A General Wedding Day Timeline

Sometimes it seems like planning a wedding is like planning a shuttle launch. There are so many moving parts, so many people to coordinate and activities to schedule, that it’s hard to know exactly how the big day is supposed to play out.

That’s why having your timeline planned out is so important. No one wants to leave the guests waiting in the church while the bride is still getting her hair done. And you definitely don’t want confusion if you plan on using items like sparklers at your wedding. Here’s a sample timeline for a typical wedding day that can help you plan yours.

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9:00 a.m. – Hair and makeup. Bridesmaids go first so the bride’s hair and makeup don’t have as long to get mussed. Allow an hour on hair for each bridesmaid and 45 minutes for makeup (though hair and makeup can be done at the same time. If you have more than four bridesmaids, it’s worth having an assistant to your hairstylist. You should have one makeup artist for each three members of your wedding party.

10:00 a.m. – Groomsmen get together, get groomed and dressed. If the groomsmen are doing hair and makeup (we’re not here to judge), allow for the same time frame as the bridesmaids.

11:30 a.m. – Photographer arrives at the venue and sets up for photos.

12:00 p.m. – Groom and Groomsmen arrive at the venue to take pre-wedding photos.

12:30 p.m. – Bride and Bridesmaids arrive at the venue for pre-wedding photos.

1:00 p.m. – guests begin to arrive and be seated.

2:00 p.m. – ceremony begins. Most ceremonies are between half an hour and a full hour, though some religious ceremonies can stretch well past the two-hour mark. We recommend sticking around 45 minutes or so. It’s enough time to have the special music and readings you want, but not so much time that guests start to fidget.

3:00 p.m. – Receiving line. Allow 10-15 minutes for 150 guests. If you have more than 150 or so, it’s worth skipping the receiving line and visiting tables at the reception.

3:30 p.m. – Post-ceremony photos with the whole bridal party while guests make their way to the wedding venue.

4:00 p.m. – Reception Starts. You should plan on having no more than an hour between the end of the ceremony and the beginning of the wedding reception. It’s good to have some snacks on the tables for when the guests arrive, as well as the bar open or the punchbowl full so they can refresh. The most common length of a reception is six hours: one hour for cocktails, two for dinner, and three for dancing. If your circle of friends and family isn’t into partying into the night, though, you can easily cut things short.

5:00 p.m. – Dinner service starts.

6:30 p.m. – After most guests have eaten, break out the champagne for toasts and have the cake-cutting. Some couples opt to cut the cake after the dance floor’s been going for an hour or so, but you run the risk of some of your early-departure guests missing out on the cake-cutting ceremony that way.

7-10 p.m. – Dance the night away. Some couples put out late-night snacks for their guests at 9 to keep the energy level up. No matter what, make sure to have plenty of cold water available.

9:50 p.m. – Farewell; this is a fun new trend that involves sparklers. Have each of your guests form into a double row about ten minutes before the reception ends so the bride and groom can walk down one more aisle as they leave. It’s a good opportunity for a running high-five and giving everyone wedding sparklers to send the couple off in style. Wedding sparklers are popping up at most bridal shops and wedding supply stores, so they should be pretty easy to find.

Remember, this is just an example timeline. Your wedding should be as unique as you are, so just use these guidelines as suggestions and make your own changes to create the unforgettable wedding of your dreams. Making notes about small details like when you plan to use your wedding sparklers and when the first dance should occur will ensure that our timeline stays on track and that you have the wedding you always wanted.