A Typical Wedding Day Timeline: What To Expect

Wedding Planning Tips

Before we outline what a typical wedding day timeline looks like, we put together a few tips to think about before planning out the timeline of events on your big day. Keep reading for what to expect when planning your wedding day timeline.

Start Planning Early

Planning early will go a long way in reducing stress and allowing for more options for your big day. Planning ahead allows you to pay attention to details and also to have time to evaluate and make key decisions.  Don’t procrastinate on this one, planning will pay off allowing you and your partner to enjoy the pre-wedding time together.

Set a Budget

Make sure you determine your budget and stick to it. Be realistic about what you can afford to spend. The last thing you want is to have wedding debt to worry about instead of enjoying your special day and first years of marriage building your lives together. Beautiful and memorable weddings can exist on small budgets as well. Give thought to what makes sense for you and your partner.

Read Vendor Contracts Carefully

Reading your vendor contracts is very important. Contracts have very specific terms and conditions to review. Take the time to understand them and ask questions if you need to. Don’t take the chance for surprises, no matter how much you trust the vendor. Ask a family member or friend to review an agreement that you may not fully understand. Pay close attention to cancellation policies, services not provided and charges to changes to additional services.

Ask for Help

There are endless tasks to wedding planning and it can be stressful and time consuming. Share the work and ask for help. Splitting up the tasks among a few people lightens the workload. Friends and family won’t mind helping, it makes them feel part of the planning and it is very rewarding seeing the special day come together successfully.

Pay Close Attention To The Guest List

Be selective in your guest list. This is one area that is directly related to the cost of the wedding. Determine your budget and weigh out other expenses versus having additional guests. Make sure you prioritize the guests you are inviting and think about who you really want to be there to share your special day.

How Long Should A Wedding Last?

A wedding typically lasts all day with a ceremony, pictures and a reception. There are many variations and no right or wrong. You can adjust to whatever you prefer but here are some typical guidelines for a traditional wedding.

Here’s what a day in the life of a bride looks like.

It might seem silly to write out a wedding day timeline —you’ve been to a million weddings, you know what happens at them, right? But a day-of schedule is a great cheat sheet to share with your bridal party and wedding vendors so everyone knows when everything’s supposed to happen and the day stays on track. Take a look at this example, then create your own!

11am: Hair + Make Up

Most likely the bride and bridal party will have their hair and makeup at their hotel or getting ready space. One important thing to remember is if you have a large bridal party you will several beauty teams so that everyone is done close to around the same time. The general rule of thumb is to budget 45 minutes for each bridesmaid for hair and makeup and closer to 1 to 1.5 hours for the bride.

A quick tip: Wear cute robes, and turn getting ready into a photo op and when you go to get dressed you will not mess up your hair!

12pm: Venue opens, florist delivers flowers

Your venue will be standing by and ready to have vendors start to deliver key rental and decor items. If you are not using a wedding planner or coordinator make sure someone at the venue knows when and where the vendors will be dropping off items.

2pm: Bridal party leaves for ceremony venue

Get things rolling and head over to your ceremony location. You will want to add in a little extra time for a quick makeup touch-up before you start your photos and especially before the ceremony begins.

2:15pm: Pre-ceremony pictures

You probably already captured a ton of cute getting-ready images but now you will want to have your photographer capture the more formal pre-ceremony images. These images could include your bridal party, the family of the bride, and some bridal portraits. Sometimes these photos can take a little longer than you think so try to have one person around you be the wrangler for everyone.

3pm: First look and couple pictures

If you are doing a first look you will want to schedule it before the ceremony and after you have had some of your individual portraits taken. A first look has become very popular for couples as it can cut down on the number of photographs the couple has to take at the cocktail hour.

A quick tip: Your photographer will ask for a shot list before the event which will have a list of all the images you want to be captured and a list of the important people who need to be available for pictures.

4:30pm: Ceremony starts

Most ceremonies are between 30 minutes and 1 hour. If you are planning on getting married in a house of worship you might need to double-check how long the ceremony is expected to be. Make sure you enjoy your very special ceremony where you will say “I do” and officially become a married couple before you dance the night away!

5pm: Family pictures and cocktail hour

The cocktail hour is the time when your guests will have an opportunity to mingle and enjoy a cocktail and some light food while you, your partner, your bridal party, and your family get those important pictures taken.

A quick tip: Tell family members about the group photo plan beforehand so they’re quick and painless.

6pm: Reception starts

About an hour after cocktail hour the reception will start which kicks off the party part of the wedding day. You and your partner will be introduced, have your first dance, have toasts, and of course eat and dance.

6:30pm: Main course served 

It’s time to eat! Both seated and buffet dinners should be served around this time allowing guests to enjoy some yummy food and dinner conversation. Make sure you get your plate firsts as you will want to make sure you have enough time to eat before you and your partner go table to table to say hello and greet your guests as they dine.

6:45pm: Toasts

Dinner is the perfect time for speeches and toasts because you will have a captive audience. Set your speech line up however you see fit but the typical format is as follows.

  • Father (or parents) of the bride – The official “hosts” of the wedding should welcome the guests and share a few sweet stories and well wishes for the new couple.
  • Father (or parents) of the groom – It is not as traditional for the father or parents of the groom to give a speech but sometimes they will share some special thoughts as well.
  • The Maid of Honor
  • The Best Man

A quick tip: It’s a good idea to give speakers a length guideline so toasts don’t eat into dance time.

7:15pm: First dance

Get on that dance floor and share your first dance as a married couple. Many couples will invite other guests to join them halfway through their first dance song which is a lovely little touch!

10pm: Reception ends

The fun has to stop at some point and so make sure you give your guests a heads up that the reception is coming to a close. The best way to share this info is to have your DJ or band announce the last song for the evening. We are seeing many brides and couples select a “last dance” song in addition to the first dance song as a way to have their wedding end with their favorite song.

Whether you choose to have a traditional wedding day timeline or a shorter duration wedding, just be sure to plan the timing and work with your venue to ensure everyone is on the same page as to the end of the reception time. Remember to communicate the timeline with guests. There is no must have time for the length of a wedding, so determine what is your preference and enjoy the perfect day.

A quick tip: Schedule the last shuttle for 10-15 minutes after the last song (it’ll take guests a bit to collect their things and head out.) Also, you should consider having your DJ or entertainment announce when the last shuttle is leaving so no one is left behind.

What else is left to do before the big day? Take a look at our wedding planning tools. Also, make sure you pin this graphic to your wedding planning Pinterest board!

Featured Image by @kaylabealsfilmphoto

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A Typical Wedding Day Timeline: What To Expect