11 Essential Tips for Creating the Perfect Wedding Day Timeline
Updated: May 12
Putting together a wedding day timeline can be an overwhelming task, but it is absolutely necessary so that your vendors, wedding party, and even your mother know where they need to be and when. There are hundreds, if not thousands of things to consider when creating your timeline. We created these 11 tips to help make creating yours a breeze.
1. Start Early
When booking your vendors, most of them are going to ask, "What time do you need us to be there?" or "When do you need that delivered by?" While you may not be able to give a 100% accurate answer 10 - 16 months before the wedding (which is okay, since most vendors also don't need final timeline details until 1 - 3 weeks before), at least having an idea of the timeline will help you to confidently answer those questions as you're booking vendors.
Having an early draft of your timeline will help you fill in and remember details as they come in. If your photographer sends you an email requesting 15 minutes for a certain set of photos, you can pencil that in, discard the email, and continue scheduling your other wedding events around it.
Not to mention, if you have a pretty good draft of the timeline months before your wedding, you won't be rushing to get it finished the week of your wedding.
2. Start with a Blank Canvas
There are a whole lot of wedding day timeline templates out there. A quick google search reveals thousands. Amazon will sell you any one of hundreds of books with "The Absolute Best Ever Wedding Timeline Templates" in them. Even your local book store probably features an entire shelf dedicated to these timeline planning books.
But what none of these are telling you is that every wedding is different and no two weddings will have the same timeline needs as one another. One couple may need a photographer to come early for getting ready photos while another might ask them not to come until the ceremony. One couple might want an open bar and dance floor for ten hours while another wants to share a first dance and do something completely different for the rest of the celebration. Some people will want an hour long ceremony with a lot of meaningful rituals while others want five minutes to say "I Do" and then get on with it.
There is no wrong way to do your wedding day. By starting with a blank canvas instead of an overused template, you are setting yourself up to make your wedding uniquely your own.
3. Start with either the Beginning of the Ceremony or the Start of Dinner
Having a concrete starting point will help you craft the rest of the day's activities around it. I personally like to start with the time dinner will be served, because I'm always thinking about food, but it is also common to begin with your ceremony start time.
As an example, if you know you want to have a 3pm ceremony, you can work backward from there to figure out all of the things that will happen leading up to 3pm (ie. "Guests Begin Arriving" at 2:30pm) and work forward to detail everything that will happen after (ie. "Ceremony Ends" at 3:30pm).
4. Make some logistical decisions
There are a ton of logistical details that will influence your timeline. Some critical ones to consider are:
Where you'll get ready; this may affect your transportation schedule and venue reservation times.
Whether you'll have a first look; if you do, you'll need to get ready earlier, but you can also consider doing your family and wedding party portraits before the ceremony instead of during cocktail hour.
Ceremony and reception venues; if they're in two different places, you'll need to block out transportation time (and perhaps book limos/buses) for you, your party, and your guests.
The length of your ceremony; obviously, whether a ceremony is 15 minutes or 2 hours will have a big impact on the timing of your day. Be sure to discuss this with your officiant.
Whether you will have a cocktail hour and when.
Receiving line; if your family and wedding party are needed to greet guests, this could have an impact on your photos, getting ready times, etc.
Special Dances; consider your first dance and any other special dances you want to include prior to opening up the dance floor as each of these will take 1 - 4 minutes.
Toasts & Prayers; the average wedding toast is 3 - 5 minutes, so the more you have, the longer they will take.
Time included in your vendors' contracts; if your DJ is contracted for 6 hours, your photographer for 8, your wedding day manager/coordinator for 10, and your reception venue shuts down at 10pm, these put some clear limits on your timeline. Think of them as guidelines for building a perfect timeline rather than barriers limiting how much fun you can have.
5. Know How Long Things Take
When working with your vendors, be sure to ask how long they expect various tasks will take. Every vendor is different, so you should ask instead of assuming "it will take 30 minutes to do my hair".
Don't be afraid to push back a little. If you have a perfect 45 minute spot open in your timeline for photos and your photographer says they need an hour, ask them if they can make any adjustments to do it in 45 minutes. Your vendors work for you, not the other way around. That said, sometimes it's not possible to to adjust things (ie, a caterer can't cook meat faster), so be prepared to adjust your timeline if your vendor can't accommodate a request.
6. Write Out Every Detail
When I create a wedding day timeline, I like to include things like, "Ashley picks up coffee and bagels for the bride and bridesmaids from Caribou Coffee at [address] using Meghan's car," instead of "Get Breakfast". Having someone assigned to a task and knowing where they're going, how they're getting there, and when will help to ensure things happen according to schedule, keep your team accountable, and let you know who is or isn't available if another task needs to happen at the same time.
7. Schedule Those important, easy to forget details
There are some important things that need to happen the day of your wedding that are pretty easy to overlook, so be sure to put things like signing your marriage license, vendor meal breaks, sunrise and sunset times, gathering up gifts and cards, anything that needs to happen differently in case of bad weather, etc. into your timeline so that no detail is overlooked.
8. Take Care of Yourself
Similarly, schedule time in for self care. There's a lot going on the day of your wedding and when you're in for hair and makeup at 7am and dancing the night away, it makes for a LOOOOONG day. Make sure breakfast and lunch are included on the schedule. Write in 5 - 10 minutes to spend time alone together without any distractions. Build in a few opportunities for hair and makeup touchups. These things are often overlooked by couples, but they are essential.
9. Create Some Buffer Space
No matter what you do, there will always be something that doesn't go exactly according to plan. But with a little padding in your timeline, that won't be a problem. Stuck in traffic? That's okay because you already built in 15 extra minutes to your travel time. Ceremony starting a little late? Totally fine because you built in 10 extra minutes for guests to get seated. By building in little buffer space, you'll be sure you can catch back up to your timeline when things fall behind.
10. Think of it like a Puzzle
Putting together a wedding day timeline can be challenging. Thinking of it like a puzzle or a game can make it fun. Remember that the more you think about your timeline now, the less you have to think about it on the day of your wedding.
11. Hire Woodland Events to Help
As full time wedding and event professionals, crafting wedding day timelines is part of what we do on a daily basis. When you work with Woodland Events, we'll take your visions for your wedding day, review your vendors' contracts and ask them lots of questions, factor in all of the hundreds of little details unique to your wedding day, and ensure everything fits into your timeline just right. Even better? Without you lifting a single finger, we'll send customized versions of your timeline to each member of your wedding party, close family, and vendor team highlighting the things they're responsible for or need to be present for. That way, no detail gets overlooked.