Wedding Day Timeline in 10 Easy Steps
A good wedding day timeline communicates all the moving parts for the wedding day. From the bride, groom, bridal party, family, guests to all the pros, this tool is the way to get everyone on the same page.
Now there are some people that are like, “a timeline??? oh, don’t over-complicate it, just show up and get married.” But my clients say the timeline helped them make big decisions in advance, foresee and correct and problems, and actually be present on the big day.
My team and I have created over 100 wedding timelines and I’m going to give you all our tricks to streamline this process and build your own wedding day timeline.
Step 1: Begin with the end in mind
Read this through before you start booking pros. If you’ve already done that, read this before finalizing details with your wedding pros (they like being called wedding pros instead of vendors 😊). By knowing what information you’ll need for a great timeline, you’ll know what questions to ask them. This will save you time and effort later.
Step 2: Draft your timeline
Go ahead and create a rough draft of your timeline. I know many of you are reading this and thinking, she must mean on excel, or word, or some electronic format. Nope, get some paper and a pen, because you need to do this old school. Get a copy of our timeline drafting template here, we’ll email it to you. But honestly, you can just do this on some loose leaf. (omg I haven’t written that since like 7th grade…. Loose leaf, is that what they still call it?)
There are a million wedding timeline templates out there, but I’m willing to bet that none of them is a perfect fit for your wedding. And that is because weddings are as unique as the people getting married. There is no one size fits all timeline. It doesn’t exist.
Doing it yourself is fun anyway! Divide the sheet of paper into three columns. 1. Pre-Wedding, 2. Ceremony 3. Reception. Add in these main items in their corresponding columns.
Ceremony Start Time (Ceremony)
Reception Start Time (Reception)
Reception End Time (Reception)
Step 3: Talk to your photographer and videographer
When setting up the structure of your timeline, photography and videography come first. Figure out how many hours they will work for you on the wedding day. If you plan to have them all the way through your final exit, then subtract that amount of hours from the end time of your wedding. For example, if the wedding reception ends at 9 pm, and you booked them for 8 hours, then they start your day at 1 pm. Add that time in the Pre-Wedding section.
Next, ask the photographer and videographer what time they need your wedding party dressed and ready. This will vary but is most influenced by two things.
Will the couple do a 1st Look?
Are formal pictures happening before or after the ceremony?
If there is a 1st look, and all formal pictures prior to the ceremony, then the photographer needs to get started earlier. But, it's likely you’ve already discussed this or submitted a wedding questionnaire, so your photographer and videographer will likely have an estimate for what time they need you and your wedding party dressed and ready. If your photographer or videographer has already created a timeline, get that from them and add in all the times they need first.
Step 4: Hair and Makeup
Now let’s work on your hair and makeup artists. Let them know what time the photographer and videographer need everyone ready. Also, let them know the earliest possible time you are willing to wake up. If you can’t wake up before 9 am on your wedding day, let them know far in advance!
Generally, they’ll need anywhere from 30-45 minutes for hair, and up to an hour for makeup. The bride usually takes longer. So, tell them when you are up for starting and when everyone needs to be finished. They’ll tell you how many stylists they’ll need and what time they’ll arrive.
Consider that if you have 8 bridesmaids, need to be dressed and ready at 1 pm, and don’t want to wake up until 10 am, then you’ll need a bunch of stylists to get the job done. Not every company has multiple stylists. This tip can help you to book the right team for your day.
Add the hair and makeup stylists start time under your first column, pre-wedding.
Step 5: Venues and setup
Now its time to consider how everything will be set up. When do your ceremony and reception venues open for load-in and setup, this should be on your contract, if not ask. Add those times in.
If you are having your ceremony in a church, it will likely open 1 hour before your official start time. Go ahead and list that time in the Ceremony section. The reception venue opens about 3 hours prior to the reception. Put that time under Pre-Wedding.
Now, create a plan for getting all your professionals you’ve hired into the venue with enough time to do their best work. Consider that the rental company, florist, decorator, band or DJ, bakery, caterer and bartender all have vans and delivery people that need space to park and load in. Staggering their arrival times will make for a happy and efficient wedding pro team. Come up with an estimate for arrival and add those into your Pre-Wedding Section. Then contact the pros with your suggestion, and modify the time based on their needs.
Step 6: Add in Pre-Wedding Details
Think about any of the moments you want to happen. This timeline is your communication tool to make sure everyone knows where they need to be and when. Here’s a list to consider:
Food delivered to getting ready locations, pics of the wedding party in getting ready outfits (robes), first look with parents, first look with the wedding party, toast, travel from getting ready locations to venues, gift exchange, special pictures, etc.
Anything that you imagine happening on the morning of your wedding should be here. When possible, include who is supposed to be where as well. For example, 9:00 am bridesmaids, mother of the bride, mother of the groom and bride arrive at the getting ready location. The clearer your expectations are for the day, the easier it will be for everyone to get on board.
Step 7: Map out the Ceremony
Working backward from the ceremony start time, begin adding items to the ceremony section. As far as your pros, generally the ceremony musicians and officiant arrive 1 hour prior to the start time. The prelude begins 30 minutes prior.
For your wedding party, ushers, parents, grandparents, groomsmen, groom arrive at least 30 minutes prior. Guests will also begin trickling in at this time. Indicate on your timeline where the wedding party and family should go and what they should do when they get there.
Bride, bridesmaids, mother, and father of the bride arrive 15 minutes prior and should have a “holding area” to stay hidden. Processional lines up 5-10 minutes prior. If you imagine starting a few minutes after the scheduled start time on your invitation, indicate that as well.
List the order of the processional here as well with notes about song choice. Remember to include your officiant entering the space. If he/she is supposed to make announcements prior to the ceremony (i.e. Unplugged Ceremony Announcement) include that too. Check Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette book for choices on how to order your processional.
List any ceremony specifics you’d like. If you are having a very traditional ceremony, you may not need to list anything. But anything unique that involves the wedding party or guests, that should be designated.
Do include an estimate for when the ceremony will end and anything that needs to happen afterward. This may include photos, the bustling of the dress, and travels plans to the reception.
Step 8: Map out the Reception
Since you included all your setup for the reception in the pre-wedding section, the reception section begins with guest arrival. You’ve got lots of decisions to make here! The good news is that this is all up to you! You can search for a typical reception timeline to get ideas. And you can also add whatever the heck you want for your party!
The route I take is to write down all the things along with the order they will happen. After all the special moments are written down in order, then I start adding times to them. For example, you know you want to do dinner as soon as guests arrive, then sweetheart dinner, intros, formal dances, cake cutting, toasts, dance party, bouquet toss, special exit. Many of our New Orleans weddings also include a second line parade, Nashville weddings may include a bourbon toast with the wedding party. Whatever your traditions, include them here. List those in order in the reception section. Then look at the window you have for your reception and break up the time to fit your wants.
Step 9: Review, Edit, Finalize
Now you have a rough draft of your day from start to finish. Review it a few times, add in extras, reorder as needed. Then review it with your fiancé and whoever else is helping you plan. Mark up that loose leaf any way you need!
Ok, you’ve got a draft. Open up that laptop and start creating an electronic copy. Word, google docs, excel, illustrator, publisher use whatever you are used to using. And if you have nice hand writing, that’s cool too! Keep with the 3 section format and create your official wedding day timeline. Save an official copy as a PDF and include the date edited.
Below is a sample of the timelines we create for our Uncommon Camellia Clients.
Step 10: Distribute
The last and most important step is to make sure that beautifully created timeline doesn’t go to waste. It can’t be a secret document. Anyone and everyone involved in your big day needs a copy.
Keep in mind that most of your pros have other weddings before yours and will prioritize to make sure they are up to speed with the most pressing concerns. If you can give them a hard copy that is ideal, highlight the items that pertain to them. If you are emailing a pdf, include a few important items in the body of the email as well.
For your wedding party, take a similar route. Send the pdf, but include some specifics in the email. Even your closest friends and family may be extra busy at work the weeks before the wedding in an effort to take a few days off for the wedding. If you can give them some brief highlights, they are more likely to get up to speed sooner rather than later.
At the rehearsal, print a timeline for every person in your wedding party. Highlight what they need to know. If you don’t want to answer what time and where for everything on your timeline to every person at your rehearsal … don’t skip this!
And just like that, you’ve got a great wedding day timeline. If you’re looking for some extra help creating your timeline, consider hiring a wedding coordinator to do the job. We have Lead Coordinators in New Orleans, and on the Northshore of New Orleans, in Nashville, and throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Check out our YouTube video on this same topic and subscribe for new content that will post every week.