Bride hugs a friend on her wedding day

Wedding Day Timelines

An easy guide to help you plan your wedding day

A wedding day timeline is one of the most important things that I ask my couples for prior to their wedding – a detailed itinerary will assure that I’m prepared and where I need to be at any given point.  It’s going to be such a whirlwind of a day, you’re going to thank your lucky stars that you decided on all the wheres and the whens ahead of time!

But where to begin?  If you haven’t ever planned a wedding before, this can quickly become an overwhelming task.  When does everything normally happen?  How long does everything normally take?

The best way to start creating your timeline is to begin with the events that are already set in stone, such as the time of your ceremony, or the time that you have to leave your venue, and then fill in the gaps from there.

A plate and flowers on a table at a wedding at Carben in Ottawa

Before you jump into planning your day, you should sit down as a couple, discuss the following questions, and make some rough notes:

Are there any events or road closures occurring in Ottawa that could affect travel time or parking on the day of your wedding?  This is something huge that people often overlook.   You should check to see if there are any major events or festivals in Ottawa happening on your wedding date.  An additional quick Google search of your date should give you a clear idea if you have to factor in any road closures or smaller events that will be happening near your venue.

How many people will need hair and makeup?  Be sure to talk to your hair and makeup teams to find out how long they require per person.  Keep in mind that if you’re getting your hair and make up done at a salon you need to factor in travel time as well.  As the bride, you shouldn’t go first (you want your hair and makeup to be fresh) nor should you go last (you don’t want to feel rushed).

Do you have a single photographer who will need to photograph the bride and groom getting ready at two separate locations?  If yes, you need to stagger when the bride and groom will be getting ready.  If you have two photographers, you can plan to get dressed at the same time.  Keep travel time between the two locations in mind as well.

Are you doing a first look/will you be seeing each other before the ceremony?  If yes, you could plan to do some family photos or couple photos before the ceremony to save time later in the day.

How long does it take to get from the location where you’re getting ready to the location of the ceremony?  Let me assure you, the last thing that you want is to find yourself rushing to get to your ceremony!  Make sure to leave a little earlier than you think you need to.

What is your invitation start time?  It’s usually best to ask guests to arrive about 20-30 minutes before your ceremony begins.

What time do the bride and groom need to be at the location of the ceremony for?  This is especially important if you’re not planning on seeing each other before the ceremony.  Where will you each be before it starts?

What time does the ceremony start, and how long will it be?  You may choose to pad this a little, in the event that you get started a little later than anticipated.  As I discuss in my lighting and location article, outdoor ceremonies are best held in the last few hours before the sun goes down.

Will there be a toast following the ceremony?  This doesn’t take long, but you’ll want to make sure that someone is preparing/handing out drinks during the ceremony.

Are you doing a large group photo, or family photos immediately following the ceremony?  If yes, you should ask your officiant to remind your guests that they’re needed for photos as soon as the ceremony is over, and have a meeting place already picked out.  Also keep in mind that impromptu receiving lines tend to happen, and plan some time for greeting your guests.  Try to schedule 4-5 minutes per family photo, and assign a friend to be a designated organizer who can round up the stragglers for you…there will be stragglers!

Do you need to travel to another location for your reception after the ceremony?  Consider travel time, and whether you want all of your guests to arrive before you do.

Are you having a cocktail hour?  If yes, how long will it be?  Will you be attending, or will you be waiting to do a grand entrance once your guests are seated for dinner?  You will want to make sure that snacks and drinks are available for your guests immediately following the ceremony.

What time is sunset?  Sunset is the best time to plan your couple portraits.  The hour before the sun goes down (the golden hour) and about half an hour after it goes down (the blue hour) are the absolute best time for photos. You’ll want to leave at least 20-30 minutes for portraits, keeping in mind that the more time you leave for this, the more portraits you’ll get.

Do you have to travel to a different location (or will you have to walk somewhere) for couple portraits?  Don’t forget about travel time, even if it’s by foot!

What time should you seat your guests for dinner?  Are there any announcements/toasts/speeches that you would like to have happen once your guests are seated, but before dinner is served?  Sometimes house rules, or a quick intro of the MC takes place.

What time does dinner service begin?  Ask your caterers how long your dinner will take from starters through dessert.

When are you planning for speeches to happen?  Some couples choose to have speeches occur during dinner while everyone is seated, some couples choose to have speeches happen later in the evening, and some couples choose to not have any formal speeches at all, allowing family members to make spontaneous toasts throughout the night.

Are you doing a first dance?  Figure out how long you need for your first dance, as well as father/daughter and mother/son dances, if you’re choosing to do those.  Also, if this is something that you want your photographer to capture, make sure to plan this before they leave.

What about cake cutting, bouquet toss, garter toss, etc..?  The same thing applies – if you want photos, make sure these things happen before your photographer is scheduled to leave!

Will you be providing a late night snack?  If yes, when should this food be served?

What time does your venue close?  Do you need to figure out transportation for your guests?

A woman pours champagne at a backyard wedding in Rockcliffe

Timelines depend so much on your individual day, it’s best to try to create yours from scratch rather than trying to copy someone else’s.  Remember, there is absolutely no right or wrong way of doing things!  It’s easy to get wrapped up in wedding etiquette/traditions that may not be important to you.  It’s your wedding, and you can plan things however you’d like!

To help get you started, I’ve put together a template that you can print out to help craft your day, you can view it here.  Remember, fill out the stuff that’s set in stone first, work your way out, and definitely feel free to switch up the order of things!

Best of luck with your planning, if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or reach out!

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