How To Create a Wedding Timeline

Wedding timelines are my FAVORITE thing to do in the world. In fact, Ali let's me come to her client meetings to do her timelines with her clients. Why? Because I LOOOVE them! Timelines are so key to your wedding day. They are the map that makes (or breaks) your day. It makes my little planner heart swoon when I see a beautiful timeline. Little side note: I not only make them for wedding days. My family can attest that I make them for family vacations, family get togethers, small parties, basically anything I can timeline out, I will!  And get ready, this post is LOOONG! Let's get down to the mechanics of a timeline, shall we? A wedding timeline has 4 key components:

  • Pre-Ceremony
  • Ceremony
  • Post Ceremony/Cocktail Hour
  • Reception & Send-off

This post is structured with the 4 key components in mind to give you insights into the activities required to build your wedding timeline.

Pre-Ceremony Timeline

So for pre-ceremony, we always begin where you are going to wake up that day. I can't tell you how many clients sit down with me on timeline day and have NO IDEA where they will be the night before. If you are superstitious or just like the idea of being apart the night before, you need to find a place for you both to be!  For the ladies, that may be also the place where you are getting your hair and make-up done so make sure it is large enough to accommodate the entourage you have that day.  Gentlemen, plan something to do but a) do not get drunk b) do not play outside (no golf, floating down the James, paint ball or fishing).  We do not want you tipsy and sunburned. Not a good look.

When you start planning your pre ceremony take your ceremony start time as the anchor to the day.  Mostly ladies like to arrive 1.5 hours prior to the ceremony to take photos and portraits before the wedding with the groom & groomsmen arriving 1 -1hour & 15 minutes prior to the ceremony so that they can seat guests from 45 minutes prior and right up until the ceremony start time.  So, taking the ceremony start time as the anchor for your day, back out arrival time, travel time, getting ready time, and hair & make-up time.

Example Pre-Ceremony Timeline

Sleeping: Groom at The Omni, Bride at Family Home

9:00 AM: Hair & Make-up Begins at The Smith's House

2:00 PM: Hair and Make-up should be completed

2:15 PM: Bride getting dressed (all bridesmaids are dressed by this point)

2:30 PM: First Look with Mr. Smith

2:40 PM: Bridal Portrait Pictures/Bridesmaids Photo

3:15 PM: Trolley picks up girls and takes them to St. Mary's

3:30 PM: Trolley drops off the bride and bridesmaids and heads for the groom and groomsmen

3:35 PM: Trolley picks up groom & groomsmen

3:45 PM: Groom & Groomsmen arrive to St. Mary's

4:00 PM: Guests begin arriving at St. Mary’s (groom is hanging back while the groomsmen usher)

4:15 PM: First Bus of guests arrive at St. Mary's

5:00 PM: Ceremony Begins


Ceremony & Post Ceremony Timeline

Is all of this making sense so far? Are you still with me? Pre-ceremony was simple enough. So now, we budget out how long a ceremony takes. That depends on your faith, ceremony line-up, who is presiding, etc. Ask your officiant how long it should take. General rule of thumb, a typical wedding with a bridal party of 6 and both moms and grandmas with 1 reading usually take in total 20-30 minutes max. That includes the march in, the ceremony and the march out.  Now, if you start adding more readings, etc, you will definitely be at 30 minutes. Catholic & Greek Orthodox weddings we are talking at least 1.5 hours and maybe more depending on guest count.

So, let's say we are having an average wedding ceremony about 30 minutes long.  So our ceremony would end by 5:30 and our guest would leave to go to cocktail hour. Let's also assume our reception location is about 15 minutes away so then our cocktail hour begins at 5:45 just to be safe with more guests arriving by 6:00 PM (think they are chatting and hugging and taking their sweet time to get there).

So, now we have everyone out of the church and it's picture time. Prior to your wedding you have already spoken with your photographer about a suggested shot list and what you want done and in what locations so we aren't going to waste time doing that. Your big question you have to ask yourself is, are we doing immediate family (mom, dad, siblings, grandma) or are we doing the ENTIRE family (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc). That differs on the amount of time it is going to take after the ceremony.  I often recommend immediately family unless your family traditionally takes a large family photo at the church at weddings.  So, lets say you chose immediate family.  We will fit in large family photos later in our timeline, do not worry!

So our timeline would then look like this:

5:30 PM: Ceremony Ends

5:45 PM: First guests to The Country Club to begin cocktail hour/Immediate Family Photos begin at Church

6:15 PM: Bridal Party leave Church via trolley and head to The Country Club– Bridal Party heads to special room for appetizers, Bride and Groom take photos on golf course

7:00 PM:Bride and Groom head back in the “special room” for appetizers alone/Guests are ushered into the ballroom

7:05 PM: Bridal Party is gathered into Special Room to get ready to be introduced.

Please Note: Do not let your bridal party go to cocktail hour if you plan on announcing them into the reception. It is SO HARD to wrangle them back into the room for more bridal party duties once you have let them go be with the rest of the guests. Trust me.

Reception & Send Off Timeline

So now we have made it to the big party! We need to think about a few things:

  • Introductions
  • Dances
  • Food
  • Additional items (cake cutting, toasts, sorority or fraternity dances/chants, bouquet or garter toss, etc)

The first thing you want to do is do your bridal party introductions and introduce you to the room. After your intros, you want to do your first dance. DO NOT WAIT.  No one will dance or do anything until you do that. Now, after that is done is where you have options. If you are doing a seating dinner, I recommend you having everyone sit, have salad served, then have Dad do his welcome while everyone is eating salad and then he can ask for you to dance with him one last time and do your Father/Daughter Dance. I think wait until the entree is almost totally eaten and then have the Mother/Son Dance so that when they are done, dance floor can open and everyone will get up and boogy.  I like the book end feel of that and it works well. But, what if yours is a cocktail reception?  That can be a bit tougher so we would start the same way, introductions, first dance. You could then decide to knock everything out right then and there which bores people mostly OR, you could do your welcome by your father and do your father/daughter and then open food stations and do your mother/son about 15-20 minutes after that and then get the party started.  We also have had where the bride and her father start dancing to the song and the groom and his mother join in half way and dance the rest of it with them which is also nice.

So, once those things are out of the way, it's party time! You want to make sure you have 1 hour of solid dancing to start the night with before you stop to cut the cake. Once you have that, and it's about 8:00-9:00 PM, you stop to cut the cake. If you were going to do toasts at the wedding, you would do those PRIOR to the cake cutting so guests stay. Remember, cutting the cake is a symbol to some guests that it's alright now to leave so make sure if you want people there for something specific, do it BEFORE cake cutting or you will be loosing your older guests. This would also be a great time to have your large group photos. One trick with a band is, when you break, fit all the things you want in to their breaks. So, toasts/cake/large family photos are 1 break, bouquet, garter, sorority chant is the other break.  Work your breaks to help you out.

Once you have all those pieces done and in place, all you have to do is do the send-off which you picked prior to and have ready for someone to hand out to the guests. Make sure your band or DJ announces where to go and what to do at the end of the night so your guests aren't just sitting around.

Here is what it would look like:

7:15 PM: Introduce bridal party & bride and groom into the room - Mr. and Mrs. YOUR NAME

7:20 PM: First Dance – (SONG HERE)

7:25 PM: Welcome by Mr. Smith

7:30 PM: Father/Daughter Dance – (SONG HERE) – then Groom & MOG will cut in half way through the song and dance as well

7:40 PM: Food Stations Open/ Band begins to play

9:00 PM: Toasts (BM & MOH ONLY)

9:10 PM: Cake Cutting

9:15 PM: Large Family Photos & Group Photos

9:30 PM: Band Starts Again

10:00 PM: Cigar Bar is open

10:30 PM: Late Night Passing(optional but if you have it in your budget, a great idea!)

11:00 PM: Send-off – sparklers – Town Car Company will pick them up

And that is it!!! You have created a timeline!!!

I hope this helps you create your timeline and helps alleviate the stress the wedding day can bring. If you ever have any questions, please don't hesitate to send them my way or leave them in the comment section below!

Happy Planning!