Your Ideal Wedding Reception Run Sheet

January 21, 2021

The run sheet for a wedding is often one of the last tasks to be tackled by a bride and groom. Thrown together at the last minute after prompting by your event manager.  Rather than viewing it as another wedding admin task to cross off the list, we encourage our couples to think about it as a map to the perfect wedding. When it comes to planning a great event the timings and sequence are crucial, which is why it’s worth your careful thought at the beginning of your planning journey to ensure you can deliver the ultimate guest experience.

What is a run sheet?

First of all, what is a run sheet?  Technically, the run sheet for your wedding is a documented timeline which specifies the running order of events throughout your wedding. It’s important to ensure everything runs smoothly, keeps everyone on time, and takes the stress and hassle out of the day for the bride and groom. The run sheet should be treated like gospel by the wedding venue, the MC and all your suppliers so they don’t have to badger you for direction on the day. It should include everything from bump in times (note: bump in refers to the time that suppliers can access and set up at the venue), to what time food service will commence, the cutting of the cake, your first dance – literally everything.  If you want your wedding day to transpire as you imagined it, every detail needs to be included on the run sheet.

The importance of getting your timings right

Getting timings right is important in wedding planning
Getting timings right is important in wedding planning

The timings of your wedding can make the difference between throwing a great wedding celebration, or a poor one. Take a moment to think of a wedding you attended which was somewhat disappointing.

What made it so disappointing?  Was there a lot of standing around without direction of what was to come?  Were you stuck sitting down for way too long because formalities lasted forever?  Were you hungry? Was the general feeling just a little flat?

Whatever the reason, chances are it came down to the timings being somewhat off. You want to keep your event moving, stage by stage, so that your guests are relaxed and entertained at all times.

By carefully planning your event times and keeping a few key things in mind, your guests will enjoy themselves from start to end and will forever hold great memories from your wedding day. 

How long should your wedding last?

The start and end times of your wedding are the number one thing to consider. No doubt you’ve been handed the advice by a few people by now to make the most of it because the day will go so quickly.  That may feel true for many couples, but don’t feel you need to draw it out in hopes it will last forever. The ideal length of a wedding is seven to eight hours.  Any longer and your guests will begin to fatigue, or drink way too much, or worse – feel bored. They are there for a good time, not a long time, and it’s much better to leave them wishing it had lasted longer than wishing it would hurry up and end. 

Choose your start and end times to suit the time of year

There is no ‘right’ time of day for your wedding to commence and conclude, but there are two crucial factors to guide your decision – the time of year and whether you will be outdoors.  

Planning an early afternoon ceremony for your summer wedding to maximise the daylight sounds lovely, but the reality is likely to be far from it. Standing in the summer heat from 2pm in your wedding attire is a guaranteed way to make everyone uncomfortable to the point of misery. Not to mention a lot of sweaty photos.  Consider a 4pm start instead with a refreshing spritz on arrival.  

Similarly, starting too late in the afternoon in the winter months may minimise the hours of daylight you have for drinks and photos. An early start and an early finish are a good option in winter if your location gets particularly cold too. Be flexible according to the time of year and keep the guest experience front of mind.

Rustic-inspired wedding cake
Rustic-inspired wedding cake

The ‘in between’ time 

Try to follow the general rule of allocating between one and two hours for guests to have drinks and  canapés between the ceremony and wedding reception. It should be enough time for guests to say hello to each other, have a couple of drinks, something to eat and for excitement to build. 

While this part of the wedding is a lot of fun, any longer than two hours may feel drawn out as it really is a segue to the main event. 

Cater appropriately for the length of your wedding

The length of your wedding will play an important role in determining the quantities of food you’ll require. Food is one of the most memorable elements of any wedding day for guests, and ensuring they have plenty of opportunity for refreshments in quantities that satisfy will keep energy levels and spirits high.  

A wedding day can be long and exhausting for all in attendance, considering the time it takes to get ready and travel to the venue before the wedding even begins. And in all that busy-ness, many guests don’t have time for breakfast or lunch prior to the wedding.

Although that’s not really your problem, it does mean that guests often arrive already hungry. Let your caterer help you design an appropriate menu to suit the times of your wedding, ensuring your guests won’t go hungry 

Consult your suppliers 

Be guided by your suppliers about how long you can expect things to take.  While it’s your day and you can design it however you want to, they are the experts, and you should trust they will guide you in the right direction.

It’s understandable that you may want to wrap up bridal party photos in 10 minutes so you can re-join the celebrations, but if photos are important to you, your photographer will need to provide insight into what is realistic so you can allow for it.  

Consider the time your guests will spend in their seats

There’s nothing worse than itching to get on the dance floor only to hear that yet another family member will now be making a speech. Consider the guest experience and decide as a couple up front, how many speeches you plan to include and how long you want them to last for.

Keep them to a minimum, enforce a time limit (as a guide, five minutes per speech and no more than eight minutes should do it), and break them up if possible. For example, having two separate blocks of speeches is a great way to structure it if you simply must have a longer line up.

Dessert station featuring miniature sweets
Dessert station featuring miniature sweets

Food stations and roaming options

Another way to reduce the time guests spend in their seats is by serving one or more of the courses as food stations or by roaming individual plates for guests to eat standing. 

This is particularly true for dessert. It truly is a sad sight to see stunning plates of dessert abandoned on tables by guests who are now mingling, getting fresh air or dancing.

Roaming miniature desserts or presenting them on a dessert station for guests to help themselves, is a much more casual and accessible way to finish on a sweet note without restricting guests from getting up and moving around. 

Straight to the dance floor after you cut the cake

Another great hallmark of a memorable wedding – coming together on the dance floor.

One of the most memorable moments for you will be your first dance as a married couple. For your guests, it will be whether they had fun on the dance floor! 

When speeches are finished and your stunning cake has been cut, it’s time to hit the floor. You want to make the most of the energy that’s been building throughout dinner and the reception. Last tip – make sure your photographer knows to be at the ready to capture all those faces as they break it down. 

Fill in the gaps

Now that you know how to time your wedding reception like a professional, you can commence the real planning. Your wedding has the potential to be the best event you and your guests have attended; all you have to do is write the perfect map for it. 

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