Creating the Best Timeline for Your Wedding Day

Your big day is quickly approaching and all the big planning is booked and done, except one thing- the day-of timeline! Planning your day of timeline in advance assures that everyone, vendors included, are on the same page and know what to expect through the day. It’s important to be detailed in your timeline so there is no miscommunication or misunderstandings. 

Trying to figure out where to even begin the timeline may feel overwhelming, so start with what you know, the start of the ceremony. The ceremony typically takes 30 minutes to an hour, but some couples choose for a short and sweet ceremony as well. Talk to your officiant about what to expect for ceremony length to get a better idea. As someone that has witnessed 100s of wedding ceremonies now I can tell you that the perfect length for a ceremony is about 20-25 minutes. 

Your reception will be the next big chunk of time, usually lasting anywhere from 4-5 hours. This is where you will include time for cocktail hour, dinner, dancing, cake cutting, toasts and if you choose a send off.

Assuming that most couples have their ceremony and reception at the same venue, the following is an example timeline of your day-of. If you are having your ceremony and reception at separate venues, make sure you allow time for travel to and from each venue, and don’t forget to account for weekend traffic if needed!

Photo by De Joy Photography

Here are some things to consider before starting your timeline

  • If doing a first look (we really recommend) it should be at least 2 hours BEFORE the ceremony. Not sure if you want to do a first look? Check out our blog on pros and cons of a first look. Which mean hair and make up (H&MU) should be done about 3-3.5 hours in advance.
  • If not doing a first look still aim to have H&MU done about 2 hours prior to the ceremony
  • It’s very hard and frankly unrealistic to attend cocktail hour if you aren’t doing a first look
  • Cocktail hour shouldn’t be more than 90 minutes max, if longer than an hour ensure there is plenty of food! This isn’t the place to skimp!
  • When it comes to the reception flow there is a lot of flexibility, some do Grand entrance-first dance-welcome toast-dinner-more toasts – parent dances-open dances VS entrance-welcome toast-dinner-toast-first dance/parent dances-open dances. My advice is always do whatever is more ideal for you.
  • I always recommend lumping toasts as a group at the end of dinner vs between courses because between courses can really delay your dinner service. Hotels/catering are not supposed to be serving or clearing during a toast so if you have a long toast it can really delay your dinner courses.

Day of wedding timeline

Bridal/ bridesmaids hair and makeup- The amount of time needed for this depends on how many people will be getting ready and how many professionals are assisting with services. If you are hiring a hair and makeup artist(s), ask them how long they will need to get the wedding party ready. The start time will depend on if you are doing a first look or not as well. If you are choosing for a simple look that you will do yourself, or do not have a wedding party getting ready, then you can take time off, or eliminate this part altogether. Whether you do a first look or not, aim to have everyone ready at least 2 hours before the start of the ceremony.

Photographer arrives- If your photographer was not present for getting ready photos, then they will arrive after to start capturing the day. They will likely start with bridal portraits. We recommend having your photographer and videographer for no less than 8 hours.

Photo by Shannon Cronin Photography

First look- If you choose to do a first look, then you will want to plan for at least 2 hours before the start of your ceremony. 

Couple portraits- Right after your first look, plan on around 30 minutes for couples portraits together.

Wedding party/ family photos- About an hour and a half before your ceremony time, plan on photos with your wedding party and family. If you do not have a wedding party, then you can cut time out.

Ceremony starts- This is the point in the day when things start to pick up pace. Please know that hardly ever does a ceremony start at the time stated on the invite. Plan for your ceremony to start about 15 minutes later than the stated start time. Your ceremony length will vary depending on whether you are having a religious ceremony or not. If you are not having a religious ceremony, you can expect about 20 minutes, whereas a religious ceremony can last up to an hour.

Photo by Kelley Williams Photography

Cocktail hour- If you had a first look, then you will use this time to take any family photos and couple portraits together. If you didn’t opt for a first look, this time will be used for all your couple portraits, bridal party and family photos. This is also the time your guests will start finding their seats whether you have a seating chart, escort cards, or forgo a seating chart all together and allow guests to pick their own seat. It is very important to make sure you have enough food for cocktail hour, especially if it goes longer than 90 minutes, which we recommend staying under 90 minutes. 

Sunset photos/ golden hour- Depending on the time of year you get married, this time can vary. Talk to your photographer about the best time for golden hour photos.

Photo by Amanda Wei Photo

This is the part of the evening that can be switched up depending on what works best for you as a couple. If you have a DJ, they may also have suggestions on different order of events. Make sure they know what your timeline looks like so they can keep the flow of the evening running smoothly.

Grand entrance/ First dance- It’s time to get the evening festivities started and to be introduced as a married couple for the first time. Some couples choose to start now with their first dance.

Parent dances- After you share your first dance as a couple, you can choose to share a dance with your parents, or another important person in your life.

Dinner- Now that photos and dances are out of the way, it’s time to eat! Plan for this to take about 1-1.5 hours.

Photo by Amanda Wei Photo

Toasts- While guests are all seated for dinner, it’s a good time for toasts. Generally this is reserved for the maid of honor, best man, couple and parents. While you can open the floor to anyone, we don’t recommend it.

Cake Cutting- After dinner, you and your spouse can head on over and cut your cake.

Open dance floor- It’s time to really get this party started by opening up the dance floor for your guests. Having a great DJ or band is key to keeping the dance floor full for the evening.

Bouquet and garter toss- Get the fun on the floor started with the bouquet and garter toss for the singles at your wedding. Just being honest, this is one of the first “traditional” things to go in the timeline for most couples. 

Send off – Can you believe it? You’re married and the day you spent so long planning has come to an end. It’s time for your grand exit as a couple and on to this new chapter in your lives together. Make your send off fun with some of these send off ideas.

Photo by Nikki Ryan Photography

While every wedding is unique and different and each timeline can vary, this is the typical timeline that we see. All that being said these are the major points of the timeline, the timelines that we create for clients and your vendor teams are even more full of details, behind the scenes key moments, and act as a roadmap for all involved in making sure your day is wonderful and allowing you to be fully immersed in your experience. 

 If you need help with your planning or your timeline, we would love to help guide you through your planning process at Pocketful of Plans. No matter how you choose to have your order of events, we know your day will be one to remember!

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