The Bride and Groom have just made their Grand Entrance into the dining area...and the applause begins to fade...what happens now? Obviously, everyone is ready to eat, but with a little advance planning, there are a few formalities that can be addressed at this time. A good segue is to have the DJ invite everyone to be seated and then introduce the Father of the Bride (or parents) to give a brief welcome toast. After the opening remarks, any blessings (if scheduled) should occur immediately thereafter, and then the food service can begin. Talk to your caterer and get their thoughts about doing the Best Man and Maid/Matron of Honor toasts after the parents do their welcoming remarks. If the speakers from your bridal party are prepared... and the planned remarks are brief...the time before the food service begins can potentially be a good slot to do all the toasts at once. What's ideal is that this will probably be the only time during the entire evening when everyone in attendance is seated in the same place and attentive. However, if you know that the the Maid of Honor has a story that's probably going to go on for awhile...and there's a good possibility that she may break down and cry tears of happiness...do the additional toasts at a later time.
In general, most caterers do not want to all the toasts at once at the beginning of the meal, because they are preoccupied with serving the food while it's still hot. If the meal is a full service sit down affair, most likely the salads were already on the tables when the guests were first invited to take their seats. If you're having a buffet, the Bride and Groom, Parents, and Bridal Party are usually served by the staff or invited to go through the line first and then they are followed by the remaining guests. In order to prevent a free-for-all at the buffet line, it's usually best to invite only 1 or 2 tables to go through the line at a time. One way to have an orderly procession through the buffet is to have the DJ make the announcements and call the tables one by one. The DJ is happy to do this, because it's part of their job description to make announcements. What's a lot more classy and seems to work better, however, is when a member of the banquet staff approaches the tables individually and invites them personally to enjoy the buffet. I'm not sure exactly what the thought process is... but most people seem to become very upset when hanging on the the edge of their seat, waiting for some DJ to call their table. A few select people may even feel that this process doesn't apply to them and they'll proceed to get in line anyway...effectively creating the very log jam everyone was hoping to avoid. Perhaps it's a survival instinct, but I've seen it happen on more than a few occasions when people are hungry. In general...if the DJ is playing nice background music and not making announcements...and a banquet staff member is walking the room to invite the guests to dinner...people will normally chill out, have a drink, and engage in table conversation. It's been said that, "music calms the savage beast" and in this situation, more often than not it's true.
Whether you decide on a buffet or a sit-down affair...at some point the vendors will need to take a break and the meal is the perfect time to do that. There's a good chance the photographers have been on their feet following you around the entire day. If the ceremony occurred at the same venue where you're having the reception, most likely the videographer and the DJ have been onsite for the past 4 hours as well. Setting aside 20 minutes of downtime for your vendors to eat is a good way to recharge everyone's batteries and keep morale up. If you've arranged for the caterers to take care of the other vendors...make sure they know when everyone is going on break. The expectations are that the break will be brief... and that the caterer will serve them when it occurs.
Once the Bride & Groom have finished eating it's back to work for all the wedding professionals at the event. If the toasts haven't happened yet or you'd like to visit each table for pictures with guests... this is the time to do it. After the toasts and pictures are finished the meal begins to come to a close...people will begin to anticipate the dancing. If you're envisioning a non-stop club atmosphere after dinner, you may want to consider cutting the wedding cake before the first dance. The advantage to doing this is you don't have to kick everyone off a packed dance floor once the party starts. Other benefits are the cake can now be served with coffee as dessert...and any toasts that haven't been made yet will still command most of the guest's attention. Overall, there's a lot going on during the "dinner hour". Depending on your head count and certain logistics...it may actually take longer than an hour to complete the aforementioned events. The caterer will naturally assume the lead during this time. Talk with them beforehand about their plans for the meal and convey that to the other vendors so everyone will be working in unison on the day of the event!
Next...Part IV...The Party!