Etiquette, Protocol, and the Game Plan
Having conducted an extensive library and Internet search for the proper, approved and/or accepted way of timing, order, and procedures at a wedding reception, it became abundantly clear that there isn't a readily accessible, clearly understandable, non-conflicting guide. Traditions and personal preferences notwithstanding, I offer this guide as a logical, common-sense, and politically correct approach to solving most concerns and issues.
ARRIVAL AT THE RECEPTION FACILITY
PREPARATION FOR ANNOUNCEMENT
Your introductees and complete Bridal Party should gather in an on-site room or location free from noise and guest traffic. We will review the complete line-up, name pronounciations, get your people in proper order, and explain the full itinerary of the first fifteen to twenty minutes leaving nothing to chance or individual interpretation. The banquet hall representative should be there to assist you and your party.
GENERAL RULES FOR INTRODUCTIONS
All persons to be introduced should be listed with the proper title prefix (Ms.-Miss-Mrs.-Master-Mr.-Dr.) and should be in the formal context (Elizabeth not Beth, Douglas not Doug, William not Bill). Avoid the "family tree relationship" (sister-of the-bride, cousin-of-the-groom, best-friend-of-the bride-at-school, etc). Relationship announcements adds to confusions, takes excessive time, and opens up avenues for potential mistakes and out-of-order announcing.
Ladies line up to the left of the gentlemen. Easy to remember. Ladies Left. LL!
If you wish to have Grandparents introduced, follow these simple guidelines. If one grandparent is introduced walking in, then all should be introduced walking in. If one grandparent needs to be introduced from their table, ALL of them then should be introduced from their table. At their tables, they may sit or stand and wave to everyone when their names are announced.
FORMING THE ARCH
An arch of the Bridal Party's raised arms and bouquets (if military, your protocol is service dependant so additional homework will be required) is your choice and should be carefully orchestrated with your photographer and videographer. Remember, while passing under the arch, duck walk instead of bending over or we'll never see your smiling faces in the photos, just the tops of your heads.
FIRST (AND MAYBE 2nd FIRST) DANCE
I recommend having your First Dance done immediately after introductions. It will be the only time during the reception that your entire Bridal Party will be in one spot, be fully clothed, and picture-perfect. Only at these moments is there little chance of you or a guest spilling ziti or wine on your dress. Don't take that gamble with your important first dance photographs by waiting until after dinner.
If your First Dance song length is 3:00 - 3:30 minutes or shorter, the two of you should dance the entire selection solo, no bridal party nor parents joining. Activity during such a short duratrion might detract from its significance giving your guests an impression of a disorganized fire drill. If you still wish to involve the bridal party in a group dance, consider having a second first dance. You may also consider inviting the Bride & Groom's parents to join that first or second first dance (unless there's the slightest twinge of uncomfortability with it, then don't.).
If your First Dance song length is more than 3:00 minutes, it would be very appropriate to have your Bridal Party join you in it, especially if either of you are self-conscious about being in the public eye. You may also consider inviting the Bride & Groom's parents to join that first or second first dance (unless there's the slightest twinge of uncomfortability with it, then don't.).
BLESSING - INVOCATION
The protocol of the Prayer BEFORE Toast dates to medieval times when it was thought that alcohol actually did contain real evil spirits (thus names such as devil rum). To invoke the name of the Lord with evil spirits on your lips was blasphemy, therefore the blessing should precede all toasts. No liquor on the lips while praying sounds appropriate to me, don't you agree?
(Everyone Standing except the Bottom Tier of a Two Tier Head Table or the Front Two Row of a Two Row Head Table. Bride & Groom are also seated.)
Again, no majority concensus as to who's first, so I've used this logic. A) Ladies First. B) the Best Man's Toast is supposed to be the Grand Finale, the toast of all toasts, and I've never heard of any Grand Finale being first. Based on those two premises alone, here's my order recommedation: 1) any Bridesmaids; 2) Matron Of Honor; 3) Maid Of Honor; 4) any Ushers; and LAST, 5) Best Man. The bottom tier or front row of bridesmaids and ushers at the head table remain seated so that the guests and your professional photographer and/or videographer aren't shielded or blocked from capturing those important and emotional moments.
TOAST OR WELCOME BY A PARENT
The Father Of The Bride will sometimes want to welcome and thank everybody for joining them for the celebration. Pausing only long enough for everyone to retake their seats, do this welcoming speech and/or toast timmediately after the Best Man's toast.
TOAST or WELCOME BY THE BRIDE & GROOM
There are four choices to satisfy the need to meet and greet all the guests at your wedding.
CHOICE ONE: Having a receiving line immediately following the service or ceremony. A huge consideration with this choice is many of your guests were not able to attend your ceremony service. You trying to remember who you've thanked in the receiving line, and then trying to identify and locate those at the reception hall who didn't attend the ceremony may mean you'll have to start all over again, thus duplicating your efforts and wasting precious time. Also, the chances are quite realistic this choice will cause you to be late getting to the reception.
CHOICE TWO: Get from the ceremony site directly to the reception hall. Set up a receiving line at the reception hall and all guests MUST pass you to get to the bar. This does thwart after service formal pictures but then again, they can be done at the facility following the receiving line. You will have to extend your cocktail hour to a cocktail hour and a half to make this work properly, but it completely eliminates the need to go table to table.
CHOICE THREE: Go table to table and greet everyone at their seats. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL AFTER DINNER! Do it between courses or immediately after your through eating or you'll be tied up doing this all night. You're going to miss your own reception!
CHOICE FOUR: After all the toasts are done and folks are relaxed for the moment, stand, and side by side, welcome and thank everyone for sharing in your big day. Tell them you look forward to saying hello to everyone throughout the evening, that you'll be on the dance floor all night, stopping by tables as time permits, and "we love you"! Now...no table rounds are needed. CHOICE 4 will allow you the most time to enjoy your own wedding day.