We all know how a wedding works, right? There’s the ceremony, then cocktail hour, then the reception, and everyone leaves after you cut the cake, right? Not quite.
There are a lot of factors in play on your wedding day, and it’s imperative that you have a timeline to make sure everything happens when it should. But don’t worry, having a timeline won’t make your wedding feel like work. In fact, with the right timeline and right vendor team working your wedding, you won’t even notice it!
A wedding day timeline can be confusing if you’ve never done one—even if you’ve attended a lot of weddings, you probably haven’t paid much attention to the actual timing of each event. But as someone who’s hosted over 1,000 weddings, I will tell you— Six hours is about the most weddings guests have in them. Any wedding over six hours can be dreadful for guests. And that includes everything from the ceremony to your grand exit.
Most wedding vendors also start their packages at five hours. After that, it is overtime or extra hours for an additional cost. We always suggest leaving the guests wanting more.
Once you settle on how long you want the wedding to be, it’s time to start working on your timeline!
Throughout your wedding planning, you’ll be thinking of all the things you want to do that will make your wedding day special. An alternative wedding theme unique to you and your partner, a special choreographed dance with the wedding party, the toast from the father of the bride, the grand entrance of the bride and groom to the reception, and of course, the grand exit at the end of the night.
Creating a wedding timeline is a must if you want to achieve all of those special moments on your big day.
There’s so much happening on your wedding day that it’s very easy to fall behind. And once you do that, those special moments that you’ve been planning for months (and in some cases years) now are in jeopardy.
It’s best to think of it, not as an individual ceremony timeline and wedding reception timeline, but rather a schedule for the entire wedding day. A complete wedding day timeline can even be as detailed as noting when the bride and groom need to wake up to start their days. Some timelines can even include the rehearsal dinner from the night before.
What you put on your wedding timeline is between you and your wedding planner, but in most cases, the more details you include, the better. Don’t forget to include your wedding officiant in your timeline so they can keep the ceremony on time. And remember: your wedding date plays a big factor in your timeline planning. A fall wedding will start earlier than a summer wedding after all.
Same goes for whether you’re having an indoor or outdoor wedding.
One thing that changes the look of your timeline but maybe not the overall length is if you opt for a first look or not. Many couple who do a first look before the ceremony end up also taking the bulk of their photos then too. That might mean getting ready a bit earlier, but the overall length of your wedding should not be affected.
Ask your venue for some sample timelines during you tour so you have an idea of how weddings look before you check it out.
Here are some examples of what a wedding day timeline could look like. Keep in mind, there are some moments—like the bouquet and garter toss—that can be inserted in multiple places (or left out entirely!).
In this example, we have a six-hour wedding that takes place in the winter or early spring (think January-March or late October-December). The ceremony starts at 4pm because the sun sets early in the evening. You can see the timeline includes everything from when the bride and wedding party first arrive at our San Antonio venue in the morning through the sparkler send off at the end of the reception.
Now let’s look at a five-hour wedding. In this example, the wedding is taking place in the late spring or early summer and will start right at 5pm. You can see that with a five-hour reception, there’s just enough time to get all the major milestones in, but it can be tight, and if there are any delays, it can throw off the timeline.
Let’s look at another six-hour wedding reception timeline. In this example, the wedding is taking place during the summer. That allows the ceremony start time to begin later in the evening, thanks to the longer daylight.
Here’s a more detailed wedding reception timeline to see everything that goes into the party. This is for a six-hour wedding with cocktail hour beginning at 5:30pm.
And there you have it! A six-hour wedding with all wedding activities included, plus three hours of solid open dance floor time, wedding celebrations, AND a five-hour bar (whoa).
Now, this may seem long to some, but really, six hours is a sweet spot. Nothing is crammed and slammed together. It is a relaxed pace but still keeps the guests entertained.
You will save hundreds if not thousands of precious dollars on overtime wages from the DJ, Bar, Photographer, Video guy/gal, and security. Most vendor packages start at five hours, with tons of logic behind them! Always leave guests wanting more, not wanting to find a secret exit.
Don’t worry because your wedding planner will guide you through this process seamlessly. A wedding timeline is very fluid and built upon your vision. Nothing is set in stone other than the ceremony start time—but be sure to consider the timing of each event and the length of each event.
Some weddings won’t have a toast or garter toss/bouquet toss—saving time. Some won’t want cutting the cake to be such a huge ordeal, just cut it, pass it around and keep the party going. Once you sit down and play out your wedding in your head, jot down your ideas, wants, and needs.
A wedding timeline is totally custom to you and built for you. Add in things like late-night snacks, a dress change, fireworks, dollar dance, and all sorts of activities that will change things up a bit, keeping guests entertained.
It doesn’t matter if you change a bit—say 5pm start time, or 6pm start time. Just consider the six-hour rule of thumb for the event time, and make sure you hire a wedding planner or day of coordinator who will keep on top of things for you so you can enjoy your day.