When you’re planning a wedding, there are a few key details that sound daunting at first. Things like your wedding contracts or whether to get wedding insurance can feel confusing, but once you get them figured out you’ll feel organized and ready to go! One of these is definitely your wedding timeline.
Because I didn’t want to worry about who was supposed to be doing what on my wedding day, I hired a day-of wedding coordinator, and I definitely recommend you hire one if you can. While we hired a day-of coordinator (and paid extra for a few things, more on that below), you can also hire a month-of coordinator or even a full-time wedding coordinator or wedding planner to help. Just make sure they fit your wedding budget.
How Much Does a Wedding Coordinator Cost?
You can hire a full-time coordinator or wedding planner, but they typically cost around 10% of your total wedding budget. Read more about the difference between a wedding coordinator and wedding planner here.
If you can afford a full-time wedding planner, I say go for it. I didn’t want a wedding planner because it wasn’t in our budget AND I tend to be very hands-on (aka a control freak). But if you don’t have that much time or energy to devote to planning, I highly recommend getting one.
We paid $800 for a day-of coordinator, and an extra $50/hr for extra events such as the rehearsal and menu tasting that we wanted her to attend. We loved our coordinator and I highly recommend getting one for AT LEAST the day-of.
Think of a day-of coordinator as a calming drill sergeant/personal assistant. They are there to make sure everything runs smoothly, and that you are happy. Trust me, if I could hire somebody to do this for me every day of my life, I would. They are priceless, especially when you’re stressed out on your wedding day. (Another priceless element is champagne. That calmed my nerves more than anything.)
You should plan on discussing with your wedding coordinator things you do/don’t want to do at the wedding (such as toasts, cake-cutting, garter toss, etc.). You’ll also need to go over details such as what song the groom, groomsmen, bridesmaids, and you are walking down the aisle to, and who’s going to escort you down the aisle.
After you go over all those details, they’ll present you with a wedding timeline. Even if you decide not to use a coordinator, you’ll find making a timeline like this helpful. Once you have it, you’ll want to hand it out to your DJ, caterer, officiant, and anybody else that needs to know what’s happening when.
Before we get into the wedding timeline, here’s a few of the most common questions we get from couples setting up their wedding day timeline.
How long should a wedding be?
First, I like to think of a wedding taking 6 hours total—1 hour for your ceremony and 5 for your reception, if you’re having them at the same place.
One of the biggest questions we get is around dancing. How long should you plan for? For dancing I would allow for 2-3 hours in your schedule. This isn’t including the first dance or parent dances. This would just be for an open dance floor. If you want longer then think about getting rid of certain things like the bouquet toss or speeches or even the other dances. But start with 2 hours. Then plan for around an hour for dinner (not including dessert), an hour for cocktail hour, and 30 minutes for your ceremony. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Ceremony: 30 minutes
- Cocktails/Passed Appetizers: 1 hour
- Dinner: 1-1.5 hours depending on number of courses.
- Intros/dances, speeches, cake-cutting: 1 hour combined
- Dancing: 2.5 hours
What’s time do you put on your wedding invitation?
As a bride, you should plan on starting your ceremony 15-30 minutes after the time that’s stated on your invitation. Some people are against this, but I’ve seen a lot of brides wish that they padded their timeline by that amount due to late guests. Not that you should wait an indefinite amount of time, but most wedding planners and coordinators will tell you that padding your ceremony start time at least 15 minutes to account for stragglers is never a bad idea.
When should guests be seated?
Immediate family (meaning the reserved seats in the first few rows on both sides) are seated first, except for the family members who are being escorted down the aisle during the wedding processional. Here is a sample timeline:
- 30 minutes before the wedding invitation start time: Prelude music begins and guests are ushered to their seats, starting with the reserved rows.
- 10 minutes prior to the ceremony: The groom’s grandparents walk together or are escorted down the aisle, followed by the bride’s.
- 5 minutes prior to ceremony: The groom’s mother is escorted to her seat by the head usher, a son, or the groom. The groom’s father follows and sits next to her. Read more about how the wedding processional order works here.
Real Wedding Timeline
My invitation time was 6:30 PM, and once that was decided the wedding timeline was created around that. It was used not only for us (the couple) and the wedding party, but also the vendors who needed to be ready by a certain time.
While our dinner started particularly late (we got married in Miami after all, which is a late city), you can use our wedding timeline as a general guide to figure out how long should things should last (like the cake cutting) and what time you need to arrive.
Below is my wedding timeline. Once you customize is for your wedding, I recommended putting it into a Google Doc and/or printing it out. Then, make sure to distribute it to your wedding party and anybody that needs to show up at a certain time for a pre-wedding event.
3:30 PM- Bride will arrive at venue (hair/makeup already done) to put on dress
3:45 PM-Groom arrives at venue (dressed); Photographers arrive
4:00 PM- Portrait session of Bride/Groom (1 hour)
4:45 PM- Wedding party and immediate family arrives
5:00 PM- Family and Wedding Party photos (1 hour)
5:30 PM- All set-up needs to be complete in ceremony/foyer locations
6:30 PM-Servers ready to pass out champagne/sparkling water to arriving guests
6:30 PM-Guests arrive
7:00 PM- Ceremony begins
7:45 PM- Ceremony ends. Cocktail hour to start immediately after (1 hour). Hors d’oeuvres ready to be passed.
8:00 PM-Dinner/dance location set and ready
8:30 PM-Antipasto display to be placed on tables
8:45 PM-Guests will be asked to take their seats for dinner
9:00 PM- Parents/Bridal Party introductions
9:05 PM-Bride/Groom introduction/First dance
9:10 PM-Father/Daughter Dance
9:15 PM-Groom/Mother Dance
9:20 PM-First course Served (Wine to be served tableside. Guests will toast with the drink they have. No champagne toast)
9:30 PM-Clear antipasto display and first course
9:40 PM- Best Man/Maid of Honor toasts
9:50 PM- Second course to be served
10:00 PM-Dancing begins. Staff clears all tables and prepares them for dessert
11:00 PM– Cake cutting
11:05 PM- Mother/Father of bride say a few words
11:10 PM-Dessert selection and wedding cake served tableside
11:15 PM-Speciality after-dinner drinks to be passed
*No bouquet/garter toss
1:00 AM- Event ends (all break down will take place at 1:00 am not before)
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