Plan for a fluid, natural and well-executed evening by learning how to build the perfect wedding timeline.
As you scroll through Instagram or Pinterest for wedding inspiration, you’ll be met with close-up photos of rings, flowers, and invitations likely with captions that read, “Love Little Details!”. I once saw a post where someone was bragging how the pattern of their table linen matched their invitation’s envelope liner. At that moment I thought, yes, that’s very pretty, a thoughtful detail and an elegant photo. But as a vendor that focuses on the wedding day experience, I wondered what type of extra effort or stress was needed to get the two to match, did it benefit the enjoyment of the wedding day, and did the guests even notice?
I know nothing else about the wedding in question other than that “little detail”, but I wonder if they put as much effort into creating a timeline that would allow them and their guests to fully take-in and enjoy the wedding day as they made a point to replicate the pattern. How did their wedding day flow? Was the couple able to enjoy themselves? Did the little details mean as much to them after it was all said and done?
Now, before you stop reading and go back to your inspiration feed, let me say, I understand that some details matter. Some are personal to you, your relationship, and your relationship with others. And details can help bring to life the vision you have for your wedding day. I get it. I just want you to think beyond the details into the flow of the day and the timeline you create for it, so your wedding day can be as easy-going and as stress-free as it is beautiful. Let me help you build the perfect wedding timeline.
1. GOOGLE THE SUNSET TIME ON YOUR WEDDING DAY, THEN PLAN AROUND IT.
Working around the sunset time has more value than just pictures, although sunset pictures are the strongest argument for this consideration. The position of the sun in the sky also correlates to the temperatures you and your guests will be subject to and when everyone’s internal clock tells them it’s an appropriate time to hit the dance floor. And no one can control the sunset, not even the best wedding planner, so make your timeline with sunset in mind instead of ignoring it. Go ahead, Google your wedding date, city, and the word “sunset” to see what time it’s expected to happen.
Another thing to consider is what photographers call the “Golden Hour”. It’s a window of time before sunset when mother nature provides magazine cover-worthy natural lighting, nearly impossible to recreate any other way. And thus, delivers the pictures you’ll most want to hang in your home. Photographers don’t need much time for sunset pictures, but it’s important to discuss with them how much time needs to be set aside within the timeline in order to accomplish the pictures you want.
There are a few ideal places to wedge the sunset into the timeline based on the month of your wedding:
WEDDINGS OCTOBER – APRIL // OUTDOOR CEREMONIES
- Sunsets tend to be around 5-7pm in those months, and if you’re having an outdoor ceremony, there’s beautiful symbolism in the sun setting on your life prior to marriage while partying till the dawn of your new journey. But this also means that you need to get all of your natural-light photography done during the day, likely before the ceremony.
FALL & SPRING WEDDINGS // PORTRAITS/COCKTAIL HOUR
- After the ceremony is when most couples spend time taking group pictures with the bridal party and family. In this instance, plan for the ceremony to end approximately 60-90 minutes before the official sunset so there will be enough light for photos. The ambient lighting during this time is perfect for guests enjoying cocktails just before dinner.
WEDDINGS MAY – SEPTEMBER // DANCING TIME
- If sunset isn’t until 7-9pm, that’s usually too late for a ceremony or cocktail hour to begin, but you can move all of these activities to before sunset, so that dancing can kick off as the sun is hitting the horizon (while you and your boo sneak off for private pictures).
2. CONSIDER ALL OF THE POSSIBLE ACTIVITIES DURING A WEDDING DAY AND DECIDE WHAT IS IMPORTANT
In a long, somewhat overwhelming list, here are all the possible activities couples consider during their wedding day. Your job is to determine which elements of your day are the most important and to prioritize the placement on your wedding day schedule with the appropriate amount of time needed to enjoy that activity. Once you have the most important items placed, you can fill in the supplementary activities that you want to take place. Priorities are the foundation you must have to build the perfect wedding timeline.
– Your Typical Morning Routine
– Breakfast & Mimosas
– Hair & Makeup for Wedding Party and Parents
– Ceremony & Reception Venue Decorating (if not handled by vendors)
– Pre-Ceremony Letter or Gift Exchange
– First Look with Parents
– First Look with Your Fiancé
– Wedding Party Pictures
– Ceremony (includes prelude, processional, wedding march, unity activity, pronouncement and recessional)
– Formal Family Photos
– Wedding Party Photos
– Cocktail Hour
– Grand Entrance
– Blessing and Dinner Service
– Greeting Guests
– Personal Time to Yourselves
– Cake Cutting & Toasts
– Parent Dances
– First Dance
– Bouquet or Garter Toss
– Specialty Dances (anniversary dance, dollar dance, etc.)
– Reception Activities (shoe game, scavenger hunt, hand hold game, etc.)
– Open Dance Floor
– Last Song
– Send Off
3. DON'T START TOO EARLY
Unless you want the wedding day to end earlier. Most wedding guests have a good 5-6 hours of celebrating in them. Consider your own experiences and evaluate how many weddings you’ve been to that started before 5pm. Were you ready to dance at 7pm? Did you stay until midnight? Many couples want their day to last as long as possible, and that’s completely understandable. In this case though, you don’t want your guests to leave early because they are worn out. Otherwise, that special sparkler exit you’ve planned is going to look more like child’s play instead of a beautifully lit canopy of sparkling light.
4. BUILD IN TIME JUST FOR EACH OTHER
Since everyone is at your wedding to celebrate you, guests will want to be where you are. From the moment you wake up you will be surrounded by family, friends, and vendors. None of which are your new boo. Unless you plan for a private moment for yourselves within your timeline, it probably won’t happen until you return to your home or hotel. Set aside time, maybe during dinner or after the dance floor is open, to sneak off somewhere private and revel in your new marriage. Share your favorite moment of the day or throw back a cocktail. It doesn’t matter what you want to do, just make time for each other.
5. CONSIDER THE GUEST EXPERIENCE
Of course, the day and attention should be focused on you as the newlyweds, but if the guest experience isn’t an important factor, I’d suggest eloping. Every group of wedding guests are different, but most need some level of engagement or activity to stay occupied and cheerful. As you plan your timeline, prioritize the pieces that mean the most to you first but secondly consider your guest’s experience. While you are outside getting the sunset pictures you yearn for, what are your guests doing inside? Are there appetizers or a photo booth available to them? First walk through your wedding day from your perspective, then walk through it a second time from your guest’s perspective.
6. CONSULT WITH YOUR WEDDING PROS
This is (hopefully) the only wedding you’ll ever have to plan. But guess who plans various elements of weddings for a living? The professionals you’ve hired to make your dream day come true. Most vendors have enough experience to know what works or doesn’t. Talk with them about the priorities you have for your wedding; they’ll be able to help strategize on how to make it a reality. Wedding planners are a great resource for a highly detailed, full-day plan. Photographers know how to strategize best for photos. And your DJ or Band will know how to set the stage for an awesome party. Don’t feel that you have to take on the job alone, utilize the resources you already have at your disposal. It takes a collaboration from you and your vendors to build the perfect wedding timeline.
7. ACCOUNT FOR SURPRISES AND BE FLEXIBLE
Unexpected things happen (I’m looking at YOU Coronavirus). Even on wedding days. Timelines are designed to set expectations of the day’s flow, but don’t let it dictate your happiness. If you wrap up photos or dinner early and everyone is ready to move on to the next item on the agenda, go for it – no need to wait another 10 minutes to start cake cutting because the timeline says so. Inversely, if photos or dinner take longer than expected, don’t skip ahead before everyone is ready. Keep in mind that what matters most isn’t the “little details”, but instead the enjoyment of the wedding day and the memories you make as you mark the start of your new life together.