How to Build your Wedding Day Timeline
So you’ve got your venue (yay!), and now you’re starting to book your wedding vendors. You can see the pieces all coming together, well... *almost* coming together. The one thing that’s tripping you up is the timing of everything. Trust us, we’ve all been there. Creating your wedding day timeline is really tricky! The hardest part is knowing where to start, but don’t worry - we’re here to help! Follow the guide below to start building your wedding day timeline.
Start with your ceremony time
We always start building a wedding day timeline with the ceremony time. This is the main event of the day, so it only makes sense to build your timeline around it! When deciding on your ceremony time there are a few key things to take into consideration:
- Are you getting married onsite, or at an offsite location like a church? If you’re getting married offsite, your ceremony location might have a designated time for your ceremony, which would in turn decide your ceremony time for you.
- What day of the week are you getting married on? If you’re getting married on a weekday, you might want to consider having a later ceremony time to accommodate those coming from work.
- What time is sunset? If you're planning an outdoor ceremony, nobody wants to get married in the dark!
Believe it or not, this is actually the part of the day that we probably get the most questions about. It’s hard to know how long to budget for getting ready! This is especially important to figure out early on so that you can know if you’ll need additional hours at your venue (depending on how many hours are included in your rental package). Hair & makeup takes roughly 4-5 hours, including a 30-minute touchup window.
It takes roughly 45 minutes for each service to be done (1.5 hours for both hair & makeup), and one artist will usually do 5-6 services on a wedding day. This takes a total of 4-5 hours, but don’t worry if you have a large group getting services done - your hair & makeup company will staff the appropriate amount of artists needed.
Your hair and makeup start time will really depend on when you need to be ready for pictures. We most often see hair & makeup starting between 8am & 9am.
Don’t forget to budget in about 30 minutes for you to get dressed & ready to go before pictures! Your photo schedule will heavily depend on if you’re doing a first look or not. If you’re not doing a first look your photographer will most likely still try to fit in some photos before the ceremony, but the majority of them will be done during the cocktail hour. Individual portraits and bridesmaid/groomsmen photos are some that your photographer will take before the ceremony. In that case, you can plan about 1 hour for those photos.
If you are doing a first look, you can plan about 2 hours for all of your photos. Talk with your photographer about their preference for photo order/timing breakdown, but here’s an example:
- 15 minutes for your first look
- 30 minutes for couple portraits
- 30-45 minutes for wedding party pictures
- 30-45 minutes for family pictures
An average ceremony is 30 minutes long, but of course, this will be different for everyone! Some things that may affect the length of your ceremony are any religious elements, cultural traditions, or your officiant.
When planning your ceremony timing, don’t forget that we recommend hiding away at least 30 minutes - 1 hour before the ceremony while guests arrive. One more thing to note, if you have to travel between locations at all we suggest planning double the travel time just in case!
Typically your cocktail hour will just be one hour, but there are some cases where we would suggest making it a 90-minute social hour.
- If your venues needs to do a room flip from an indoor ceremony to your reception setup (check with your venue on this!)
- If you need to take the majority of your photos during this time. *If this applies to you, talk with your photographer about timing/photo order, but here is an example breakdown:
- Immediately after the ceremony start with family photos (30-45 minutes)
- Remaining wedding party photos (15 minutes)
- Couple portraits (30-45 minutes)
Whether you’re having an hour-long cocktail hour, or a 90-minute social hour it’s important to have good food & beverage options for your guests! Wedding tip: if you’re wanting to do a specialty cocktail for a portion of the evening, cocktail hour is a great time to do so!
You’re married, and now it’s time to celebrate!! Plan 15 minutes into your timeline for your guests to get seated for dinner (it takes them some time to grab a drink & find their seats!). After they’re seated, plan 5 minutes for your grand entrance, 5 minutes to cut the cake, and 5 minutes for a welcome toast/blessing. Immediately after that, dinner will begin.
Most caterers will offer two styles for your meal service: a plated meal or a buffet meal. Each caterer does things a little differently, but you can usually plan an hour for the entire dinner service. After dinner, we will begin toasts.
Toasts & First Dances
Plan roughly 5 minutes per toast, but if you know someone is going to be a bit more long-winded buffer in some extra time for their toast. After toasts, we'll transition right into your first dances.
The first dances would traditionally include the couple and each one of them with a person of significance. We suggest planning 15 minutes for your first dances. After that, open dance will begin & it’s time to dance the night away!
If you’re planning on doing any extra activities such as a bouquet toss, garter toss, anniversary dance, etc. we recommend doing that 30 minutes - 1 hour after the open dance begins. Doing those activities earlier in the evening will ensure that the majority of your guests are still there to participate.
The End of the Event
Eventually, your last song will play, and your beautiful day will have come to an end.
Hopefully, this guide provides some clarity & confidence on how to start building your wedding day timeline. But no matter what, we are always here to help in any way we can. Just because we love you all so much, we’ve included two sample timelines below! 😉 One example with a first look, and one without. Enjoy!