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When Should You Cut the Wedding Cake?

It's an important part of your reception timeline.

One aspect of the evening that can be tough to figure out is the cake cutting. Do you do it when you expect people to actually eat the confection or for ceremonial purposes at another time?

Cakes & Desserts
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Photo: Tina Rowden

when to cut the cake at your wedding, when to do the cake cutting at the reception
Photo by Milanés Photography; Floral Design by Akeem Clayton Designs

When having the classic big wedding with a full reception following the ceremony, there can be quite a bit to schedule: dinner, toasts, first dance, parent dances, bouquet toss, garter toss, and more! One aspect of the evening that can be tough to figure out is the cake cutting. Do you do it when you expect people to actually eat the confection or for ceremonial purposes at another time?

Traditionally, cutting the cake occurred at the end of the celebration and indicated that the party was over. However, this was back when cake-and-punch receptions were the standard, not the full-blown parties we usually see today. Etiquette still states that the cake cutting is a signal that it is okay to go home, which may affect when you choose to take part in the custom. If you have a lot of older guests or attendees with small children, cutting the cake early in the evening will lessen the pressure to stay. 

Keep in mind that just because it’s seen as socially acceptable to leave doesn’t mean everyone is going to depart your reception early! Most people will want to spend the night dancing and celebrating your marriage. You may choose to cut the cake right away, soon after your grand exit – even before dinner and speeches. Not only does this ensure that everyone is there because they want to be – not because they feel socially obligated – but it also can help with your photography package. If you’re having a particularly long reception and/or after-party, you might not be able to have everything covered. If you hit certain moments such as the cake cutting earlier in the evening, this frees up time to have the getting-ready portion of the day documented. 

Of course, generally speaking, your photography and/or videography team will be there through dinner. Following the meal can be a natural time to cut the cake – after all, dessert follows dinner, right? Though you do not have to serve the sweet treat immediately after the ceremonial slicing, especially since guests may still be full from dinner. If it feels unnatural to cut the cake and then wait to eat it, consider taking part in the tradition partway through the dancing. This will also allow revelers to regain some energy and stay on the dance floor.

For more tips, find out how to decide on a wedding cake style or if you need the confection at all.