There is so much to be said for a wedding day that runs smoothly, and a lot of that goes back to careful planning and a well-thought out timeline. There are some things you may not have much control over depending on your venue(s)* and catering schedule, but nearly everything else is up to you. (*Many churches specify what time you can have your ceremony based on other events happening at the church, and caterers often have to stick to a strict schedule for preparing, delivering, and serving the food).
One thing that can cause a lot of contention is whether or not the bride and groom will see each other before the ceremony. I am a big proponent of the First Look or Reveal as they are called, but I never force any of my couples to do so. In fact, I would say my couples are probably 50/50 on seeing each other before the ceremony.
So without further ado, here is my top 5 list (plus 1 bonus!) of tips for how to create the perfect wedding day timeline:
1) Strongly consider doing a First Look. I saw a post a few weeks ago from an event coordinator at a wedding venue who is based about an hour from me. She talked about why she always recommends a First Look to her venue’s wedding couples because it gives the wedding day great momentum. I love that word “momentum” and think it’s a great way to summarize the benefits of doing a First Look. By doing all your photos before the ceremony, you free up the rest of the day to mingle with your guests at a cocktail hour, go straight into dinner and the reception, and most of all stay on schedule. There’s no downtime for your guests to find something to do, eat, see, or drink while they wait for the rest of the festivities.
2) Add in small time buffers throughout the day to allow for the unexpected. Allow time before the ceremony to be hidden away before guests arrive. Allow 5 minutes here or there for makeup and hair touchups. And even if you don’t ultimately need that time, your photographer will be grateful to not be rushed and to have the extra time for gorgeous portraits!
3) Account for travel time. If you are using a bus, limo, trolley, or some other large vehicle, know that they travel slower than smaller cars. And you’ll also need a buffer if everyone is driving/riding separately because it’s almost inevitable that at least one car will get lost or show up a few minutes late (another great reason to rent a limo, etc!). I always ask my couples for normal drive time between ceremony and reception (and sometimes alternate photo location too), and then add in a few extra minutes to account for traffic or other inevitables.
3) Have a cocktail hour. Even if they are dry, cocktail hours are great for making up time for anything that got missed or any family photos where everyone wasn’t present earlier in the day. I will typically also use this time to photograph the reception space and details. Don’t skimp on this important chunk of time — it allows your vendors to regroup and align everything for dinner start time.
4) Make a detailed reception schedule. Plan out the schedule of events with your DJ, band or emcee, allowing adequate time for guests to eat. Ask people giving toasts to limit speaking time to stay on schedule. Don’t leave too much downtime between dinner and other events like cake cutting, first dances, etc, because some guests won’t want to stay too late. A lot of places will have you cut your cake now during dinner, so they can begin cutting the cake and serve it immediately after dinner, which I think is a great idea!
A great DJ will keep things on your tight schedule, and keep things moving. Be sure to communicate your wishes to stay on schedule. I am a big fan of constant music, less “mic” talking, and NO dead air! Dead air (as Urban Dictionary describes it is “an uncomfortable period of awkward silence that usually occurs in a tense social setting"). I am happy to supply you with a list of my favorite DJs that do all of these things!
5) Google sunset time. I do this before every wedding, but it’s important for the couple to add it into their own reception timeline also. I just search “sunset time for xx/xx/xxxx date in xxxxxx city” and that specific time is how I track the timing for sunset pictures that night. I prefer the sky to be just a little darker/colorful (so after sunset), so about 5-10 minutes after Google’s time is usually perfect.
6) Bonus tip: Note your photographer’s end time. If your photographer is booked for a certain amount of time, be sure their end time is in your reception timeline so the DJ or emcee knows. I usually will check in with the DJ when I arrive to the reception, but it still helps for them to know that info ahead of time. That way they can be sure to get in all the important events before the photographer needs to leave.