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Planning for your big day is of the utmost importance.  One special day; one moment for you to walk down the aisle; one dance where all eyes are on you; and one chance to make this the best ever. We believe that each and every wedding needs two very specific things:  a well organized plan + an overall design & vision.

One key component of that “organized plan” is to have a well-crafted wedding day schedule. Where to begin? I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve been a part of that were just a mess, because the bride & groom insisted on a “free flow” wedding day schedule.  I am here to guide you in how to put together a well-crafted wedding schedule so you don’t make that same mistake. 

Let’s get started…

Have you ever been to a wedding where everything just seemed to flow naturally? There was never any awkward downtime. The bride and groom didn’t feel frantic or rushed. Everyone was enjoying themselves and stayed till the bitter end dancing and celebrating. It may have seemed very organic and completely un-orchestrated.

I will let you in on a little secret: every wedding that flows like that has one really good and highly orchestrated schedule behind it. Events throughout the night are scheduled down to the minute and there’s a particular flow that keeps everyone engaged.

Wedding day schedules can be confusing when you’ve never done one before—even if you’ve attended a lot of wedding days you probably haven’t paid much attention (unless something goes seriously wrong). I am going to try and shed some light on how to keep your wedding day moving, no matter what kind of wedding you’re having.

As I tell all of my clients, it’s the extremely rare your wedding will hit every single point at the minute it’s supposed to. However, starting and ending the wedding on time is the key—hitting everything in the middle in the approximate right order is important, but you usually have to adjust a little to fit your event with the kind of guests that are attending.

9 Tips You Need to Know When Crafting Your Wedding Day Schedule

#1 Think about your wedding’s unique logistics.

There are several decisions you’ll need to make before you can start creating your wedding day schedule. If you can answer these questions, you’re ready to start:

Questions to Ask Before Creating a Wedding Day Schedule

  • Will you be getting ready at your ceremony location or somewhere else (like a hotel with a room block reserved for you and your guests)?
  • Are your ceremony and reception in separate locations? If so, you’ll have to factor travel time into your wedding schedule.
  • Will you be providing transportation for your wedding party members and/or guests? If so, this can make travel a bit smoother and quicker.
  • Are you planning on having a “first look” and doing photos before the ceremony? Or would you rather wait until the cocktail hour to do couple and group portraits?
  • How long will your ceremony be? This will require a discussion with your officiant.
  • Will your cocktail hour take place between the ceremony and reception or before the ceremony?
  • Will you have a receiving line?
  • How many toasts or special dances will you have?
  • Does your reception venue have a curfew, meaning you’ll have to end the reception at a specific time? Your wedding reception timeline will be tighter if you have to end the party at a predetermined time.
  • Are you doing a first dance or other traditional dances at your reception?
  • How much time is included in your vendors’ contracts? How long will your photographers (DJ/band, videographer, etc.) be present at your wedding?
  • Are you hosting an after-party or parties?

#2 Start your wedding schedule from scratch.

Every wedding is different, so copying a wedding timeline template you found on the internet word-for-word is probably not going to work for your big day (of course you can use templates as inspiration). Start fresh, and use your ceremony time as a starting point. Make a list of all of the events (getting ready, photo sessions, cocktail hour, first dance) that need to happen before and after the ceremony and then determine how long each of these will take. You can then start to plot your wedding day accordingly. 

#3 Think early. Like really, really early.

Let’s face it, your wedding is going to be a long (but awesome!) day, and there’s no such thing as starting the getting-ready process too soon—particularly if you’re planning on taking photos before your ceremony. If your ceremony starts at 4 p.m., for example, we recommend starting to prep at around 9 a.m. Yes, it may seem insanely early, but realize that it can take 90 minutes (or more!) for a bride to get her hair and makeup done. And if your bridesmaids are also getting their hair and makeup professionally done, that adds even more time. And an entire portrait session, including couple’s portraits and family photos will likely take about an hour or more, as well. Add more time if you’re planning on taking portraits at different locations! So yes, starting your wedding day as early as possible is a great idea.

#4 Talk to the experts.

Wedding planners and venue event managers are usually a great go-to source to assist you in creating your “official” wedding day schedule. They’ll have a good idea of how to plan out the day based on their experience, and know how to adjust your vision to fit the realities of time. You’ll also want to speak with your other vendors to find out how long they’ll need for set-up and prep so that you can schedule them accordingly and provide them with enough time to complete their tasks. You have hired them to be amazing, give them enough time to be AMAZING at what they do.

#5 Add some buffers.

There are going to be some little (but important) details that you may forget to include in your wedding schedule—including eating breakfast (super important!), signing the marriage license (most important), and more. Your wedding planner or venue event manager will know what these are and can help you schedule them in, but make sure that your schedule allows for small cushions of time. If there’s any form of transportation involved (to the ceremony or from the ceremony to the reception), be sure to allow at least a 15-minute buffer in case there’s unexpected traffic or other delays. You’ll be glad you did!

#6 Not on the invitation.

If you’re worried about your guests running late, it can be tempting to put an earlier ceremony start time on your invitation to ensure everyone arrives on time—or early. My advice: Resist The Urge. Your guests will get annoyed if they arrive “on time” only to have to wait an extra 15 minutes or half-hour for the ceremony to begin. Instead, factor in an additional 5-10 minutes to your ceremony start time to give everyone a chance to find their seats and get settled. Also be sure to have ushers on hand to direct any late arrivals to their seats at an appropriate time after the ceremony has started.

#7 Remember your photographer.

Wedding photography packages usually include the number of hours your photographer will work on your wedding day—this is super-important. If you want your photographer to photograph your whole entire day—including you and your bridal party getting ready—you’ll need to pay for at least eight hours of coverage—and that may not even take your photographer to the very end of your reception. Think about how much time you have with your photographer, and when you’d like them to start and finish shooting on your big day. If you’ve paid for less than eight hours, you’ll need to be strategic about when your photographer will start and finish and decide if it’s more important for your photographer to shoot your getting-ready activities or those dances at the end of the night.

#8 Don’t make guests wait to eat.

Even though your wedding guests will likely have just enjoyed cocktail hour, you shouldn’t make them wait too long before dinner is served (lest they get hangry!). Dinner should be served at the most half an hour to 45 minutes after the reception begins. The way you serve your meal is up to you and your caterer and/or venue—but think about how you schedule the meal, the toasts, and the dancing portion of the evening. Will you stagger the courses and allow for dance breaks in between? Or serve the entire meal first and then start the dancing?

#9 Distribute your wedding agenda to all and everyone.

Your wedding day schedule should be given to all of your vendors, as well as any VIPs (family members, wedding party, etc.) one to two weeks before the wedding. That way, everyone knows where they are supposed to be and when. On the day of your wedding, your wedding planner or event manager should be the “keeper of the timeline,” making sure things are running smoothly, but also enlist a family or wedding party member to keep an eye on the clock and enforce the schedule. 

3 Key Benefits Of Having a Wedding Day Schedule

1. People know where they need to be.

Picture this: all of your bridesmaids text you and ask, “hey, um when am I supposed to be at the salon to get my hair done?” One text is totally fine, right? Right. Well, when planning a  wedding you quickly learn that people often have the same questions.  So rather than answering the same things over and over again, I would refer your bridal party and important family members to a shared timeline! It is such a stress-reliever – for them and you! Everyone knows when they need to be dressed and all the other necessary details.

2. It helps your wedding vendors.

If you don’t have a wedding planner, your vendors will most likely be reaching out to someone to confirm where they need to be and when. Who is usually that someone? YOU. All your wedding vendors will be arriving and setting up at different times. It’s important to figure it out ahead of time so everyone’s on the same page! 

3. Keeps everything running smoothly.

If you are planning to do a first look (yay!), I would schedule that TWO HOURS before the ceremony start time. Gosh, that’s a LOT of time… right? Actually, it’s just enough! I try to allow for more than enough time for detail photos, bride & groom portraits, wedding party photos and the first look. If you don’t want to do a first look (which is perfectly fine), I suggest leaving a two hour window between the END of the ceremony and beginning of cocktail hour to make sure to have the time to get some great photos! The last thing you want to be is rushed. 

I can not stress enough how important it is to sit down together and work through your wedding day schedule.  It will be time well spent! Your wedding party will enjoy it, your guests will oh-and-ah to you for it and you will never regret it!

Wedding Planner at Distinctly Yours Wedding & Events