Your wedding timings will impact your wedding day the most. And perhaps the most difficult thing to pin down when you’ve never planned a wedding before. So here I’m going to outline three things to think about when deciding on your wedding timings. I’ve also included two sample timelines at the end, with suggestions based on the wedding locations.
One: The Ceremony Time
Your ceremony time is likely to be the first thing you decide on. If you’re having a civil ceremony, the council will need you to book your time when confirming, and a busy city church might do more than one wedding a day. If you’re having a village church wedding, or a humanist wedding, then the urgency might not be there, but if you’re a person who likes to have a plan, then setting the time can make you feel more in control.
So what do you need to consider when deciding on your ceremony time? I would suggest considering these four points:
The time you need to end the party
If you're having evening guests: Their arrival time
How much time it will take to get ready
The time of year
Hopefully, it’s fairly obvious why they should be considered, but I’m going to plough on and explain regardless!
You will in all likelihood want ample time to party at night, so the finish time is crucial: ensuring everyone has a chance to get on the dance floor – and if you’re having a band, that they can do their 2 x 1 hr sets! - before the night ends!
Equally, if you’re having evening guests, it might feel courteous to invite them before 8pm.
So that’s the end of the night. Now we skip to the beginning of the day: Roughly calculating how long getting-ready will take, means you can work out the earliest you can consider starting, and therefore the earliest the ceremony can take place.
As a general rule of thumb, if you’re having hair & makeup done, allow 45 minutes per bridesmaid, and 1.5 hours for the bride (although please ask your Hair & Makeup Artist at your trial). Please also factor in breakfast, showering, getting in dress/suits, any form of reveal, pre-ceremony photos and getting to the ceremony. And tik-toks, if these are on the agenda!
The Time of Year
Finally, if it’s a late autumn or winter wedding, then your photographer will beg you to have a ceremony that allows photos to be taken in daylight. Let’s talk more about photography next.
Wedding photos take time. Even if you have the most unobtrusive, documentary-style photographer, it’s still smart to set aside enough time for group photos, and also time for the two of you to have a few photos on your own.
My top tip here is: Please speak to your photographer! She or he will work in their own unique way, and will be able to give you a really detailed guide on how much time they need to get those all-important photos.
But, once again giving you a guideline, allow 5 minutes (at least) for each group photo, and 30 minutes for couple portraits. Please note that this works for most professional, documentary-style photographers.
A confetti photo after the ceremony normally takes 10-15 minutes (depending on the number of guests), so don’t forget to factor this in.
It can also be rather wonderful to have a glass of something and the opportunity to chat with your guests at this point, but I would suggest that the focus should be on not letting guests stand around too long (no more than two hours) unless there’s plenty of drinks, snacks and entertainment! If you’ve got me booked, we’ll of course make sure you get the chance to enjoy a drink and canapés between photos regardless!
And that’s what I’m going to focus on last: The food!
How long does eating take?! The answer partly lies in the style of food, of course, but I’m hoping that the guidelines offered next will help somewhat.
First of all, it takes around 20 minutes for guests to find their seats, normally because (at least) half of your guests will go in search of the facilities at this point, or find someone really interesting to speak to. Some shimmying along is needed!
A Seated Meal
Once seated, a three-course plated meal will take around two hours for up to 100 guests. If you’ve got more guests, allow more time, and if you’ve got sharing-style-food, then again, allow more time. A three-course sharing-style feast for 150 people takes closer to 2.5 hours. Once more, I suggest speaking with your caterer about this in more detail.
Buffets - Do They Work?
Buffets and food trucks: A word of warning here. If you’ve sat through a long dinner at some point, and have decided you’d like to circumvent that with buffets or food trucks, please be aware that this takes much longer, if you want people to go back to their seats once they’ve queued up for their food. The queueing involved when it’s self-serve style, means that you need to allow for more time – and it also means for a rather disjointed affair, as not everyone will be sitting down eating at the same time. For this reason, I would suggest saving buffet stations of food vans for casual eat-whenever late-snack food instead.
Sample Time Lines
So how does the above three points translate to a wedding day? Let me give you a sample timeline below!
The Setting: Civil ceremony at licensed venue, midnight carriages, extra evening guests, 3 bridesmaids & bride getting ready at venue
6.30am – getting up, shower, pack car with last belongings, travel to venue
8am – hair & makeup commences
Breakfast, bubbles and getting-ready shots during this time
12.30pm – bride getting into dress
1pm – Father of Bride reveal
1.15pm – Bride ready and bridesmaid photos (plus your choice of social media!)
1.30pm – Pre-ceremony interview with registrars
1.45pm – Final glass of bubbles, await entrance
2pm – CEREMONY
2.40pm – Confetti
2.50pm – Group photos commence
3.20pm – Couple portraits
4pm – GUESTS CALLED IN TO BE SEATED
4.30pm – Wedding breakfast
6.30pm – Speeches
7pm – Tea & Coffee
7.30pm – EVENING GUESTS ARRIVE
8pm – Cake Cut/Champagne Tower/First Dance
9pm – Evening Food
Midnight – Carriages
The Setting: Church wedding at local church, marquee at home with 1am finish, no evening guests, 5 bridesmaids and bride getting ready at home, two HMUAs
7.30am – getting up, shower
9am – hair & makeup commences
Brunch, bubbles and getting-ready shots during this time
1.30pm – bride getting into dress
2pm – Bride ready and bridesmaid photos
2.15pm – Getting in car
2.30pm – CEREMONY
3.15pm – Confetti at church
3.30pm – Travel/walk back home
3.45pm – Drinks, group photos
4.15pm – Couple portraits
5.30pm – GUESTS CALLED TO BE SEATED
6pm – Wedding breakfast
8pm – Speeches
8.30pm – Tea & Coffee
9pm – Cake Cut/Champagne Tower/First Dance
10pm – Evening Food
1am – Carriages
I hope this gives you some insight into the three things to consider first when planning your wedding day timeline! I’m of course more than happy to help guide you in more detail. And, in conclusion, please never hesitate to reach out to the other professionals you decide to use – your photographer in particular and any potential hair & makeup artists and of course your caterer – so that you get a really gorgeous flow to the day!