Building your wedding timeline can be one of the most difficult pieces of planning your wedding. Sure you've been to weddings, but have you actually paid attention to what happens when? Probably not!

I've been a wedding planner for about 6 years now, and I always use the same timeline. Yes, there are always modifications, but for the most part my events have a similar flow.

I decided to share with you my methods and explain why I allocate certain portions of your wedding time the way I do.

Something to consider is that I always start the ceremony on time ALWAYS, so any portion of the timeline that happens prior to the ceremony is firm. While after the ceremony the timeline should be used more as a guideline because some portions of the reception may or may not take as long as allocated. If portions run fast, I bump up the timeline. If portions run later, I make time up later in the reception.

This alone is one of the best parts of having an educated and experienced wedding coordinator. A wedding should never lag, and guests should never feel bored. A coordinator will be able to maintain a natural flow of the evening while blending the key points of a wedding reception.

Please note, these descriptions are not in the correct order, so I would not recommend copying this layout. If you are interested in my full wedding planning timeline in the correct order, please click the link below.

  • Ceremony Begins- You should ask your wedding officiate how long their ceremonies typically last. This will help allot an amount of time specific to your wedding. I usually list a 30 minutes ceremony time, but on occasion we will have an officiate that take 45 minutes or an hour.  

  • Hair and Make-Up Concludes- Your hair and make-up should conclude no later than 2 hours prior to your ceremony. This allows for about 30 minutes of 'getting ready' pictures and another 30-60 minutes of 'pre-ceremony' pictures before you need to hid from early arrivals. I am a HUGE fan of getting as many pictures completed before the ceremony as possible.

  • Pre-Ceremony Pictures- Your formal pre-ceremony pictures should include any special moments such as First Look, Father's Reveal, First Touch, Bridal Party Pictures (separate if you do not have a first look). I encourage my couples to have all family pictures during the time after the ceremony as people always run late when we attempt for family pictures prior to the ceremony. This also helps with early guest arrival.

  • Ceremony Line-Up Starts-  It's go time. No turning back from here! I typically start lining up the bridal party 10 minutes before the ceremony starts. Why so early? Because inevitably the groomsmen ALL have to use the bathroom. This gives them plenty of time to do what they need to before lining back up.  

  • Photographer Arrives-  I always recommend a 7-8 hour photography package, with your photographer arriving 2-3 hours prior to your ceremony starting.  If your photographer arrives 2-3 hours prior to your wedding ceremony starting, they are able to capture your detail shots before going to the bridal and grooms suites to take your getting ready pictures.  

  • Cake Cutting- As one of my favorite DJ's always say, "And now it's on to our sweetest portion of the evening, cake cutting". This should take no longer than 5 minutes. You photographer should guide you so they can capture some great shots. As a coordinator, I make sure there are forks, plates and napkins for each cake prior to the cake cutting. 

  • Anniversary Dance- An Anniversary Dance is a great way to encourage everyone to get onto the dance floor. You DJ will ask all the married couples to dance on the dance floor, and one by one peel them away. "If you've been married for 24 hours or less, please leave the dance floor." Then the DJ may go to 5 years, 10 years and so on until the last couple is dancing. This is the couple that has been married the longest, so they must have some sort of advise right? The DJ hands them the microphone and ask them for a piece of advice for the newlyweds.  

  • Grand Entrance- LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED! I love Grand Entrances. They are the gateway to the reception, so if you want a lively party, pick a lively song! Encourage your bridal party to come up with a quirky dance as they enter the reception.  

  • Cocktail Hour Begins/Post Ceremony Pictures Start- These two portions of your wedding should be simultaneous, but to make this explanation easier, I am separating them out.

    • Post-Ceremony Pictures- After the ceremony is over, ask your officiate to invite your guests to the cocktail portion of the evening. The trick to this is that you should already tell everyone that you want in your family pictures to stay at the ceremony site when the officiate makes this announcement. This will allow for the non-family guests to go to the cocktail hour first while the family pictures start. Here's the catch, Cocktail Hour shouldn't be an hour but rather 45 minutes. Don't worry, I've listed a few ways to help speed up the post-ceremony pictures.

      • I'm saying this again because it's so crucial. If you have guests that you want in the family pictures, ask them to stay at the ceremony site once the recessional has concluded. The last thing you want is to hunt down family members because they were not aware of their role.

      • Start with the largest family picture first, and then start peeling away who doesn't need to be in the following pictures. For instance, start with your Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Grand Parents, Siblings, Parents, Bride, Groom. Then the next shot remove the Aunts, Uncles and Cousins so and so on.

      • Since I encourage pre-ceremony pictures with your bridal party separate ex. Bride with here Bridesmaids, Groom with his Groomsmen, you should only have to take a few more shots with the full bridal party, Groom with the Bridesmaids and Bride with the Groomsmen.  Have a confused you yet? Don't worry, I will write a blog for ceremony pictures!

    • Cocktail Hour- Make sure you caterer is including some sort of hor d'ouvres. If they do not include hor d'ouvres, I encourage to either add them, or give a light snack option like a trail-mix bar, popcorn bar or even have bowls of nuts on the cocktail tables so guests an nibble as they start drinking their beverage of choice.  

  • Hide Before the Ceremony- Your pre-ceremony pictures should conclude 30 minutes before the ceremony start time. At this point you should either go back to the bridal suite or to a holding area before your ceremony begins. I do not know why, but guests always stat showing up 20 minutes before a ceremony.  

  • Open Dancing- Dance or don't dance, but just know that where ever you and your spouse are, your guests will be there too. Just have the best time at this point. 

  • Greeting the Tables- Typically my couples complete their meals first as I typically serve them dinner. This is a great time to grab your photographer and take pictures with your guests at their table. Note, you may not get to every table, and that's ok. You have then entire reception to say hi to everyone.  

  • Bouquet Toss, Garter Toss- I am noticing a disappearing trend with the garter toss. Women are no longer wanting their men dig for the garter, so we've come up with some alternatives. I've had a garter around a football or baseball, so the groom can toss that. Ask your florist to make a side bouquet so you are not tossing your actual bouquet or a bridesmaid's bouquet. I typically decorate the entry table or cake table with the toss bouquet, so it's not wasted during the reception.  To have a natural flow of events, I encourage to wait to have the bouquet and garter toss to about an hour after the dance floor opens.  

  • Blessing/Dinner- Not every wedding offers a blessing. If you do have a blessing, let the person you want to bless the food to come to the DJ as he announces the blessing. After the blessing or if you do not have a blessing then the DJ/Catering Captain or Coordinator will invite your guests through the buffet line. Dinner will be the longest portion of your wedding. You should allocate 1 hour for your dinner.

  • Toasts- I do not know why, but toast are the most controversial  section of the night. I hate to admit this, most people get bored with toasts. I recommend each speaker have a 2-3 minute window or have a max 15 minute toast section. Somehow sometime in wedding planning history, someone recommended open toast where anyone at the reception can come up to the microphone and say something nice. I call this wedding reception hijacking because I have no control over how long the open toast will last. As a wedding coordinator in charge of making sure no portion of the evening lags, this is not an ideal situation.  

  • Groom & Men Start Getting Dress- Most venues (not all, but most) offer some sort of limitation on how long the groom and his groomsmen are allotted in the grooms quarter.  Let's face it boys have a shorter attention span than most women and they also take less time getting dressed. Have the men arrive 3 hours prior to the ceremony. Pop open a beer and watch some Aggie football  (I only say Aggies because of my boyfriend won't be happy if I say Longhorns or Raiders) for the first hour, then start getting dress 2 hours prior to your ceremony. With a 8 hour package with your photographer, you will be able to capture the 'just chillin with my dudes' look.  Just a couple of pointers for my men:

    • If you suite has a pocket square, iron the square prior to arriving at the venue. It literally takes 30 seconds, and it makes a huge difference.

    • If you do not know how to tie a neck-tie, ask the rental store to tie it for you, so all you will have to do is slip it on and tighten to fit.

    • Be careful on how much alcohol you consume prior to the wedding ceremony. No-one appreciates a drunk groomsmen and especially groom. Have a beer or two to calm your pre-ceremony jitters, brush your teeth and relax.  

  • First Dance- Pick a song that means something to you and your spouse. I also encourage practicing ahead of time.  

  • Grand Exit- Sparklers, Bubbles, Glow Stick oh my! Just have fun with your grand exit. As you get about halfway down, give your spouse a kiss and make a memorable moment! 

  • Father/Daughter Dance & Mother/Son Dance- Take your time with these dances, as you only get them once. Some parents do not like to dance, so if that's the case, let the DJ know so that he or she can cut the music early.  

  • Private Last Group Dance- Invite all the remaining guests to dance one last time before you and your spouse leave the reception. This should be about 10-15 minutes before the end of the event. 

  • Private Last Dance- After everyone is outside preparing for your Grand Exit, ask the coordinator to shut the doors, and have the DJ play another song for you and your partner. Enjoy these last few moment in a private dance captured by your photographer.  

  • Shuttle Buses- If you offer shuttle services either through a hotel or with a charter company, you may want to offer several times the shuttle or bus will transport guest back to the hotel or final destination. Here are my 3 recommendations:

    • Once the dance floor opens, some older guests may want to head back home. Offer one shuttle service at this point.

    • About an hour later, offer another shuttle service for those who want to leave.

    • Final Shuttle should be after the Grand Exit. You may want to have more than one at this point. Guests do not appreciate having to wait for shuttles to make rounds as this could take up to 30 minutes each round trip.