Designing a Timeline

Plan the flow of your day to maximize the many moments.

When beginning to plan your wedding, it can be incredibly overwhelming to think through how you are going to capture and plan for the most important pieces of your day, as well as how you can fit everything that you want to share with your loved ones in. Creating a rough timeline to start and beginning to understand where you want to spend time throughout each part of your day will help guide the day to feel authentic to you.

Each wedding is unique because each couple is unique, so what should one be considering when planning out what to include and leave out of their wedding day? A great place to start is outlining the most important moments that you want shared and how you want to feel in those moments.

Start at the beginning: getting ready and gathering your team for the day. Check with your venue on the time that you are allowed to arrive, if there is a space for hair, make-up, and dressing provided, and if the lighting provided will be sufficient for not only hair and make-up but the photos you may want of the getting ready process. If the venue has a later access time or is lacking in natural lighting, start thinking of secondary options and find a place that you and your group can easily get to and travel to the next stop from. Keep in mind the less travel the day of, the less stress on you and those getting ready with you; finding a place where both hair and make-up can be done will help eliminate multiple destinations, therefore stress, right out the gate.

August 24, 2022 – Photo: Katie Fletcher Photography

From getting ready, you then have to decide what will come next and how much time to plan for those moments. Are you planning to do a first look or private vows? Do you want to be surprised by each other’s fully done up look and stay apart until the walk down the aisle? Both are wonderful options, each offering it’s own intimacy and shared experience. Find what feels right to you both and work with your photographer and planner to find the right place and amount of time to allot to those special moments.

After that, it’s time to get married! Work with your officiant on timing a script that you both feel comfortable with. Both short and long ceremonies are emotional for those participating and watching, but knowing how long you feel comfortable standing in front of an audience and what values you want shared should determine how long of a ceremony you would like. Other elements to consider are if you are going to read vows to each other and how long or short you intend for those to be, if there will be religious or ceremonial elements and what the timing of those may be, and how much speaking time your officiant has planned for. Additionally, if your ceremony and reception are at different venues, factor in the travel time between the two. Considering a shuttle or service for guests will help cut down on time spent traveling since far fewer people will be driving, coordinating rides, and looking for parking.

June 4, 2022 – Photo: Happy Trails Creative

Typically, the next step is cocktail hour. This can look different depending on if a first look was done, how many photos you want, and if family photos were done earlier. Often, with a first look, this time is used to capture family photos and a few photos of the bride and groom post-ceremony; without a first look, this time is more commonly used to capture couple’s portraits. You will also need to determine if you want to join in cocktail hour with your friends and family, or if you don’t mind skipping that part in order to get in more camera captured moments. If both are important to you, consider having a longer cocktail hour and coordinate with the caterer on providing a larger serving of appetizers. You can then still capture many moments then join in the end of your mingling time.

Now that the reception has started, much of the timeline will be determined by your service style and desire to dance. Departing from cocktail hour and moving into the reception most often is a straight shot to dinner, but it doesn’t have to be. You can have a grand entrance with your whole party or just the two of you or you could choose to walk in and have a first dance while everyone is seated and attention is focused, you can send everyone off to dinner and have your own private meal or choose to join everyone and get right into it.

June 24, 2022 – Photo: J. Murphy Photos

Your service style for dinner is another factor into timing your evening – a plated dinner will likely take longer than a buffet, a pre-set salad or bread course will cut time off of service. Your caterer and planner will be able to help you with the timing and how long should be allotted for coursing, serving, cake cutting, and clean-up. There is no right or wrong answer to how your wedding timeline should play out, just that it should fit you.

The final piece of your timeline is dancing. Some couples love dancing and want to party with their loved ones, some couples would rather stage a board game night for a couple hours. Knowing how much time you want to spend on the party portion will determine the shut down of your event (as well as venue hours and noise ordinances). Keep note of your location and crowd and determine how late or early you want to wrap up your night.

August 21, 2022 – Photo: Nick Sparks Weddings

Timelines have a lot of little moments in them, but understanding the basic elements that go into building one will help create a vision for your day and ensure everything that is important to you is represented. Communicate with your vendors as to what matters most to you both, and you’re sure to have the day you always dreamed of!