As the popular saying goes, who fails to plan, plans to fail. This is why having a wedding day timeline organized to the second of every event at your wedding is very important. Sometimes it can be difficult to calculate just how much time should be allocated to each activity. However, we have a few suggestions to help you overcome this hurdle and get over this phase of planning your wedding itinerary.
If wondering how to plan a wedding, keep in mind that one key factor in a wedding timeline, – is having a wedding planner checklist. This can help you navigate the day and determine just how much time you might need for each step. With the right schedule, you will find yourself flowing through the day seamlessly as everything unfolds in tandem with your plans.
Universal Wedding Day Timeline
While universally there are certain elements that should be included in a wedding day timeline, each should be unique to the specific wedding event being held. With wedding preparations in general, some factors cannot be left out, whatever type of wedding it might be. Having this timeline ensures that nothing is omitted, overstepped or overestimated throughout the event. Some of these factors, which shouldn’t be overlooked in a wedding day timeline when planning a wedding, include:
- Setting up: Usually not more than an hour, this can be before or after the hair and makeup, depending on the choice of the bride or planner.
- Hair and makeup: Could be allotted an hour or two, especially since the hair and makeup for the bridesmaids should be considered as well. You will also want ample time for any last minute changes or touchups.
- Photographs: Pre-wedding photos of the couple and bridal party.
- Guests arrival: Arrival of the guests which can take anything from 10 to 20 mins.
- Wedding ceremony: The ceremony, usually at least 30mins or slightly more.
- Photographs: Photographs, perhaps alongside initial cocktails. 30 mins can be allotted here.
- Wedding reception: The reception usually takes at least 5 to 6 hrs, considering the arrival of the couple, toasts and speeches and the dances.
- Guests leave: After a send-off of the couple, which can be scheduled for 10 mins before the official end of the reception.
Planning a Wedding with a 4 P.M. Start Time
A 4 P.M. start time for a wedding would mean extra time in the morning for getting certain things done. This could be a huge advantage and help you plan a much better wedding day timeline. Also, keep in mind that the cocktail hour is a great time to get additional and even more memorable photographs.
- 2:00 p.m. – Photographs: Any pre-wedding photos after the bridal party are dressed and made up, and the location has been set up.
- 4:00 p.m. – Ceremony: The wedding ceremony; this is usually done by 30 mins, or max, 45 mins, depending on the couple.
- 4:30 p.m. – Cocktails: Time for cocktails and perhaps another opportunity for a fun photoshoot. Shouldn’t take more than 30mins, giving guests time to prepare for the reception.
- 5:30 p.m. – Reception: The reception, and where the real fun begins.
- 10:00 p.m. – Couple’s exit
Morning Wedding To-Do List
Just awake and thinking of your wedding in a few hours? This is not the time to make a wedding day to-do list. Therefore, it is important to create this list days ahead with lots of hours to spare. Allotting the right amount of time to each of these steps in getting ready, is of the utmost importance too. Here is a wedding timeline template you could well adapt to your own.
- 7:00 a.m.— Bride’s hair and makeup. Allot at least an hour for this. This will allow time for any tweaks or changes.
- 8:30 a.m. — Have your ceremony suppliers arrive to start setting up the venue. The bridesmaids’ hair and makeup can go on alongside. 30 – 45 mins should be sufficient time to achieve this.
- 9:00 a.m. — Pre-wedding photos of the couple, family and bridal party.
- 9:30 a.m. — Guests arrive.
- 10:00 a.m. — This could be the official start time of your wedding ceremony as written on the invitations.
- 10:15 a.m. — An extra 15 mins allowance will make up for any traffic hold-ups and any delay from the bridal party.
- 10:45 a.m. — End of the ceremony, and perhaps a few more photographs before the reception.
- 12:00 p.m. – The reception begins.
- 12:30 p.m. – Time for toasts or speeches from friends and family.
- 1:00 p.m. – Cutting of the cake and serving guests desserts.
- 1:30 p.m. – First couple dance and when the real party starts.
- 3:00 p.m. – The couple exit the reception, heading off to their happily ever after.
- 3:15 p.m. – Guests leave
- 4:00 p.m. – Vendors pack down the reception area and all of their equipment, and leave.
Afternoon Wedding Planner Checklist
Scheduling enough time for each step of the process is the key to a successful wedding ceremony. This cannot be stressed enough, and it is why we have an afternoon wedding planner checklist. This sample wedding schedule could help you create the ideal wedding timeline for an afternoon wedding.
- 10:00 a.m. — Bride’s hair and makeup. Two hours allotted gives enough time for the hair and makeup of the bridesmaids as well.
- 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. — Arrival of the vendors and setting up of the ceremony area. If you can get them to arrive earlier, even better.
- 2:00 p.m. — Pre-wedding photos of the couple, family, groomsmen and bridesmaids.
- 3:30 p.m. — Arrival of the guests. Be sure to oversee that any guests who have a special participation in the ceremony arrive and have a seat.
- 4:00 p.m. — This could be the official start time of your wedding ceremony as written on the invitations.
- 4:15 p.m. — An extra 15 mins allows for any unforeseen circumstances like traffic hold up or delays from the bridal party.
- 4:45 p.m. — Ceremony ends and a few extra shots from the wedding photographer.
- 6:00 p.m. – Reception begins.
- 6:30 p.m. — Toasts and/or speeches from friends and family.
- 7:00 p.m. – Cutting of the cake and dessert time.
- 7:30 p.m.—First couple dance and the start of the real party with your DJ or live music.
- 9:45 p.m. — Last call for drinks.
- 9:55 p.m. — End of the reception, all activities, and send-off for the couple.
- 10:00 p.m. — Guests leave.
- 11:00 p.m. – Vendors pack up and leave.
Evening Wedding Timeline
You are looking for perfection and want nothing less at your evening wedding. Therefore, create an ideal wedding schedule to put you in check and ensure the couple and guests have the most memorable time of their lives. Having an evening wedding means you have ample time to prepare in the morning and afternoon without even waking up as early. However, it also means you have less time for the entire wedding; therefore a well-prepared checklist will go a long way in giving you that perfect day.
- 11:00 a.m.— Bride’s hair and makeup. Since you are not in a hurry, this can take 2 – 3hrs for the bride and her bridal party as well.
- 2:00 p.m. — Arrival of the vendors and setting up of the ceremony area. One hour should be sufficient for this.
- 3:00 p.m.— Pre-wedding photos of the couple, family, groomsmen and bridesmaids.
- 4:30 p.m. — Arrival of the guests. Be sure to oversee that any guests who have a special participation in the ceremony arrive and are seated.
- 5:00 p.m. — This could be the official start time of your wedding ceremony as written on the invitations.
- 5:15 p.m. — An extra 15 mins allows for any unforeseen circumstances like traffic hold up or delays from the bridal party.
- 5:45 p.m. — Ceremony ends and a few extra shots from the wedding photographer.
- 7:00 p.m. – Reception begins.
- 7:30 p.m. — Toasts and/or speeches from friends and family.
- 8:00 p.m. – Cutting of the cake and dessert time.
- 8:30 p.m.—First couple dance and the dance floor is open for the real party to begin.
- 10:00 p.m. — End of the reception, all activities, and farewell to the couple.
- 10:30 p.m. — Guests leave.
- 11:00 p.m. – Vendors pack up and leave.
Wedding Ceremony Timeline
As for the wedding timeline for this, it should be ideally at least 30 mins long. A few couples might prefer it longer, but the perfect ceremony shouldn’t make it past the 45 min mark to ensure your guests aren’t stretched to their limit before the reception. You would also need ample time for other events afterward. Below is a sample timeline which can be adapted to fit your own.
Ideal ceremony length: The ideal length is 30 minutes. Enough time for the music, readings, service and the exchange of vows. Not too long or too short, so the guests do not get bored or tired, and to make for a memorable day.
The arrival of the Groom and Groomsmen: Ideally an hour and a half before the ceremony.
The arrival of the bride and bridesmaids: This should be an hour before the ceremony. Better she arrives before the guests so they don’t get a peek at her and her gown.
The arrival of Guests: Depending on the number of guests, this could take anything from 10-15 mins for 100 guests or less. For more, it could take up to 20 mins, so be sure to include this timeline in your schedule.
Maximum gap between ceremony and reception: One hour. This is more than enough time even if they are in different locations. Anything more than this could have your guests wandering. Remember that some would come from out of town, and have nowhere to go but directly to the reception.
Wedding Reception Timeline
The longest part of your wedding day also needs to be scheduled properly so that everything falls into place and goes according to plan. The toasts and speeches, cutting of the cake, various dances; you should include everything in your wedding day timeline. If you seek perfection, then this checklist is your key to it. Below is a sample timeline which you can adapt to fit your own.
Ideal length: Six hours. This would be sufficient time for the cocktails, at least two hours for dinner, and three hours for dancing and a proper farewell to the couple.
- First dance: This is usually after the cutting of the cake and dessert, but it can also be right after the couple enters the reception.
- Father/daughter dance: This usually follows right after the couple dance.
- Mother/son dance: This is after the father/daughter dance, or alongside the father/daughter dance.
- Welcome toast: Usually given by the father of the bride or by the bride and groom.
- First course (appetizer): Immediately after the first toast.
- Toasts: Starts with the maid of honor, and then onto the best man.
- Second course (main course) served: Immediately following the toasts.
- Guests are invited to dance: The dance floor is open and the party is started.
- Cutting of the cake and desserts: The cake is cut and served alongside the dessert for the evening.
- Bouquet and garter tosses: Usually right after the cutting of the cake or at least two hours before the end of the reception.
- Party favors or light snacks: A popular trend, at this point party favors for the kids and adults, are passed around, sometimes with light snacks to close the evening.
- Farewell: Any special send-off for the couple should be for at least 10 mins before the close of the reception.
A wedding day timeline is a key to success on your wedding day. Every single item, every single activity, scheduled down to the minute will help you and your planner ensure that your day ends without a hitch. You will want every major participant to be clued into this timeline and perhaps even have a copy so that everyone understands the timing of their roles. If planned correctly, you can sit back, relax and watch your magical day unfold just like clockwork.
Also, take our beautiful complete wedding day timeline infographic, which will be helpful during wedding planning: