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Whenever I’m at a loss for the next topic to cover in our “Expert Advice” series, I usually only have to think back to my last conversation with my sister-in-law to come up with something. She’s in the thick of planning her own wedding right now, and I figure if she’s asking me about something, she’s probably not the only one who’s wondering about the topic! Our last call revolved around creating a wedding day timeline – what happens when, how long things last, who needs to be where – so today, I’m hoping to shed some light on this topic that can be very confusing!

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!

The Reason via Southern Weddings

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. Here’s a peek at the beginnings of my wedding day timeline, shared in this post:

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? Do you have any tricky questions I might be able to answer? Are you doing anything different with the flow of your day? I’d love to hear!

P.S. I know we’re only covering evening receptions in this post, but most of the concepts are applicable to all sorts of celebrations. Just pick and choose the elements that apply to your wedding!

The Reason is a delightful member of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

emily Written with love by Emily
20 Comments
  1. avatar Ashley reply

    This is definitely helpful! I have a DOC, but they don’t work on timelines until 2 months out – understandable, things change. EXCEPT, as an out of town bride, I’m doing my final meeting with a few vendors earlier than normal – whenever I can fit them in on trips home- and my vendors need to know drop-off/set-up times. My coordinator and her team have been helpful, but (since I’m a control freak) it’s been easier for me to just do it myself – I figure I’ll let them do the fine tuning.

    • avatar Emily reply

      Awesome! I definitely agree – I’d want to have details worked out before two months, but I can understand why your DOC does it that way!

  2. avatar Lisa reply

    Bookmarking this post to refer to lots in the coming months! Dave and I started working on our timeline early to try to figure out how many hours we wanted to book our photographer and videographers for, but it’s still in the preliminary stages. The biggest difference from this list for us so far though is that our ceremony will run closer to an hour and a half!

  3. avatar Darby reply

    I am helping a friend as her day-of coordinator this weekend. I just wrapped up her wedding day timeline. There are always a lot of things to consider. It’s always a good idea to prioritize what means the most to you on the day of. Make sure that your coordinator is aware of what those are. For example, making sure to take the *must have* portraits first. Great post Emily!

  4. avatar Leann reply

    I know a bride that can use this guide right away. Great post!

  5. avatar Rachel reply

    This post is perfect! I made my February wedding goal to get the timeline figured out – I started it on my own, but my DOC was a life saver! Each vendor is worried about a different aspect of the timeline, so it is definitely smart to start early and get a general idea…I am way more relaxed about the rest of the planning knowing that is under control!

  6. avatar Ashton Robertson reply

    Thank you so much for this post! This is one aspect of planning I feel the most clueless about.

  7. avatar Southern Weddings Weekly Round-Up – Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] the story behind her wedding venue search. Emily outlined some super helpful tips for creating a wedding day timeline. We love real […]

  8. avatar How To Create A Wedding Day Timeline – Alterations by Alter Creations reply

    […] questions or share any tips you may have! (Don’t forget to check out the complete post on How to Create A Wedding Timeline on SouthernWeddings.com, if you’d […]

  9. avatar Links to Love | Down Home Brides reply

    […] Creating a Wedding Day Timeline from Southern Weddings What happens when, who needs to be where, etc. All the details you need to help your wedding day stay on track. […]

  10. avatar DJ Rob Chaoz reply

    Very useful post for couples. Thank you!

  11. avatar Kristin reply

    This is such a great guide to get brides started! The itinerary is so important and helps ensure the wedding plans are executed as envisioned. I think it’s important to have a professional help with itinerary writing because they are able to think of important details that would otherwise be overlooked.

  12. avatar Expert Advice: Creating a Wedding Day Timeline | Barn Weddings KY | The Barn at Cedar Grove | Outdoor Weddings Receptions KY | Farm Wedding KY | Country Wedding Kentucky | Rustic Chic Wedding Reception Venue KY | Barn Event Space Kentucky reply

    […] of “managing” you’ll need to do on your wedding day — all very good things! Click here to read […]

  13. avatar Wedding-Day Timelines | Weddingbee reply

    […] wedding timeline from Southern Weddings—great advice […]

  14. avatar Stephanie reply

    I am having trouble choosing when to have the first dance. i think I kinda like the idea of setting the tone of the evening and dancing when we are introduced. And the opening the dance floor with the parent dances.

  15. avatar Your Wedding Day Schedule -Resources to Get You Started! | Stylish Wedding Photographer in Anchorage Alaska | Elegante Light Photography reply

    […] Southern Weddings has a terrific article on building a timeline! This is a great place to start whether you are just beginning to build your wedding day schedule, or simply need to be sure you have thought of everything.  There is a lot of information covered and is absolutely worth the read! […]

  16. avatar Misty Eubanks reply

    HELP. We, meaning myself and bridesmaids cannot decorate our venue till the morning of our wedding. Our wedding is at 2. I need HELP organizing a timeline. Decorating will start around 7:30am and I plan on returning to get ready At 10. Is an this ample time???? I have 4 bridemaids and they will be prepreped for hair, they are doing their own make-up and will just need to get dressed.

  17. avatar How to create a wedding day timeline | The Original Wedding Sparkler Company's Blog reply

    […] start time. Be sure to factor this into your wedding day timeline, having everything set up and pre-ceremony music ready to start about 30 minutes before the actual ceremony. If you are taking pre-ceremony photos […]

  18. avatar Your Wedding Day Timeline For Your Photographer – Stonecrest Photography reply

    […] to help you build a timeline for your day – at Every Last Detail, at Brides, and at Southern Weddings, to name a few.  This post is a little more focused, and maybe a little selfish, with some tips to […]

  19. avatar Curate reply

    This is right on! Be sure to get some additional help as well from willing family members who are very detail oriented instead of trying to do it all and get married on the same day.

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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Does a seemingly endless parade of etiquette issues follow behind your every wedding decision? You’re not alone, judging by the volume of befuddled emails we receive. We love to try and help out when we can, and so today, we’re offering our two cents on Meredith’s question! She writes:

A born-and-raised Southern girl, I love flipping through Southern Weddings even with no personal wedding plans in sight. I have a couple shower etiquette question. A bridesmaid and I are planning a couple cocktail party style shower for a bride and groom in Atlanta. Of course we are only inviting those who will also be invited to the wedding. My dilemma is, can we invite single friends to bring a guest if some of these friends are not invited with guest to the wedding? I’ve felt sort of “singled out” when previously invited to a couple shower solo, but now that the shoe is on the other foot, I realize the “couple” in “couple shower” primarily refers to the bride and groom. Thoughts?

Besides whether it’s okay to pair navy dresses with black tuxedos (spoiler alert: yes), plus ones might be the most common query we get. For weddings, the etiquette is clear: spouses, fiances/fiancees, and live-in partners of guests must be included, even if you don’t know them, but you get to decide if you want single, unattached guests to bring dates.

Of course, once you get into the realm of “best friend/dating for three years but not engaged” and “second cousin/engaged but I’ve never met him,” things don’t seem so cut and dry. Were you making the guest list decisions, Meredith, I’d encourage you to ignore the part of you that sees a budget trimming opportunity and indulge the part of you that wants to include as many plus ones as possible. After all, weddings are not a fun place to be single, and if you want people on the dance floor, it helps to give them a partner!

However, you are not in the bride and groom’s shoes, and those two lucky souls have already made the decisions for you about who does and does not get a plus one. For the sake of clarity, I think you need to stick to their list. I hate that that will mean some guests are dateless to the shower, but I just don’t see another good option.

Readers, what do you think? Have you ever been in a similar situation? What do you think about plus ones in general — are you including them on your guest list? Do tell!

emily Written with love by Emily
2 Comments
  1. avatar Maddison Dorminey reply

    As a single lady, yes, always give us the option, like the post says, who wants to dance alone or be the third wheel, or admit it, get asked to dance by the crazy person at the wedding. NO FUN! I have always heard 18 or older gets a separate invitation and a and guest.

  2. avatar Brittney reply

    Emily! I have an etiquette conundrum that I could really use your advice on! I think it’s actually something that a lot of brides face and I’d love to get your perspective about it :) How can I get my question to you?!

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Happy Monday, friends! I can’t think of anything better to start the week with than an etiquette query… but maybe that’s just me :) Regardless, I hope you’ll offer Molly your own two cents, especially if you’ve dealt with a similar situation!

Hi, Emily!

I have an etiquette question. My wedding was originally scheduled for the weekend of June 15, but due to several overlapping family issues, my fiance and I decided to postpone. We are all now in a much better place, and have rescheduled our wedding for September 8. Unfortunately, my original matron of honor, who lives overseas, will be extremely pregnant on our new date and will not be able to attend.

I’m planning to have her Skype in to the wedding, but I now don’t have a matron of honor — or at least one who will be present. Can I ask my girlfriend who is “next in line” to assume that role? And can I ask another friend to be a part of the bridal party now? Please help me on what the etiquette would be in this strange situation!

Thank you!
Molly

Eric Kelley via Southern Weddings

First, I have to say I’m so glad that things are going more smoothly for Molly and her family these days! Postponing or rescheduling a wedding is NOT fun, but I think it’s a much better course of action than going forward with something that doesn’t feel right, for whatever reason. Also, September is a great time to get married :)

As with most etiquette questions, I think the best answer depends on your circumstances. For your first question — can you ask the girlfriend who’s next in line to be your matron of honor — I would say yes IF 1) you don’t think it would hurt the original (pregnant) matron of honor’s feelings, and 2) you don’t think the “next in line” friend would be insulted to be asked. (I know that seems weird, since you’d be asking her something nice, but some people might be annoyed knowing they were the “second choice”!)

Your second question is easier, I think: absolutely! It’s totally up to you to add or subtract anyone from the bridal party at any time, so I think whether or not you ask another friend to be a part of your party as something separate from the issue of your original matron of honor dropping out.

Has anyone else had to reschedule, postpone, or substantially change their wedding, maybe because of an illness, deployment, or serious business crisis? I would love to hear, and especially would love to hear any advice y’all might have to offer! Maybe the way you spread the news to guests?

emily Written with love by Emily
11 Comments
  1. avatar Hannah From reply

    My husband and I were originally supposed to get married on July 5th of this year. A couple of days after I mailed out our Save The Dates, he calls me from Japan (where he is stationed) and said that he will be deployed during our wedding day and that we had to change it. That next weekend I came home from school and my sisters, my mother, and I made “change the date” cards – they matched our original colors and design, but were on a post card type of paper. We were able to change the date and got married a month earlier than planned, only losing one vendor in the process. It actually ended up working out better for everyone involved in the wedding (a couple of our groomsmen were military as well).

  2. avatar All in a Soiree reply

    I personally don’t know anyone who has had to reschedule there wedding, but in my personal opinion I think simply being honest and just letting them know things changed unexpectedly

  3. avatar Brittany Mayer reply

    My wonderful fiance officially proposed New Years Eve 2010. We had been together for about a year and a half. But the enitre time we were together we were in a long distance relationship, he was in D.C. and I was in N.C. in Winston-Salem. it was pretty hard but even with the 6 hour distance between us we still saw each other almost every other weekend! When we got engaged I wanted us living in the same city before we got married. Well, we started planning and had set the date and put down a few deposits, venue, photographer etc. and we realized that even thought he had come to live with me in my home town of Louisville Ky, we weren’t ready yet. I wanted to find a different career than what I studied in college and the job he had gotten in town wasn’t working out, so he went back to his job that took him away from me. It was a really difficult time, not only were we going back to a long distance relationship, but we were loosing our dream wedding. For me it felt really embaressing to have to tell everyone that we were postponing the wedding. I feared that everyone would think our marriage wasnt meant to be, but for the most part everyone was very understanding. We are so blessed that as of Christmas this past year we have both found jobs in the same city, and we have officially set a new date of May 10, 2014. I’m plumb tickled to death! It’s been a long wait, but it’s been worth it. And I have a few years of looking at SWMag under my belt now so its gonna be a great southern shindig!

  4. avatar Gracie reply

    My fiancé and I recently had to reschedule our wedding due to conflicts with school, work etc. Unfortunately it was AFTER we had sent out the save the dates (talk about embarrassing). After much deliberation and tears (on my part). We sent out cute little cards to all our guests that began with “don’t dust off those dancing shoes just yet!” And a little explanation of our postponement. It was so well received! Everyone mentioned how much they appreciated us being up front with them instead of trying to dance around the subject.
    As for the wedding itself, changing plans from a May wedding to a December wedding was no easy task! But after looking through all the plans I had set fort vintage garden party wedding, I realized that the vintage theme was something that fits for any season! Our florist was so helpful in picking out beautiful seasonal flowers that very much resembled my spring bouquet and center pieces. The bridesmaids unfortunately did have to buy a second dress, but the JCrew wedding shop was so helpful and I was able to find adorable dresses for $70 each (unheard of!).
    The moral of the story: don’t panick! It can be something that builds the excitement for your big day and helps you and your fiancé learn to prioritize (always a good skill for marriage). And what girl doesn’t love a little more time to plan her big day?!

  5. avatar Laura torres reply

    hi! I’m from México and my wedding had to be rescheduled because the hotel that I reserved didnt set the date on their calendario and they sell ALL The rooms so theme wars not any rooms left for me or my guests so they changed The date for The next weekend , i dont know if i should send another sabe The date or just with The event that i made in Facebook and wedding wire.. Help!

  6. avatar Susan reply

    My son’s wedding was postponed. It will now be on New Years Eve. Our original guest list was about 150. None of our family will be able to attend and close to 60 others will be vacationing. I don’t feel right inviting those people again since I know they will be gone. The wedding will take place 100 miles away for most of the remaining guests and we have bad winter weather. The bride has 400+ on her list. What is appropriate? Can we schedule a separate celebration when the majority of our guests are in town? The wedding is just family, reception follows at same venue.

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Susan! My opinion would be that you should invite all of the original guests on the list, whether or not you think they’ll be able to attend — it is up to them to decide whether or not they want to change their plans! As for a second celebration, again, in my opinion, it doesn’t seem completely appropriate, since your original guest list is pretty large, and, even if the guest count ends up being smaller, you weren’t intentionally planning an elopement or true destination wedding. Inviting the same people to the wedding and then to another wedding celebration doesn’t seem quite right. Wishing your family all the best!

  7. avatar D reply

    We are having to reschedule our wedding. It is in ONE month. I don’t know what to do. All of our vendors and location are all flexible and can easily be change, no money lost there. However, many of our guests have already purchased non-refundable travel plans. We can’t afford to pay for their travel and reimburse them. We plan to send out the letter to all of our guests within the next 1-2 days explaining that we are changing our date. We do not have a new date selected yet. Please advise.

  8. avatar FutureMrs reply

    My fiance and I had to postpone our wedding until next year due to many unfortunate circumstances. Now we are ready to plan, after all the stress wirh planning initially we’ve decided that we no longer want it as large as we planned. How do we plan without inviting many of the guests that were originally on our first guest list, and would that be considered improper

  9. avatar Sarah reply

    What is the best way to postpone a wedding that is two and a half weeks away? My fiancé family won’t be able to make it and he doesn’t want to marry without them standing next to him. Any suggestions?

  10. avatar Elizabeth reply

    My fiancé and I had to unexpectedly postpone our wedding this past weekend. I had been getting progressively sicker throughout the week leading up to the wedding, taking steroids and every OTC medicine I could get my hands on. Fast forward to the day before the wedding, and I was so sick! I hadn’t slept in 48 hours because of a constant cough and not being able to breathe. My attitude was still that the show must go on. When I finally slept about 3 hours after the rehearsal I woke up feeling like I literally was not going to make it through the day. I ended up in the hospital with a 104 fever, super dehydrated, crying uncontrollably – the works – with a doctor saying either he could give me meds that would knock me out or he could just give me fluids but either was there was no way I was walking down the aisle in four hours. We opted for the meds, but now the fallout has been nuclear! The only people who believe us are like the two or three people who saw me hooked up to the machines struggling to breathe, etc. Everyone else, including family thinks it was cold feet. Now nobody supports our efforts to reschedule except a small handful of people. Surprisingly all of our vendors have been more understanding than anyone. How do we handle things from here? Everyone was notified but it was all via phone calls and texts the morning of from the hospital. I am at a complete loss! Please help!

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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