Wedding day timings & etiquette
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!), and as U.K. weddings are increasingly taking influences from oversees, it's little wonder there is a wealth of confusion over the "correct" etiquette and running order.
Whilst it's by no means necessary to be bound by tradition, it's often useful to have a starting point from which to customise your wedding. With this in mind, I'm dedicating today's post to some of my most frequently asked questions surrounding the day itself.
Q. In which order should the wedding party walk down the aisle?
A. In the U.K., it is traditional for the Bride to walk down the aisle first, accompanied by and to the right of her father (or alternate person giving her away). They lead the procession, followed by the bridesmaids, flower girls and page boys - although it is no significant importance in the order in which these walk. If having very young flower girls/page boys for example, it may be more practical for each to be escorted by an older bridesmaid. There is a growing trend however in adopting the American processional order, in which the bridesmaids, flower girls and page boys lead the way first, and for the Bride and the person giving her away to make their grand entrance after. There is no right or wrong with either, and unless having a very formal ceremony I'd advise to go with whichever makes you most comfortable. 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 (or Groomsmen) to escort the mothers and grandparents of both the bride and groom to their seats.
For same sex weddings, 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.
Q. How long is acceptable for photographs after the ceremony?
A. If the ceremony and reception are to take place in the same location, guests expect some inevitable delay between the end of the ceremony and the start of the reception, largely as this is when the official photographs of the couple and their families take place. That said, it is best to keep this to no longer than 35-40 minutes if possible, as guests will be eager to offer their congratulations to the happy couple, and can become restless if left to wait for an excessive period of time. Plan 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.
Where the reception is to be held in a separate location, travel time between the two sites must also be taken into consideration. In this case it is advisable to account for the photographs and travel time in advance, and make clear on the wedding invitations a specific start time for the reception so that guests are aware of the running order on the day. At the very least, arrange to have a few designated persons available at the reception site to greet guests as they arrive and make introductions.
A popular option during this time is to schedule a "cocktail hour" prior to the start of the reception, allowing guests to mingle whilst welcome drinks and a selection of canapes (or hors d'oeuvres) are served by catering staff. Background music (either live or pre-recorded) lends to a relaxed atmosphere, and the wedding party can join in after the photographs to officially greet their guests.
Q. Is a wedding receiving line necessary?
A. There was a time when it was customary to have a formal receiving line, however the tradition has become much less common in recent years. A receiving line is by no means essential, although it is proper etiquette that the couple personally thanks each guest for attending. For this reason, and particularly for large weddings, a receiving line can be a highly efficient way of ensuring that no guest gets "missed", and that the guests can interact personally with the happy couple and their parents (or those hosting). A receiving line is usually arranged at the reception site, after the official photographs have been taken. Traditionally the Brides' parents head up the line, followed by the couple, and then the Groom's parents. If the couple already have children they might include them in the line also, along with bridesmaids and grandparents (if they are able). If the couple are hosting themselves, they may choose to stand alone or with just the mothers, whilst other members of the bridal party mingle with guests as they wait in line.
For smaller weddings, or where the couple are confident they will have opportunity to speak to each guest personally throughout the reception, it is perfectly acceptable for the couple to skip the receiving line altogether, and visit each table in between meal courses to greet and thank their guests.
Q. When should toasts/speeches be made, and in what order?
A. Etiquette dictates that toasts should be made toward the start of the reception, once all guests have been directed to their seats and have been provided with a glass of champagne (or non-alcoholic alternative). Traditionally for English weddings, the Father of the Bride will toast first (alternatively the person hosting), followed by the Groom, and finally the Best Man. It is also becoming more common for the Bride to say a few words if she'd like to offer her own toast, although this is often shorter than the preceding toasts.
If the traditional running order doesn't suit your particular circumstances however, don't be afraid to throw the rulebook out of the window! If the Father of the Bride won't be present, for example, it is quite acceptable for a close friend or other relative to make a toast instead. And whilst the first toast is normally made at the start of the reception, it is equally acceptable for the Groom and Best Man to make their toasts at the end of the meal (which can be particularly useful if either are nervous about public speaking and would prefer the reception to get underway before making their toast). Likewise, if the couple are hosting their own wedding they may prefer to make their toast jointly, both in thanking their guests for joining the celebrations and toasting each other.
Q. When should we cut the cake?
A. Whilst this doesn't initially spring to mind as one of the more crucial aspects in the wedding day timing, it should 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 at the end of the meal, and before the evening celebrations are in full swing.
Cutting the cake earlier rather than later is also 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.