You’ve found your perfect match. You’ve set the date. You’ve spent months planning. And the day is finally here.
But soon, you’re behind schedule. Your bridesmaid, bless her, is late to hair and makeup. You arrive at the altar 10 minutes behind, and the delays start to cascade. Soon, you’re making your exit and your whirlwind of a wedding day is just a blurry, slightly stressful memory. Oof.
The perfect wedding day hinges on the perfect wedding day timeline. You need the right amount of detail, extra time for delays, and contingency plans. You need stellar communication and a planner you can trust. And you need to keep a cool head.
Luckily, creating this timeline is simple – if you know what to prepare for.
Don’t worry. We’ve got you.
Do your homework
Every vendor will have different requirements for set up and tear down. Your band will probably need a few hours to get settled and sound check before any guests arrive. Your florist will need a few hours, too. Your caterers might need a few periods of downtime to stage and prepare for their next service. And your photographer will have their own requirements for nailing your photo session after the ceremony.
The only way to plan for all of this nuance is to speak with your vendors to get accurate estimations for how much time they’ll need and when. Once you know this, you can build your schedule – and rest assured that each vendor is equipped to do their best work.
Start with your key events
Once you’ve got estimates from your vendors, build your schedule from your key events outward. It can help to choose an anchor point and work backwards from there.
Let’s say your ceremony is at 11 am. First look photos will take 15 minutes. You know the drive to your ceremony will take 30 minutes at most. Hair and makeup will take 2 hours. Getting dressed will take 45 minutes. And having a bite to eat with your bridal party will take 30 minutes.
That means you should be starting breakfast at the place where you'll have your hair and makeup done with your entire bridal party by no later than 7:00 am.
Use this exercise to mark out where key events will fall on the day and identify and troubling overlaps or issues, like venue access, and tap your wedding planner or hop on the phone to rectify them in advance.
Consider travel and transition time
Travel and transition time takes up a big portion of the day – but if you’ve planned well, you and your guests shouldn’t notice.
Plan each event in the day to minimise time spent waiting. For example, make sure your caterers are ready for cocktail hour as soon as the ceremony ends, so your guests aren’t left milling about. If you’re travelling to a new location, use the few minutes before the car arrives to snap a few more photos or have a bite to eat.
All of this said, the key with a regimented schedule is to anticipate delays. The caterers might be ready at just the right moment but the ceremony might run long. There might be traffic on the way to the reception.
That’s why it’s always best to overestimate how long something might take by 10% to 20% and be pleased if you’re a little ahead of schedule rather than chasing an impossibly strict timeline.
Pick a point person
Your point person might be your wedding planner, or it could be someone in your bridal party, a parent or another guest. Their job is making sure that everyone is where they need to be and, in the case of delays, that everyone is working hard to sort themselves out.
Your point person will be working to your agreed schedule to make the day as perfect as it can be. When you go over the schedule with your point person, establish expectations for updates and contingency plans for possible issues.
For example, if there’s going to be a 15-minute delay, you probably don’t need to know that. But if you’re staring down a 1.5 hour delay on cocktail hour and hungry guests, you’d probably want to know (and order pizzas, or something).
Working out how you two will work together on the day will keep you from stressing too much about things you can’t control.
Communicate your plans
A schedule can only be effective if people understand it, so decide who on the day needs to know what.
For example, groomsmen might only need to know that the groom should be at the ceremony location for 10:30am for the first look. Beyond that? They can just relax and enjoy the day. Providing too much detail can be just as confusing as providing too little.
But caterers need to know when they can get venue access, who will be there to meet them, and exactly when you require service. And of course, your guests will want to have an idea for the day’s events.
It’s a good idea to create different versions of the same master schedule for different groups attending the wedding. Just make sure that any updates are reflected across each version.
That way, no one will get overwhelmed by the scope of the day’s events and everyone will be where they’re meant to be at just the right moment.
Here’s the thing. You can create the perfect schedule and still have things go wrong. There will always be things that are outside your control.
Our recommendation? Keep a bottle of champagne and two glasses on hand. In the event of a delay or a problem, whisk your spouse away to a quiet spot and take advantage of some quiet time together while your planner or family sorts out the issue.
And remember: no matter how off track things might get, the only thing that really matters is your marriage. You’ve done all of the prepwork. You’ve made this great party happen. Now, on the day, it’s your job to sit back and have a wonderful time – that’s it. ∎
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