedding reception games help everyone loosen up and get to know one another. Create a scavenger hunt based around questions about the couple or weave in a tradition from your family’s culture.
Place Decor Order
By the three-month mark, you want to have all your decor items placed to ensure quick shipping. Give yourself extra time if you plan to DIY any portion of the design.
Plan Your Send Off
Once you’ve chosen your favorite wedding send off idea, create a shopping and to-do list to make sure you have everything you need for your send-off. Coordinate with your venue and DJ about your send off plans.
6–8 Weeks Prior
Now the wedding is in clear view. With guests confirming their attendance, you can solidify wedding stationery, seating charts and final counts for wedding favors and table decor.
Plan Your Seating Chart
Guests will begin to RSVP by this point. As they do, begin arranging your seating chart based on your wedding venue layout. Check out these seating chart ideas if you need help figuring out how to create seating plans.
Write and Assign Toasts
Ask your maid of honor, best man and parents if they plan to give a toast. It is also customary for the couple to address the room, so start making notes for your own speech.
Touch Base With Vendors
Once you have your wedding reception order solidified, touch base with each of your vendors, including your venue. Talk to your planner or the vendors directly about photography, drinks, food and any special musical cues or requests to help the night run smoothly.
Complete DIY Projects
Gather your friends and throw a crafting party to check your DIY projects off the wedding checklist. Store them in a safe place for the next month and add smaller details during any down time.
3–5 Weeks Prior
During this time, check in with your vendors about creating a wedding reception timeline. This will allow you to look at your wedding reception checklist and make sure nothing’s been overlooked.
If you haven’t heard from someone, this is the time to politely check in. Venues often need final reception headcounts a few weeks before as well as a final seating chart.
Create Reception Schedule
With the help of your planner or reception venue contact, create a wedding reception schedule so that all involved will be on the same page. Be sure the vendors have everything they need to set up on your big day.
Check in With Your Photographer
Be sure to let your photographer know what you’d like captured during the reception. With a rundown of the evening, they can ensure their team ready for capturing each moment.
Take a Dance Lesson
Looking for a way to relax with your soon-to-be-spouse? Take a couple of dance lessons to the tune of your first dance.
1–2 Weeks Prior
Most vendors require final details and headcounts during this time. Make sure you have all your vendor contact info in one place and that everyone is on the same page.
Delegate Payment + Tips for Vendors
If gratuity was not part of their contract, set their cash or check tip in a marked envelope. Some vendors require some payment day of, make sure that someone else is handling this task so you can focus on your big day. Ask a family member or friend to deliver these at the start of the night since cleanup can always be a bit rushed.
Chat With Bridal Party
The transition from ceremony to reception may involve a wardrobe change, reapplication of makeup, photos or a wedding party toast. Chat with your girls or guys about nailing down these details.
Confirm Guest Count and Seating Chart
Deliver the final guest count and seating chart to your venue. If things change last minute, talk with your venue about the best way to get in touch.
Pass Off Reception Decor
Depending on your planner’s preferences, pass off any DIY decor, cake toppers or candles during this time. Chat with your setup team about where each item is placed in relation to flowers and food.
Create Bathroom Baskets
Gather some fun helpful items into a basket to place in the reception restrooms. These often include hairspray, lip glosses, bandaids and candy.
Confirm Cleanup and Gift Help
Ask a friend or family member to gather gifts at the end of the reception and store them in a safe place. If the venue requires you to remove any decor, be sure to delegate this help before the event.
Assign a Contact Person
If you do not have a day-of coordinator, assign a contact person for guest and vendor questions. This is especially important to keep your focus off of stress and on enjoying your celebration.
With guests arriving and the rehearsal dinner on the horizon, the celebration has already begun. Past this point, begin handing any remaining tasks off to your team.
Check in With Your Vendors
Find a time to sit down with your planner and go over any last-minute questions or details. If you aren’t using a planner, check in with your vendors to ensure that everything is all set. Ask any last minute questions to make sure you’re on the same page.
Above all, set time for yourself and your wedding party. Head to the salon for a mani-pedi or even schedule a short massage at a local spa. It’s easy to get distracted by everything going on, but now’s the time to transition into wedding mode.
Wedding-Day Essentials Box
Lay out every important document and wedding prep item that you’ll need the next morning. Keep your wedding license and paperwork in an obvious spot or hand it off to your officiant.
Time flies on your wedding day. Schedule a morning that includes some personal time to regroup before hosting. Remember that every detail from here on is taken care of by your wonderful team.
Leave Yourself Tons of Time
Schedule more-than-enough buffer time for hair appointments, makeup and travel in between. Photos also tend to take longer than expected, so err on the side of extra time versus rushing around.
Enjoy Your Dinner
Ask your caterer to serve you and your spouse's dinner a bit earlier than the rest of the room. While everyone else focuses on their first course, sit and take the time to eat your entree so you can socialize throughout the rest of the night on a full stomach.
Check in With Your Spouse
With all the hustling around, you often don’t get to chat one-on-one with your new spouse until the end of the night. Take a moment with your new spouse to soak in your ceremony before heading into the reception.
Work the Room
Once the reception begins, make your way around the room to check in with your guests in groups. It’s much easier to touch base with all of your loved ones as they sit and prep for dinner.
Celebrate Your Big Day!
Above all else, take a moment to stop and look around at everyone you love. You’ve planned for this event for over a year. Now it’s time to let your wedding reception to-do list go and enjoy every detail you’ve planned.
Printable Reception Checklist
This printable ultimate reception checklist is organized like a timeline to make sure that you accomplish every task to make your wedding reception a success.
Planning your wedding reception, though a lengthy process, can be just as much fun as the day itself. It’s also a chance to reconnect with family and friends as you move through your planning. Thank everyone who helps you along the way with personalized gifts to show how much their support meant to you along the way.