One of my top requests from my Coordination clients is to make sure the day runs smoothly. The foundation for that idea is to build a robust timeline. But where do you start? There are so many priorities during a wedding day, how do you know how to balance them all? Well, let me walk you through my foolproof method of building a day-of timeline.
The first thing I do is ask my clients for any landmark events. Those would include things like…
- Ceremony start and end times
- Cocktail hour start and end times
- Reception start and end times
- Vendor cleanup end time (when the venue has to be vacated)
- Dinner service time (sometimes – I will come back to this one)
These landmark times are usually dictated by the venue.
Next, I start at the ceremony time and work my way towards the beginning of the day. Make sure not to rush your time blocks during this part of the day. You should be having fun getting ready, not stressing about how you are going to fit everything in. The key times to find out are…
- Pre-ceremony Down Time – I always recommend around 30 minutes before the ceremony of downtime. This gives you some calm before things start flying by and allows you to hide away from where your guests will be entering.
- First Look – If you are doing a first look figure out when and where you want to do this. Consult your photographer to determine how much time you need for this. I usually plan for around 15 minutes. If you are doing a First Look, it is common to follow it by full wedding party photos. Although depending on how tight your morning is, some couples still plan these after the ceremony.
- Ladies/Guys Prep Photos – Depending on whether you have one shooter or two in your photography package this can happen at the same time. Usually you would capture the end of the getting ready photos (because let’s be honest, who wants professional photos before you have any hair and makeup done) and group shots right after everyone gets dressed.
- Hair and Makeup Start Time – I always consult the professionals for their timeline on this. Just give them how many people need hair and makeup services and they will be able to tell you how much time is needed for each person. They will also know how many assistants they are bringing and how many people they can take at once.
After you have the beginning of the day set, you can work from the ceremony towards the end of the day.
- Family Photos – Usually these take place after the ceremony. MAKE SURE to make a list of the family groups that need to be photographed so you are not wrangling people on the spot. These will be your formal portraits so try to keep to intimate family. There will be lots of time to snag a photo with your cousins at the reception.
- Wedding Party/Couple Photos – Depending on how many photos you captured before the ceremony, there will likely still be some to capture here. This typically takes place during cocktail hour. If you are a couple that wants to join cocktail hour you need to be very strategic and efficient with photos before the ceremony.
- Grand Entrance – This usually happens about 10-15 minutes after the reception hall opens so everyone is seated.
- Cake Cutting – I always recommend cutting the cake immediately after the grand entrance so the staff can cut it during dinner. That is also a time you have everyone’s attention for this quick event.
- Toasts/Speeches/ Welcomes/Blessings – If you have a lot of speeches you can split them between before and after dinner. I always prefer to do them all before dinner if possible so you don’t have to interrupt your guests meals.
- Dinner Service – Consult the venue for the duration they recommend for your party. I also said I would come back to this topic. Some venues prescribe when dinner will be. However, if you are starting to feel rushed, ask them if we can push dinner back 15-30 minutes. Most will agree because they want their food to be presented at its peak rather than waiting for the wordy Best Man to finish his toast.
- Special Dances – First Dance, Parent Dances, Etc. typically come right after dinner. I always recommend starting these after everyone has received their food but the last couple tables might still be finishing. That avoids and awkward downtime for guests.
- End of the Night – If you have anything planned for the end of the night (last slow dance, sparkler exit, etc.) make sure you plan it before the end of your contracted time.
If you drop in all of those details you should have a good flow for you and your wedding party for the day. Of course, there are things that go on behind the scenes while all of this is happening. If you want to make a truly seamless day, make sure you factor in these details as well.
- Venue Access Start Time
- Vendor Arrival/Setup Times – Some vendors need to arrive in sequential order if their part depends on another vendor. Make sure each vendor has lots of time to setup.
- Bar Times
- Transportation Details
- Photographer Requests – Each photographer has a different work flow. Sometimes they will request more or less time for a certain part of the day.
- Band Set Times – If you have a band make sure you strategically plan their set times around special dances and open dance floor.
- Breakdown Confirmations – Make sure you know which vendors are returning at the end of the night to take care of their items. If they are not returning, most venues will require that you take responsibility for breakdown of their items.
After you have your completed timeline, make sure to share it. Share it with your vendors, wedding party, family, etc. A great timeline is important but if you are the only one that knows about it you will likely fall off schedule. I often get feedback on my timelines from vendors about their pieces of the day. Making a small change ahead of time can save you lots of headaches on your wedding day.
Finally, remember to plan some downtime for yourself. So many couples tell me that this was such an important part of their day and memories — A time to sneak away and just soak in the day as a married couple.