Wedding day timing tips
The following tips are intended to give you a rough idea of timings for your wedding day. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to your wedding schedule. You don’t have to follow the traditional Western wedding day program – you could mix it up by having speeches before dinner or literally have a ‘wedding breakfast’ or brunch before your wedding ceremony! It’s your big day so organise it in a way that suits you best – just be realistic about the amount of time you allocate to each part of your wedding so that you don’t feel rushed.
The morning of your wedding
In order to work out how much time you should allow to get ready in the morning, you will need to think about what time you need to leave in order to reach the ceremony and work backwards from there.
Hair & Make-Up
Having had your trials, your suppliers are likely to have told you how much time to budget for your prep and that of the rest of your bridal party. The larger your bridal party and the earlier your ceremony, the more likely you are to have a rudely early start time! If you’ve got separate hairdressers and make-up artists, ask them to coordinate their timings to maximise the efficiency of your wedding morning. The running order of your bridesmaids and Mum’s preparation as well as your own will be key.
How long will it take to get into your dress? It’s much easier in the shop when there are professionals on hand who are used to fiddly buttons and zippers, but it might be a different matter with overexcited bridesmaids, nervous hands or fake nails that lack precision! If your dress is a zip up, you’ll be in it quicker but a corset or buttons up the back will take longer. Also allow time to put all your accessories on and don’t forget that last spritz of perfume!
Regardless of whether or not you’ll feel hungry on the day, you should schedule in time for breakfast and, if necessary, a bite of lunch too. It’s going to be a long day and even a nibble here and there will help fortify you. Besides, even though you might not touch any food, the rest of your bridal party are likely to be grateful for some sustenance.
‘Getting Ready’ Photos
Finally, allow time for a few photos during your prep, once you’re ready and before you leave (if you’ve got photography coverage during this part of the day). Your photographer is likely to try and capture more documentary moments here but you don’t want to look harassed in these photos, so give yourself some wiggle room.
What time is your ceremony? You really need to think about this from the very beginning of your planning as it will impact the timings of the whole day. As tempting as it is to have an early ceremony so that you can party until all hours of the night, wedding days are already quite long and can be very tiring. A later ceremony means that guests will miss fewer meals, so you can cater for them less.
You’ll need time in the morning to get ready and you’ll also have to take into consideration where you’ll be getting ready in relation to your wedding venue. Give yourself enough time to have pre-wedding photos with your bridesmaids and Dad/family members, either at your prep location or outside your venue when you arrive.
Don’t forget to factor in travel times between venues, i.e. how long will it take you to get to your ceremony from the place you’re getting ready?
Ask your celebrant how long the ceremony will take. Civil ceremonies can take 30-45 minutes depending on readings, whereas religious ceremonies might last for 45-60 minutes sometimes even longer! People will want to congratulate you after the ceremony )it will take about 20 minutes for 80 people to say "congrats". And then the photographer will want to take you away for some photos. Make sure this is not too far away. Try not to have to use transport, just walking distance only.
Allow a minimum of 90 minutes for your drinks reception if you’re hoping to have lots of photos (particularly group shots). But try not to be away for photos too long if people are waiting around for you. After all, they're there because of the two of you, so you might as well spend as much time with them as possible. Make sure you’ve catered for your guests appropriately with enough drinks to go around and perhaps some form of entertainment such as live music or a magician or grass games.
If you have an early ceremony (12pm-1pm), chances are your guests will miss lunch so they’ll be hungry. It’s therefore good to have some kind of canapés during the drinks reception. If your guests are travelling via communal transport you’ve arranged between venues, then consider giving out snacks and drinks en route, such as mini champagne, water bottles and snacks.
Chat to your photographer to make sure you’ve budgeted enough time for them to work their magic. As a guideline, you should allow 3-4mins per group shot and at least half an hour for your private couple’s portraits. If you want a big group shot of all your guests (N.B. be realistic about this expectation: it’s fine to ask for if you have 50-100 guests but if you have 200+ it’s unlikely you’ll even be able to see all their faces), the best time to coordinate this image is when your guests are all together. Therefore, try to fit it in either straight after the ceremony or just before they go into dinner.
Ask your photographer when the best time of day will be for your portraits, especially if you want to get the golden hour for the best lighting. You could always split it into a couple of parts – maybe sneak off between courses during your wedding reception if you need to get a few more shots in and make the most of the light - or you could always opt for a ‘first look’ where you have portraits taken before the ceremony.
As tempting as it might be to not have portraits as you don’t want to miss time with your guests its also important for you as a couple to have a bit of alone time together to take it all in and your portrait session provides the perfect opportunity for you to do this.
Make sure you leave enough time for your guests to be seated for dinner. There’s a lot of loitering between the call to dine, guests checking the table plan/escort table and finding their seats. You’ll also want to make sure that service starts with wine being poured (and potentially bread served) before you’re announced into the room.
Your caterers should provide a detailed breakdown of how long service will take. The number of guests and your choice of food will make a difference. Remember that your caterers will need to take into account the facilities as well, for example the distance of the tables from the kitchen and the number of staff being coordinated. If you’re having external caterers, make sure they’ve familiarised themselves with the venue to consider all of these factors.
You should allow at least 10 minutes for each speaker during the speeches (but tell each one they only have 3 minutes - trust me on this), bearing in mind that they will also need to be introduced. Ask each speaker how long they think they’ll need and then double it – everyone always underestimates or approximates the duration of their speech. This is another consideration to feedback to your caterers if you decide to have speeches before dinner. If dinner is running late you could serve tea and coffee with the dessert or maybe start speeches once dessert has been served.
Make sure you know what time your reception must end – clarify with your venue if all guests must be out by then, or if it’s simply the cut off time for your DJ/band and everyone can exit thereafter. If you need to, ensure that your transport is booked well in advance and perhaps even get your planner/point of contact to make a follow up call on the afternoon of your wedding to confirm the booking.
Finally take time together during the day to take it all in, this is your wedding day and you have all your closest family and friends with you so savour the moment and enjoy the day.
When you realise the extent of all the planning, co-ordinating, organising, setting up and herding of people involved in one wedding day, it’s no wonder so many couples choose to hire a wedding planner!
Steve Mummery is a celebrant based in Perth, Western Australia. To contact him check out his website smcelebrant.com.au or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.