My number one advice for brides and grooms is to make sure someone is assigned to make the wedding day run smoothly. Whether that's a professional planner or your sister-in-law's friend - that's up to you. Either way...THERE. NEEDS. TO. BE. A. PLAN. In other words, a wedding day timeline.
The key to a smooth wedding day is planning ahead. Figuring out the timing and order of events beforehand helps all vendors to stay on-track and on-time during your wedding. The more detailed you can get, the better. There are going to be so many things going on that day, so where do you even begin with creating a timeline for your wedding? Especially if you have never created one before?
Quick rules of thumb to get you started:
- An experienced bridal hair and makeup artist can create a quality look within 90 minutes (45 minutes for hair, 45 minutes for makeup)
- Wedding ceremonies are typically 30 - 60 minutes
- Cocktail hours typically do not exceed 60 minutes (guests tend to not eat a lot before coming and are usually very hungry)
- Wedding receptions tend to last between 4 - 6 hours
- Leave no less than 1 hour for clean up
Also, guess what? LUCKY YOU!! I'm about to walk you through how to many the most basic of basic wedding timelines! I somehow managed to get it down to one page for you (I get a lot more detailed than this for an actual wedding and the last wedding timeline I created was 9 pages long...).
For this fake wedding I am about to walk you through, we are going to use the lovely make-believe couple, Evan and Jessica (how cute). They have rented a venue for both their wedding ceremony and reception, so they don't have to worry about transporting from venue to venue, or providing a mode of transportation for their guests. We are going to use the times they have rented the venue out (1:00pm - 12:00am) as our starting points for their wedding day timeline. They also put on their wedding invitations that their wedding ceremony will start at 4:30pm, so we will include that as well.
Evan and Jessica want the flow of their wedding to move smoothly from their ceremony to cocktail hour, followed by dinner (with a grand entrance into dinner), toasts, and dancing! Let's use our rules of thumb from earlier to figure out the basic timing of the important events happening after their ceremony. They said they are planning on having a short and sweet wedding ceremony, being 30 minutes tops. With that bit of information, we now know that their ceremony will be ending no later than 5:00pm, which will also be when guests will be excused to the next room for cocktail hour. We also now know guests begin getting antsy sit down for dinner after 60 minutes of mingling during cocktail hour...so just in case the ceremony runs a little late or if the buffet is not quite ready, we are going to leave a little bit of buffer time and say dinner will be ready by 6:10pm.
With our bride and groom wanting to make a grand entrance into the dinner, we will estimate it will take a few minutes for all of the guests to make their way into the dinner reception and that it is safe to say the grand entrance will happen around 6:20pm. They want all of their guests to go through the buffet line and begin eating before toasts begin so no one misses out on anything. To give guests enough time to do so, as well as get the opportunity to mingle during dinner, toasts will begin at 7:15pm.
A concern of Jessica's is that she doesn't know how to convince her guests to come out to the dance floor for open dance, she's worried that a lot of her guests will stay seated at the dining tables. By concluding toasts with the announcement for guests to make their way to the dance floor to watch the bride and groom's first dance, that is a great way to get everyone out of their seats and on the dance floor to watch the formal dances. Jessica LOVES that suggestion and would like all 3 formal dances to follow toasts.
And the last big detail we should include is that the reception should come to an end 1 hour before the "out of venue" time, which means that the lights will come on and the DJ will stop playing at 11:00pm.
Okay, now it starts to get a little bit tricky. To figure out when the first part of the day (bridal hair and makeup) needs to begin, I typically work backwards from the ceremony start time. With the ceremony scheduled to be at 4:30pm, we have to account for guests beginning to arrive at the venue around 4:00pm. I personally like to add an extra 15 minutes to that just in case because occasionally, some guests arrive earlier than expected and vendors may still be setting up! By expecting the earliest guest to arrive at 3:45pm, we know that all wedding party members have to be hidden from sight starting at that time, as well. That means all wedding party and family photos must be concluded before then.
Evan and Jessica have decided they wanted their first look, couple portraits, wedding party and family photos all to be taken on-site at the venue so they don't have to worry about traveling between different locations. We will leave 30-45 minutes for each of these photography sessions just in case it takes longer than expected to track down everyone for photos. Plus, more time means more variety in photos.
I always schedule people to arrive 15 minutes before I really need them to be there, just in case they get lost/can't find close parking/are running late. Therefore, I'm going to schedule in when the bride and groom, as well as the bridal party should arrive to be on time for photos. This also leaves extra time for them to put their belongings down and use the restrooms before photos!
Because we know access to their wedding venue begins at 1:00pm and Evan and Jessica want their first look and couple portraits to happen up on the venue roof, we have scheduled them to arrive at the venue at 12:45pm (we are assuming their hotel is literally across the street from the venue). Jessica, however, is having the photographer capture some getting ready photos and bridal portraits before the first look, so we are scheduling her bridal portraits to begin at 12:15pm, which means her hair and makeup have to be completed by then.
Jessica, as well as her 3 bridesmaids, are getting their hair and makeup professionally done. There will be 2 stylists, 1 doing hair while the other simultaneously does makeup. They are planning to start hair and makeup for everyone at 8:45am so that they are not in a rush. And since Jessica wants the photographer to capture some getting ready photos, she has scheduled him/her to come at 10:15am.
Lastly, we are just going to fill in all of the gaps. With venue access at 1:00pm, I like to make sure I am on-site when it opens just to make sure all vendors arrive on time, as well as to be of guidance to them when they come in, just in case they have never physically been in the space before. So, I am scheduling myself to arrive at the venue at 1:00pm. I also like to ask the wedding florist to arrive at the earliest time possible to give them enough time to make the floral decor as perfect as possible for the bride and groom! Depending on the florist, some come with all arrangements pre-made, and others like to do it on-site, so I would advise that you discuss with your florist how they typically operate so you are aware of how much time they need!
Even though the dinner reception is scheduled to begin after 6:00pm, I like to make sure the caterer is on-site and setup before the wedding ceremony starts, especially when the ceremony and reception are taking place in the same venue. Why? Because setup can typically be loud with trays of food, dishes, and silverware being moved around, and we do not want loud clanging to be happening during the ceremony, right?
Depending on the amount of space and the layout of the venue, if it is possible to hide pre-set dining tables during the ceremony, that is ideal because it will make changing the room from being a ceremony space to a dining room much quicker! In this case, Evan and Jessica's venue has room to hide all of their pre-set dining tables, so some of the catering team is going to pre-set those and hide the tables away before guests arrive. We are scheduling them to arrive on-site and begin that process starting at 2:00pm. However, in order for the catering team to pre-set the tables, they need the table linens which are being delivered by a rental company. Therefore, let's make sure the rental company has enough time to drop off the linens before the caterer gets there, no later than 1:30pm.
There you go! We just successfully made a detailed timeline for Evan and Jessica's wedding together (yay!). Hopefully, this was a great starting point for how to make your own.
Questions? Ask away below!