Wedding Day Timeline Tips

Tips for Brides

wedding day timeline tips

There is nothing more important you can do to create a smooth-flowing wedding day than to write out your timeline. The trouble is, this is likely your first time ever participating in a wedding and it's difficult to gauge how long things are likely to take. This is when I highly recommend consulting with your wedding coordinator if you have one, and if you don't have one, go to your photographer! Your photographer is the only other working vendor who is spending the entire day with you, and with all their other couples, and they know the general flow of a wedding day and its behind the scenes.

Here are a few tips wedding day timeline tips to keep in mind:

1. Start by writing out your venue time slot.

The easiest jumping point for your timeline is to write out how long your venues have allowed you to stay. Generally, this is how that breaks down:

4:00 Ceremony 4:30-5:30 Cocktail Hour 5:30-6:30 Dinner 6:30-10:00 Party Time!

And yeah, your ceremony is likely to be between 15 and 30 minutes. I think everyone originally thinks it will be longer, but unless there's a Catholic mass or something else unique going on, they're pretty fast!

2. Add a generous amount of "getting ready" time.

2014-02-06_0008Be generous with your "getting ready" time. It takes a lot longer than you'd think when the bridesmaids are getting ready together and having a good time. Plus, it's fun to have that chill time before the craziness of the day truly starts. And remember, when you hire professional make up artists and hair stylists, they can only work on one person at a time. Naturally, that takes a good amount of time. So when you're determining how much "getting ready" time you need, start by thinking how many people are in the bridal party and whether or not they will be receiving professional hair/make up.

So, let's say you have four bridesmaids and decide between hair and make up, combined, the stylists will need at least 30 minutes with each girl, and then a little bit longer for yourself...

1:30-4:00 Getting Ready 4:00 Ceremony 4:30-5:30 Cocktail Hour 5:30-6:30 Dinner 6:30-10:00 Party Time!

3. Factor in travel times.

You better Google Map those locations and get an accurate understanding of how far apart your ceremony is from your reception and your house is from the salon, etc. Wherever you're going that day, you need to account for it and remember that traveling in a wedding dress and Murphy's Law both mean it's going to take a little longer than you originally expected. So whatever times you determine, add in a little wiggle room.

 1:00-3:30 Getting Ready 3:30-3:45 Travel to Ceremony Site 4:00 Ceremony 4:30-4:45 Travel to Reception 4:45-5:30 Cocktail Hour 5:30-6:30 Dinner 6:30-10:00 Party Time!

You'll notice, we started the day a little earlier than anticipated to make sure we get to the ceremony on time and we lost 15 minutes of cocktail hour for traveling from the ceremony to the reception.

Now, a lot of people stop here because they think that's a pretty good timeline. Here's when you consult your photographer and figure out when you're going to do your pictures.

4. Create portrait time.

Honestly, at this point, you have to determine how important to you it is to attend your cocktail hour. Ideally, you want a place for your guests to go and relax (with food and drinks!) while you're taking photos and if photography is a priority to you, this will take some time. Family formals themselves usually take 15-30 minutes, hopefully less if family members all understand the drill and things go smoothly. Then, you'll want to do bridal party photos and of course, portraits of the new and bride and groom by themselves.

You'll notice that the timeline was a lot easier to manipulate pre-ceremony. It's post-ceremony, that it's difficult to find extra time. This is why so many couples opt for a "first look" (read about the lovely Rebekah Hoyt's experience here and what some of her grooms had to say about doing a "first look") so that most photos can be taken before the ceremony and then after the ceremony and family formals, you can enjoy cocktail hour with your guests.

2014-02-06_0004 2014-02-06_0005 2014-02-06_0006"First looks" are controversial and not traditional. It's your wedding day. Do what you want! Everyone else will make it work, including your photographer who is desperate for portrait time. This is when I give my clients two timeline scenarios and have them choose. One involves a "first look" and one does not.

"First Look" Timeline
 12:00-2:30 Getting Ready 2:30-3:30 Portrait Time (Bride and Groom and Wedding Party) 3:30-3:45 Travel to Ceremony Site 4:00 Ceremony 4:30-4:45 Family Formals 4:45-5:00 Travel to Reception 5:00-5:30 Cocktail Hour 5:30-6:30 Dinner 6:30-10:00 Party Time!

Another nice thing about this timeline photography-wise, is it gives the photographer time during the end of cocktail hour to get into your reception venue and take photos of the gorgeous set up you worked so hard on before all your guests come and litter the place with purses and coats ;)

 1:00-3:30 Getting Ready 3:30-3:45 Travel to Ceremony Site 4:00 Ceremony 4:30-4:45 Family Formals 4:45-5:15 Portrait Time (Bride and Groom and Wedding Party) 5:15-5:30 Travel to Reception 4:45-5:30 Cocktail Hour (for guests) 5:30-6:30 Dinner 6:30-10:00 Party Time!

Portrait time goes down in this scenario and you don't usually get to attend cocktail hour, but overall it's a pretty reasonable amount of time for portraits. You just have to decide which timeline works best for you.

5. Break down the reception time.

2014-02-06_0011Our timeline has 6:30-10:00 as Party Time! (yeah!) But everyone knows a lot of events happen at receptions. Make sure you write out a guideline of when you will eat, cut the cake, do the toasts, toss the bouquet, etc. Your wedding coordinator, DJ, and photographer should all have a copy of this breakdown. The three of us are usually good at communicating with each other throughout the night so if you tell your wedding coordinator that you'd like to move the toasts up a half hour, he or she can let the DJ know to announce it and the photographer to be ready to photograph it.

When you DON'T break down these events, you run the risk of your photographer being on a bathroom break when you cut the cake, or not having the correct lighting gear ready when you decidet the firworks are going to go off now or you'd like to make your sparkler exit 20 minutes early. It's fine to change the schedule. It's your day after all. But let your vendors know so they can do what you hired them to do!

6. Don't stress when the timeline changes.

2014-02-06_0012Something will always go unexpectedly on your wedding day. That's inevitable. Things happen at every wedding and it always turns out just fine. When you're running behind, know that your guests and vendors all understand that wedding days are crazy! If you're extremely worried about this, build in some extra buffer time into your timeline. If it turns out you don't need the extra time, then you've just given yourself 15 minutes to breathe and hang out with your wedding party. More time is never a bad thing.

Obviously you'll have to adapt these tips to fit YOUR day and your schedule, but I hope these tips were helpful. If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments!