Planning your Wedding Day Timeline


When discussing wedding day schedules with couples, I'm often asked how and when is best to factor in key aspects during the day. With so many conflicting opinions online (wedding forums can sometimes raise more questions than they answer!), it's little wonder there is a wealth of confusion over how long each element should take.

Here's a quick run down of the key elements, and a few tips along the way.


The Ceremony

Nailing down the time for your ceremony is crucial, as all other timings will be factored in backwards and forwards from this. Ideally it's advisable to set this when your ceremony venue is booked, and as soon as possible into the planning process.

The length of the ceremony will largely depend on the type of ceremony; a religious ceremony will typically take between 60-90 minutes, whilst a non-religious ceremony or civil wedding/partnership is usually much shorter, around 30-45 minutes.

Also take into consideration timings for arrival to the venue prior to the ceremony. I usually recommend the Groom and Groomsmen to arrive 45 minutes prior to the ceremony start time, and for guests to arrive 30 minutes prior to ensure everyone is promptly seated ahead of the Bride's arrival (typically 10 minutes prior to the start time).

Prior to the processional, it is usual for the Groom and his Best Man to already be in place at the front of the ceremony space, and for the Ushers to escort the mothers and grandparents of both the bride and groom to their seats. Traditionally, the Bride will walk down the aisle with her father, either ahead of the bridesmaids, or following behind (depending on personal preference). For same sex weddings however, the traditional wedding processional order can be customised to suit the preference of the couple. A popular option is for both to be escorted down the aisle together by a person of mutual significant importance, however it can also follow that each is escorted by a parent (or parents), and the couple to decide between them who will walk first. If neither is being specifically "given away", it is equally perfectly acceptable for the couple to make their entrance together and walk down the aisle hand in hand. If following a non-traditional format, do make the necessary adjustments to arrival times!

  • If holding the cocktail hour in a separate location, bear in mind to factor in time for guests to travel between locations, and also any photos you may wish your photographer to take at the ceremony site.

Image Credit: The Knot

Image Credit: The Knot

Cocktail hour/Drinks Reception

Don't be fooled by the title - an hour is rarely (if ever) sufficient for this event! Plan for around 1 1/2 - 2 hours in total, to allow for group and family photos, and photos of the couple to take place. Discuss your photographs in advance with your photographer, and provide them with the names of those required in the official shots, so that he or she can schedule the order of the photographs and round up the wedding party efficiently. It is usual for welcome drinks to be served at this time, often with a selection of canapes, whilst guests mingle.

  • Background music (either live or pre-recorded) lends to a relaxed atmosphere, and if holding the drinks reception outside, lawn games are an increasingly popular option for keeping guests entertained!

Getty Images

Getty Images

The Wedding Breakfast

There is no hard and fast rule as to the length of the wedding breakfast, and this will be dictated by a number of factors. The typical length of a 3 course wedding dinner service is usually around 2 hours, however it is best to take advice from your chosen caterers as they will be able to offer a more tailored estimate based on your chosen food selection, number of courses, and number of guests.

  • Allow 20 minutes for guests to find their seats at the start of the reception, and for wine to be poured prior to the dinner service.

  • There was a time when it was customary to have a formal receiving line, however the tradition has become less common in recent years. A receiving line is by no means essential, however it can serve as a good opportunity for the couple to thank each guest personally for attending, and ensure no guest gets "missed". If opting for a receiving line, factor this into your reception timing and advise your caters in advance, as this will assist them in timing in the start of the dinner service.

  • Factor in time for speeches/toasts - try to keep these to within 30-40 minutes in total, with each speaker allocated no more than 10 minutes. You may choose to stagger the speeches between courses to prevent guests becoming restless; again if this is the case do let your caterer know in advance so that they can time the serving of each course appropriately.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Evening Reception

Try to schedule your evening reception a clear 30 minutes after the wedding breakfast has finished - if the meal does happen to overrun this allows for a little extra time for guests to finish eating before the evening guests start to arrive!

Cutting the cake should also be given some thoughtful consideration as it does give out an important cue - traditionally the cutting of the cake is an unspoken signal to guests that they may leave the wedding (if they wish to do so) without appearing rude. If you are likely to have several elderly guests attending, or those attending with children, it is advisable as a courtesy to schedule the cutting of the cake towards the start of the evening reception, before celebrations are in full swing. This also serves useful for other reasons; if hiring a professional photographer it allows them to capture the event without having to stay very late into the evening, and it also allows the evening celebrations to flow nicely without needing to pause to cut the cake midway through.

  • It's a good idea to lead straight into the first dance after the cake is cut, whilst the guests are all still present in the same area (and to avoid too many separate announcements). On warmer evenings guests tend to gravitate outdoors, so it's handy to keep these events together to maximise the photo opportunity with lots of friends and family looking on!

If you need further tips and advice on scheduling your day and would like tailored assistance, please take a look at my services and do get in touch!