Organizing big events can be a total nightmare with all of the logistics and so many people involved. Make that big event your own wedding day and you’re sure to be in a panic. Today, we’re sharing our 4 steps to creating the perfect wedding day timeline to help you have a stress free day!

Step 1: Set Your Ceremony Time

Start with the ceremony timeline! After all, the ceremony is what your whole day is all about! So, you’ll set your ceremony time and everything else will work around that! From there we will work backwards to decide when all the prep work has to be done.

Our wildflower rule of thumb for a standard wedding day is about four hours for setting up, one hour for the ceremony / cocktail hour, four hours for the reception, and one hour for breakdown. Guests normally start arriving 30-45 minutes prior to the ceremony time, so you will want everything to be fully set up by that time at the latest! Usually before for the photographer to get some detail shots before guests arrive!

But how long is the actual ceremony? On average, a wedding ceremony is 30 minutes start to finish (including precessional and everyone walking to line up for the ceremony). Some are longer depending on religious preferences, and some are shorter! We’ve seen ceremonies that last 15 minutes and some that last over an hour! It’s all about each couple’s preferences and what is important to them when it comes to the ceremony. 

Step 2: Work With Vendor Contracts

After setting your ceremony time and making a basic wedding day timeline, you’ll want to start looking at your vendor contracts! Most wedding vendors have contracted amounts of time they will be at the wedding, so we take a look at these contracts to fill out the rest of the day! Photographers are usually at the wedding ranging from 6-10 hours to capture all the important moments of the day. DJ’s are typically contracted for 4-6 hours, depending if they are doing both ceremony and reception and how long your reception will last. This helps us gauge how much time we have for specific timeline items and how to plan it so you get the most out of your day!

My photographer has his own timeline, now what? We always work very closely with the photographer when it comes to the wedding day timeline! We love to  collaborate with them to ensure we allot enough time and that nothing interferes with the overall timeline. I always encourage my brides to send their photographer a photo list and to be as detailed as possible with it! Let them know what is important to you, whether it’s detail shots or action shots. Plus, creating a complete list of all family members and people you want photos with (Bride & Mom, Bride with mom & dad, Bride with Aunt Susie and Uncle Kevin) really helps estimate how much time is needed for family photos. 

Step 3: Work in the Personal Details

This is the part where you need to ask yourself what’s most important to you on your wedding day? For some brides, the most important factor is the ceremony and photos, and some brides want to really focus on the dancing and having a party! Once we get a feel for what the bride likes and finds important, we customize the flow of the timeline from there. 

Here are some personal touches to consider: first look, grand entrance, first dance and dinner. If you decide to do a first look, adjust the timeline accordingly. That puts more pictures before the ceremony, but gets you to the party and time with your guests faster! Think about if you want to go straight into all of the formal events back to back or spread them out more. All these things really affect how to create the perfect wedding reception timeline.

Step 4: Finalize with Vendors and Set Arrival Times

Once you have all of this squared away, then you are able to give your vendors the information they need to know when to arrive. Piecing the parts together on wedding day is kind of like building a puzzle!

First, plan for anything that is being brought into the venue including installations, draping, staging or lighting needs to be installed. All of these enhancements to the venues original nature will want to be done first because they typically need a clear room for this.

Also, keep in mind you wouldn’t want the band to come before you have the staging set up. Then the tables and chairs need to be set up! This is normally done by the venue if the furniture is coming in-house. Next, it’s time for the linens to go down. This is typically one of the first things we do when we arrive on a wedding day!

After the linens, the tables are ready for any decorations, tableware, or florals that will be going on them! Last but not least, we are ready for the cake to arrive! You want this to be one of the last vendors to arrive for set up. As for the DJ/ Band and caterer, we always make sure to ask how long it takes for them to set up. Typically it’s 2-3 hours prior to start time, but really can vary depending on the wedding. 

Finalizing Your Perfect Wedding Day Timeline

Once you’ve created the perfect wedding day timeline, it’s all execution. That’s where a planner or coordinator really makes all the difference! You don’t want to be the bride who makes her mom lose her mind. Let her be your mom and hire someone to run your big day. If you’re interested in working with us, you can schedule a free consultation on our website!

If you’re looking for more articles to read online about wedding day timelines, there are several out there. Here is one from Wedding Wire that we think might be helpful! Plus, we think this one from Minted is especially helpful in estimating how long everything takes!

Sample Wedding Day Timeline


All of the photos in this article are from Jake & Shannon’s wedding at Ridge Rose. Here’s the full list of vendors from that wedding & today’s blog!
Planning & Timeline Tips: W Events
Photography: Karson Boothe
Venue: Ridge Rose
Catering & Floral: Chattown Catering
Photobus: SunKissed Photo Bus
Hair & Makeup: The BlowOut Co
Linens: White Table
Vintage Furniture: Heirlooms