7 Tips for Creating a Wedding Day Timeline That Works

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There are so many things you have to think about when planning your wedding. From securing your venue and hiring your vendors to making design decisions about your florals, it can be easy to forget the day-of decisions you have to make. This is especially true when it comes to creating a wedding day timeline!

wedding day timeline

What is a wedding day timeline?

A wedding day timeline is exactly that: A sequence of events that will occur on your wedding day, from the moment you wake up to the time you say goodbye to the last guest. But it’s not just for you or your soon-to-be spouse. A wedding day timeline takes into account all of the individual timelines that matter to each of your vendors, and puts them into one cohesive master document, notes Sarah Davidson, C.P.C.E., Chief Strategist and Creative Director at HUE by Sarah Davidson in Madison, Wisconsin. “For example, someone like your photographer, who starts early and leaves after dancing, will have a different timeline than your DJ, who doesn’t arrive until just before the event but stays all night,” she says. 

It’s also important to have wedding day timelines for those close family members and the wedding party. Outlining where they’re supposed to be at any given time helps eliminate any confusion.

“Having a separate timeline for the bridal party can be helpful as well. [This way they] know when hair and makeup has been scheduled, when photos are being taken, and any other special activities that might be planned for them,” says Kelley Nudo, Client Manager at Momental Designs in Wyoming, Pennsylvania. “Especially if the bridal party is large or if they are responsible for transporting themselves to different locations, providing them with a timeline can be a tremendous help.”

wedding ceremony timeline
Photo by Tropical Studios

Benefits of having a wedding day timeline

The biggest benefit to having a timeline is that it allows you to clearly organize your entire day. This ensures you can include everything you want to, from capturing romantic photos at sunset to a fun wardrobe change before dancing.

Another reason is to make sure your vendors’ needs are met.

“If you have your heart set on a huge floral installation in the ceremony space, but the venue only allows vendors to begin access one hour before doors open, that’s a problem,” she says. A timeline will help you solve it early in the planning process, instead of having a crisis on your wedding day, she adds.

What happens if you don’t have a wedding day timeline?

Without a wedding day timeline, certain events might not happen when you need them to. “If hair and makeup goes longer than expected or the shuttle picking up the wedding party for photos shows up late, it can throw off the entire day,” warns Davidson. This can effect what time the ceremony starts all the way to how much time you have to dance, she adds.

Another drawback of not having a wedding day timeline is that it takes away the opportunity for your wedding vendors to be on the same page—literally. “You’ll likely be contracting with multiple different businesses for your wedding, and it’s either on you or your wedding planner (if you have one) to be the one central point for everyone,” Davidson says. “Without a timeline, your vendors may not have reason to talk to one another before the wedding day, and they could all come in with very different visions as to what you want.”

How to create a wedding day timeline

Want to create a wedding day timeline but aren’t sure where to begin—or how to carry it all out? Then look no further. We reached out to the experts to share their best tips for pulling off a wedding day timeline. 

Wake up earlier than you need to

“It turns out eating breakfast with all of your friends while getting your hair and makeup done will take three times as long, And that putting on your dress and accessories while also having them photographed does take a full hour,” says Sara Bauleke, wedding planner and designer at Bella Notte in D.C. and Virginia. “This is all the more reason to run the timeline by the professionals who can advise on what’s realistic.” If working with a planner, she suggests heeding their advice on what makes sense regarding timing. “They are not trying to squash your dreams—they are speaking from a place of experience,” she adds.

Start with the end of the day and work your way backward

This might seem counterintuitive, but there’s a method to the madness, according to Davidson. Doing so helps ensure that there’s enough time in the day to complete everything you’re hoping to complete. “Think about how much time you want for dancing, entertainment, or however your wedding will wrap and build that first. Then slowly add on each step that comes before it,” Davidson says. “Once you have all the steps laid out, make adjustments from there to adapt to any constraints you’re working with.”

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Don’t leave out the tiny details

Put every little detail, no matter how big or small, in the timeline, notes Leah Weinberg, owner and creative director of Color Pop Events in Long Island City, New York. “If one of my couples has favors they want to leave out for guests, which is a pretty standard practice, I still put it on my timeline so that I know exactly when it’s happening,” she says. “As long as I’ve got it written down, I’ll remember to do it. And my associate will know how to do it as well.” 

Have each wedding vendor review the wedding day timeline 

If you aren’t working with a wedding planner, Weinberg recommends having all of your vendors review and approve your day-of timeline well ahead of your big day.

“Your vendors are pros and do this every weekend, so they will know how much time they need to perform their particular role, and they’ll know how a wedding day typically flows,” she says. “Trust me—your photographer will not be happy if they show up on your wedding day and are told they have just 30 minutes for portraits with the marriers, wedding party, and family,” she says. “Be sure to get every vendor’s sign-off on your timeline well in advance of the wedding.”

Allow for wiggle room

Having extra time padded into things—even if it’s just 5 minutes—can make a world of a difference. It can even allow you more memorable moments. “Talk to your wedding planner(s) about finding a few moments to spend with grandmothers or a special aunt while you’re getting ready,” says Bobbi Brinkman, CEO, Bobbi Brinkman Photography in St. Simons Island, Georgia. “These are the moments that make your wedding day extraordinary. By planning for them, they won’t be rushed or cut out later.”

Factor in breakdown times

“Most likely, there will be a curfew designated by your venue or a wedding or event the following day, so you’ll want to be clear on when things should be taken down,” says Eddie Zaratsian, owner of Eddie Zaratsian Lifestyle & Design in Los Angeles. “For example, your florist might be responsible for coming to deconstruct your ceremony arch and your big installations,” he says, adding that you’ll want to know this “well in advance so that you can create a block of time for your vendors to clean up if they’re contracted to do so.”

Ask for help if you need it

If you’re feeling foggy about putting together a wedding day timeline, that’s OK. Just don’t try to wing it on your own. Instead, Weinberg suggests asking your venue or the appropriate vendor for help. “Not sure how much time hair and makeup should take? Ask your hair and makeup team. Are you unsure of how much time you need to allow for formal portraits? Ask your photographer. No idea how you should structure your reception when it comes to dinner and formalities like toasts, dances, and a cake cutting? Ask your caterer and DJ or bandleader,” she says. “You’ve never done this before, so there’s no reason you would be expected to know these things.”

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