How to Plan the Ultimate Wedding Day Timeline

Planning your Wedding Day Timeline can be quite a difficult task to get your head around – after all, most people have only been to a handful of weddings themselves, so it can be tricky to know how to start putting your own wedding day plan together. Luckily we have put together a vast amount of 'Order of the Days' and 'Wedding Programs' for many of our couples, so we can help you here with our tips and advice on planning your wedding day timeline.

Your wedding venue can also be a great source of help, as they know how to plan wedding timelines that will work well at that venue. They can’t always advise about every side of things though. Therefore, other suppliers, such as caterers, musicians and photographers will all put their own requirements forward for your timeline – it’s a good idea to pay attention to their advice as they also speak from experience. Most of all though, make sure you are happy with the flow of your day, and make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy it!

1. Getting Ready

Your makeup artist and hair stylist will let you know how long they need to get you and your party ready, and therefore what time they need to start. Whether you are doing your own hair & makeup, or are having professionals, always make sure that you allow plenty of extra time to allow for delays. Aim to be ready an hour before you need to be – it will take much longer than you think to do everything, and the morning will absolutely fly by! It is much better to be relaxed and calm with spare moments for a glass of champagne with your bridesmaids before you leave, rather than being stressed and panicking about an unexpected crisis at the last minute. From a photography point of view, your photographer will prefer it if you are ready early, so that they can get all the shots they need and then head over to the church or ceremony venue well in advance, to capture photos of the groom looking nervous and your guests arriving.

Getting ready photograph taken by Henry Lowther.

One of our Real Couple's Photographs taken by Henry Lowther at Hall Farm Hotel.

2. Travelling to the Ceremony

Your wedding transport provider will let you know how long they need to get you all to the church or ceremony venue – if you know the local area better than they do, make sure you let them know about any traffic delays that might be likely on your route. It is traditional for the bride to be a bit late, but do bear in mind that the ceremony officiant might not be too happy about this! Also, if you are very late, it will set back your timings for the rest of the day, and you might miss out on time for photographs later, so don’t keep your groom waiting for too long!

Ceremony Photograph taken by Mark Cribb Photography.

One of our Real Couple's Photographs taken by Mark Cribb Photography at Hall Farm Hotel.

3. The Ceremony

If you are having a church ceremony, depending on the number of readings and hymns you are having, this can take from 45 minutes to 1 hour. If you are having a registry office or civil ceremony, this can take around 20 minutes. I always think that a nice time for the ceremony is around 12noon or 1pm, as you and your guests will have been able to have a light early lunch bite beforehand, and it allows a nice amount of time afterwards for an enjoyable afternoon reception, before your wedding breakfast. After the ceremony, people can often under-estimate the amount of time that it will take just for everyone to exit the church or registry office and congratulate the happy couple! Make sure you build time into your timeline for people to hug and congratulate and chat with you – this is a lovely time for candid photos too, so do enjoy welcoming all your guests! If you are having a confetti shot at this point, it can take around 10-15 minutes to get everyone organised with confetti, so remember to add this in before you head off to your reception venue.

One of our Real Couple's Photographs taken by Kazooieloki at Cave Castle.

4. Travelling to the Reception Venue

If you are having your reception at the same place as your ceremony, you don’t need to worry about this! But if you are travelling, remember to factor in not just the journey time, but also the time it will take your guests to get to their cars, park, gather all their belongings, walk up, get themselves sorted out etc. In some cases this can double travelling time, and reduce the amount of time you think you have for your reception welcome drinks, so it’s best to be generous with timings. If you would like to stop off along the way at a pretty photo location, chat this through with your photographer in advance, and allow extra time

One of our Real Couple's Photographs at Laceby Manor.

5. The Reception

Let the celebrations commence! I always recommend two hours of reception time, from when you arrive at your reception venue, to when you are called to sit down for your wedding breakfast. This might seem like a long time, but believe me, it will fly by, and you will be glad that you allowed the time to talk to all your guests. From a photography perspective, this is a key point for photographs – during the reception, your photographer will probably want to do your formal group photos, if you are having any. They will also want to do some couple photos with the two of you around your venue – this can take as much or as little time as you wish. For the rest of the reception, they will want to capture lots of lovely informal documentary-style shots of you mingling and chatting with all your guests, and capture the atmosphere of your wedding reception – this is the best opportunity of the day to get all the relaxed and natural candid photos that everyone loves, as people enjoy your day, unaware of the camera. Then your photographer will want to capture your dining room and all the details, before guests go in for the meal. To give your photographer the best chance to photograph everything you want pictures of, it is best to allow as much reception time as you possibly can. If you are worried that your guests will be bored or hungry in this time, have top-ups of fizz available, provide canapés for them to nibble, and consider having some form of entertainment, such as music or an alternative Photo Booth station.

Photograph of our customised, alternative photo booth station at Healing Manor.

A note on your formal group photos – different photographers will approach this in different ways. It takes about three minutes per group photograph, on average, so this can take 20-25 minutes. Write a list to your photographer in advance of all the group photographs you want taken. It is also great if you can have a representative who knows both families, who is available on the day to help the photographer with finding people if required. (By the way, even if you think you don’t want to have any group photos, there will inevitably be family members who do want them, so be prepared that they probably will end up happening even if not planned!).

6. The Wedding Breakfast and Speeches

Your reception time ends when your venue or caterer calls you to be seated for the wedding breakfast. If you are having a receiving line into the room, bear in mind that this will considerably increase the amount of time it takes people to sit down. It is up to you whether you choose to have your speeches before your meal, or afterwards. Some people do one speech between each course, although this can sometimes be tricky if catering staff are trying to move about clearing plates at the same time, so do ask your caterers about this plan. If you have speeches before your meal, keep to your set timings as the caterers may be waiting to serve a first course, especially if it is a hot course. If you have your speeches after your meal, bear in mind that if you run over time, you may have your evening guests waiting to come into the room. Speeches work better when they are shorter, so don’t ramble on for too long! A maximum of ten minutes per person is usually plenty. If you are having a cake cutting, this can come at any point – before or after the speeches, before the dessert, or before the first dance, and your venue will usually advise on their way of doing this.

Toasting Photograph taken by PM Photography.

One of our Real Couple's Photographs taken by PM Photography at Hall Farm Hotel.

7. The Evening and First Dance

The first dance usually gets the evening’s dancing started, so to get the party going it is a good idea to get this done fairly early on once your evening guests have had a chance to arrive. Your DJ or band will probably advise on this, but if you have evening guests arriving from 7.30pm, you may want to do your first dance at 8.15pm, for example. After that, everyone can pile on the dancefloor and let their hair down! Your venue will advise on the time for the music to finish and guests to depart at the end of the night. If you're having an exit with sparklers or other festive flair, have a designated member (or members) of your bridal party organise all the guests along your exit path and hand out the goods.

One of our Real Couple's Photographs taken by Henry Lowther at Hall Farm Hotel.

Recommended Wedding Day Timeline

This is purely a suggested guide, and is for a church ceremony with a nearby reception venue. Not everything will apply here, and different elements will need to be changed based on your own situation, but hopefully it gives you an idea of how to factor in the different parts of the day. Also, it’s worth remembering that weddings rarely run according to schedule, so although it is a good idea to have the timeline planned out in detail, I always just go with the flow on the wedding day!

9am onwards, bride getting ready

11.30am Bride is ready, photographer departs for ceremony venue

12.10pm Bride departs for ceremony venue

12.30pm Ceremony

1.30pm Congratulations outside ceremony venue

1.50pm Confetti Shot

2.00pm Depart for reception venue

2.30pm At reception venue for welcome drinks and canapés

3.00pm Group photographs

3.30pm Bride & Groom photographs

4.00pm More mingling

4.30pm Call to be seated for dinner