Planning your wedding day timeline (at least the way we do it) is like putting together a 1,000 piece puzzle. So many moving pieces are involved and when it comes to vendors, there are so many people that need to be communicated with, so many details swirling about, and of course, every little thing matters – a few missing pieces and and the entire thing is incomplete. (Lucky for you, my determination for puzzles is through the roof, my husband makes fun of me for it, but if wedding planners are known for anything, let it be our excellent ability to follow through on plans…and completing puzzles.)
Additionally, the timeline of your wedding day ensures that your event flows seamlessly throughout, giving you and your partner the peace to fully savor each moment. So alas, as your timeline planning experts, we are here to give you some essential tips on planning out your wedding day timeline.
The Wedding Timeline
Every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. Your wedding day is no different. It’s a tale of love, celebration, and memories. Crafting the timeline for this story ensures you’re present in each chapter, soaking in the joy, the emotions, and the love all around.
Here is a very simplified version of a wedding timeline below! Keep in mind our actual timelines are much more detailed and complex.
10am – Venue opens for vendor access and setup
10am – Getting ready (hair and makeup)
2:30pm – Earliest guest arrival
3:45 pm – Processional ready
4pm-4:30pm – Ceremony
4:30-5:45pm – Cocktail Hour
5:45-6pm: Grand Entrance / Welcome Toasts/Cake Cutting
6pm – Dinner begins
7 pm – Toasts (during dinner)
7:30pm – First Dances
7:45pm – Dance Floor opens
8pm – Dessert served/station open
11:30pm – Wedding Ends
Midnight – All things out (or working on)
Preparation: Setting the Stage
The morning of the wedding often feels like the calm before the storm—a flurry of activity and excitement. This is the moment to put on your wedding attire, indulge in some hair and makeup, and ensure every special item, be it flowers or decorations, is in its rightful place. And here’s a little secret: always, always, set aside a few minutes for some time with your wedding party and please never forget to eat! It’s the fuel you need for the day ahead.
- Your hair and makeup team, wedding party, and getting ready venue have a lot of say in how long you need to get ready.
- Consider when you have access to your getting ready room and your wedding venue. If your wedding venue doesn’t open until 10am, for example, you will need to keep this in mind when you’re planning your ceremony start time.
- We usually set about 4-6 hours for “getting ready” before the ceremony, with setup of the wedding alone being 3-4 hours. If you’re getting ready, someone else will need to be taking care of set up!
- Are you doing a first look? If yes, a lot of your photos with your wedding party can be done in advance before the ceremony. Otherwise, a lot of the photos will have to wait until after the ceremony and will dig into your cocktail hour time.
- A second photographer for the entire wedding day is highly recommended and allows both parties to be captured in different places. Of course, this is still possible with one photographer only, but it requires some adjustments to the timeline!
Ceremony: Where Two Become One
The heart of your wedding day beats at the ceremony. It’s THE reason weddings are what they are, and although one of the shortest events of the day, it is the most meaningful. Know the choreography of your procession, ensuring everyone in your party knows their order and roles.
We are always there to help our couples with a wedding rehearsal the day before and help coordinate all the chaos. We joke that it’s like herding cats, but it’s actually true – if you have the ability to do a rehearsal walk-through the day before, please do one!
- We like to have all things set and in place at LEAST 1 hour before the wedding ceremony
- Guests tend to arrive around 30-45 minutes before the ceremony
- All ceremony vendors should be set up at least 45 minutes before the ceremony, before guest arrival
- As planners, we also start cuing the wedding party and family for the processional about 15 min before
- The average ceremony length we see is about 30 minutes from beginning to end, but of course, this varies drastically depending on many things. Catholic mass is usually about 1 hour, sometimes longer, so plan accordingly!
- Make sure to add buffer time (15-30 minutes) after the ceremony for family photos and transition to cocktail hour. This time will be longer if your ceremony and reception are in different venues (we suggest at least an hour, and better yet, you could have a cocktail hour ready to go for your guests by the time they arrive, especially if you don’t do a First look and need to extend your photo time)
- Avoid a receiving line after the ceremony! The reason we don’t recommend them is because they take SO much time away from the time you two could be spending together. And also it really delays the timeline by A LOT.
- Side note: it’s also important to have the officiant or DJ guide your guests by giving them a heads up of the next event after the ceremony: “Please join us for cocktail hour…”
Cocktail Hour: Good Libations
Cocktail hour is the perfect time to start transitioning to the reception, where guests eat, drink, and mingle. This is the perfect time logistically to get immediate family photos while everyone’s there (but before they get too deep into drinks) and to get some fun “just married” portraits. 🙂
- Like the name suggests, this is usually an hour!
- You can extend the cocktail hour to 1.5-2 hours, but consider the impact this has on your guests. Too long, and it feels like the wedding is dragging on forever. Too short, and people feel a little too rushed!
- However, people usually are not mad that they get to eat, which is why we like to get people seated and rounded up during cocktail hour about 10-15 minutes before the reception start time. 🙂
Reception: Dance, Laugh, Celebrate
Ah, the reception! This is where joy bubbles over and celebrations hit their peak. Want to have special moments like the cake cutting or a special welcome blessing? Add it to your welcome entrance as you and your party walk in! Then eat, relax, and revel in the joy. Last but not least, cue up your favorite tunes to get everyone on the dance floor!
- Dinner and dancing is arguably the most FUN part of the wedding where everyone can let loose and indulge in an amazing meal! This block on your timeline will take the longest.
- Keep speeches/toasts to a minimum! No one really wants to listen to them for an hour! 5 minute max for each speech
- Have your band/DJ kick off with special family dances, then transition into the open dance floor. As the dance floor transitions is usually the perfect time to sneak away for some sunset photos and dessert!
- Most venues in the Midwest close at midnight, but keep in mind that vendors also may need to be out within an hour of that cut off time. We usually having a sendoff or an official end time of around 11:30pm if that’s the case (but please make sure you pay attention to the venue guidelines).
Conclusion: Crafting Memories
Building the perfect wedding timeline is more than just slotting events into a schedule. It’s about weaving memories, experiences, and emotions into one big day, while also making sure it works with all the wedding vendors, families, and you!
If the idea of juggling all these details seems overwhelming, remember: you don’t have to go it alone. We’re here for a reason, honey, so reach out today!
Not only will we piece together your entire timeline to perfection, but we’ll also be there to manage every twist and turn on the big day. Because, after all, your love story deserves nothing less than a seamless and stress-free day!
Your go-to Wedding Planner in Minnesota & Wisconsin <3. That’s us – Olive Branch Events Co. 😉