9 Things Every Wedding Timeline Needs to Include

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African American couple walking down ceremony aisle at District Winery in Washington, DC
Photo by Samia’s Studios

Creating a wedding day timeline is crucial to the success of any wedding day. It’s a detailed document that tells everyone involved in the day what’s happening, when it’s happening, and where. Everyone from the venue and vendors to the wedding party will rely on the wedding day timeline. It gives everyone the information they need to make sure the day flows smoothly and seamlessly. Here are 9 things every wedding timeline needs to include!

So where to begin? Let’s first start with a basic understanding of how a wedding day works. Typically, a wedding includes around 6 hours of event time. “Event time” means the time you actually spend with your guests, not to be confused with set up or breakdown time. Set up time is utilized by your wedding planner and other vendors to prep the venue and set out decorations. Event time will range depending on culture and religion or if you’d like extra time with your guests and choose to extend the hours.

It’s important to look back at your venue contract to see how many hours you have to rent the property. First, determine the amount of event time allotted in the contract. Then, pay special attention to how much time is left over for vendor set up and tear down both before and after the wedding. Once you’ve got a solid understanding of how many hours you’ll be working with for your timeline, make sure the timeline includes these 9 key details!

Getting ready bridal suite at The Barn at Willow Brook in Leesburg, VA
Photo by Rebekah Emily Photography

1. Venue Access Time

Your contract with your venue should tell you how much time the venue is giving you to rent the space. But if it’s unclear, ask! You’ll need to note on the timeline what time the venue opens for access (which may be at different times for the wedding party vs. vendors if there’s a bridal suite on site the venue lets couples get ready in before they allow vendors to set up). You’ll also need to put the venue access end time on the timeline so all vendors who need time to break down will know when they also must be off the property.

2. Ceremony, Cocktail Hour and Reception

Think about when you’d like to have your ceremony. Based on what you know about how long you have for event time and break down time, what time will this be? Also list out times for cocktail hour and reception. Your ceremony, cocktail hour and reception combined is your “event time” so make sure the time allotted to each fits within 6 hours (or whatever amount of time you’ll have with your guests!).

3. Photography and Videography

Once your ceremony start time has been determined, factor in the length of time you have your photographer and videographer. Consult your photography and videography contracts or ask your vendors if it’s unclear! Ask yourself which parts of the wedding day are most important to have captured. List out any moments you’d like covered, like getting ready time, letter readings, wedding party pictures, family photos etc. Make sure there’s time for your vendor team to cover each moment that’s important to you!

4. Hair and Makeup

Based on when you want your photographer to begin taking photos of you, you’ll want to be done with hair and makeup with enough time to have a moment to breathe and not feel like you’re rushing on to the next thing! Ask your hair and makeup team how much time they’ll need to service everyone and note on the timeline an end time for hair and makeup that’s before the start time of your photography. Also add in a little buffer time in case hair and makeup may run a little over time to give your bridesmaids enough time to help clean up the bridal suite before the photographer arrives. Trust us, you won’t want all the clutter from getting ready in the background of all your bridal suite photos!

Makeup artist putting lipstick on bride in Washington, DC hotel
Photo by Alicia Lacey Photography

5. Vendor Arrivals and Departures

We must know what time each vendor is arriving and departing! Again, look up any times listed in your vendor contracts and confirm if you’re unsure. Hopefully you’re noticing a pattern here that we always go back to your contracts (which is why they’re so important!) and even then, confirming again with vendors helps ensure there is no confusion. We want expectations of how your wedding day will go to be crystal clear!

6. Wedding Party and VIPs Arrival

Your wedding party will also need to know when they’re arriving. This may be all at once if you’re providing group transportation for everyone, or staggered arrival times, especially if the ladies will arrive at different times for hair and makeup. Anyone who may not be in your wedding party but might be a VIP, like family members, should also have their arrival times noted if they need to arrive before the rest of your guests. This is crucial if you’re taking family photos before the wedding. Ask your family members to arrive before family photos are set to start. Make sure they have plenty of time to arrive and get settled so the schedule doesn’t run behind. It’s better to ask them to arrive a little early and have them wait than risk running late and not having enough time to get all the photos!

7. Guest Arrival

Your guests will know when to arrive because you will have included the time on your wedding invitation, but your venue and vendors will also need to know when your guests will arrive! Usually this is anywhere from 20-30 minutes before your ceremony start time, but if you’re asking guests to arrive earlier than that, it must be communicated to your vendor team and listed clearly on the timeline so everything is set and ready to welcome your guests. Decorations will need to be done, welcome drinks ready, and staff in place to meet and greet.

Maid of Honor giving wedding speech at Sweeney Barn in Manassas, VA
Photo by E. Losinio Photography

8. Speeches, Toasts and Dances

 All personal moments will need to be included on your timeline. These include someone providing a welcome speech or blessing before dinner, toasts during or after dinner, and special dances like the first dance and dances with parents. Adding these wedding moments to the timeline helps not only the couple, wedding party and parents know when events are happening, but the vendor team as well. Your photographer and videographer will need to be ready to capture the moments and your band or DJ prepared to announce them. As your wedding planning team, we also note these times so we can prepare your VIPs and vendors in advance, giving enough time to make sure everyone is ready to go so there aren’t any awkward pauses! You wouldn’t want the band to announce toasts if the Groom slipped away to the bathroom, because then all of the guests would just be waiting for the Groom to return before toasts could continue. There’s a rhythm to executing the timeline, and that includes having enough time to make sure everyone is in place and ready for the moment!

9. Cake Cutting and Desserts

Not only does cake cutting time usually signal the opening of your desserts table but it will also tell your catering staff when they’ll need to be available to cut and serve your cake. There’s a lot that goes on during dinner service for your catering staff! Even though dinner may technically be done, your servers will likely still be coming around to clear plates and they’ll need enough time to finish wrapping up dinner before they’re expected to have all the cake cut and served to all your guests. Communicate your expectations on when you’d like to have desserts served to make sure the timing is realistic with the other responsibilities your catering team will also have at that time.

10. Bonus!

There are many more details you can add to this list, but these are the essentials! When our team creates timelines for our couples, the timelines typically range between 15-20+ pages. Our timelines are detailed down to the minute and include notes about everything we need to know for each moment of the day. The level of detail we add to the timeline ensures nothing is forgotten and the entire vendor team is on the same page! Lastly, distributing the timeline well in advance of the wedding day allows the venue and vendors time to review, provide feedback and prepare what they need to help you have an incredible wedding day. 

Wedding planners setting reception farm tables at Sweeney Barn in Manassas, VA
Photo by E. Losinio Photography

Still feeling uncertain about how to easily create a wedding day timeline that covers every detail so nothing is forgotten? Contact us to set up a call to see how our team can help!

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