Wedding Day Timeline
A Guide to Creating Your Wedding Day Timeline
Separate from your wedding morning to-do list, which just encompasses how a bride can easily get ready pre-festivities, creating a wedding day timeline makes sure the entire day of your wedding runs smoothly. If you choose to hire a wedding planner (which we highly encourage), he or she will certainly have a plan of their own that they can customize for your big day. But if you'd like to create your own wedding day timeline, we're here to share some tips and tricks to make sure nothing is left out, and you can enjoy your day worry-free!
Arrival of Vendors: About 3 to 4 hours before start time, your vendors should start arriving and setting up. If there are lots of deliveries happening, they should be done first as to not still have large vehicles/lots of noise happening when guests start arriving.
Bride & Bridesmaids Getting Ready: Average about an hour for the bride's hair and about 45 minutes for the bride's makeup, and roughly an hour for each bridesmaid (both hair and makeup). If there are more than five total people getting pampered, request your beauty professional have an assistant tag along to cut down on prep time. Have the bridesmaids do hair first while the bride is getting her makeup done. This gives time for some relaxation between tasks, and allows the photographer, who should show up roughly an hour before go-time, to snap photos during the latter part of getting ready. The photographer being present at this point will provide time for detail pictures (dress, shoes, jewelry), as well as candids of the bride interacting with her inner circle.
- As soon as a bridesmaid is done with hair and makeup, she should be getting herself dressed. All bridesmaids should be completely ready by the time the bride is slipping into her gown.
- If the dress goes on overhead, don't forget to protect fabric with a cloth in case of makeup smears!
- Put the veil on last! If possible, have your stylist hang back to make sure it's put on without affecting the integrity of your 'do.
- And one more time, we'll remind you to check out our post about how to spend your wedding day morning, to make sure you eat breakfast and take some "you" time - this applies to the groom as well!
Groom & Groomsmen Getting Ready: A great photographer will come with an assistant, allowing for simultaneous pictures. While one is in with the bride, make sure the other is in with the groom to capture those same special moments: ties tied, cufflinks cuffed, boutonnieres pinned, etc. If there's only one photographer, allow for him or her to spend about thirty minutes with the guys before going in with the bride. And don't forget grab the snapshots of the men's details too (hats, ties, jewelry, etc).
"Arrival" of Groom & Bride: The groom and his men should be completely ready and arriving about an hour and a half before the start of the ceremony; the bride and her ladies should be ready and arriving about an hour beforehand. If you're getting ready at a place separate from your ceremony site, requiring travel on your part, factor that drive time into your schedule as well. The bride should stay hidden before guests arrive so no one else gets a peek before the reveal.
- If there are no photos being taken at the ceremony site before start time, the bride can arrive right before walking down the aisle and wait somewhere close to where she'll make her entrance.
Pre-ceremony photos: Bride with her family and attendants, and the groom with his family and attendants. Don't spend more than two to three minutes per shot on average.
- It should be mentioned that your photographer should have a shot list/to-do list that you previously discussed. It will save time and ensure that all the pictures you want to have are captured.
- We'd also like to note that if your venue(s) are unknown to your photographer, it might be worth it to request they do a scouting mission before the big day to work out the best places to take shots.
First look: If you're opting to do a first-look between the bride and groom, schedule 15-30 minutes. You can choose to do this alone with a solo photographer, or with your whole group looking on.
- If you opt out of a "first look," schedule in an extra 30 minutes post-ceremony for photos of bride and groom alone.
Arrival of Guests: Doors should open for guests about 30-45 minutes before the scheduled ceremony start time.
Ceremony: Ideal length is around 30 minutes; plenty of time for meaningful moments, but not so long as to make people lose interest!
- Plan to start about 10 minutes after your invite's stated time to give wiggle room for your perpetually late friends.
Bridal Party & Family photos: If your loved ones (and your photographers) are organized, this should take no more than two to three minutes per shot.
- Don't forget that the sun goes away! Your photographer should be aware of sunset, when you'll lose the light - so don't dawdle!
- Large group photos (classmates, coworkers, extended family, etc) should be saved for the reception; ask the DJ to make an announcement to gather everyone easily and quickly.
- Bear in mind that the time between ceremony and reception should not exceed an hour. If it's necessary to have more time, schedule a cocktail hour, and if possible, large lawn games or interactive video/photo booths to occupy guests.
Receiving line: This practice is losing popularity, but if you opt to do a receiving line, allow anywhere from 15-20 minutes depending on the number of guests. Consider simply table-greeting during the reception dinner, instead, especially if your guest list is over 150 people.
Reception: Ideal length is six hours, allowing for introductions, dinner, conversation, mingling, dancing, and drinking.
- The first dance is commonly the segue from ceremony to reception.
- A father/daughter dance typically follows the first dance. Some couples follow that up with a mother/son dance, or you can combine the two.
- A welcome toast is customarily given by the father of the bride or by the bride and groom together.
- Dinner is served. If you're doing courses, make sure to work with your caterer for the perfect timing.
- Maid of Honor, followed by Best Man, give their speeches shortly after the onset of the meal.
- Time to dance! Get the DJ or band to kick off the moving portion of the celebration!
- About two hours before the end of the night, cut the cake!
- Tosses! After the cake is cut, and while it's being dispersed to guests, do the bouquet and garter toss.
- An ever-growing trend is to provide late-night snacks about an hour before the farewell. You could also opt to turn this into a "last call."
- The big send-off will most likely need a bit of preparation. If you're doing sparklers or bubbles, have guests line up about ten minutes before you plan to exit, giving some time to quickly touchup, sneak a quick kiss or two, and allow everyone to get out and participate!
Departure of Guests & Breakdown: The guests should start clearing out within 15 minutes of the couple leaving to allow for the seamless cleanup and breakdown of rentals and equipment.
What we've provided you with here is a generalized wedding day timeline, because every wedding is different. Some of these things may not apply to your big day, or your day may need even more specifics than what we've come up with! No wedding is too big or small for a detailed and well-thought out schedule of events. If you still don't know where to start, write down what you know and go from there. What is your ceremony start time? How many hours do you have your photographer? When is sunset? What time do you have to be out of your reception venue? Knowing these immoveable details will provide a structure for you to fill in the gaps yourself. Be as absolutely detailed as you can to have a wedding day where you've thought-up every possible misstep and have thought-out plans in place to cover yourself.
For more specific, hour-by-hour sample schedules, you can visit The Knot or A Practical Wedding to see examples of wedding day agendas to further help you shape your own. Once you've got your wedding day timeline nailed down, distribute it to everyone that needs to know!
We will reiterate, if you're after a stress-free and worry-free day, don't hesitate to hire a wedding planner, or even a day-of-coordinator. Our job, at its core, is being a timeline master, among many, many other things!
About the Author
Sami (to those she knows and loves) holds a BA in English and freelance writes on anything that tickles her fancy, but she holds a special place in her soul for Blue Linden and its owner/operator Wanda. When Samantha is not writing to her little heart’s content, she’s reading (or knitting) like a mad woman, lovin’ on her furbaby Lucy, and soaking up every moment with her as husband as they travel the world together.