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wedding party cheering because you left time for creative bridal party photos in your wedding day timeline
 

How To Create a Wedding Day Timeline | Wedding Planning Wednesday

One of the most read posts on our old site was a blog about how to create a wedding day timeline. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to move the post over to the Salt & Pine blog!

Your wedding day timeline is the most important document on your wedding day, after, of course, your marriage license. It tells you, your vendors, your family, and your attendants when and where to be at practically every moment on your wedding day. It will (hopefully) keep everyone on time, happy, and stress free, on what has the potential to be a very hectic and stressful day! A wedding day timeline can be difficult to create, even if you’ve attended multiple weddings as a guest or bridesmaid/groomsmen, and know in general how weddings flow. As your super-type A guide, my goal is to help guide you through the process of creating your day-of timeline. Along the way we’ll talk about general rules, variations (because no wedding timeline can fit two weddings), and common time-sucks and hang-ups.

You can begin creating your timeline as soon as you know what time your ceremony will be. Whether you are planning your ceremony time around sunset, your venue, or other event, it is usually the first piece of the puzzle you will know about your wedding day. The time of your ceremony also dictates the timing of pretty much every other event on your wedding day, so it is also a very important piece of the puzzle!

For the sake of this blog post, we’ll say our ceremony will be at 4pm.

Ceremony Time Creating a Wedding Day Timeline
 
The second biggest factor in your wedding timeline is whether or not you choose to have a first look. We’ll go into the first look in another post, but traditions aside, we are HUGE supporters of the first look. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, in short, the first look is a special photographed moment where the bride and groom see each other in a semi-private setting before the ceremony. The benefits range from feeling less stressed, to having extra photos, to being able to enjoy cocktail hour with your guests after your ceremony. For your timeline’s sake, deciding whether or not to have a first look determines if family formals and wedding party portraits take place before or after the ceremony. To keep things simple (and to subtly promote first looks!) we’ll create a wedding timeline with a first look.

timeline for a wedding with a first look

Will you have a first look creating a wedding day timeline

first look day of timeline wedding planning
 
So far, our timeline looks like this:
1:30pm First Look
4:00pm Ceremony

We recommend leaving 2-2.5 hours between your ceremony and first look. If this seems like a lot of time now, it won’t after I break it down for you, and it will fly by on your wedding day!

1:30pm First Look
2:00pm Wedding Party
2:45pm Family Photos
3:30pm Touch Up
4:00pm Ceremony

The time ratios for photos between your first look and ceremony can be broken up however you’d like! Consider talking with your photographer or wedding planner about what photos are most important to you, so you can prioritize timing. If you are traveling for photos, make sure to buffer travel time into your photos as well!

wedding party cheering because you left time for creative bridal party photos in your wedding day timeline
 
Now that you’re probably thinking “Why do I feel like we are building the wedding day timeline from the inside out?” I’ll let you know why I always plan our couples’ timelines this way, and why I suggest you plan your timeline this way as well. At this point in the planning process, you know exactly what time you’ll need to be ready by. Estimating what time you *think* your hair appointment should be, or what time you think you should start getting dressed, are some of the biggest mistakes you could make on your wedding day! You’ll either end up with way too much time or you’ll get yourself stuck in a time crunch. (And a time crunch is exactly the thing we are avoiding with this timeline!)

Since you know you’ll need to be at your first look by 1:30, you can work backwards to determine what time your hair and make-up appointments, or other pre-wedding activities should start. If you are planning professional hair and make up appointments, your hair stylist and make-up artist will have the most accurate suggestions on how much time you’ll need to allocate after your trial appointment (which is highly recommended). For our timeline, we’ll assume these appointments will take a combined 2 hours. If your bridesmaids, groomsmen or other important persons also have hair appointments, be sure to factor in this time as well. Another activity you’ll for sure need to budget for during getting ready time is actually getting dressed. For simple attire, budget about 30 minutes. For more complex dresses or suits, budget 45 minutes to an hour. This time is for getting dressed, jewelry, and any touch-ups. Budget extra time for other first looks (bridesmaids and dad first looks are popular, add 10 minutes) and reading notes from your bride or groom to-be (add 10-15 minutes, since usually another touch up is in order afterwards). Depending on your pre-first look getting ready regimen, you might have to start getting ready at a drastically different time than your partner. That’s okay! (This is also where a double-column wedding day timeline can come in handy, if you want to get fancy.)

you may need to start getting ready at a different time than your partner
 
After factoring in getting ready time our timeline looks like this:
10:30am Hair
11:30am Make-up
12:30pm Get dressed
1:30pm First Look

Lastly, for the skeleton of your wedding timeline, you’ll need to know what time you plan to arrive at your reception, and how you will keep your guests occupied if you won’t be joining them immediately. The most common use of this time is the cocktail hour. If you are having your ceremony in the same place as your reception, your venue will usually require time for a room flip which tends to coincide with cocktail hour. If your guests will be traveling to a different location for your reception, allow them 15-20 minutes to arrive, and 45 minutes to 1.5 hour time frame to drop off gifts, sign your guest book, grab a drink, find their seats, and socialize.

We are big fans of a little photo time with the wedding couple between the ceremony and reception. The two of you have cut loose a little bit (because GUESS WHAT you’re finally married!) and your wedding party are ready have fun as well, since they’ve mostly fulfilled their duties for the day.

schedule time for fun bridal party photos after your ceremony

take some portraits during cocktail hour on your wedding day

Sneak away for more bridal portraits during cocktail hour how to create a wedding day timeline
 
Almost done with the backbone of the wedding timeline:
10:30am Hair
11:30am Make-up
12:30pm Get dressed
1:30pm First Look
2:00pm Wedding Party
2:45pm Family Photos
3:30pm Touch Up
4:00pm Ceremony
4:30pm Cocktail Hour/Photos
5:30pm Reception Begins

The only thing left is deciding what time your reception will be finished. Usually your venue will decide this for you, based on what time your rental ends for the night. If this isn’t an issue for you, consider the “6 hour rule”. Although not the end-all be-all, the 6 hour rule is the principle that the ideal length of time between the start of your ceremony and end of your reception is 6 hours. Basically, it is the length of time you can hold most of your guests’ attention before they get tired, bored, or flake out early. These days, receptions tend to turn into dance parties, rather than a stiff and formal affair. For your more traditional guests, wrap up more formal wedding day activities such as toasts, cutting cake, and any formal dances within the 6 hour rule, and let your party go on well into the evening!

Now that you have the backbone to your wedding day timeline, you can start customizing! Although, not all customization is as fun as you might think. Here are some general tips to consider:

-Don’t forget about travel time. Travel time x 1.5 leaves a good buffer, and travel time x 2 for areas with heavy traffic, or for traveling during a rush hour.

-Include buffer-time in everything. Include extra buffer time for time eating activities such as traveling, getting ready, getting dressed, family photos and receiving lines.

-Speaking of receiving lines, they can take a while. 150 guests will take 10-30 minutes. If you are expecting more than 150 guests, consider skipping the receiving line all together and visiting guests personally during the reception, or another receiving line alternative.

-Account for sunset in your timeline! Make sure to plan your ceremony and all your photos before the sun sets (unless you want to have a dusk or after dark ceremony!) One way to make your photographer very happy is to plan for a 10-20 minute break right before sunset for photos. It is the best light of the day and we never like to miss it!

Schedule sunset time into your wedding day timeline
 
-Be mindful of how long serving your guests dinner will take. A buffet line will take 100 guests approximately 20 minutes to go through (not counting the time it will take them to eat!)

-Communicate with your DJ and wedding planner when planning events for your reception so everything runs smoothly. Make sure to keep your guests entertained with music and events!

-If you are planning a special exit at the end of the night, make sure you communicate the time to your guests – and have it stated in your timeline! Make sure it is early enough in the night that a number of your guests will still be present. A great way to inform your guests is on your invitations, or with a sign as they enter the reception space.

-Finalize your timeline 1-2 months before your wedding, and make sure to distribute it to your wedding party, your family, and your vendors (ESPECIALLY your photographer!)

Be sure to customize your wedding day timeline to fit YOU and what you picture your wedding day to be. Your timeline is a fantastic way to lay out your priorities on your wedding day, whether they are family photos, couples portraits, time with your guests, or one hell of a dance party! Having a well thought out wedding day timeline will take the stress off of you, and everyone who is a part of your day, while also helping the day flow smoothly, exactly how you want it to.

-Salt & Pine

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