Free Wedding Timeline Template
As a bride, you know that countless hours of planning and preparation go into your big day. You have dreamt up every detail and combed through every contract. However, none of that painstaking planning means crap if you don’t have a thoughtful and developed wedding day timeline! Hopefully you are working with a wedding planner or photographer that can help you develop your perfect wedding timeline, but if not, here are some helpful tips to making sure your day flows just right!
Look at your exit time and work backwards from there
Your exit time should be at least 1 hour before your rental period expires. Typically a venue rental period is over at midnight meaning your exit time should be at 11pm. On average, an entire wedding (ceremony + reception) is around 5-5 1/2 hours. This would mean that your ceremony should start around 5:30 or 6pm (if it is not a catholic ceremony).
How long to keep your guests waiting
Picking your ceremony time will determine when your cocktail hour will start, and then when your reception will start. A typical cocktail hour is between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the amount of photos the wedding party needs to take and if the ceremony is at a separate location than the cocktail hour/reception. An effective way to alleviate a long cocktail hour is to do a first look and get a lot of the wedding party and family photos finished before the ceremony. You want to start your reception no longer than an hour after cocktail hour starts, your guests will be hungry!
**PRO TIP: always schedule at least 15 minutes for you and your spouse to have a private moment before you enter the reception- to eat, bustle your dress, let it all sink in!**
The reception typically starts with the bride and groom being announced for the first time, and going immediately into the first dance. This is typically the easiest transition as all eyes are already on you. After the first dance, it is customary to have the host of the wedding (usually whoever is paying for the wedding) give a toast to thank guests for coming and welcome them to the reception. After the toast is when food is usually served, or the buffet is opened. During dinner is a great time for the bride and groom to either sneak out for more photos (especially if it is during sunset) or to visit with guests since you have already eaten.
When to get the party started
Through planning many weddings, I have found that guests tend to get antsy after about 45 minutes of dinner. I typically like to advise couples to get all of their wedding ‘events’ out of the way early so that they can maximize the time that the dance floor is ‘open.’ Events I am referring to include: cake cutting, speeches, and father-daughter/mother-son dances. Make sure to do these swiftly and one after the other so that guests don’t get too impatient. You can even consider doing toasts during dinner to free up some time. Once those events have happened, your band or DJ can invite guests out onto the dance floor and start playing the party music! Once the party starts, you want to keep the interruptions to a minimum and get your money’s worth from your entertainment. However, to keep guests entertained, there are other things that can be happening during the dancing- things like late night snacks, photo booths, etc.
The end of the night
When it is approaching your exit time, I always like to have the band/DJ to announce the last song. This gets your remaining guests on the dance floor one last time, but also lets them know to start collecting their things for the exit.
**side note: great last dance songs include: Don’t Stop Believing, I wanna Dance with Somebody, Sweet Caroline**
While your guests are lining up outside, take some time to have a ‘private last dance.’ This is a great time to take a moment to let the night sink in and soak up the last bit of the party. (it also makes a great photo opportunity!) After you and your guests have cleared out, make sure your vendors have at least an hour to break down and clean up so that you do not go over your rental period and pay extra fees!
An example wedding day timeline:
Note: Below is a very generalized wedding day timeline. When developing your own timeline, you should talk with your photographer and factor in the following: how long your photographer/videographer package is, how many bridesmaids are getting their hair/makeup done, the season and what time the sun sets, vendor considerations (e.g. does your band require breaks?)