The following information regards "typical, but flexible timing" of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah Reception. Specifically when hors d'oeuvres are history and the meal has been served. Adults will enjoy a leisurely meal, but kids eat very quickly. They won't stay seated. When they're up and start roaming, it's time to move along:
BEGINNING/MIDDLE OF HOUR 2: Contest time.
Most games are "active," with lots of movement. Some are "passive"--I don't want kids running around bumping into waiters with full trays.
Some work best with small groups. Others are suited for larger ones. I've played at Bar or Bat Mitzvah functions with the entire 70-member class on the dance floor. The definition of "boring:" The Limbo with 70 kids going under the stick the first time, 61 the second, 48 the third...Very tedious. (Of course, I can always control how quickly the stick falls or have kids go under with a partner.) But I prefer to incorporate a Limbo into a Conga line during the party. Then adults have fun with it, too. (Invite a chiropractor!)
Besides, there are more imaginative activities available and I want my client's child and his friends to enjoy an original approach. I don't want anyone to leave thinking "been there, done that." Ask your DJ what he offers that's novel.
I mentioned a party with 70 kids. I also performed at a Bar Mitzvah once with just 9 boys in attendance! No girls. No kidding. That one was tougher for me than the large group. But a DJ must work with what he's given. I can't ask you for another 25 children! Your DJ should be able to ad lib his way through any contingency. I usually don't introduce them into my performance, but I did a few magic tricks for that group and adjusted some contests for them. They enjoyed the segment.
When I notice that the adults have finished their meal and are just observing the friends, it's time to move on. Depending on the group's size, 20-30 minutes is sufficient time to explain the rules of, and conduct 3-4 contests. More than that and the adults and kids will get restless and feel "enough already with the games."
TOWARDS THE END OF HOUR 2: A Candlelighting Ceremony is anticipated, so shouldn't be treated casually.
While it's occasionally conducted prior to the meal, I think this is a more logical time for it since it allows for better flow. It's a transition. Bellies are full, games are history, a Hora and dancing are straight ahead. "Candlelighting" isn't mentioned or mandated in the Torah! It's not imperative. However, if you're wavering, it's: (1) a recognition of those closest to you, (2) over in 13 minutes. Or less. (3) a fine photo opportunity and, years from now, you'll cherish those shots. Don't regret not having that picture!
A DJ will often use "Bobby Morganstein's Candlelighting Medley" for up-tempo background music. Even better, ask if he'll customize the music. Have your child say a few words (which you should help write) pertaining to each individual or group that's honored. It can be humorous or heartfelt. Rhyme or prose. But try for something more spirited and thoughtful than, "Bubbie and Zaide, come up and light Candle 1" down to "Mom and Dad, come up and light Candle 13."
Or, have THE CANDLELIGHTERS say something wonderful about your child! They'd LOVE to!
And don't forget the obvious: candles! You'll need 14 tapers (one is the child's "shamash"). Don't use short, thick Sabbath candles, which will look awful. But be sure the tapers are less than 12" (I've seen kids standing behind the cake and hidden by tall tapers. When the photos came out, it looked like they were in a jail cell!)
And why a "Candlelighting" anyway? Rebel! Just after our youngest's Bat Mitzvah we moved into a new home. We purchased a small magnolia tree, made paper leaves and had a "Leaf Tying Ceremony." Then, when we moved, we planted the tree outside her window! Be different. You don't have to move. You have to think.
Your guests have been seated for a while. Time to work off those calories! Playing a Hora now, every seat at every table should be empty. Even non-Jewish guests can be "taught" this easy circle dance and get into the spirit of the occasion. Be sure your child is hoisted in a chair from the center of the circle. Ideally, siblings and YOU get coerced into a ride, too. (Admit it, you can't wait! Besides, those pictures will look great in your album.) Let the DJ get an inner/outer circle going or even have you lead a Hora Bridge (inquire at email@example.com).
HOURS THREE AND FOUR: Party time!! (Think about this: HALF of your affair is already over!)
At wedding receptions, guests usually wait for the newlywed's first dance before they join them on the floor. Your guests will be more reluctant to get up to dance if they see you just "shmoozing" at tables the whole time. They're watching, so get out there and break the ice. You'll feel like the Pied Piper!