This is something I spend a lot of time going over with the amazing folks who book me for their weddings. Even though almost every single one of the nearly 300 weddings I’ve worked has had the exact same basic timeline, it doesn’t seem to be information that a lot of other vendors are trying to get into your hands! They just want to know what time you want dinner to be, what time you want your ceremony to be, but when you express an opinion they gently steer you towards this standard wedding timeline anyway. So, this post is all about how to plan your wedding timeline!
“Hold up!” you say…”I thought you were all about NON-Traditional weddings, Kate!” True. You caught me. Here’s the thing, though. Nailing that “Non-Traditional” vibe works really well when you’re riffing off the structure of how a “normal” wedding should go. It gives your guests a sense of comfort that they know what will happen next, but then gives you the chance to knock their socks off with something unexpected at the perfect moment. Plus, remember those venue coordinators who want your timeline to go just how they want? That conversation will go oh-so-much better if you can say…”Instead of a cocktail hour, we want to have a pre-dinner rock concert. Don’t worry, our photographer said if we do our photos before the ceremony, she doesn’t need cocktail hour for photos.” Hook. Line. And sinker.
I think that’s enough preamble for now. Here’s the standard timeline that every wedding uses so you can plan your wedding on YOUR terms.
We’ll need to start with your ceremony time. From there, the rest of the wedding timeline planning is just working backwards! I’m going to build this timeline based on a ceremony time of 4pm (which is a pretty common time here in Colorado).
Traditional wedding timeline
2:00pm Photography start time
I like having about two hours prior to the ceremony, and arriving just as your getting ready time is coming to a close.
2:30PM Separate Wedding Party Photos
If you aren’t seeing each other before the ceremony, we’ll work with one side of the wedding party first, then the other side. It takes 20-30 minutes for these 🙂
3:45pm Staging for Ceremony
4:45PM Cocktail Hour
Also time for full wedding party photos, family photos, and photos of you two together full of glowy happy feels about your recent nuptuals.
5:45PM Guests asked to be seated for dinner
6:00PM Announcement (if applicable) and the start of dinner
They’re usually around 20 minutes unless you have a very verbose family member, haha.
7:20PM Parent Dances (if applicable)
7:30PM Couple’s First Dance
7:35PM Cake Cutting
7:45PM Dance floor opens!!
I like staying for about an hour after the dancing starts. After that things tend to be a little repetitive. BUT, if you’re having a wild send-off (sparklers, anyone?) you better keep us around!
11:00PM Grand Exit (if applicable)/The Party Ends
I hope that all helps you all with how to plan a wedding timeline! I’d love to hear what you think of this post and if it helped you out.
now, how do we throw all that out the window and do what we want?
Great question!! That’s what I’m here for. As I mentioned at the top, this timeline can give you a great framework to then riff on and do what you want to do with your wedding time.
For example, if you don’t want to do a First Look or stay separate before the wedding–yay! Get ready together. That means you can get photos done prior to your ceremony, do your wedding party photos in like half the time, and have your cocktail hour to spend with guests. Adding one non-traditional element tends to have a domino effect and allow you to do what you want later on.
What about a brunch wedding? The bacon and pancakes lover over here thanks you. Just take this timeline and bump it up to the morning for the perfect brunch wedding timeline!
If you’re planning a shorter wedding, maybe just a ceremony and cocktail hour with passed appetizers, you can just knock some time off either end of this timeline!
Got any other tips? Drop them in the comments below. Share your own timeline if you feel like it to help other folks planning!
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