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How To Create A Wedding Timeline [Part Two]

Something you need to know about weddings, is that a well thought out timeline is a simple way to keep your guests happy and feeling like they have been looked after. As a result, you’ll have the best wedding attendees ever! If you missed last week’s introductory post, check it out, even if this week’s post is relevant to you:

How To Create A Wedding Timeline


Religious ceremonies

In last week’s post, I mentioned that shorter, secular wedding ceremonies are the most common, and those last about 15 to 20 minutes. A religious ceremony can be anything from 30 minutes to an hour and a half, and it is just as easy to incorporate into the wedding timeline framework that I shared last week. All you’d have to do is know how long you want your ceremony to be and plan on starting your cocktail hour later, or begin your ceremony a little earlier.

Ceremony programs are completely optional, but I’ve found that religious ceremonies are where programs are most helpful. Do the majority of your guests share your religion? Wonderful, then they probably won’t need a program. If not, a program will help your guests figure out what is happening and help them to say the words to prayers, hymns or readings.

That said, you can totally have a longer ceremony without it being religious. Musical items, poetry readings, video clips, dances or activities – I say the more the merrier! Regardless of the amount of special additions you would like to include in your ceremony, take note of how long this will take. I would advise you to do this before sending out your invitations, so that you can use your ceremony timeframe as the basis for your wedding timeline.

Separate ceremony and reception sites

There are many reasons for having separate ceremony and reception sites and there are two ways to deal with them: Either create a gap of time between the ceremony and reception (see below) or create just enough time for guests to move from the ceremony to the reception. A couple of things to think about if you are getting married in one location and celebrating in another:

– Stuff: There will be flowers, decor, equipment and things that need to move from the ceremony venue to the reception venue. Who will be in charge of setting up these items, taking them down, moving them and setting them up again?

– Timing: If guests are moving from the ceremony straight to the reception you will need to ensure that the reception venue is set up and ready for them, because it is unlikely that someone attending the ceremony will beat the rest of the guests by more than a few minutes.

– Transportation: How are your guests getting from the ceremony venue to the reception venue? If you are providing a shuttle service, it is easier to have your guests park at the reception venue and shuttle them to the ceremony venue and back again. However, if you are not providing transport (which is totally ok!) make sure your guests have a map and clear directions to both venues so they don’t get lost.

– Restrooms and refreshments: If your ceremony venue is only hosting your ceremony (and not a cocktail hour of sorts), keep in mind the amount of time your guests will be there, which is generally a minimum of an hour. With that in mind, make sure there is bottled water for your guests and restrooms for them to freshen up.

Separate ceremony and reception times

Although uncommon, sometimes having a gap between the ceremony and reception is inevitable. It isn’t always ideal but gaps of this nature are pretty easy to deal with and plan around. The trick is to think of the comfort of your guests. Do most of your guests live within a short driving distance? Are out of town guests staying at a nearby hotel? Are there things to do around one or both of your sites (coffee shops, scenic walks, museums, etc)? Make sure your guests don’t have to spend “the gap” sitting in their cars or awkwardly hanging out around the reception foyer.

Weddings with photos after the ceremony

This is the most common photo format I have worked with, although a lot of couples like to get some formal photos done before the wedding begins. In the case of photos being taken after the ceremony, the extended cocktail hour is your friend. Start your ceremony thirty minutes earlier, or plan on serving your dinner thirty minutes later, or both, and you’ve given yourself enough time to squeeze in family photos, bridal party photos and couple’s portrait photos. If you are doing this, remember to provide your guests with enough refreshments and activities while you are away.

Weddings with no firm end time

Maybe your wedding is at your house, a venue you’ve rented for the whole weekend, or some other magical place that will let you stay as late as you want! How do you wrap things up? There are four signals to guests that a party is over: 1) The bar closes, 2) The music stops, 3) The lights come on, 4) People start cleaning up around them. When used correctly, only the densest of people won’t get the hint that the party is over and they need to leave.

But maybe you don’t want people to leave! That’s great, but keep in mind that your event staff will need to leave at some point (unless you are willing to pay the additional post midnight fees that most vendors charge). At some point the bar can become self serve, the DJ can switch to an iPod, and the kitchen can closer (or the caterers can leave) but leave behind leftover food or bowls of nachos and dips.


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