What’s in a Time Line?

As you go through the process of planning what seems to be a thousand and one details of your wedding, one of the things that needs some attention is your “day of time line”. While not a particularly difficult task, it does deserve a little thought. You may have input and assistance on this from your photographer, your “day of” coordinator, and your DJ/MC. We have seen a lot of weddings and we know what is likely to work and how to spot potential issues. You can arrange the various elements in a multitude of ways to suit your style and dreams and we can help with the pacing.

The first step is to write down all of the things that you want to have happen on your wedding day. This can include pretty much everything that will happen the entire day. Where will you have breakfast? Where is the photographer arriving first? Where and when are you getting dressed? When and where are you getting your hair and makeup done? You want to include all the major events for you and the bridal party for everything leading up to the ceremony. Consult with your photographer concerning the photo sessions before the ceremony and who needs to be where.

For the reception list out each of the elements you want to include. Will there be a receiving line, a grand entrance, or both? Dinner then toasts. Shoe Game? List all the special dances. Are you doing the traditional cake cutting, bouquet toss, and garter toss? You also need to decide when the reception will end and whether you are planning a grand send off.

Now to put all of this in a workable time line, start with the ceremony start time. While most ceremonies start just a little late (maybe 5 or 10 minutes) this is your anchor to your timeline. The ceremony start time, the time the caterers will have dinner ready to serve, and in many cases what time you must be clear of the venue are the times that are locked in. Everything else may have some flexibility throughout the day. Some people are more flexible than others when it comes to changes but planning appropriately in the beginning helps deal with the little things that may come up. You want to allow enough time for each item on the list, but you don’t want too much lag time. Especially for the reception the guests will get bored and start looking for their car keys if things drag out too slowly.

So, lets assume a 4:00 ceremony. Plan out everything that leads up to that time. Here is an example:

8:00 – Girls all arrive at brides MOB house for breakfast.

8:00 – Coordinator arrives at venue to decorate

9:30 – Hair and Makeup arrive at MOB house.

9:30 – Photographer arrives

9:30 – Dad and uncles take decorations to venue and help setup.

10:00 – Guys meet at Groom’s house for breakfast and to get dressed.

11:00 – Coordinator checks in with Bride.

12:00 – Bridal party arrives at venue. Bride gets dressed.

1:00 – First look

1:30 – 3:30 Pictures.

Most professional coordinators will have a more detailed timeline than this example. It will list details, who is responsible, locations, etc. It often also includes when each vendor is supposed to arrive and who they are to check in with.

Now it is time for the part where you get married! I will list an example and then discuss some points.

4:00 – Ceremony start

4:30 Ceremony ends – Receiving line

4:30 Bar opens – cocktail hour.

5:15 – Grand Entrance

5:20 – Welcome and blessing

5:20 – Dinner is served.

6:00 – Toasts

6:20 – Shoe Game

6:45 – Cake Cutting

7:00 First Dance

Father Daughter Dance

Mother Son Dance

Anniversary Dance

7:20 – Dancing

8:00 – Bouquet and Garter Toss

8:05 Dancing

10:00 Grand Send Off.

Ceremonies last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, seldom going longer. Go ahead and allow 30 minutes as they often start a few minutes late due to late arriving guests or the bride is not quite ready.

The time required for a receiving line and the dinner service are highly dependent on the number of guest and the venue. A receiving line is a great way to make sure you greet each of your guests. You will want to allow 30 to 45 minutes for a guest list of 120. Also make sure that your venue has a space where this will be practical. I have seen where the guests remain seated in the ceremony area and are dismissed by row to the receiving line. This keeps everything orderly, but if it is a summer outdoor wedding enlist some of the younger folk to pass out cold water the guests who are waiting!

Dinners are commonly served buffet style. This can be very efficient but again depends on several factors including the number of guests and the menu. For 120 guests with 2 serving lines (one on each side of the buffet) and a menu of chicken, fish, salad and potatoes, you can expect everyone to be served in about 30 minutes. If it is a taco bar or something that requires interaction with the caterer (like a carving station) you will need more time. If you have over 120 guests and a time-consuming buffet, you should ask the caterer if they can set up 4 serving lines.

Toasts are most common after dinner but work just as well before. The thing to remember is that wrangling all your guests to their tables should only happen once, so all the things that require the guests to be seated should happen in succession. Grand Entrance, dinner, toasts, shoe game (or other games). Once people are through eating and get the idea that it is okay to get up and move around, getting them back will be tough! I usually recommend planning the toasts for 45 minutes to an hour after start of dinner service. Of course, this is one place to play it by ear. It is not uncommon for the bride and groom to want some mingle time between eating and the toasts.

Once you get through the dinner/toast phase then the other elements can be in whatever order you choose and should be paced so that not too much time laps between. With background music playing and the bride and groom mingling you might allow 15 to 20 minutes between the cake and the special dances. Some like to complete all the traditional elements before dancing, while others like to dance for a while then work the other elements in between songs. In my experience it works well to cut the cake after the toast and games so that dessert can be served to the guests. Then have all the special dances a few minutes later. Open the dance floor up and work in the bouquet and garter toss 20 to 30 minutes later.

Make your day special by designing the flow the way you want it. Hopefully this will help you do that and keep everything moving and your guests entertained!

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