The wedding day timeline is a little bit magical. It’s a simple document that minimizes stress and keeps everyone involved on-track. And considering how elaborate even the simplest of weddings can be, the wedding day timeline is what holds everything together.
Whether you’re a wedding planner, an event pro, or a to-be-wed, I’m confident you’ll find some gems. And hopefully, some inspiration too.
The day-of timeline is the roadmap for the entire day. It tells vendors when (and where) to arrive and keeps scheduling conflicts at bay. It also guides the wedding party down to the minute. It makes sure no one’s doing makeup when the photographer is waiting to take the group photos.
So try and be detailed. Don’t leave anything out, including the little details. So if there’s a specific order to a bridal procession or which entrance the florist needs to load-in at, include it. The small delays add up faster than anyone ever imagines.
In this article:
- Finalizing The Wedding Day Timeline
- The Building Blocks Of The Wedding Day Timeline
- A Standard Wedding Day Timeline Including Rehearsal and Timings
A Brief Word On Finalizing The Wedding Day Timeline
Every wedding planner has a process of their own, but most agree that you want the timeline close to finalized at about one month out. This gives you, and everyone involved enough time to make changes before they become last-minute.
Two weeks before the event, send everyone the updated timeline. There should be no real changes to the timeline between two weeks and the big day, but you don’t need to keep re-sending if there are minor adjustments. If you use event planning software like ThymeBase, you’ll have a shareable URL in the wedding day timeline maker. That means everyone always has the latest version, automatically.
Even so, you probably want to call or email and confirm with every vendor two days out. Wedding planners know this already, but I’ve heard horror stories about vendors getting mixed up and even guests showing up on the wrong day. Confirm the date and various times with everyone involved, and you’ll enter the wedding day with confidence.
And in case you don’t believe me about the horror stories, here’s one that could have been averted with a check-in a couple of days before.
“We ordered our cake to be delivered on the wedding morning, but it never turned up! So we didn’t have a cake at all. To our horror, the cake then arrived the day after the wedding!“Karen and James in Wedding Ideas
The Building Blocks Of The Wedding Day Timeline
There are a few reasons why I like to think of the wedding day timeline as building blocks. Conceptually, I find it easier to remember the little steps involved in a larger block. For example, during the photographs block, you can break it down into the solo, wedding party, and first look photos. And then, if needed, you can break it down even more by shot list or order of people.
Also, I find it easier to make changes to the timeline by thinking of blocks first. Suppose I’d allotted 1 hour to the photographs block, and I think I need more time. In that case, it’s more efficient to remove 15 minutes from another block without shifting the entire event.
Note: This doesn’t mean everything photographic happens in a photography block – that would be a rigid wedding and pretty weird. This is merely a starting point to help make sure everything important happens within the time you have available. And you’ll avoid vendor overtime fees.
So with that said, let’s look at the various building blocks of a wedding timeline.
The Rehearsal – 5 Hours
The rehearsal doesn’t need a lot of space on your wedding day timeline. Mostly it includes:
- Hair and makeup – 1 hour
- Ceremony rehearsal – 1 hour
- Rehearsal dinner – 3 hours
During the rehearsal, you’ll likely carve out time for speeches. There’s not much else to include in the timeline you share with the wedding party. But do make sure to add in the location and include the address.
Getting Ready – 5 Hours
On the wedding day, depending on the wedding party’s size and what they need done, this can take a big chunk of time.
Here are a few tips from beauty pro Jenn Dugan of The Makeup Curio to get the most of your hair and makeup time.
The makeup artist needs to know the number of people in the wedding party who’ll be getting makeup. Depending on the size, the makeup artist will hire an assistant. The earlier that Jenn knows the bridal party’s size, the sooner Jenn can book the best assistant. No one wants to scramble at the last minute.
Also, the number of people in the bridal party who need the stylist’s services influences the event timeline. If two or three more people unexpectedly need makeup, it can even push the ceremony time back. Or at least seriously annoy the photographer.
Read more: What Wedding Makeup Artists Wish You Knew.
When thinking about the “getting ready” block, make time for:
- Hair and makeup arrives and set up – 15 minutes
- Photographer arrives and sets up- 15 minutes
- Hair & makeup – 4 hours
- Bridal hair and makeup – 1 hour
Pro-tip: The bride goes last, right before the pre-ceremony photos. You want the hair done at the very end, after makeup, because hair goes limp.
Vendor Setup – 3 Hours
No, the vendors don’t need 3 hours to get set up, but you can’t set up flowers until the linens are down, and you can’t lay down the linens until the tables are set up. So you’ll need to coordinate everything with the vendors and add the exact times to your wedding day timeline.
Because catering happens in their own world, and because many venues handle food and beverage, I’m not including them here. Besides, often catering sets up behind the scenes.
These are the vendors who need setup time:
- Rental delivery (tables, lighting, décor) – 15 minutes
- Bouquet delivery – 15 minutes
- All tables setup – 15 minutes
- Linen and table setting and placement – 1 hour
Just to note, the three hours is a window of time, not the length of time it’ll actually take to set everything up.
Photography – 5 Hours – All Day
Depending on your photography package, you might have the photographers arrive first thing in the morning or an hour or so before the ceremony.
One thing to note, if any surprises or special moments are happening, make sure to tell the photographers. They need to be in position to capture it. Of course, you can’t put secrets into the event timeline, but you might consider creating a separate timeline for the photographers.
Typically, the photography block will include:
- Bridal party photo pre-dresses – 20 minutes
- The reveal – 10 minutes
- Solo photos – 20 minutes
- Wedding party pictures – 30 minutes
- First-look and couple photos – 30 minutes
Pre-Ceremony – 1 hour
Depending on where your ceremony is being held and whether guests had to travel to be at the wedding, you might need more time. This hour is for transportation to the ceremony as well as prelude music, maybe some hors d’oeuvres, and guest conversation.
Pre-ceremony activities are:
- Transport – 1 hour
- Guests arriving – 30 minutes
- Prelude music – 30 minutes
Note, these occur simultaneously.
The Ceremony – 30 minutes
The ceremony itself can be up to an hour, depending on the couple’s traditions. Not much more to say here, but I’ve heard from multiple event planners and married couples that officiants can be flakey.
Because you only have 1 officiant, it can be catastrophic if they get sick or their car breaks down. Confirm your officiant the day before and try and have a backup. Ask around and see if any RSVP’d guests are ordained and credentialled, and you’ll rest easy.
Cocktail Hour – 1 hour and 15 minutes
The cocktail hour takes about an hour, but you’ll want to add a 15-minute buffer beyond that into your timeline. Getting people seated for the reception is more challenging than most people think.
Family photos are done during the cocktail hour. Photographers say this takes longer than expected, so assume you’ll need the full hour.
Cocktail hour activities include:
- Guest reception – 1 hour
- Family photos – 1 hour
- Hors d’oeuvres – 1 hour
- Bar service – 1 hour
- Light music – 1 hour
- Ushering guests to their seats – 15 minutes
Reception – 20 minutes
Once everyone is seated, it’s time to introduce everyone to the new couple.
The reception includes:
- The newlyweds’ entrance – 5 minutes
- First dance – 5 minutes
- Guests invited to dance – 10 minutes
Dinner & Speeches – 1 hour and 50 minutes
Dinner can take anywhere between an hour to an hour and a half, but I’ve seen timelines budget for even longer. Regardless, this should be plenty of time for eating, conversation, speeches, and toasts before the party starts.
The dinner block includes:
- First course – 40 minutes
- Welcome toast – 10 minutes
- Second course – 40 minutes
- Speeches – 20 minutes
That leaves a little room for extending toasts or dinner if needed to the full 2-hour block.
Party Time – 3 hours
Once dinner is finished, it’s time to cut a rug and dance the night away. But this wedding day timeline block includes a few moments that matter. This is when you’ll have parent dances, cake cutting, and dessert, and it’s also when the bar staff get real busy.
Party time includes:
- Cake cutting – 5 minutes
- Father-daughter dance – 5 minutes
- Mother-son dance – 5 minutes
- First dance – 5 minutes
- Dessert and coffee – 1 hour
Keep an eye on the time here. If the party rolls into overtime, you can incur fees from vendors like the band, the venue, and catering.
Exit – 45 minutes
I consider the exit time to be a block all on its own. It’s when the DJ, the venue staff, and the bar staff begin winding down. It’s something of a team effort to get the stragglers to leave, so it’s worth discussing this with vendors.
There aren’t many moments in the Exit block:
- Newlywed getaway – 15 minutes
- Guest exit – 30 minutes
- DJ wraps up
Breakdown and Loadout – 1 hour
Sometimes overlapping with the exit block, the breakdown and loadout time is all about the vendors. Check with the venue about any rules, storage issues, and other concerns. You might need to extend this block depending on the vendors.
Just remember, the venue’s clock is still ticking, so keep an eye on the time.
Read more: 5 Questions to Ask on a Venue Walkthrough.
A Standard Wedding Day Timeline Including Rehearsal and Timings
- 02:00 pm – 1 hour – Hair for rehearsal dinner
- 05:00 pm – 1 hour – Ceremony rehearsal
- 07:30 pm – 3 hours – Rehearsal dinner
- 08:00 pm – 20 minutes – Speeches during dinner
The Wedding Day
- 08:45 am – Hair & Makeup Arrives and sets up
- 09:00 am – 5 hours – Hair & Makeup Begins
- 09:30 am – 15 minutes -Rental delivery (tables, lighting, décor)
- 10:00 am – 15 minutes – Bouquet delivery
- 12:00 pm – All tables setup
- 12:15 pm – 1 hour – Linen and table setting delivery and placement
- 01:15 pm – Photographer and Videographer arrive
- 01:30 pm – 20 minutes – Bridal party photo pre-dresses
- 01:30 pm – 1 hour, 45 minutes – Bride & Bridesmaids get dressed and ready
- 01:30 pm – Catering arrives for setup
- 01:30 pm – 1 hour, 30 minutes – Groom & Groomsmen get dressed and ready
- 02:00 pm – Floral delivery
- 02:30 pm – Reveal and photography
- 03:00 pm – Entertainment arrives and sets up
- 03:15 pm – Cake delivered and setup
- 03:15 pm – 1 hour, 30 minutes – Transportation pick for photo tour and heading to ceremony
- 04:30 pm – Guests arrive at Ceremony
- 05:00 pm – 30 minutes – Ceremony
- 05:30 pm – 1 hour – Cocktail hour beings
- 06:30 pm – Reception seating begins
- 06:45 pm – Introductions
- 07:00 pm – Dinner service begins
- 07:15 pm – Welcome toast
- 07:25 pm – Speeches
- 07:55 pm – Sunset Time for Sunset Photos
- 08:00 pm – Dinner service ends
- 08:05 pm – Dance floor opens
- 08:20 pm – Cake cutting
- 08:25 pm – Father/Daughter Dance
- 08:30 pm – First Dance
- 08:35 pm – Open Dancing
- 09:15 pm – Dessert and coffee setup
- 11:30 pm – Breakdown and loadout
- 11:30 pm – End of Night
- 11:45 pm – Afterparty
- 12:30 am – All breakdown complete