Your wedding day timeline is super important to ensures that your whole wedding day flows smoothly and includes everything. Your timeline should include what time hair and makeup starts, to what time your guests and vendors must be out of the venue. An organized timeline keeps you on track, and everyone on the same page!
Note for brides: If you’re working with us, we’ll take care of your timeline and make sure it gets sent to each of your vendors. You can relax knowing we’ll take care of everything.
Consider the sunset time
You have to keep in mind the sunset time if you’re getting married outdoors or plan to take any of your pictures outdoors. If your outdoor ceremony is at 5:00, but the sun sets by 5:30, your recessional will be in the dark. Consider bumping the start time up to give enough daylight, or be prepared for artificial lighting and lots of flash! I typically recommend to start your ceremony no later than 1.5 hours before sunset.
Getting Ready – Hair, Makeup and Attire
First things first, what time do you have access to your venue? This is an important first step to know if you will be able to get ready at your venue or need to find another space such as a hotel or Airbnb. You’ll likely be getting ready at separate locations, and men generally take a bit less time to get ready than women.
If you are having hair and makeup professionally done, make sure you give the artists enough time for everyone. You will want to check with your wedding party who will want to receive hair and make up services. The hair and make up artists need to know this information so they can accurately plan for timing and how much staff to bring. Check and see how much time they need per person. It’s a good rule of thumb to leave some buffer time. I usually like to give a buffer of about 30-45 minutes after hair and makeup just in case. If they finish on time, you’ll have some time to decompress and hang with your friends, or move right into the next task!
Allocate about 30 minutes for getting dressed. Getting all of your wedding party into gowns or tuxedos can take longer than you think! Your wedding dress often has lots of buttons or some different elements that you may need help with compared to your every day clothes. Also consider when you want photographer coverage to begin. If you’re dreaming of those classic robe shots with your girls, now is the time! Your photographer doesn’t need to be there the entire time you get ready. Who wants bare-faced shots without their hair done? Getting ready shots can typically be done towards the end of hair and make up, right before you get dressed into your gowns, ask your photographer what she/he recommends.
Confirm vendor arrival times
Next is the rest of your vendor team. Now that you know when you have access to your venue, you can plan vendor arrival times for set up. Your coordinator, florist and rental items will typically be the first to arrive as their tasks often take the longest to set up. Confirm with your florist how long they will need to set up all of the floral. If you’re planning to have an installation such as hanging greenery or attaching floral to a ceremony arch, this will take longer than just placing centerpieces on the tables.
Typically, next will be your caterers and bartenders, followed by your DJ. If you hired a live band, they might take longer to set up and will need to arrive earlier, too. Bakers are typically flexible with delivery time since they’re usually just dropping off the cake, this typically only takes maybe 15-30 minutes. Make sure all of your vendors have arrived before guests. Ideally, everything is set up prior to guest arrival, with the exception of any spaces that aren’t visible from the ceremony site or entrance area. The great thing about hiring a coordinator is that they will be at your venue to make sure everyone is staying on time with set up.
Pro tip: confirm what set up needs to be finished before the vendor arrives. For example, the linens need to be placed on the table before your florist can place the centerpieces. The cake table will need to be set up with a cake stand ready for your wedding cake to be delivered.
Consider Pre-Ceremony Photos
Consider what pictures you may want before the ceremony such as detail shots of personal items, invitations, and details of the reception space such as cake, centerpieces and table details. If you’re doing a first-look or gift/letter exchange prior to the ceremony, do this soon after you’re finished getting ready! You’ll want enough time for that to occur and to be hidden away before guests arrive. Again, leave about a 30 minute buffer in case photos take longer than expected.
Some other shots to consider before ceremony might include: bride and bridesmaid shots, groom and groomsmen, a First Look and a few shots of you as a couple. Getting these out of the way pre-ceremony means you’ll be able to fit the remaining photos into your cocktail hour time and your guests won’t have to wait long for the reception to start!
Confirm photographer contracted hours
Typically photographers and videographers are contracted for a certain amount of hours. You want to make sure everything you want to be photographed occurs during those contracted hours. If you find that you’re wanting more photo time than you originally booked, there are a few options. You can either ask your photographer their hourly rate and add more hours. The other option would be to move up certain events or decide which events are most important for you to have captured. If the getting ready photos are important to you, you may need to move up your exit photos or make peace that they won’t be photographed. Talking with your photographer to discuss options and get his/her recommendation is always the best route!
The remaining formalities
After all of your vendors have arrived, your timeline will focus on the wedding festivities and formalities. The first obviously being the wedding ceremony. Following the ceremony will be photos for the wedding parties and families. Giving your photographer a list of who you do/don’t want included in these photos will help keep the flow seamless! While this happens, guests will proceed to cocktail hour. If your ceremony and reception are at different venues, decide where you want photos to occur.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to keep travel time in mind! Always add extra time for transportation in case of traffic or other delays.
Once photos are complete, guests will be ushered into the reception area. Soon after, your grand entrance will happen! Consider whether you want just yourselves to be announced, or the entire wedding party. Let your DJ know how you want to be announced – Mr(s) and Mr(s) Last Name, Mr(s) + Mr(s) First and Last Name, etc. From this point forward, all formalities are flexible, but this is what we typically see.
Following your grand entrance, the newlyweds will go into their first dance. This makes for a smooth transition, and all of your guests are already giving you their attention. After this, whatever food service you’re having will begin. Make sure you let your caterers know what time they must be ready to serve by. If you’d like to do a welcome toast or blessing prior to eating, make sure to include that!
Towards the end of dinner is a great time for toasts as your guests are still seated and finishing their food. We recommend sticking to about 2-3 toasts to, typically a maid/matron of honor and best man. Giving each person a time limit is also a great idea! Guests tend to lose interest after a few minutes. Short and sweet toasts are best received! Let your coordinator know who you do and don’t want to give toasts. Should someone you didn’t approve try to make a toast, they’ll be able to politely handle the situation and take any blame.
We often recommend if couples have a lot of people who’d like to give toasts, that some toasts occur during the rehearsal dinner. This is a smaller, more intimate crowd without a strict timeline, making it a great opportunity for other toasts. Your cake cutting is typically right after toasts, before all of the dances begin.
The rest of the night is quite flexible. Mother/son and father/daughter dances are best before the dance floor is opened to guests. Once the dance floor is open, give guests some time to dance before moving into formalities like the garter/bouquet toss, Anniversary/Dollar dances, or any other remaining special dances you have in mind! These can be spread throughout the evening, or done back-to-back!
Note to brides: It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and not realize how much time has passed. Your coordinator will make sure nothing is forgotten! We’ll go ahead and track down anyone involved in the formality and make sure they’re ready to go when it’s announced, as well as make sure your photographer is ready to capture the moment.
Read more about the wedding coordinators duties in our blog post “Do I need a Wedding Coordinator or a Wedding Planner?”
Consider the venue’s contracted end time
Last but not least: the grand exit! This usually takes longer than expected. Guests are up and moving around, often have been drinking, and are just having a great time! Getting their attention may take the DJ a few tries. Make sure your grand exit occurs with plenty of time for your vendors to break down. For example, if you only have venue access until 11:00pm, your grand exit cannot happen at 10:30.
Break down typically takes at least an hour. In this case, it would be best for the grand exit to happen sometime around 9:45, 10pm at the latest. Whoever is in charge of the getaway car should get a heads up. That way, they can have everything prepared to go, and still participate in the exit! Your vendor team will be in charge of breaking everything down from this point on.
Pro tip: if you don’t have a coordinator, assign a responsible friend or family member to take home your left over decor, food, cake, presents, etc. Trying to assign this task at the end of the night can be stressful as you’re tired from a long day and ready to be home.
Once you’ve completed your draft of the timeline, if you aren’t working with a coordinator, send it to your photographer for approval. Since they’re involved in every part of your day, they’ll be able to tell you if the timeline allows enough time to gather all the shots. After photographer approval, send the timeline to all of your vendors. Make sure you send this out early enough to make changes and send updated versions. A good rule of thumb is that the final timeline should be sent to every vendor about 2 weeks before your big day, no later than a week before.
Note to brides: Again, coordinators are made to handle all of this! If you need help with any step of this process, consider hiring someone to help. You want your wedding day to be stress-free! Don’t spend the day worrying about your timeline. Let a coordinator take on that responsibility!
Let’s get this planning party started! Does creating your own wedding day timeline seem overwhelming to you? We can take care of that for you, click here to send us an inquiry!
Bianca Nichole Events is a wedding planner in Austin, and will travel to San Antonio, Fredericksburg and the surrounding Texas Hill Country area.