One of the most important parts of wedding planning is organizing the timeline for your big day.
While it’s true that most wedding ceremonies and receptions include the same moments and festivities, the order of these events will change from couple-to-couple based on their personal preferences. And that makes a wedding day timeline essential. Not only will it help you to avoid scheduling conflicts, it will keep everyone involved in the celebration organized.
Once you’ve drafted your wedding day timeline, it’s important to share it with your family, bridal party, groomsmen, wedding coordinator, photographer, videographer, caterer, florist, hair and makeup artists and any other vendors that might be involved so everyone is on the same page.
In This Article
Traditional Wedding Day Timeline
If you want to host a traditional wedding celebration, this wedding day timeline template will help you do just that. Not only is it easy to customize according to your needs, it can also be used as is for a well-organized wedding day.
Drive to ceremony venue
If you’re having your hair and makeup done at your wedding venue, then your first task of the day will be getting there on time. Make sure you factor in traffic and give yourself ample time to get there with your bridesmaids.
If hair and makeup is done at a salon before heading to your ceremony venue, then be sure to schedule your beauty appointments early enough to give you ample time to get there. And don’t forget to bring your dresses with you!
Getting ready with wedding party
(2 hours minimum)
Your wedding day has enough stress attached to it without having to rush. That’s why it’s essential to schedule a healthy two-hour window for you and your wedding party to get ready. Two hours is sufficient for hair and makeup for small bridal parties. If you have a larger bridal party, however, more time will be required.
To work out exactly how much time you’ll need, factor in how many makeup artists and hair stylists will be on site. Next, factor in the time needed for each lady’s hair and makeup. You can assume it will take approximately two hours for the bride’s hair and makeup and one hour each for every bridesmaid.
Put on dress
After hair and makeup are complete, it’s time to slip into your dream dress. Giving yourself at least 15 minutes is always wise, especially if you’re dealing with a corset or lots of hooks and eyes. No bride wants to feel rushed when slipping into her gown.
The length of your ceremony will vary depending on what you have planned. While a secular ceremony can be done in 20 minutes, a religious ceremony can take up to an hour. Check with your pastor or officiant ahead of time to get an approximate ceremony length for planning purposes.
You should also allow between 15-30 minutes on either side of your ceremony for arrival, seating and dismissal. The length of time you’ll need will be determined by the number of guests. If you’re having a small wedding, 15 minutes should be ample time. Groups of 150 or more, however, will require a good 30 minutes.
A traditional receiving line, in which you have a chance to greet your guests and receive their congratulations, usually takes about half an hour. If you have a lot of guests, however, you may want to factor in extra time.
Guest cocktail hour / wedding party photos
As soon as your receiving line duties are complete, it’s time to capture your couple photos. Allot roughly 20 minutes for your photographer to snap pictures of you and your spouse before moving onto photos with your wedding party and close family members.
Squeezing your photos in during cocktail hour is doable, but it’s necessary to remain on task and move quickly, so make sure your photographer has a list of any specific shots or group photos you want well ahead of time.
Also, remember that you and your spouse can sneak out while your guests are enjoying the reception for your photographer to take some more shots of you. Sunset wedding photos are especially gorgeous.
While you’re having your photos taken, your guests will head into your reception venue for cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and music. Make sure your caterer, bartenders and DJ or band know what time cocktail hour is starting so they are prepared to serve and entertain your guests as soon as they arrive.
Bride and groom grand entrance to reception
When you’re ready to make your grand entrance as a married couple, have your wedding coordinator or your DJ announce it’s time for guests to take their seats. Once everyone is seated, your wedding party will enter the venue first. Once they are seated, you’ll be announced as a married couple.
When scheduling your meal time, it’s important to consider the serving style. A seated meal, for instance, generally takes 45 to 60 minutes.
For a buffet meal, however, you should schedule 60-75 minutes. This gives your guests time to get their plates, sit down and eat. If you have fewer than 100 guests, an hour should be ample time. For more than 100, an hour and 15 minutes would be. If you have more than 150, you should consider tacking on an additional 15 minutes.
While your guests are finishing up their meals, it’s time for the toasts to commence. The wedding hosts (whoever paid for the wedding), traditionally kick off the toasts with a welcome speech to thank guests for attending.
Next it’s the wedding party’s turn at the mic. The best man is usually the first to speak, followed by the maid of honor. But you can also mix things up and schedule speakers in the order you wish. Just make sure no one speaker talks longer than two to three minutes.
Cake cutting and dessert
Once the toasts are over, it’s time to cut your wedding cake. This is a great time for your photographer to snap some pictures and you can have your DJ or band play some music as well.
Once the cake is cut, it’s time to serve your guests dessert. You can either have slices of cake brought out to your guests while you’re cutting a small ceremonial cake or have them served afterward if you’ve opted for a large wedding cake.
If you’re having a dessert buffet, you can have your wedding coordinator or another designated person announce that guests can help themselves to dessert while you cut your cake.
With dessert over, you can head to the dance floor with your spouse for your first dance as a married couple. Be sure to have your DJ or band leader announce the dance so your guests can watch.
Next, it’s time for parent dances. You can either choose to have the traditional father-daughter and mother-son dances (or whatever variation of these you’re using) at the same time or separately if you have specific songs picked out for each.
Open dance floor
Once the parent dances are over, it’s time to get the party started. Make sure your DJ or band announces the dance floor is now open to guests and has a few good dance songs planned to kick off the evening. This is also a great time to do a coordinated group dance, if you have one planned.
The length of the dance is really up to you. Be sure to confirm with your venue how late you can go before settling on a time. Also, if you do plan to have a longer reception, be sure to provide snacks a few hours in. This is essential for your guests’ comfort, especially if they are drinking.
If you are providing shuttles for your guests, be sure to have them available in 15-minute intervals about half an hour before your reception ends.
Additional Wedding Day Timeline Samples
No two weddings are exactly alike. With that in mind, we’ve put together a number of timelines based on different needs to help you plan your wedding day.
Modern Wedding Day Timeline
- 11:30 a.m. — Arrive at venue
- 12 p.m. — Get ready with wedding party
- 2 p.m. — Dress on
- 2:15 p.m. — Bride and groom first look and wedding portraits
- 3:15 p.m. — Wedding party and family portraits
- 4:30 p.m. — Ceremony
- 5 p.m. — Receiving line
- 5:30 p.m. — Cocktail hour
- 6:30 p.m. — Dinner is served
- 7 p.m. — Toasts
- 7:30 p.m. — Cake cutting and dessert
- 8 p.m. — First dance
- 8:05 p.m. — Father/daughter and mother/son dances
- 8:15 p.m. — Dance floor opens
- 10:45 p.m. — Bride and groom’s last dance
- 10:50 p.m. — Bride changes into going away outfit
- 11 p.m. — Bride and groom leave the reception
- 11:30 p.m. — Reception officially ends
Separate Venue Wedding Day Timeline
- 11 a.m. — Getting ready with wedding party
- 2 p.m. — Drive to ceremony venue
- 2:45 p.m. — Put on dress
- 3 p.m. — Ceremony
- 3:30 p.m. — Receiving line
- 4 p.m. — Wedding photos
- 6 p.m. — Travel to reception venue
- 6:30 p.m. — Bride and groom grand entrance and first dance
- 6:45 p.m. — Welcome speech by hosts (either couple, or parents)
- 7 p.m. — First dinner course is served
- 7:30 p.m. — Best man and maid of honor speeches
- 7:45 p.m. — Main dinner course is served
- 8:15 p.m. — Bride and groom cut the cake, dessert is served
- 8:30 p.m. — Father/daughter and mother/son dances
- 8:45 p.m. — Dance floor opens
- 10 p.m. — Late night buffet or hors d’oeuvres served
- 12 p.m. — Reception ends
Evening Wedding Timeline
- 1:45 p.m. — Arrive at venue
- 2 p.m. — Get ready with wedding party
- 3:45 p.m. — Dress on
- 4 p.m. — Bride and groom first look and wedding portraits
- 5 p.m. — Wedding party and family portraits
- 6 p.m. — Ceremony
- 6:30 p.m. — Receiving line
- 7:30 p.m. — Cocktail hour
- 8:30 p.m. — Dinner is served
- 8:45 p.m. — Toasts
- 9 p.m. — First dance
- 9:05 p.m. — Father/daughter and mother/son dances
- 9:15 p.m. — Dance floor opens
- 10 p.m. — Cake cutting and dessert
- 12:15 p.m. — Bride and groom’s last dance
- 12:30 p.m. — Reception ends
Early Afternoon Wedding Timeline
- 11:30 a.m. — Getting ready with wedding party
- 1:45 p.m. — Put on dress
- 2 p.m. — Ceremony
- 2:30 p.m. — Receiving line
- 3 p.m. — Wedding photos
- 5 p.m. — Bride and groom grand entrance and first dance
- 5:15 p.m. — Welcome speech by hosts (either couple, or parents)
- 5:30 p.m. — Dinner is served or buffet opens
- 5:45 p.m. — Best man and maid of honor speeches
- 6 p.m. — Bride and groom cut the cake, dessert is served
- 6:30 p.m. — Father/daughter and mother/son dances
- 6:45 p.m. — Dance floor opens
- 8:30 p.m. — Snack buffet opens or hors d’oeuvres served
- 10:30 p.m. — Reception ends
Wedding Day Timeline FAQs
There are so many things to consider when mapping out a wedding day timeline. Here are some of the most common questions answered to help you makes some vital decisions about your big day.
How do I make a wedding day timeline?
If you’ve hired a wedding planner, he or she will sit down with you to craft a timeline for your special day. If the venue you’re using comes with a coordinator, he or she will likely help you map out your reception.
If you’re going it alone or want to plan the portion of your day that your coordinator doesn’t cover, Weddings & Brides is a great resource for advice and timeline samples.
You can also organize your day by using an Excel sheet or another similar document. Not only will it keep you organized, it’s easy to edit.
What is a good time of day to get married?
While the time of day you choose to say “I do,” is, ultimately, up to you, it’s important to keep set up and guest convenience in mind.
Planning it for too early in the day can make set up rushed and stressful. It also makes it harder for guests to get there on time. Having a late night reception could also be an issue based on the time your venue closes.
In general, couples wanting an early wedding schedule the ceremony between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. while those wanting an afternoon wedding typically set it for between 2 and 4 p.m. You can choose to have evening nuptials, but that will likely rule out a lengthy reception unless your venue is willing to stay open past midnight.
Should I do a wedding first look?
A first look is a relatively new trend, but it’s one to consider if you aren’t wanting a traditional wedding. Planning a first look a few hours before the ceremony ensures all the photos traditionally taken during the cocktail hour have already been shot. This is especially helpful for evening weddings or for couples who want to have cocktails with their guests.
If, however, the element of surprise is important to you, a first look isn’t a good option. A first look spoils the excitement of seeing each other for the first time when the bride walks down the aisle. It can be a truly magical time for both of you, so make sure you take that into consideration when making a decision.
How long should my wedding reception be?
Most wedding receptions are four to five hours long from start to finish. If, however, you have a lot of speeches planned or have guests who really like to party, an extended reception is a good option. If you do decide to have a longer reception, make sure the music quality stays high the entire time and be prepared to provide a late night snack to your guests.
Do weddings start on time?
While starting on time is something to strive for, it doesn’t always happen. And that’s OK. Whether you have a wardrobe problem to deal with, an updo to touch up or some other last-minute issue that needs your attention, don’t stress. As long as you start within 15 minutes of the time listed on the invitation, you won’t throw off your timeline too much. Starting a bit later can also give guests a little extra time to arrive and be seated.