Wedding Timelines - Things to Think About

posted on: June 11, 2008

Your timeline is one of the biggest factors in the success of your event. So many things go into creating a timeline that works, so I wanted to share a few ideas about things to consider when it comes to creating your perfect wedding day timeline.

Most weddings that start late are because of hair & makeup. Doing a trial can not only help give you a good estimate of how much time it will take, but it will help you figure out exactly what you want your wedding day style to be so that you aren't stressed by figuring it out on the wedding day. 

You also have to consider the benefits and drawbacks about where you'll be getting ready and how many people from your bridal party will be getting ready with you. Whether you get ready at a salon or have a stylist come to you, figure that each person will need about one hour of a stylist's time, and updos may need two hours or more depending on the complexity of the styling. So while one stylist could take care of 5 girls in 5-6 hours, two stylists may be able to do the same work in only 2.5-3 hours. If bridesmaids are planning to use their own stylists or go to their own salon, suggest that they make their appointment at least 2 hours plus travel before they need to be anywhere.

Getting ready at a salon can give you access to more stylists at once as well as credit card processing and any other amenities that the salon offers. Having stylists come to you at your home, hotel, or ceremony site can allow you to roll out of bed at the last minute, have snacks or drinks of your choice on hand, and hang out in your pajamas until you're ready to get dressed.

 You may also want to take into consideration the kind of environment that helps you feel more relaxed. Some people may think a hotel room is great until they have 10 people in the same room all running around frantically while others feel uneasy starting the day with navigating traffic alone and being away from everything else they need to get ready. Choose an option that will help you start your day off right.

When considering where to get dressed, take into consideration how much stuff you'll have to bring with you as well as how comfortable you feel traveling in your dress. Some people prefer to get dressed at their ceremony site so that they don't have to risk getting their gown dirty or wrinkled by riding in a car or limo. Others prefer to get dressed at their home or hotel so that they don't have to lug a bunch of items to their ceremony site and repack it after the ceremony.

No solution is better than any other, they are just different preferences. If you plan your photographer to be there while you get ready, you may also want to consider the surroundings in which your getting ready moments will be photographed, as well as any travel time involved between locations.

Some photographers are very particular about when and how they do portraits, so you'll want to consult with your photographer to define the best plan of action for portraits based on your photographer's preferred working style and the kind of posed images you want. If you're trying to decide between portraits before or after the ceremony, here are a few things to consider:

Before the ceremony, your makeup and outfits are fresh, you can have a private moment together before everyone arrives and pulls you in multiple directions, and you can reduce the amount of time that guests wait after the ceremony before sitting down for dinner.

After the ceremony you may have to wait for all of your guests clear out before you can begin portraits, but you may care slightly less about the condition of your gown or tux and be willing to take a few more risks when it comes to creative portraits.

Whatever you choose, make sure that the flowers will be ready and with you before your portraits will be taken. The time of day may also influence when you would do most of your portraits, especially if you plan to have an evening or sunset ceremony.

If your guests will be heading directly to the reception site, consider how long they will be waiting for your arrival. Whether you choose to do portraits before or after, the ceremony itself will still remain the most powerful and emotional experience of the day for you and your guests.

Your officiant is going to be the best guide as to how long your ceremony is going to take. Guests generally start arriving up to 30 minutes before the scheduled starting time for the wedding (really!), which means that the wedding party and family need to be ready to receive guests or be out of the way as guests arrive.

There's a myth that most weddings start late. Maybe I just have awesome and well-planned couples, but most weddings I've been to start on time or within 5 minutes of being on time! Some ceremony locations have strict times for when weddings need to be out of the site in order to accommodate another service or perhaps another wedding, which is why it's even more important for your wedding to begin on time.

There are several ways to receive your guests and however you choose to do this, it is generally expected that at some point you will greet each of your guests. After all, they are attending because they want to see you in person. Here are a few different ways along with their various benefits or drawbacks...

Row by Row:
This option is a very personal and intimate way to greet your guests and generally only involves the bride & groom greeting each guest personally as they leave from their seats. This option allows guests to remain seated until they are greeted and encourages guests to leave the ceremony site immediately after they've been greeted.

This method generally takes about 10-15 minutes per 100 guests, which is only slightly longer than it would take for all of your guests to leave the ceremony site anyway. If you plan to make a grand exit with bubbles, birds, paper airplanes, or anything else, consider receiving your guests immediately after the ceremony and have attendants at the back to let guests know they should stick around.

- Receiving Line:
When the receiving line happens immediately following the ceremony, it often ends up involving both sets of parents as well as the newlyweds at the end of the aisle or in a lobby immediately following the ceremony or at the entrance to the reception. Guests generally stand in line waiting to be received, but can make an alternate escape if needed. With more people involved in the receiving line, it can take a little more time per guest, but the wait in line generally keeps people moving fairly quickly.

When done at the ceremony site, it's can be about 15-20 minutes per 100 guests when parents are involved. If the line is taking a long time and there are alternate exits, some guests may elect to skip out the side door. If you do a receiving line at the reception as your guests arrive, you can benefit from having a drink nearby, but you need to make sure that you can arrive before your guests. When done at your reception site, it generally takes 30-60 minutes because you're greeting guests leisurely as they arrive.

- Cocktail Mingle:
If you can plan to be a part of your cocktail hour, you may be able to mingle with your guests during this time and consider it as an opportunity to greet your guests. You might not be able to visit with everyone, and people will definitely feel more comfortable taking more of your time with a drink in hand, but if formal greetings aren't for you, than this could be a great alternative as long as you're comfortable "working the room" and moving on in order to greet everyone.

- Table by Table:
This has become more popular as churches have been more strict about the time that weddings can remain in the church after the ceremony (perhaps another good reason to schedule portraits before the ceremony), but this is by far the most time consuming method of greeting your guests.

It sounds good in theory- greet tables of 8-10 people at a time during dinner, but it often takes 30 minutes per 100 guests unless you're really good about not being too friendly. Because this often happens after dinner is served, it typically means that every other table is sitting around waiting for something to begin while the plates have already been cleared from their table.

 Even though I did this for my own wedding (hey, it sounded good to me too) I remember feeling pressured to visit each table and I felt as though the party was slowing down because we needed to get to every table before we could move on with the fun stuff. However, it might not have been as stressful if we'd had less than 100 guests.

- No Receiving of Guests:
I've also been to a few weddings where there just wasn't any sort of greeting the guests. I'm not sure what the etiquette books would say about this, but hey it's your party and can do what you want to!

Whether your reception is immediately following or at a set time, guests will gladly enjoy cocktails and hors d'oeuvres for up to an hour before getting anxious about your arrival. If you have an extended amount of time between your ceremony and reception (more than two hours) than it may be good to provide suggestions for your guests as to where they could stop in the meantime. Local museums, parks, or free attractions are all great ways to kill some time.  Less than two hours and you may have guests who arrive at the reception site early.

If your ceremony and reception are in the same place, a cocktail hour may or may not be needed- obviously your reception site will have the best recommendations for you. The scheduled dinner time is often the least flexible time in the wedding day since the kitchen has been working most of the day to get the meal provided by a certain time.

If you're doing a grand entrance, it takes about 15 minutes to get wedding parties organized and guests seated before announcing the bride & groom. Toasts can be anywhere from 10-30+ minutes (depending on whether or not you have a long winded friend or family member) and can be done before the meal begins, while the meal is in progress, or after the meal. If you have champagne service for the toasts, you'll want to know when the reception site can pour the champagne for the guests.

If you plan to have your cake served as dessert, you may want to consider cutting it as part of your grand entrance so that it can be served immediately after dinner. The later your cake is cut, the less likely it is that everyone will actually eat the cake, or even know that it was cut, which could result in lots of left overs, or be used as a strategy for having a smaller cake. Your caterer will give you the best idea of how long the table or buffet service will take for the number of guests that you have. 

Buffet or Station service often takes less time than plated dinners because everything is served at once versus several different courses. After dinner is served, there's generally a good two hours of partying if you have a young and lively crowd. Most older people or parents with kids tend to leave by 10-10:30 pm, leaving you with the people who will generally stay until the bar closes. Of course, every crowd is different and obviously you will know your crowd better than anyone else.

The most basic of timelines should simply inform people of when they need to be somewhere important. While you don't need to produce a minute-by-minute timeline, it's nice if you can provide your vendors and your wedding party with a basic order of events so that they can be better prepared to anticipate their next move. (For example, should the best man prepare to give a toast before or after his 3rd glass of wine? Should the band be ready to strike up your first dance music right after you enter, or after the cake is cut? Should your photographer be prepared to capture a grand exit after the ceremony or wait for a receiving line to finish?)

Ultimately, you hire professionals because they are experts at what they do. They've seen it all and they know what works and what doesn't work. Don't be afraid to call on the people you've hired to help you create a plan for success. They want to make sure you and your guests have a great experience and are more than happy to help make sure that happens!

17 comments, to add [click here]:

  1. This is an AWESOME post. Thanks for the taking the time to put so many details...very, very, very helpful :)

  2. awesome post anne!! I'm going to put a link to it on my blog!

  3. nice.... very helpful!

  4. I love this post! Great ideas and options. These are the same ideas we use with our clients and it really helps keep everything running smoothly when you know "the game plan" ahead of time. Great job Anne (as always)!

  5. Thanks for all the tips! This was a great post.

  6. Your photos are the best.

  7. Anne - this is really great advice and a great format. Awesome!

  8. Great post. But while reading this I was thinking that all this careful planning doesn't leave much space for surprises. But it was the unexpected things that I enjoyed the most about my wedding. A little more offbeat and indie please!

  9. anne- you honestly surprise me all the time! who else would post all these wonderful super-helpful tips? you are truly immersed in the process and it makes a difference!!! xoxo

  10. When it comes down to it, all you really need is a ceremony time and a dinner time (if dinner is to be served by a caterer), everything else is flexible based on the ebb and flow of events. Having a timeline doesn't mean there isn't room for surprises, it simply helps people know when to be in the right place at the right time so that they don't miss anything important.

  11. Great post! Timelines are my life :) Love your blog.

  12. This is FABulous and very thoughtful information! Thank you so much for providing this to your clients and everyone else!!!!!

  13. Awesome advise. Thanks so much!

  14. THANKS ANNE!!! I'm a first time bride and still tryin to figure everything out, but this post has helped me create my own timeline for my wedding. BIGS UPS 2 YOU ANNE!!!!

  15. Very nice... my friend, very nice...
    Happy day

  16. Brittany2:20 PM

    wow Anne this post is so amazing! So smart! THanks for sharing-you have such good info for all new Brides! I loved it so much that I put it on my blogger as well with some links to your blog and website...Is this ok? Let me can check the post out here- and let me know for sure! I will certaintly take it down....

    have a great day!


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