How to create a wedding day timeline: A step-by-step guide for DIY Brides

As a Day-of Coordinator, the number one thing I find that my DIY brides need help with is the creation of a timeline for their wedding day. Who arrives when? When should we cut the cake? Does it matter when we do the send-off?

A wedding day timeline does not have to be stressful, which is why I created this step-by-step guide to help you create your own!

How to create your wedding timeline for DIY Brides

Create your wedding timeline

I think the first thing to remember when creating your timeline is that it is you and your fiance’s day and you can make it whatever you like. I’ve made suggestions here that I believe will make your day go smoothly, but every wedding is different, and your wedding can be whatever you’d like it to be, so go with what feels right!

Step one: The outline

A basic outline of your wedding day is a great tool to create and keep updated from the very beginning stages of planning. I suggest making a simple outline in excel or sheets for easy changes, or you can use my Fillable General Timeline to start with.

You can choose to have half hour or 15-minute increments on your timeline, depending on the amount of detail you plan on writing. A great way to begin is to write 30-minute increments up to two hours before the wedding, then from that point on write out 15-minute increments to schedule. 

A Sample Timeline has been included at the bottom of this article for you to reference.

Step two: The basics

Now that you have a general outline of time, start with the basic information of your wedding. Fill in the time your venue opens and closes, the time that you want your wedding to start, and the time the sun sets if it’s an evening wedding. (You want to make sure that you leave plenty of time before sunset to get all of your outdoors pictures taken. This is a great topic to discuss further with your photographer!)

Step three: The vendors

Make sure you list all vendor arrival times on your timeline. Wedding cake, red flowers.
Fill in your timeline with the arrival and departure times of your vendors.  Photo by Erica Sofet Photography.

If you’ve created your timeline in advance of booking most of your vendors you can fill in the timeline as your wedding planning progresses and as you speak with vendors individually. If not, shoot them a friendly email and ask what time they plan on arriving and departing on your wedding day. This will be especially important information for your day of coordinator to have so that they can greet your vendors for you and be sure everyone arrives on time.

Important arrival and departure times to know are the coordinator, caterer, florist, hair and makeup, photographer, DJ, bartenders, officiant, and any other vendor you may be hiring. 

Step four: The wedding party

Now that the vendors’ arrival and departure times are on your timeline you can decide when you, your fiance, and your wedding party will arrive. These times will vary depending on where you are getting ready, your wedding party size, and how likely it is that your friends and family will be late. (If this is likely, be sure to give them an earlier time to arrive!)

Let your wedding party know when to arrive. Wedding party, red bridesmaids dresses, outdoor
Be sure to let your wedding party know what time to arrive the day of your wedding. Photo by Erica Sofet Photoraphy

Step five: The reception

A reception can be fun for everyone if the timing is right, so it’s important to schedule every event of the evening and have someone who can help you stick to your timeline.

Here are my reception timeline recommendations for an evening wedding:

  • Dinner should start no longer than an hour from the time your wedding ceremony ends if you are having a happy hour with hors-d’oeuvres, and 30 minutes without a happy hour. Nobody wants hangry guests! (If your ceremony and reception are at two different locations don’t forget to account for travel time!)
No one wants hangry guests. Donut Gruene, TX wedding
No one wants hangry guests! Photo by Pine and Blossom Photography
  • The grand entrance with your wedding party is usually just before dinner. Many of my clients use the time after the grand entrance to thank their guests for coming and to say grace for dinner if they are so inclined. (Some choose to have their first dance here, but my suggested time for the first dance is listed below.)
  • Dinner will usually last approximately an hour but may vary depending on your guest count and the meal being served. (Your caterer should be able to give you a time estimate for dinner based upon their experience.)
  • I recommend cutting the cake and serving desserts directly after dinner so that it is available throughout the evening for your guests. If you cut it too late some guests may have left early or be too busy dancing to grab a piece of cake, leaving you with more cake than you know what to do with!
  • Toasts are usually included at this point in the evening as well. Be sure to give a suggested time limit to the speakers to help you stay on schedule.
When to schedule your bouquet and garter toss.
Erica Sofet Photography
  • Some of my couples like to put the bouquet and garter toss following the cake cutting and speeches, or another option is to schedule it as a break from dancing at another time in the evening. Tip: When you schedule it a little later in the night after your guests have had a few drinks there are bound to be a few good stories to tell from the bouquet and garter toss!
  • When you are ready for your guests to start dancing the night away, a great way to transition is to start with your first dance. If you are doing any other special dances, such as father/daughter, mother/son, or an anniversary dance be sure to schedule those as well. After these are finished then you are ready to get the party started and guests are usually excited to hit the dance floor!

Step six: The send-off 

The send-off is in a category by itself because it seems like an easy thing to schedule, but there are quite a few things to consider when deciding the best time to leave your wedding.

Many times your venue is available to you until 11 PM or midnight, and you are happy to dance the night away with your friends. However, this usually leaves many of your guests who might need to leave earlier without the pleasure of seeing you off at the end of the night. Also, the later you have your send-off the longer your photographer stays, so be sure to check the total hours you’ve hired them if you’d like them to take pictures of your send-off.

When to schedule your wedding send-off. View More: http://francephotographers.pass.us/pearsonwedding
Photo by France Photographers

I recommend doing your send off no later than 9:30pm, especially if you have elderly grandparents or people who are driving in from out of town who would like to be able to send you off and wish you well, but who are not able to stay late.

Now, if you are thinking, “But I want to spend more time partying and enjoying my friends!” Then there are two options that I recommend to help keep the night going while still catering to your guests:

  1. Have your big photographed send off, but then come back to the party. This allows guests to feel like they can leave without feeling like they’ve missed out and you still get to enjoy a long evening. 

Or

2. Plan an after party for you and your family and friends who you know will want to dance with you late into the night. Find a local bar or dancehall and hire a bus, an Uber, or find a designated driver to transport you and your friends to and from the after party. 

Tip: It’s important to remember that your wedding day is going to be a very busy day! Chances are you will have been up early for hair and makeup, spent a busy day around your family and friends, and you might be tired or just ready to enjoy alone time with your new spouse. While a late night party may seem fun before your wedding, there is a good chance that you will be exhausted after a busy day. 

Step seven: Review this with your Day-of Coordinator

Having a coordinator who will meet with you at least one month prior to your wedding is a great way to ensure that your evening will run smoothly. Your coordinator will have the best idea of how to schedule the time so that everybody is happy at the end of your wedding day. They will do their best to make sure that your wedding day includes everything that you want and that you have plenty of time to do it. 


Have more questions about timelines or how to best make your day go smoothly?

Please leave me a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.  

Check out a Sample Timeline to see these ideas in action.

Are you a DIY Bride in need a Day-of Wedding Coordinator to help you create and keep a schedule? Contact me today to schedule your free phone consultation.

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