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I’ve had the privilege of helping many friends and family members plan their weddings over the years –when you work at a wedding magazine, you become the go-to gal! As much fun as it is to dream about color schemes and escort card ideas, the area where I feel I’m really able to add value is the logistics. A wedding day is a complicated event with a LOT of moving parts, and if you’ve never planned one before (and don’t necessarily have the assistance of a planner), it can be overwhelming.

A solid wedding day timeline is the best tool I know for making sure the right things happen at the right time with the right people present, and so today, we’re going to walk through how to create one!

A note: If you’re working with a wedding planner or day of coordinator, creating a wedding day timeline is likely something she will handle. If you’re on your own, it is absolutely essential that you create one of these yourself. (And trust me, there are very few things that I will say are essential for every single wedding!) A well-crafted timeline creates a seamless experience for your beloved guests (and maximizes your time with them!), helps your vendors do their best work, and cuts down on the amount of “managing” you’ll need to do on your wedding day — all very good things!

Let’s get started!

Begin by gathering information and materials. Collect all of the information you have, especially the parts that are externally set/not in your control. It might help to start by asking yourself these questions:

A note: Most ceremonies last approximately twenty minutes, but I would recommend rounding up to at least 30 minutes – and some can be much longer. Add up liturgy, readings, entrances, vows, homily, communion, rituals, etc. to get a ballpark.)

Whew! Answering these might require conversation with your vendors, particularly on subjects like food timing. Your caterer will have the best idea of how long it will take to serve all of your guests at your venue based on whether you’re having a plated dinner, a family style meal, or a buffet, and your photographer can advise you on how long portraits will take based on the list you give him. If they don’t offer this info, ask! Never assume you’re on the same page about how things will run – always confirm.

Add times and details as you confirm them. As decisions are made and information comes in, start plugging each piece into a doc (Word or Excel, your choice!). For example, you probably already know what time you have to vacate your reception venue, so that’s a great place to start! If you’re totally stuck, here’s the general arc most evening dinner receptions at two locations tend to follow:

Of course, there are many, many, many factors that can affect this timeline. Let’s discuss a few.

— One location or two. If your ceremony and reception are at different locations, be sure to build in time for your guests to get to their cars, travel, park, and walk. Take traffic into consideration. I would recommend underestimating the amount of time travel will take, because there are few things worse than having guests arrive to a reception that’s not ready for them!
Portraits. While there are many reasons to recommend them, first looks are not the only option – but, if you’re not having one, you need to be realistic about the time of year and time of day you’re getting married, and adjust your expectations accordingly. (i.e. If you’re having a winter ceremony at 5pm, don’t expect your photographer to be able to capture daylight portraits.) Whether or not you’re having a first look, I recommend checking off as many bridal party and family portraits as you can before the ceremony, and leaving a concise list of group portraits for after.
Location and transportation. Confirm where the gents and ladies will be getting ready, and if it’s not at the ceremony location, confirm transportation for everyone as well as how long it will take. If you’re taking portraits at the ceremony venue but getting ready elsewhere, consider putting on your gown once you arrive to make travel easier!
Dances. At our wedding, we moved immediately into our first dance when we entered the reception, which I loved. You could also use your first dance or parent dances to open the dance floor after dinner, or do them during dinner.
Toasts. I like when toasts are offered during dinner, perhaps between courses. I’d also recommend splitting them up, so guests are able to focus on each one individually.
Sunset. Your photographer will likely suggest taking a few bride and groom portraits at sunset. Even if you did a first look, I think this mini portrait session (10-15 minutes) is a great idea. You’ll be in a different “head space” than before the ceremony, and it will also give you a chance to be (mostly) alone in the middle of your reception. And, there will be lovely glowing light!

Photo by Blue Ribbon Vendor Sawyer Baird

And finally, a few tips to remember:

Guest will arrive early. Fact. Plan to begin your pre-ceremony music at least half an hour before the invite start time. Likewise, if you’re doing a first look or pre-ceremony portraits, have everything wrapped up and be “hidden” away from guests at least half an hour beforehand – otherwise you might get caught chatting with arriving guests when you’d rather be spending a few quiet minutes with your ladies.
Make multiple versions of your timeline. I had a typed, single-spaced, two-page timeline that outlined exactly where every person was going to be for nearly every minute of the day — but I certainly didn’t send it to anyone but my day-of coordinator. That would have been completely overwhelming! I made simplified versions for each major vendor, and emailed them out a week in advance. I also printed out personalized copies for family members and the bridal party, so everyone felt confident about where they had to be when.

Photo by Blue Ribbon Vendor Gandy Photographers

For all this talk of detail, though, hear this: your wedding timeline is a guideline. As long as you don’t keep guests waiting and the food is fresh, it’s totally fine to deviate from it as the day begins to flow. And that’s where a talented coordinator or planner comes in. I know one is not in every budget, but I would highly recommend making room for one if you can, and if not, at least arranging a handpicked family member or friend to be the point person on the big day. If you’re the type to stress over whether everything is getting set up correctly and whether little details are being taken care of, a coordinator could be the best gift you give yourself. I think a coordinator is also a gift to your family and friends – both because you’ll be less stressed, and because it will allow them to relax, as well. A win win!

Tell me: Do you have a timeline for your wedding day yet? Are you doing anything different with the flow of your day? I’d love to hear!

P.S. Does this advice sound reasonable to you? (Ha! Hopefully!!) Well, if you love it, you will surely love our Joyful Wedding Planner – there’s lots more where this came from!

emily Written with love by Emily
4 Comments
  1. avatar Kelly reply

    I love this information! So resourceful, I can’t wait to use it some day. :)

  2. avatar Kyla Shattuck reply

    This almost perfectly matches the timeline we built for our June wedding! Our timeline was crucial to ensuring that every meaningful moment had space in the day to be enjoyed, but also left room for spontaneous moments to bless us throughout the day! :)

  3. avatar Pixie Weddings reply

    Great article as always! Leaving contingency time in the morning is so important just in case of any last minute delays or dramas!

  4. avatar Kristina reply

    I’m a reader from Germany and have always been curious about one thing when reading about or hearing of American weddings. And that’s the fact that there is a definite end to the reception. Is there a traditional reason for that? All the weddings that I have been to ended after the last guest had left. And that is usually not until well into the early morning hours. It’s just one thing that has always struck me as a big difference between American and German weddings and I was just wondering if you, as the wedding experts, could tell me if there was a reason for it. Lots of love from Berlin, Kristina

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Some of the very best posts in our archives are the ones written by real brides actively planning their weddings and sharing their thoughts along the way. We want to bring you more of that! Today’s guest, Grace, was actually married this spring, but close enough :) We met her at one of our photo shoots for Volume 10, and when she told us she used our Joyful Wedding Planner throughout her engagement, we were tickled pink! Since we’ve been talking about all things ceremony for the last few weeks, I asked her to come on over and share more about hers. Take it away, Grace! – Emily

For about a week after getting engaged, my time was mostly spent daydreaming about our engagement day and gazing at my beautiful ring (ha!). Once I shook off the “engagement high,” I dived into planning our wedding — I could hardly wait! My excitement quickly turned to frustration, though, as I was overwhelmed with the number of options and decisions there were to make, as I’m sure y’all can relate to. I needed a solid guide that would come alongside me and my husband as we created a wedding that was uniquely ours. Thankfully, the Joyful Wedding Planner came to the rescue!

From the very beginning stages of wedding planning, my husband and I knew that we wanted to get married in the mountains, a place we both love and where we’ve made wonderful memories. We also knew that we wanted our wedding day to glorify and display the love of Christ, and for this reason, the ceremony was the most important part of the day for us. It was not only the part of the day that we would officially be declared husband and wife, but also a chance for us to show our family and friends that we did not take marriage lightly and were making a serious commitment to one another. It was also a chance to show the power of Christ’s love in our lives and the power we would rely on for our marriage! Lastly, we wanted our marriage to signify the joining of our two families into one.

After having a solid handle on what we wanted for our ceremony, I worked through my planner to help figure out exactly what I wanted for each detail:

— For the officiant, we knew that we wanted an individual that displayed a strong love for the Lord, was eloquent in speaking the beauty of the Lord’s love for us, and had mentored us through our relationship.
— We also decided to include two wedding rituals. The first was the lighting of the unity candle to represent our new life in Christ, our two lives becoming one, and the joining of our families. I just loved the imagery of two flames merging to become one! The second ritual we took part in was communion.
— We picked readings (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Ephesians 5:25-33 and 22-24) to show that we were choosing to love each other in our marriage and to illustrate the roles that we were promising to take up.

The planner encouraged me to come up with a Plan A and a Plan B for the ceremony in case of weather, and to make sure that we could be happy with either outcome. Thankfully, our venue gave us the option of holding our ceremony outside or inside of the barn, giving us two beautiful settings (one rain-proof!). If it was held outside, it would be held in front of a large tree with arching branches. If it was inside, the barn setting would be accented with twinkle lights and draped cloth, fitting for our mountain setting. We ended up having our ceremony inside of the barn because of a high forecast for rain, and it ended up being intimate and beautiful!

My husband and I both agreed from the start that we would recite traditional vows (writing our own would have been too much pressure for us!). That was an easy decision to check off the list :)

For our processional music, we chose two favorite songs to display both of our personalities: one of my husband’s favorites (“Book of Love” by Peter Gabriel) for the family and wedding party entrance, and one of mine (“A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri) for mine. Our communion song was “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us.” Our ceremony music was played by dear friends on piano, flute, violin, and oboe.

When the ceremony was finished, we wanted to end on a joyous note and decided to have a bluegrass band play a lively tune and have our guests throw flower petals in the air to join in the celebration with us as we walked out as husband and wife!

Thinking back on it, the ceremony was the sweetest and most joyous moment of the day (and probably my life!) and everything my husband and I valued and loved was displayed perfectly through it. I am so thankful that the tone for our marriage was set on that day. Planning for the ceremony was so sweet but being married now is even sweeter!

All photos by Blue Ribbon Vendor Ally & Bobby!

emily Written with love by Emily
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    Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

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    Hey, newly-engaged friends! Have you moved on from that constantly-staring-at-your-ring phase? No? That’s okay, it’s a good one :) But when you do, you’re going to want to make sure you know exactly how to take care of that pretty sparkler so it stays in tip-top shape. We asked our friends at Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company, a company that specializes in protecting jewelry, for a few of their best tips, and here’s what they had to say…

    Do regularly clean your ring at home. Jewelers Mutual recommends gently scrubbing your ring with a soft, baby-size toothbrush in a bowl of Dawn dish detergent and warm water. Dry it with a paper towel or regular cloth, being careful not to snag the prongs. Steer clear of open drains and floor vents – eek!

    Do visit your jeweler twice a year for a professional cleaning and inspection. I only do this once a year, but I always do it in the month of my wedding anniversary so it’s easy to remember! My jeweler will do a cleaning and inspection for free for past clients — perhaps yours will, too!

    Don’t wear your ring while doing certain activities. Jewelers Mutual recommends removing your ring before swimming, exercising, applying sunscreen and bug spray, gardening, and cooking with your hands. Which I’m sure is exactly what responsible people do. But can I tell you a secret? I leave my ring on for all of those things, mostly because I’m more afraid I’ll lose it by constantly taking it off than I am it will get damaged! If you’re going to go my route, be extra good about getting your ring cleaned and inspected regularly. And if you’re going to go the recommended route, choose one safe spot where you always keep your ring when it’s not on, like a pretty box or bowl.

    Don’t pack your jewelry in a checked bag. Always wear it on your person or pack it in a carry-on, and handle your carry-on yourself. I’ve heard way too many sad tales of lost bags and airport mishaps to do otherwise!

    Do turn your ring around if you’re traveling in a dangerous area. It’s a simple step to minimize exposure.

    Do insure your ring. When I think about how much my ring means to me and how devastated I would be if I lost and couldn’t replace it, insuring it is a no-brainer. The cost is typically 1-2% of the value of your ring, and with Jewelers Mutual, you can choose your own deductible. They also cover replacement due to loss, theft, damage, mysterious disappearances (which, let’s be honest, most ring disappearances would probably be filed under “mysterious”), floods, and earthquakes. Many typical homeowners’ insurance policies only cover replacement due to theft.

    For your own handy guide to all things cleaning and care for your engagement ring, download this guide from Jewelers Mutual today. While you’re there, get a quick quote to see how easy it is to protect your new sparkler. And now tell me (and be honest!): do you take your ring off or leave it on for things like swimming, exercising, and baking?

    This post is sponsored by Jewelers Mutual, a company we’ve worked with for years. Thanks for your support of the brands who make Southern Weddings possible!

    emily Written with love by Emily
    1 Comment
    1. avatar Ashley Seda reply

      So glad I found this blog! I had been having trouble working with my current insurance company to add-on my ring. So excited to try out Jewelers Mutual.

    Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

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