Today we are sharing tips on how to navigate one of the harder parts of wedding planning – creating a wedding schedule that works best for you, your guests, and your vendors. Traditionally, your DC area wedding planner or Coordinator will work with you to build the best timeline for the day but if you are opting to have neither for your wedding, this will help guide you along the way! A timeline is crucial for your vendors to not only know the logistics for your wedding, but to help keep everything on time and flowing smoothly! Begin with the following questions to build the base of your timeline and then continue to plug in details as they develop! As a note, we are basing this schedule on a ceremony and reception in the same location. If your ceremony is offsite just make sure to allocate time for travel!

type-a-invitations-wedding-schedule

Type A Invitations

What time must your reception end by, and how many hours are included within your reception contract?

By starting at the end of the night and working backwards, you know how many hours to allocate for each section of the wedding. Catering companies typically require 1 hour for breakdown and 2-3 hour for setup; take those and subtract from your contracted hours to determine how much time is available for your ceremony and reception. We often recommend 30 minutes for the ceremony, 1 hour for cocktails, and 4 for the reception. Often your venue contract will dictate what time vendors can arrive on property; touch base with your venue contact to determine this time before setting your ceremony start to ensure they have enough time to load in and setup!

3:00 Vendor Load In

5:30 Ceremony

6:00 Cocktail Hour

7:00 Reception Begins

11:00 Music Must Conclude/Reception Ends

12:00 Catering/Vendors Must Depart Venue

Do you plan on having a first look or taking family photos in advance?

We can talk all day long about the pros and cons of a first look, but whether or not you have decided to see your fiancé in advance determines how much time to allocate for photos during the day. A first look allows you to take portraits, bridal party photos, and family photos all prior to the ceremony, leaving you and your bridal party available for cocktails. This means that your beauty team must be finished earlier in the day than if you opted to not see each other in advance. Your photographer will also need to be present earlier in the day, which may determine what time their contracted time would end. Talk with your photographer during one of your initial meetings about your plan and they will help you work in how much time to allocate for a first look and portraits!

3:00 Vendor Load In

3:00 First Look

3:30 Bridal Party Portraits

4:30 Family Photos

Parents, Grandparents, Siblings, and their spouses should be included within this list.

5:00 All Photos Completed (guests are arriving and the couple should be out of sight)

Use this downtime to retouch makeup and hydrate before the ceremony.

5:30 Ceremony

6:00 Cocktail Hour

7:00 Reception Begins

11:00 Music Must Conclude/Reception Ends

12:00 Catering/Vendors Must Depart Venue

best-wedding-photographer-maryland-wedding-birds-of-a-feather-photography

From Romantic Maryland wedding by Birds of a Feather Photography

How tricky is THE dress?

Getting into a bridal gown takes time! It is never really getting in the dress that takes such a long time, but rather ensuring that bridesmaids are ready for photos, finishing that last trip to the restroom, and buttoning a full back of buttons! Allocate 30 minutes for your photographer to capture getting into the bridal gown and a few portraits on your schedule. Bridesmaids and the Mother of the Bride traditionally are dressed and ready for the day at this time for nice photos and to assist!

How long will hair and makeup take for your bridal party?

Communicate with your beauty team in advance about exactly how many people will be having hair and makeup services. Let them know what time you need to be in your gown and ready for photos, giving them the ability to build you a timeline that works for you bridal party count. If you want to avoid an early call time for beauty, opt to have grandparents, mother of the groom, or non bridal party members start their session after all bridesmaids are completed. This allows your bridesmaids and mother to partake in dress photos, and start the morning later if possible.

1:30 Photographer Arrival

Have your dress and accessories ready for photographer to photograph when they arrive.

1:40 Firm Finish on all Makeup and Hair for Bridal Party and Bride

1:50 All Bridesmaids Dressed

2:00 Bride into Wedding Dress

2:15 Bridal Portraits

2:30 Depart for Venue

*adjust for travel time to your venue as needed*

3:00 Vendor Load in

3:00 First Look

3:30 Bridal Party Portraits

4:30 Family Photos

Parents, Grandparents, Siblings, and their spouses should be included within this list.

5:00 All Photos completed as Guests are arriving and the couple should be out of site.

Use this downtime to retouch makeup and hydrate before the ceremony.

5:30 Ceremony

6:00 Cocktail Hour

7:00 Reception Begins

11:00 Music Must conclude/Reception Ends

12:00 Catering/Vendors Must Depart Venue

shaddow-creek-virginia-wedding-misty-rodda-photography-7

Shadow Creek Virginia Wedding by Misty Rodda

How many hours have you hired your photographer for?

Based on the start of your day, your photographer should be present for specific points of the getting ready process from when the bride gets in her gown all the way through the last momentous event of the reception. Show your photographer the beginnings of your basic timeline and ask their suggestions based off of your first look and getting ready photos. They will help guide you to building the best timeline for your specific situation.

How many traditions do you want to incorporate into your reception?

Talk with your fiancé and discuss what traditions you want to incorporate into the reception. Are you opting to introduce the bridal party or just yourselves? Do you want to have a first dance, father/daughter dance, mother/son dance? Are you really excited to toss the bouquet to your single ladies? How many toasts are you expecting to have from your loved ones? (Side note: We only recommend 2! Best man and Maid of Honor. Keep the rest for the rehearsal dinner!) We have added in most traditional elements into the schedule below to give you an idea of a perfect layout!

1:30 Photographer Arrival

Have your dress and accessories ready for photographer to photograph when they arrive.

1:40 Firm Finish on all Makeup and Hair for Bridal Party and Bride

1:50 All Bridesmaids Dressed

2:00 Bride into Wedding Dress

2:15 Bridal Portraits

2:30 Depart for Venue

*adjust for travel time to your venue as needed*

3:00 Vendor Load In

3:00 First Look

3:30 Bridal Party Portraits

4:30 Family Photos

Parents, Grandparents, Siblings, and their spouses should be included within this list.

5:00 All Photos Completed (Guests are arriving and the couple should be out of sight)

Use this downtime to retouch makeup and hydrate before the ceremony.

5:30 Ceremony

6:00 Cocktail Hour

7:00 Reception Begins

Give guests 10 minutes to find their seats/20 if your venue has a killer DC view!

7:10 Introduction of the Bridal Party and Newlyweds (you can opt to have parents introduced as well!)

7:15 First Dance by Bride and Groom

Utilize that fact that everyone is watching you by moving right into your first dance!

7:20 Welcome Speech

This is the perfect opportunity to transition to dinner by allowing the host of the evening (parents or couple) to welcome guests. Keep it quick, upbeat, and under 3 minutes.

7:25 Blessing Over Dinner

7:30 First Course Service

Sit down and eat your dinner! Once finished get up and mingle throughout; your guests can wait for you to nosh a little!

8:00 Entrée Service (based off of 150 guests)

Again, sit down and eat your dinner!

8:30 Toasting of the Couple

After guests have all been served, have your MC lead into toasts to keep guests paying attention. Keep to 2-3 toasts to ensure that you don’t lose the momentum of guest attention.

8:40 Father/Daughter and Mother/Son Dances

We recommend doing these post dinner to allow guests to then seamlessly be invited out to the dance floor to start the dance party once you are finished with parents!

9:20 Cake Cutting

Give guests a chance to digest from dinner and get in a good long dance set to work up a new appetite. Make sure to schedule this before your photographer departs for the end of the night!

9:30 Photographer departs from 8 hour contracted time

Most photographers will say that 45 minutes to 1 hour of dancing is the perfect mix for photos. Unless you have a big send off at the end of the night, having them leave after an hour of dancing will still ensure you have plenty of wonderful photos to look through!

11:00 Music Must Conclude/Reception Ends

12:00 Catering/Vendors Must Depart Venue

dc_dar__jewish_-wedding_lisa_boggs_photography-94-reception-centerpieceDC DAR wedding reception by Lisa Boggs Photography

Special notes to consider

Try to breakup the activities at the reception to constantly drive the attention of your guests. If you stack toasts and dances all together before dinner, guests will likely become antsy for dinner.

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All traditions are optional at your reception. If you do not love the idea of special dances or a big cake cutting, do not feel that you have to keep it on your schedule. Each wedding day is unique, but always let your vendors know your intentions so they can plan accordingly!

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Guests will arrive early to your ceremony! Plan on guests arriving up to 30 minutes prior to the start time on your invitations, so you should be out of site by this time. Also, don’t try and trick your guests with an earlier time on the invitation than your intended start to ensure they arrive on time. You would not want a well meaning guest arriving an hour early and having to wait in your unfinished ceremony space as vendors are setting up.

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Hire a Wedding Coordinator to help you manage your day. All of your vendors will offer their best suggestions and opinions on the schedule, but it is your coordinator’s job to realistically manage and keep your day on time and running smoothly.  Each vendor builds a timeline based on their own needs and specialty whereas your coordinator is advocating for the needs of the couple while structuring a timeline that works with your overall vision. They merge the vendor needs with your preferences to build a custom schedule for your big day.

Have you started your timeline yet? What are some concerns or questions you have as you work on your wedding day layout? We love to hear your thoughts and questions in our comments section below!

 

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