How To Craft a Solid Wedding Day Timeline (and Stick To It)
When planning and designing a wedding on your own, it can be tough to hone in on the logistics. Between the tastings and the dress shopping and the floral mockups and the welcome basket sourcing, it’s arguably a lesser-fun step in the wedding planning process. But my goodness is is it a crucial one! Particularly as far as the wedding day timeline is concerned. You’ll come to realize that every second counts, and even a 15 minute delay can be costly (in so many ways). So we want to help you avoid all that. Because you is kind. You is SMART. You is important. And you have savvy wedding planning skills that know no bounds!
Photo by J&D Photography from this spring river wedding
So without further ado, here are the top things to consider when constructing your wedding day timeline!
Hair and Makeup
As a general rule of thumb, you should allot at least 30 minutes per person, per service as you plan your timeline. You can work directly with your hair and makeup artist on specifics and potentially book in a trial for yourself to see a) how long YOUR services might take and b) see if you’re happy with the look! There’s nothing worse than spending 90 minutes on your look only to discover you hate it and then be stuck because there’s just not enough time to redo it.
Aim to have your bridesmaids and immediate family that are also getting dolled up ready + dressed 15-30 minutes before you are. This’ll ensure they’re ready for your big getting ready moment as you step into your gown or do a big reveal with them. On average, photographers/2nd shooters arrive at the getting ready location about 30 minutes before the bride is scheduled to get dressed, giving them some buffer time to unload, set up, capture some detail shots, etc. without being super rushed. All in all, aim to be ready at least 2 hours before the ceremony (varies based on factors like travel time to the ceremony space, pre-ceremony portraits, a first look, etc)
Photo by Peter & Veronika from this elegant chateau wedding
Location, location, location
Probably one of the biggest factors, and the least under your control, is location. Location between the ceremony + reception, location between your guests/hotel room blocks and the ceremony and location between your getting ready locations + your ceremony. Factor in the distance as you build your timeline, but be sure to add at least 15 minutes as a buffer. You never know what obstacles could delay when traveling from one place to another (traffic and roadblocks being two primary challenges), so you’ll certainly sleep better knowing you have a little more breathing room.
As far as your guests are concerned, it’s worth considering both hotel room blocks and providing transportation for them (think buses/trolleys/shuttles) that round everyone up in one fell swoop and make for an easy arrival without any getting lost along the way. Be conscious of your guest count too. You may need to book multiple buses or create a shuttle schedule with loops to accommodate everyone.
Even if your ceremony and reception are at the same venue, it’s worth considering guests that need special attention as well. If you have any elderly grandparents that can’t walk long distances, ask your venue if they offer anything to accommodate. Sometimes they will provide golf cart transfers or other modes or transport. No matter what, be sure to think about how long this walk might take from the ceremony to the cocktail hour to the reception for your most distracted guest. You don’t want to have to push back your Grand Entrance and thus, dinner service, because everyone is sitting around, waiting for the stragglers.
Side note: Do a quick google search of local events happening on your wedding date/weekend. You might be able to get ahead of the game in terms of anticipating traffic if you know about this in advance and plan accordingly.
Photo by Alicia Lacey Photography from this modern French wedding inspiration
First things first, check out your contract and have a good understanding of how many hours of coverage you’ve booked with your photographer. Transportation time is typically included in this, so don’t be caught unawares! Think about the shot list you have in mind (aka who are those people you absolutely need captured in formal portraits) and prepare your photographer with a text list for reference, plus a responsible party that can help wrangle certain family members in the midst of family pictures. You’d be surprised at how delayed photos can get because no one can find Great Aunt Sue.. I mean, your photographer has no idea who she is!
Think too about if you’ll be incorporating a first look as this will have an affect on your timings pre and post ceremony. If you are having one, allow plenty of time to have those emotional first moments. First looks aren’t a point + click type deal! You’ll want to spend a few private moments together after, and let’s face it, your bridal party might be peeking around the corner to celebrate with you once it’s done too.
Load-in + Load out
Your vendors will thank you for considering their needs as you craft your wedding day timeline. Have an open line of communication with them about how many hours they’ll need to set up certain things, and double check with your venue contract to find out the earliest load in time. If you’ve scheduled your ceremony to start before they’ll even be ready, you’ll be in quite the pickle.
Even load out times are important to think about. If your reception has a hard load out by 11pm, yet that’s when you’ve scheduled your reception to end, your vendors won’t have enough time to a) encourage your guests to depart from the dance floor (even when the lights are up) and b) pack up all their equipment, clean up trash from every room and fully get out of there, which could incur an extra fee from the venue for going over. Your vendors might need 1 hour to clean up or they might need 3! Talk to them about their needs and I promise, you will set yourself up for success.
Photo by The Melideos from this bougainvillea estate wedding
Now you may have heard it’s a good idea to schedule the actual ceremony time 15 minutes after what’s listed on the invitation. Totally your prerogative – just be prepared for the early birds who arrived 30 minutes before to be less than enthused when they’ve now been sitting for 45 minutes before the party gets started. Instead, consider adding a 10-15 min buffer time to the end of the ceremony in case you need to start a few minutes late due to some light showers, late guests or guests who just can’t be bothered to sit down. (Side note: ushers are always a great idea!) Typically, ceremonies average between 20-30 minutes, but if you’re having a religious ceremony, it may last a lot longer. Just be advised + chat with your officiant about timings!
This is often the first thing photographers recommend when couples start thinking about a ceremony time. Golden hour makes all the difference in those magical, ethereal images where the light kisses the flowers, the backdrop and duh! the couple. If you’re eager for those sunset portraits and don’t want to have to leave mid-dinner service to get them, it’s worth considering a ceremony time in the hour or so before sunset. (Though if sunset is at 9:30pm, we’re not suggesting a ceremony that late… unless you want to make like the Spanish and dine at midnight!)
Photo by Andrew & Jade Photography from this light and airy garden party wedding
“What the heck is a bustle?”, you might ask. A bustle is a sewing process implemented by your seamstress to allow your bridal gown to function like it has no train at all. Through buttons, ribbons or the like, it allows you to fold much of the train back into the dress after you’ve had your dramatic ceremony moment, so that you can party on the dance floor without fear that it will get dirty or that someone will trip over it.
Small detail, sure – but a bustle can take FOREVER on the wedding day. Trust me. It seems like every single bustle is different and while your seamstress should go over the steps with you and your mother/MOH at a fitting, it’s the last thing anyone remembers how to do when the time comes. I have witnessed bustles take 30 minutes you guys. The best way to avoid this is to bring a few diff people with you to that fitting to better your chances of someone remembering how to do it, but it’s still a good idea to allow about 15 min buffer time for this step. Think about when you want this to happen (I.e. immediately after the ceremony, right before the Grand Entrance, during dinner service?) and work it into the timeline accordingly. You don’t want to miss any of the big moments that are, well, all about you!
Photo by Peter & Veronika from this elegant chateau wedding
One thing a lot of couples aren’t sure of how to organize is vendor breaks. You’d be hard-pressed to find a wedding planner, photographer, band or DJ that doesn’t include a line in their contract requiring a vendor meal or break at some point during the wedding. But don’t stress, it’s okay to have them overlap! You’ll still be in good hands. Typically, vendor meals are taken during dinner service at the reception. They eat when you eat! The band can probably set up some background music to play during that time, your planner will have already coordinated with the catering team on service and let’s face it, no one really wants photos of good ole Aunt Sue again chowing down on a bbq rib. Still, it’s worth thinking about scheduling things like toasts, first dance, parent dances and cake cutting at times that make sense with vendor breaks. When in doubt, ask your planner to recommend a flow here!
Other small considerations that we sort of touched on but are good reminders: dances, toasts, signing the marriage license – have a plan of action for each of these events and make sure the relevant parties are also aware of when everything is happening.
Photo by Melia Lucida from this intimate Maui wedding
So how do you feel now that you have your wedding day timeline ready to rumble? As prepared as a Boy scout could ever hope to be? Read on for tips on how to spot hidden wedding budget items or see if wedding insurance is right for you here.