Photography: By Halie
You only get one wedding day — and with just 8-10 hours booked with most of your vendors, every minute counts. But creating your wedding timeline can feel like an overwhelming exercise, especially if you’ve never planned a large-scale event.
But just like any seemingly-complicated project, your wedding timeline will come together smoothly if you allow time, patience, and room for change. And with a team of experts in your corner, timing your wedding experience doesn’t have to cause a headache.
We asked wedding professionals about common mistakes couples make when crafting their wedding timelines — save these tips for your planning journey!
Change is inevitable, so don’t worry about getting your wedding timeline perfect right off the bat. Instead, start with a framework and let your timeline evolve with the support of your vendor team.
“Creating a timeline and the rest of the wedding planning process doesn’t happen overnight,” assures Julianne Smith of The Garter Girl. “There is a lot of planning leading up to your big day, and twists and turns are to be expected. So consider this when you start stressing about your timeline.”
Deliece Knights of Dhalia Events LLC agrees, adding that “timelines are essential tools to keep a wedding day running smoothly. However, they should not be considered the "be all, end all" of your wedding day execution.”
Let those type-A tendencies go and trust the process — no wedding day is without flaws, but that doesn’t mean you need to stress over every detail that could go wrong!
While most couples think their wedding day starts at the crack of dawn, industry experts encourage expanding the timeline to factor in necessary tasks the day before.
“The timeline for the day preceding the wedding is just as important as the wedding day timeline,” asserts Akbar Sayed of Akbar Sayed Photography. “Writing out where your dress, his tux, your shoes, stationery, etc., are going to be and how they’re getting to the venue is essential.”
Creating a day-before plan with your partner can make the process much smoother. For example, consider setting aside a tote box of day-of items that is easy to grab and go.
You’ll also need to time your rehearsal dinner to ensure everyone is well-rested for the big day. As Jamie Chang of Mango Muse Events notes, “it can be tempting to stay up late and talk into the wee hours but don’t go too late because you’ll want to get a good night's sleep before the big day. Feeling tired at your wedding isn’t a great way to start what will be a highly emotional, physical, and mental day.”
Prepare the day-before schedule to include any last-minute essentials and guest activities, but keep it light to avoid burning out before tying the knot!
Photography: Cody Kurtz Photography
Whether you’re planning a Sunday brunch reception or a golden hour ceremony, timing the sun is essential for photography and guest comfort. And since sunrise and sunset are fixed times, they often have a direct impact on the wedding day timeline.
“The most important thing to figure out is when the sun sets on your wedding day,” confirms wedding photographer Jessica K. Feiden. “This will help determine your ceremony time and all your other formalities.”
For example, “Suppose you have chosen to do a first look and are doing an outdoor ceremony,” proposes Nikki Golden of Niki Golden Photography. “In that case, you want to plan your ceremony for about 60-90 minutes before sunset. You can consult your photographer and wedding planner to find an exact time!”
Renée Dalo of Moxie Bright Events encourages couples to “do the research, and then (if you can) physically go to your venue at sunset and see how the light plays off the buildings, where the shadows are, etc. You can't schedule certain things in the dark - and you can always add lighting, and it's better to know that early on.”
Fortunately, you can use sunrise and sunset calendars to track the sun’s path well in advance, so you don’t have to worry about waiting until the last minute to confirm plans (as is often the case with inclement weather!).
Your wedding day should be enjoyed – but that’s hard to do when it’s go-go-go from dawn to dusk. So instead of packing every minute of your timeline, leave room to breathe by comfortably padding it with breaks throughout the day.
“Wedding day mindset can make or break your experience!” states Amber Anderson of Refine for Wedding Planners. “As such, it's important to build in wiggle room and understand that it's not if, but when, something goes wrong.”
For example, if an unexpected rain cloud arrives to cause trouble, extra space in your timeline will let you implement a backup plan without throwing off the whole day.
“Sometimes, Mother Nature will have other plans,” promises Diane Kolanović-Šolaja of Dee Kay Events. “Be sure to have a Plan B for your photos when you start your timeline draft. You may even need to have two versions of your timeline.”
As you plan your perfect day, Rock Paper Coin’s Katie Mast suggests “adding 15 more minutes than you think each task will take. Set yourself up for success by adding as many buffers as possible!”
And hey, if you end up with extra gaps during the day, your guests won’t mind the unstructured time. In fact, Vijay Goel of Bite Catering Couture recommends building in time for guests to mix and mingle. “It's one of the highlights of the day to hear all the stories of the folks who came so that they could share them with you,” he assures.
The wedding morning typically kicks off with a bevy of hair and makeup products, whether you’ve hired pro stylists or intend to DIY your beauty routine. Either way, allow enough time for your wedding party to get ready, as wedding pros note that hair and makeup often run over the accounted time.
“Couples assume that getting ready and glam won’t take that long,” confirms Alicia Igess Jones of Urban Tangles. “Therefore, they allow for a smaller window than what’s necessary.”
Yet, Sarah Olson of CityLux Studios explains that “the first thing that can cause delays is hair and makeup not being completed on time. And this isn't necessarily their fault—many times, they just weren't made aware of the wedding day timeline.”
To avoid unwanted setbacks, Igess Jones encourages couples to “consider hiring the glam squad that is experienced with special occasions. No one should assume that their hair stylist, who normally cuts and colors their hair, will know how things should flow or work out on their special day.”
Kolanović-Šolaja also suggests hiring multiple beauticians for the big day. “Be sure to allocate your budget to have two or even three artists to take care of everyone receiving hair and makeup services,” she says. “Several artists will cut your group's getting-ready time, and you will not have to rise with the roosters to start your day.”
Managing the window for hair and makeup will ensure your day goes smoothly — and your wedding party will be grateful not to wake up before the sun just to get ready!
Traffic is a nightmare on normal days — but on your wedding day, it can turn your whole timeline upside down. Be mindful of transportation, both for your guests and yourself, so everyone can arrive on time and celebrate the entire time.
“Couples often forget to add enough time for transportation,” explains Samantha Leenheer of Samantha Joy Events. “Shuttles need more time to get from one location to another because of their size and capacity. We recommend between 5-10 minutes, depending on the number of guests, loading and unloading time, and add 5 minutes on either end of the drive time. Even better if you run the drive time during the expected time frame so you can estimate more realistic traffic patterns.”
“Inclement weather also impacts transportation vehicles,” Kolanović-Šolaja adds. “Rain, ice, snow, high winds...this all impacts how fast or slow a vehicle can move on the road. Work with your transportation vendor to discuss the impact of weather on your wedding day and when the cut-off is to make a decision.”
So if you’re planning a wedding during rush hour or wet seasons, don’t forget to factor in extra time for yourself, your wedding party, and your guests to get to and from venues.
Photography: Niki Marie Photography
Your rentals and décor don’t just magically appear in (and disappear from) your venue — it takes time to set up and break down the event.
And as Tonya Hoopes of Hoopes Events explains, “set-up and teardown always seem to take longer than you think it is going to or should.” So plan accordingly!
“If you are hiring professionals to do your decor, ask them how long it will take and then create a buffer in the timeline for anything that might not go to plan,” Hoopes says. “Or if you have friends and family helping you set up, leave extra time so if your team is not as fast as you thought they would be, you are not stressed or feel it will not get done.”
In addition to your vendors, consult with your venue to determine when your team can arrive onsite with furniture and equipment.
“Couples often forget to check with their venue to confirm the actual rental timeline,” notes Shannon Tarrant of Wedding Venue Map. “A specific arrival and departure time usually includes vendor setup and breakdown within those hours. It's important to communicate with your venue, as the rest of the vendors will fall in line around the contracted rental window.”
Staying in communication with your venue and team of pros will ensure everything is wrapped up and ready to go by the time guests arrive — so, to them, it will seem like an act of magic!
Everyone loves a good toast — but you don’t want someone to take over and turn your wedding into a snoozefest. Setting limitations on speeches can allow all of your VIPs a chance with the mic without impacting the day’s flow.
“Don't assume that anyone giving a speech will know how to keep it on time,” warns Brian Franklin of Vows & Speeches. “Make it clear that they can't go past 3-4 minutes, or they will upset the timeline...which can result in food getting cold, vendors having to leave early, etc. Encourage them to actually time it by reading it out loud well in advance so they can cut it back as needed.”
And while you might think that you can save time by scheduling toasts in the middle of dinner, Janice Carnevale of Bellwether Events cautions against it as it can get in the way of food service. “Instead, do them either before the first course or after the entree course,” she says. “Let your catering team flow through your meal service to allow your meal to come out at the highest quality possible.”
Another great way to reduce time spent on toasts? Cut down your list of speakers! Consider offering some VIPs the chance to give a speech at the rehearsal dinner to save precious time during the receptions.
Ask any married couple, and they’ll tell you their wedding day went by in a blur. Carving out moments to step away from the busyness allows you to soak it all in as newlyweds.
“Consider adding in some downtime for you as a couple after you are married,” encourages Jen Sulak of Weirdo Weddings. “Wedding days get a little wild and loud, and you might need a quick break. Leave yourself enough time to breathe in between the ceremony and reception, but then also give yourself a few moments at your reception to eat and drink!”
And if you can’t squeeze in a few moments during the main event, Sayed suggests “keeping 5 minutes to have a last dance with just you and your partner at the end of the night. This is a sweet moment for just the two of you to end your special day.”
After all, the whole day is curated to celebrate your love! Don’t be afraid to steal some time and immerse yourselves in the experience privately.
Lean on the experts
If crafting your wedding day timeline feels daunting, rest assured that you don’t have to do it alone. Your vendors are experienced professionals, so look to your team of experts for advice and support when planning your day.
“You don’t have to craft your wedding day timeline on your own!” promises Sarah Blessinger of Kindred Weddings & Events. “Hiring a wedding planner or coordinator can give you a lifeline to someone who knows weddings inside and out. They can guide you through the process, so you have a timeline that ensures as much success as possible.”
Beyond your planner, Michael Vernon of Conch Concierge Weddings also notes that “your wedding day timeline is key to your venue manager, photographer/videographer, entertainment pro(s), hair/makeup artist, as well as your baker and floral designer. Get their input regarding coverage and delivery times to create a thorough timeline.”
Another key vendor to lean on? Your DJ — who will also serve as the MC for your big day, overseeing the flow of events to ensure you stay on time.
“Take advantage of your DJ to plan your wedding timeline,” recommends George Wainwright of Coastal DJ & Video. “Their experience is invaluable, and that wedding pro is the one who will keep your reception running smoothly.”
If you’re not using a planner or coordinator, Peter Mitsaelides of Brooklake Country Club & Events reminds couples to “provide your wedding day timeline to your venue manager and vendors. Set a deadline for getting your timeline out to them 3-4 weeks before the wedding.”
Christina Lovelace of Lovelace Design also suggests including extra details to the timeline to support your vendors. “Adding where and when they should be and notifying them will help keep everyone on track,” she says. “It will also limit the number of confused phone calls you will receive on the day of.”
And while we’re talking about your wedding vendors, don’t forget to factor their breaks into your timeline! “Sometimes it's easy to forget your vendors need to eat too,” says Edna Dratch-Parker of Real Deal Wedding Insiders®. “Coordinating their dinner break within the timeline that works with your speeches, first dances, and cake cutting is important.”
You’re never alone on the wedding planning journey, so take advantage of your vendors’ expertise and experience. After all, you did hire them to help!
A day-of timeline is an integral piece of the wedding planning puzzle, so don’t skip it and assume it will all work out. Your wedding day requires considerable coordination, and a detailed timeline will save everyone the extra work!
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.