Understandably, planning out the details of your wedding day can seem like quite a daunting task if, like most people, you’ve not done it before and have only been to a handful of weddings. So in this post I thought I’d give you a helping hand and share some top tips to help you plan your day with confidence.
I also definitely recommend that you ask your wedding venue for some ideas, as they will know how to plan a wedding timeline that will work best at their venue. Other wedding suppliers (e.g. makeup artists, caterers and bands) will also have specific time requirements so it’s a good idea to get their input too.
The most important advice I have is to make sure you’re happy with your schedule, and that you give yourselves plenty time to simply enjoy your special day. It’s also worth remembering that weddings very rarely run according to plan (even with the best intentions!), so although it is a good idea to have everything planned out in detail, be prepared to just go with the flow on the day!
Let the pampering begin! Many brides love to have this part of the day captured, as it’s usually a great time to get some relaxed and candid shots of you and your bridesmaids as well as close-up shots of your jewellery, shoes, accessories etc, which can really add to the story of your wedding day. If you choose to have a hair & makeup artist, they will be best to advise on how long this part of your day will take. And of course, the timing will also vary depending on how many bridesmaids you have, and how elaborate your hair and makeup is etc.
My best advice though – whatever you decide to do – is to allow extra time, maybe even an extra hour just in case any unexpected crisis should arise. That way, you will be relaxed and calm and may even have time to enjoy a glass of bubbly before you leave for your wedding ceremony.
Travel to your wedding ceremony venue
Again, my best advice is to allow extra time just in case of any unexpected traffic jams. It is of course traditional for the bride to be a little late, but ceremony venues will have their own schedules and may have more than one wedding ceremony on the same day, so best add in that little bit of extra time so that you don’t arrive stressed.
Your wedding ceremony
Depending on the type of wedding ceremony you’re having, the length of your ceremony will vary. Typically a civil ceremony or registry office ceremony will last about 30 mins and a church ceremony will last about an hour, but do check on this.
Please also note that some wedding venues (especially churches) are very particular about photography during the wedding ceremony. Some will only allow the professional photographer to take photos at certain points, and some won’t allow any photography at all, so do check beforehand if there are any restrictions and let your photographer know.
It is a good idea to allow at least 15 minutes for people to leave the ceremony venue as you’d be surprised how long it can take. Do also allow yourselves enough time to chat and mingle with your guests afterwards as they will likely be very keen to congratulate you.
And if you’d like a confetti shot, I’d recommend having some members of your bridal party give out boxes of confetti at the door as your guests leave, while others shepherd your guests into place so that everything runs quickly and smoothly. After all, no one likes a shouty photographer, and I like it least of all! 😉
Travel to your reception venue
If you’re having your ceremony and reception at the same place, then travel between the ceremony and reception is one less thing you have to worry about scheduling. (And you can draw a huge sigh of relief!) However, if you are travelling, it’s a good idea to again allow extra time, maybe even doubling the amount of time you think is needed. This may sound silly, but it is often surprising how long it takes for guests to get back to their parked cars, drive, re-park, gather their things, and then walk to your reception venue.
IDEA: Is there a pretty photo location along the way? Sometimes it can be a great idea for the bride, groom and photographer to stop off for 30 mins between the ceremony and the reception, giving the two of you time to yourselves and for the photographer to take a few photos without any onlookers.
Phew! Everyone has arrived and the drinks are flowing! I think allowing 2 hours between arrival at your reception venue and the start of your wedding breakfast is the perfect amount of time. This allows you enough time to chat and mingle with your guests (and for me to take all those relaxed and candid shots of you and your guests) as well as enough time for group and couple photos.
This 2-hour window should also give me just enough time to photograph your dining room and all your table details (e.g. flowers, name cards, etc.) before your guests are invited to take their seats.
Group and bride and groom photos
I like to limit the number of group photos to a maximum of 8, and to allow 3 minutes per group, assuming that everyone is close at hand. It is a good idea if you can have a representative who knows both families to help find the people needed for each photograph so that the group photos are managed quickly and easily, lasting no more than 30 mins max. Another tip is to start with the largest group and end with the smallest group so that your guests aren’t left hanging around unnecessarily.
For help planning your group photos, click here.
(By the way, even if you think you don’t want to have any group photos, there will inevitably be family members who do want them, so be prepared that they will probably end up happening even if you haven’t planned them!)
I usually recommend that your private bride and groom photos follow straight after the group shots (if you haven’t had them earlier), as you’ll then have the rest of the time before dinner to relax with your guests. 15-20 minutes is usually a good amount of time to allocate for your couple photos.
The wedding breakfast, speeches and cake-cutting
If you choose to have a receiving line as you enter the dining room, bear in mind that this will considerably increase the amount of time it takes people to sit down, so it may be something you’d rather do without.
Speeches can happen before, during or after your meal – I’ve seen all versions! I’m a particular fan of more informal pre-dinner speeches outside or in the bar area because it can be less intimidating than speaking in a large room of formally-seated guests. It also means they’re over and done with sooner so everyone can relax! No matter when you plan your speeches, however, it’s best you keep as close to your set timings as possible so that your carefully planned meal doesn’t spoil, and evening guests aren’t left waiting while the last of the speeches rambles on. Usually 10 minutes per person is plenty.
Cake-cutting can also happen at any point – during the reception in the afternoon, before or after the speeches, before the dessert, or before the first dance. Personally, I think it’s great to have cake in the middle of the afternoon, saving on canapés, and meaning that those who don’t claim to have a separate cake-stomach have room. 😉 I’m sure your venue and caterers will have an opinion on all of this too, so best check with them.
The evening and first dance
If you are planning on having music and dancing in the room where you had dinner, my best advice here is first to check how long the venue needs to clear the room, and second to check how long your DJ/band will need to set up and work around them. So, for example, if your venue and DJ/band need 30 mins max to get ready, then maybe allow an extra 15 minutes just in case. In the meantime (depending on the venue) perhaps you and your guests can take the party outside or to the bar area. This is also a good time for your evening guests to arrive so that everyone is ready for your first dance (if you’re doing one) as soon as the DJ/band is ready. After that, everyone can pile on the dance floor and let their hair down before the music ends and everyone leaves at the end of your fantastic day of celebration!
Sample wedding day timelines
In case it’s helpful, here are a some example wedding day timelines from real weddings.
What do you think?
In my experience, every wedding is different. And so it should be – you are all different people who have different ideas about what will make your day perfect, and so the timings will reflect this. Nevertheless, I hope this guide was helpful?
To all my brides- and grooms-to-be: if you have any questions at all or would like to chat through your wedding day arrangements or your group photo list, please feel free to give me a call or drop me an email. I’m here for you every step of the way. 🙂
Featured wedding venues in this post:
Fison Barn, Oxfordshire
Eynsham Hall, Oxfordshire
St Cross Hospital, Winchester
Caswell House, The Cotswolds
The Great Barn, Aynho, The Cotswolds
Sanctum on the Green, Berkshire
Gildredge Manor, East Sussex