Pop some champagne and burn those Post-it notes in your wedding binder. You did it! Your wedding day is right around the corner!
Well, hold up - don’t burn the whole stack just yet. You’ve still got a timeline to draw up.
Take a deep breath, you’re almost done. We can DO this!
Let’s start with some basic questions:
What time will the ceremony start? What time should you walk down the aisle? When does your reception begin and end?
To make sure your wedding runs smoothly, all the key players — including the bridal party — need to know when to arrive and where to be at all times.
Yes, there are a lot of moving parts … but we’ve outlined a complete wedding day timeline to help you. So with no further ado, let’s hash out those details!
The Wedding Day Timeline
Whether you’re getting married in the afternoon or evening, most weddings last between six and seven hours.
Here’s a sample wedding timeline for you to use as a guide (feel free to adjust it around your start time):
11:00 AM: Hair and makeup
2:00 PM: Wedding party arrives at venue/wedding party photos
3:00 PM: First look and couples photos
4:30 PM: Ceremony
5:00 PM: Cocktail hour
6:00 PM: Reception
6:30 PM: Dinner service begins
7:30 PM: Hit the dance floor!
Again, you should adjust the times based on the specific details of your wedding. However, we'll walk through each of these crucial parts of a wedding below, offering some tips on how to best schedule them.
Hair and Makeup
Decide what time you need the wedding party to be dressed and looking their best. If you’re doing a first-look before the ceremony, start the hair and makeup process at least three hours ahead of time.
If it takes you an hour to drive from your house to the wedding venue, make sure to factor in travel time, too!
Most brides block out about three hours to get ready. If you have a lot of bridesmaids, are planning on wearing an intricate hairstyle, or just believe in 60-minute showers as a core lifestyle value, give yourself an extra hour or two to be safe.
And if you and your ladies are ready a bit earlier than planned — hell yeah, sister! It never hurts to have some extra time to relax with a mimosa while your glam squad does their thing.
You’re going to want lots and lots of pictures with your husband (OMG you’ll be able to call him hubby). You’ll also want pics with the wedding party and, of course, your family.
That being said, you’ll want to pencil in at least two hours for the photog sesh. You can take wedding photos before the ceremony or in between the ceremony and the reception. Most wedding photo sessions take at least two hours, so make sure to leave plenty of time!
There will be several photos of the wedding party in various groupings. In addition to those, you’ll obviously want to take family photos.
If you’re having a traditional religious wedding, your ceremony might be an hour or two long. But these days, many couples opt for shorter ceremonies that last 30 minutes or less.
If possible, start your cocktail hour almost immediately after the ceremony ends.
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Your cocktail hour should be a full 60 minutes (let’s face it — tears work up an appetite!). While your guests are sipping drinks and chowing down on hors d’oeuvres, you can take a few more photos with friends and extended family members.
Okay, now for the fun part … PARTY TIME!
Most receptions last a minimum of four hours. If you have lots of guests coming in from out of town, tack on a fifth hour (it’s the least you can do).
Regardless of how long the reception is, dinner should be served toward the beginning. If your reception jumps off at 6 PM, start dinner service by 6:30.
Toasts should be made at the very beginning of dinner (or immediately before). That way, your guests can get up, mingle, and dance as soon as dinner’s over.
And, don’t forget to schedule in a first dance. Typically, it’s best to let your guests get their groove on for 30 minutes or so before you have your first dance as a couple.
When Is the Best Time to Cut the Wedding Cake?
Some people insist that the cake-cutting should happen later on in the night, right before everyone goes home. Others say it’s okay to cut the wedding cake right after the first dance.
It’s really up to you. You’ll have to decide how you want your wedding to flow.
Traditionally, the cake-cutting is a signal to the guests that it’s okay to head out. Grandparents and older guests usually stay at least until the cake is cut (those who follow age-old traditions think it’s impolite to leave before the bride and groom share a slice).
So, feel free to cut your cake at any point in the night. That’s the best way to ensure that granny and grandpa won’t feel obligated to stick around until midnight!
The Four Main Things That Affect Your Timeline
Photo: Ryan Ray
In the end, it’s YOUR DAY! Every wedding is different, so everyone has a different timeline. The schedule for your big day will vary depending on the type of wedding you’re having and what time it’s happening.
Here are four things to consider when drawing up your plans:
1. How Many People Do You Have in Your Wedding?
The number of people in your wedding party will have a big effect on your timeline. The larger your wedding party, the more time it’ll take to get ready!
You can hire one hairstylist and makeup artist or an entire team. If you can only afford one of each, make sure to leave yourself plenty of time for preparation! Talk to your pros beforehand to determine how long it will take them to fix everyone up.
But, regardless of what your professionals say, you should always cushion yourself with an extra hour or so to be safe. Remember — mo’ maids, mo’ problems.
How many people should you have at your wedding? Read Your Full Guide to Wedding Guest Plus-One Etiquette
2. When Are You Taking Pictures?
With a first-look, you can take photos before the ceremony. That way, you won’t have to miss out on the cocktail hour. But, it also means that you’ll have to be ready even earlier in the day.
If you prefer to stick to tradition and do photos after the ceremony, you’ll have to make one big decision:
Are you okay with missing the cocktail hour?
If not, factor in a 90-minute, post-ceremony break for you to take some amazing pics. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it, too?
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3. Location of Your Ceremony and Reception
Are your wedding ceremony and reception at the same venue or two different locations?
If they’re happening in two different places, you should factor in some time for people to drive to the reception venue. If they’re taking place in the same location, there will probably be very little time in the middle.
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4. Type of Dinner
The type of food you’re serving will affect the timeline of your reception.
Cocktail receptions, for example, offer a lot of flexibility. Your wait staff can start passing food as soon as guests arrive!
A sit-down dinner, on the other hand, is a bit more rigid in terms of time. Everyone needs to have their drinks and be in their seats by the time the caterers bring out the salad.
If you’re having a buffet dinner, you’ve got to be even more strategic. The more guests you have, the longer it will take for everyone to get through the buffet line. It may not leave much time for dancing and drinking.
Need to postpone your wedding? Read our guide on How to Postpone a Wedding!
It’s important to have a well-planned wedding schedule. But, it’s even more important to give yourself some flexibility.
Don’t drive yourself crazy by trying to stick to a minute-by-minute itinerary. Cushion your day with enough time to make your wedding as stress-free as possible.
Remember, wedding planning should be pleasant. After all, it’s the day you’re marrying the person you love! Relax, have fun, and get ready to enjoy your big day. It’s going to be amazing!