Photo by Joe Homsy at the Saratoga County Club wedding of Chris and Mo in 2010.
When to cut the cake? No doubt it is an ongoing discussion in wedding circles. A popular DJ in our area, Ron Grandia, makes a great case for cutting the wedding cake right after the meal in his blog post called The Great Cake Debate. I make no effort to refute Ron's points. However, I think there are two schools of thought on this topic and I normally come from the other one.
Here are some of the advantages I see in cutting the wedding cake after a short set of dance music.
1. It gets the guests right out of their seats. Often weddings can drag a bit from the guests' perspective with ceremony, photos, cocktails, dinner and toasts because for the most part these are passive activities they observe. Food and alcohol coma can set in and energy is lost when the guests sit too long. Background music can only be so peppy and if they don't get up and moving, they can fade.
2. Saving the cake for just a little while will give you (the hosts and entertainers) one more "bone" to toss the guests. It becomes the surprise sweet treat they have been eyeballing so the prolonged tease can even increases the anticipation and temptation.
3. As a music programmer I always use the cake break as a logical and smooth transition between styles. I take no breaks myself when I do a wedding so I am always looking for the most subtle way to move from genre to genre. So the cake break can be a great way to stop the dance music and start it again in a completely different style without causing culture shock. If older guests are likely to leave early, then my intention is to satisfy them with this pre-cake cutting dancing. They are then able to dance, enjoy the cake and leave without feeling like they missed anything.
4. If the couple chooses to toss a garter and bouquet, there is no better time than immediately following their ceremonious cake cutting. While the staff is serving the cake the garter/bouquet tosses can be easily made without any interruption of the energy because it's down time. It is also the easiest time to keep the audience's attention because as an MC you already have it. Alternatively you must find a time to stop for the tosses later during your dance sets which can often kill the dancing energy. Finally, you still have the maximum number of guests there to participate in the tossing ceremony because most wedding guests will stay at least until the cake is cut.
5. And there are exceptions to every one of my rules. If for any reason the reception is running way behind schedule, I will default to a cake cutting right after the meal. I really don't want any guest to miss out on cake and there are always a few guests (as Ron accurately points out) that are not going to stay to the end of the reception. When we are grossly behind schedule I completely agree with cutting and serving cake immediately after the meal.
Most will agree that the cake cutting ceremony is a turning point at a wedding reception. I am certainly not arguing that it should be in the final hour of a reception but just after a short and energetic dance set. Normally, I allow this set to go on about thirty minutes in order to let everyone know that dancing is definitely on tap for the remainder of the reception.
Finally, I believe that your DJ is the person who ultimately should decide when that perfect moment is to stop for the cake cutting. It is a matter of energy, timing and flow. No one else at the event is in a better position to determine that moment. Your DJ should always give the other vendors a good heads up when that moment is approaching so they are ready for it. I've heard many stories about photographers missing a cake cutting because an amateur DJ made the cake announcement while they were outside taking a photo of the grandparents. I find that most planners, coordinators and catering staff normally concur on this timing give or take a few minutes.
So what's the best time to cut your cake? It is really the vibe of your event and not the exact time on the clock that makes the biggest difference. Trust the person in charge of the energy level at your reception.