Wedding timelines can be a little confusing and there are many variations which all work well, depending on the type of wedding you are planning. If you are anything like the “normal” wedding guest, you have probably never considered how much time each aspect of the wedding takes (unless the ceremony took place in an unconditioned room on a hot sunny day; no-one can forget that). So, I’m going to shed some light on how you can create a wedding timeline that flows naturally and doesn’t have awkward gaps of time where no-one knows what to do.
As a wedding planner, I have a detailed list of everything that needs to be done, when it needs to be done and who is doing it. This list gets edited and sent out to each supplier (because detailed lists can scare a lot of people) so that they know where to be and when. During the course of the wedding, I’ll co-ordinate the festivities so that they run according to the plan, as much as possible.
Please bear in mind that it is quite rare that everything runs according to your planned timeline. Cocktail hour can be extended if guests are having a lot of fun, or if the kitchen is a little behind on schedule. Dessert may be served a little bit late if the speeches go on for too long (this happens often) or the first dance may take place a little early if guests finish eating sooner than we planned. Whatever the case, we are aiming to start and end on time. Everything in the middle needs to happen in the approximate right order at about the right time, with a lot of flexibility and willingness to change things up a little if need be.
One of the most common wedding timeline formats is the 4pm start with the ceremony and reception taking place at the same venue. Don’t fret! If your wedding ceremony and reception are at two different venues, or if there is a large gap between the two, or if you are wanting to have a longer, religious ceremony, keep a lookout for next week’s blog post!
A wedding timeline guide
10:00 Getting ready (hair and makeup)
12:00 Most suppliers start arriving to set up
15:30 Guests start arriving
16:00 Invitation time (I’ll explain this later on in this post)
16:15 Ceremony begins
16:35 Ceremony ends
17:00 Family and bridal party photos
17:30 Couple portrait photos
18:00 Guests begin to find their seat
18:15 Official reception start
18:20 Starters are served
18:50 Speeches: parents
19:30 Mains are served
20:10 Speeches: best man and groom
21:00 Dessert/cutting of the cake
21:30 First dance and the opening of the dance floor
22:00 Garter and bouquet toss
23:30 Last call
23:40 Music off
23:40 Breakdown and staff depart
How to make it all run smoothly
Start time VS invite time: No matter how small your wedding is, or how close to your venue your guests live, you can always count on a few people to come ten minutes after the invitation time. Plan on beginning your ceremony fifteen minutes after the time stated on the invitation to avoid any potential awkward moments.
Food timing: This will depend on how many guests you are feeding and what style of food you are opting for (plated meals, a buffet or a shared feast to the table). I try to allocate about forty minutes per course to ensure that everyone is served, or has dished up their food, and can eat without rushing. It also gives the waiters time to clear plates and top up the champagne glasses for the toasts.
Sunset: Your wedding timeline can be adjusted depending on when the sun goes down. You’ll want to make the most of golden hour to get the best portrait shots, and you won’t want your guests to be hanging out outside while waiting to go into the reception venue.
Cutting the cake: You may not be aware but there is a general rule that it is OK to leave a wedding once the cake has been cut. By then all the formalities are out of the way and it is mostly just partying and celebrating for the rest of the night. Even if you don’t adopt this rule, your older guests probably will, so keep them in mind and try not to leave the cake cutting until too late. I also suggest cutting the cake before opening the dance floor. Nothing can make the party more disjointed than interrupting it with another activity that takes place off the dance floor.
Since you’re in “planning mode”:
How To Create A Wedding Checklist (this will help you do all your planning on time without feeling overwhelmed by the hundreds of tasks at hand!)