How to Create a Wedding Day Timeline

Updated: May 27, 2021

Wedding day timelines are one of the most important documents you can prepare in order to make sure your wedding day flows smoothly! Having a timeline also helps your vendors know what time everything's happening so they can work well to achieve a perfect day for you. My personal piece of advice here is that you work with your coordinator or wedding planner to make sure that the wedding timeline fits your needs and exactly what you want your wedding day to look like. However, if you don't have a coordinator (even though you totally should get one at the bare minimum) here are a few tips and tricks on how I go about creating timelines for my couples so you can have a smooth wedding day.

An Intro to Timelines

You may be thinking “Why do I need a timeline?” Here’s why: the timeline is the only document that your vendor team can refer to that keeps everybody on the same page so they all know exactly what is happening when. It also provides crucial details like when cake cutting is happening, when toasts will start, and all of those other micro-events so your vendors can be prepared for those things. Your caterer will need to know what time food needs to be ready, what time they should be cutting the cake, and your bartenders may need to pre-pour champagne glasses for the toasts for your guest. You need to have a plan on your wedding day if you want it to go smoothly. It won't just happen naturally! The timeline should start from the time you begin getting ready in the morning to the time that your venue rental is over and clean up is finished.

Start With the Ceremony

I always base my timelines off of the start time of the ceremony. This determines so many factors about your day so it's really where you need to begin. If your ceremony is outdoors, make sure to factor in what time sunset will be that day. The best lighting is always during golden hour which can occur one hour prior to sunset. I always recommend that my couples ceremonies start at least an hour and a half before sunset so they can have their ceremony and get all of their family pictures taken before it gets too dark. “Golden Hour” (aka, the best lighting of the day) occurs during the hour leading up to sunset. If you have questions about lighting and when to do things based on what your venue looks like make sure to reach out to your photographer and they should be able to give you some expert guidance on this.

Once you decide what time your ceremony will be, work backwards. Factor in the time it will take for wedding party pictures before the ceremony, as well as how long it will take the hair and makeup artist to complete their work. If you are setting up your own décor, include that, too!

Micro events

Next, List out all of the “micro-events” you want to have on your wedding day. This includes elements like:

  • Cocktail Hour

  • Grand Entrance

  • First Dance

  • Special Dances (Father/Daughter, Mother/Son)

  • Cake Cutting

  • Toasts/Speeches

  • Bouquet Toss

  • Garter Toss

  • Any other special elements you want to happen on your day!

Next start thinking about how long each of these might take. For example, cocktail hour (as suggested by the name) is usually one full hour because during this time the bride and groom are taking pictures with their family. In contrast, the bouquet toss and garter toss usually only take about five minutes each. They last one song and are super quick! Another big plus of having a wedding planner or coordinator is that they will know how long all of these things will take and make it a lot easier to build your timeline on the day of.

Your next step would be to put all of these things in order! Think about all of the weddings you have attended in the past and remember what you liked and what you didn’t like about those days. Did cocktail hour feel too long? Did you feel like there was a weird break in between toasts and cake cutting? You will want your guests to have a good experience at your wedding and for everything to feel like it’s flowing well. Keep your guests in mind as you make your wedding day timeline!

When you have a rough draft of your timeline send it to your most important vendors so they can look over it and review it for you. The first vendor you should send this to is your photographer! If you don’t have a coordinator, they will give you a much better idea of exactly how long everything will take, especially for photos during cocktail hour and before your ceremony. The next vendor you want to send your timeline to is your caterer! They will need to make sure they have enough time in between events to do all of the things that they need to do. Another vendor you should consider sending your rough draft of your timeline to is your DJ! They might be able to give you guidance on a ceremony timings for songs and also things like the garter toss, bouquet toss and your first dances.

After you have all of your notes and revisions back from the vendors, make any final edits and send your timeline to all of your vendors at least one week prior to your wedding! Then make sure to print out a few copies and have them with you on the day of so you can direct your family members and wedding party to the right place at the right time. Again, if you have a wedding planner or coordinator they will be doing all of this for you. They will take care of your vendor reconciliation and make sure everything looks perfect for your big day.

If all this timeline stuff is feeling really overwhelming to you (and if you haven’t gotten the hint yet throughout the post) PLEASE hire a wedding coordinator! They will help you so much with this process plus a million other little things that you might not even think about during the wedding planning process. In addition to making a timeline, they should help you create layouts for your venue, organize all of your vendors, make sure all the details are finalized for your wedding day, and execute everything on the big day so you don’t have to be the one keeping people on time. Your wedding coordinator will be the person in charge making sure that everything flows smoothly and that your vendor team has everything that they need in order to achieve the feel and look you want for your wedding day. Don’t stress yourself out, save yourself the time and headache, and hire a wedding coordinator!

Happy planning,

Shelby Kirchner

Owner & Head Planner

Plan On It ATX

I am Austin based full service wedding planner for the modern, relaxed couple who wants to enjoy their engagement and wedding planning experience. We specialize in full weekend weddings that are centered on a high guest experience.

Email today to learn more about my services and how I can help you and your partner plan the wedding of your dreams!


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