A wedding without a timeline is like a road trip without a map. Seriously. Having a timeline for your wedding is important for a number of reasons. It guarantees that all vendors are arriving on time and not interfering with each other’s set-up. It guarantees that your family and bridal party are where they are suppose to be and when. It guarantees that your first dance, cake cutting, and bouquet toss all happen when they are supposed to and that your photographer doesn’t miss them because you never told said photographer when they were supposed to happen. Overall, your timeline guarantees that you don’t have to worry and stress and that everything flows smoothly. Basically, it’s the second most important document to have on wedding day behind your marriage license.

Now that I’ve stressed it’s importance, I’m sure you’re wondering how you actually go about creating said timeline, how the day should flow, and how much time you should allocate for things like dinner, cake cutting and dances. I’m breaking it down below so you can create a flawless timeline for your big day. Let’s get started shall we…

Timeline Scheduling Pre-Ceremony:

  • Typically the first time that will appear on your timeline is the rental start time of your venue. In terms of set-up, nothing else can happen until the venue is available to you.
  • After you know the rental start time, email your vendors to find out what time they will be arriving. Typically vendors like your florist, cake baker, and rental company won’t be able to tell you a set-up time until 3-14 days prior to your wedding.
  • If you have a rental company that will be providing the majority of your items like tables, chairs, and linens, you will need to make sure they arrive for set up prior to your florist, baker, and DJ. You will also want to allow them sufficient time to set up so that your other vendors can come in, set-up quickly and not have to wait around on the rental company to finish.
  • Your photographer should provide you with a schedule that tells you their arrival time and the order in which they will take pre-ceremony and post-ceremony pictures. It will also tell you how much time to allocate for groomsmen pictures, bridesmaid pictures, etc.
  • Your hair and make-up vendor should also provide you with a schedule that details when they will arrive, a schedule for the bridal party’s hair and make-up and when your hair and make-up will begin and end.

Timeline Scheduling for Your Ceremony and Post-Ceremony Pictures:

  • If your ceremony is scheduled to begin at a certain time, you will want to make sure you have your bridal party ready and lined up a minimum of 5 minutes prior to the ceremony start time. I typically advise you begin rounding up groomsmen and bridesmaids at least 10 minutes prior to the ceremony to ensure that everyone has time to use the bathroom if needed, get a drink of water, and move to the appropriate location in plenty of time.
  • Ceremony times can vary and if you are unsure of the length of yours, ask your officiant for an estimate.
  • After the ceremony, you will proceed to family pictures, bridal party pictures, and pictures of you and your fiancé. Refer to your photographers schedule to know how much time to allocate here (typically no more than 1 hour).

Timeline Scheduling for Cocktail Hour, Introductions, and Dinner:

  • Cocktail hour is typically just that, an hour. If your ceremony is at the same location as your reception, then it begins immediately following your ceremony. However, if your ceremony will be somewhere else, you will want to take the end time of your ceremony and add the appropriate amount of travel time to arrive at your cocktail hour start time.
  • With most catering companies, an hour for hors d’oeuvres is all that is allocated. However, if your post-ceremony pictures will take longer than an hour, you will want to talk with your caterer and see what they suggest in terms of adding additional food and extending cocktail hour.
  • After your post-ceremony pictures are complete and guests have take their seats following cocktail hour, your introductions will occur. You will need to decide if you will introduce parents, bridal party, and you and your fiancé, or any combination of the above. The time allocated for introductions will vary based on the number of people you have but typically does not take longer than 2-3 minutes.
  • Following introductions is when the blessing should occur if you are doing one. It typically lasts about 3 minutes.
  • Dinner will come next. The length of dinner can vary based on the number of guests you have and the style of meal you are having. Speak with your caterer and ask long they estimate dinner will take. On average, I allocate 1 hour for dinner which gives the average size wedding serving a buffet style meal ample time to get their food, eat leisurely, and have their plate cleared prior to moving on to the rest of the evening’s festivities.

Timeline Scheduling for Cake Cutting, Toasts, First Dances and More:

  • At what point in the evening you schedule these traditions is up to you. I will tell you how much time to allocate on average for each, followed by the order in which I typically schedule them for optimum fun and dancing time.
  • Toasts: Approximately 2-3 minutes per person speaking
  • Cake Cutting: Approximately 3-5 minutes (This allows time for pre-cutting pictures, actual cutting of cake, and feeding each other)
  • Dances (First Dance, Father/Daughter, Mother/Son, ETC): Approximately 3 minutes per dance
  • Bouquet Toss: Approximately 3 minutes
  • Garter Toss: Approximately 3 minutes
  • IDL Preferred Order of Events:
    • Cocktail Hour
    • Grand Entrance
    • Blessing
    • Dinner
    • Toasts
    • Cake Cutting
    • Dances (First Dance, Father/Daughter, Mother/Son, ETC)
    • Period of Dancing (Approximately 1 hour)
    • Bouquet/Garter Toss
    • Dancing Time
    • Grand Exit

Additional Timeline Notes:

  • I always suggest closing the bar 30 minutes prior to the end of your reception. This way guests have ample time to finish their drinks before the reception ends.
  • Make sure you are scheduling your grand exit (effectively ending your reception) a minimum of an hour to an hour and a half before your venue rental time ends. This allows plenty of time for your vendors to pick up any rented items and clean up without having to pay a rental overage fee.
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