Hello lovely Bride & Grooms-to be! With Spring (thankfully!) just around the corner and wedding season about to launch into full swing, I wanted to offer a little help with the planning side of your special day. If you are struggling to put together a running order, then please don’t worry, you are definitely not alone! This is something I regularly hear from couples I am working with in the process of resolving wedding decor, trying to pin down timings for their Order of the Day.
So just how and where do you start with working out those all-important timings? It’s not easy – especially if you have never organised events before. In my previous role managing large scale functions and events, it wasn’t unusual to juggle schedules for 150+people, resolving venues, entertainment, catering, floristry, transport, accommodation etc. Thankfully those skills were super transferable and it’s truly wonderful to be able to put them into practice for bride & grooms-to-be!
Having had the privilege to work with lots of lovely engaged couples (and plan my own wedding!), I’ve come up with a handy guide to timings, to give you a very good idea of how long to allow for each part of your special day.
So let’s start from the beginning, with that all important….
There are several key points to consider when working out how long your bridal prep will take.
Breakfast & Fizz! Definitely not to be over-looked on your special day! If you are not getting wed until the afternoon, eating (even if you have a tummy full of butterflies!) is absolutely essential to give you the energy you need to celebrate and party in style long into the night!
Hair & Makeup: As a general rule, I recommend allowing up to 2 hours for bridal hair and make-up and up to 1 hour for bridesmaids, but your hairdresser and make-up artist will be able to give you a good idea of how long they are likely to take. Of course, you/your bridal party may choose to do your own hair and/or makeup, in which case I would advise allowing at least an extra hour over and above how long you think it will take. That way you can relax a little and allow plenty of time to enjoy the build-up and excitement ahead of saying ‘I do’!
Getting Dressed: Always allow at least 30 minutes to get into your beautiful wedding dress. I promise you, it always takes longer than you think and if you have a large bridal party, it can take quite some time to get everyone ready! My top tip here would also be to have a little sewing repair kit on hand, just in case
anyone needs it, for a button popping off or a caught hem.
Photography: If you are planning on having any pre-ceremony photos with your bridal party, do factor in a little extra time for these. Generally speaking these are often taken unobtrusively as you are getting ready and won’t add a huge amount of time to your schedule. However, if in any doubt, check with your photographer to see whether they will require any dedicated time to be set aside.
Distance: Work out how long it will take you to get to your ceremony venue. If you have arranged transport using a wedding chauffeur service, they will be able to recommend your time of departure based on the time of your ceremony. Of course if you are lucky enough to be getting ready in a bridal suite at your chosen venue, then timings here will be a piece of cake!
To work out what time you need to start getting ready on the morning of your big day, simply add up timings for each part above and work backwards from your arrival time at your ceremony venue.
There are four factors to consider for Ceremony timings.
1. What time does everyone need to arrive? As a general guide I usually advise the following for guests and the wedding party:
Groom, Best Man and Ushers: 45 minutes before the ceremony, to be on-hand in good time to welcome your guests and show everyone to their seats, hand out confetti, supervise music etc., meet with the Registrar or person conducting your ceremony.
Guests & Groom’s Parents: 30 minutes before the ceremony. When you send out your invitations, you might like to consider including ‘please arrive by . . . .to be seated’ alongside your ceremony time. This is of course entirely optional, but it’s a great way to politely ensure everyone is on time for your service!
Mother of the Bride and Bridesmaids: 15 minutes before the ceremony.
Bride and Father of the Bride/whoever is giving you away: 5 minutes before the ceremony.
2. How long should you allow for your service itself?
There are three types of service and timings can vary depending on which one you have chosen. Timings can also increase a little if you include several readings or personalised vows. At the end of the day, the ceremony is the most important part of your wedding, and whoever is leading your service will guide you through exactly what to expect and how long it is likely to take. As an estimate, I would advise allowing the following timings:
Non-Religious Ceremony – 30 to 45 minutes.
Civil Wedding / Partnership – 30 to 45 minutes.
Religious Ceremony – 60 to 90 minutes.
3. Are you having a photographer at your Ceremony?
This might be particularly relevant if your ceremony is being held at a different venue to your reception i.e. you are getting married in a church and you are hoping for that all important confetti shot. Your photographer will be able to advise how long to allow here before you move to your Reception and open the Fizz!!
4. Will you be moving from your Ceremony to Reception?:
Lastly, if your ceremony and reception are being held in different locations, always factor in how long it will take you (and your guests) to get from one venue to the next.
Drinks Reception & Photographs
Time to celebrate! And I recommend you allow at least 1 ½ -2 hours for this part of your day. Whether it’s Fizz, Pimms, your own special cocktails (or mocktails!), keeping the drinks flowing and your guests happy with canapés or a sweet treat, will give your photographer lots of time to get some wonderful portrait photos of you both as newly-weds, as well as candid shots of you enjoying time with your guests and group photos.
My top tip here would be to task someone you trust to help your photographer with this, because it can be quite difficult to get everyone in the right place at the right time for group photos – especially when everyone is having a fabulous time!
It’s also the perfect time to introduce some entertainment for your guests and there are some great options out there - everything from magicians, garden games and fairground rides to birds of prey and alpacas! (alpacas being one of our absolute favourites!)
Find your Seats!
I recommend you allow approximately 15-20 minutes for your guests to move from your drinks reception to your wedding breakfast. Of course having a great seating plan will help the proceedings along (and that’s something we can definitely help with!). I also recommend you appoint one or two people – Bridesmaids, Ushers or your Best Man, to help guests find their seats.
If you are including a traditional ‘receiving line’ within your schedule, do allow a little longer for this. Although it’s definitely not essential, if you have a large guest list, it’s a great way to thank everyone personally for sharing your special day.
A Round of Applause for the Speeches!
The timing of wedding toasts & speeches varies greatly, and it's all about finding the ideal balance that works for you and the type of wedding you are planning. The most popular option is to have the speeches before the meal starts. However lots of couples choose to have a different speech between each course of the wedding breakfast and have a toast, followed by cake cutting at the end of the meal.
Whichever order you choose for speeches, I recommend you allow 30-45 minutes in total, with speakers aiming ideally for 5-10 minutes each. Be prepared for them to over-run a little. Even with practice this isn’t unusual and it’s all part of the fun!
Wedding Breakfast - Let's Eat!
Timings will of course depend largely on the size of your guest list and your menu (the number of courses or type of food being served) but your caterers will be able to give you a more accurate guide on how long service will take. As a general guide I recommend you allow approximately 2 hours. Your wedding breakfast should be relaxed – never rushed, giving your guests the opportunity to enjoy great food and fabulous company!
Cutting the Cake!
This traditionally follows the Wedding Breakfast just before dancing and your evening entertainment begins. Cutting it together now while everyone is seated, is the perfect way to signal the end of the meal and a move towards the evening entertainment. If you are offering your guests tea and coffee at this point, I would allow 30 minutes – enough time for your catering team to plate up your cake, serve and clear away before your evening reception gets into full swing.
If you are inviting guests to joining you later in the evening, it’s a great idea to ask them to arrive at least 30 minutes after your cake cutting/the end of your Wedding Breakfast. This will avoid anyone turning up while people are still eating and will help all your guests feel welcome and included.
Once the meal is finished, the cake has been cut and any new guests have joined the celebrations, you will be ready to signal to your DJ or band to start your First Dance and invite people to throw some shapes on the dance-floor with you!
More Food Anyone?!
Many couples opt to offer their guests a lighter meal or buffet, later in the evening. We have seen everything from a simple buffet to hog-roasts & BBQs, hot-dogs, chilli & burritos, pizza, cheese wedding cakes and churros with chocolate sauce. There are so many wonderful options! There really aren’t any set timings for this – except to say it’s usual to serve evening food 2+ hours after your wedding breakfast. This leaves a good amount of time between meals for those who enjoyed your wedding breakfast, and means any guests joining for the evening reception don’t wait too long before food is available.
So, there we have it! And aside from any ‘extras’ you may like to include such as specific evening entertainment i.e. magician, wedding games, fireworks or sparklers; the only remaining thing to consider will be ‘last orders’ and ‘carriages home’.
Every wedding is totally unique and the timings proposed above will hopefully be helpful, but please don’t feel like you’re doing it wrong if you want to change them, miss out certain bits or add in extras – it’s your special day after all!
If you are still struggling with your ‘Order of the Day’ and would like some help then please do ask. Aside from hiring out the most beautiful wedding decorations (we have two fabulous Order of the Day options for you to choose from), and dressing your venue; help with planning is all part of the Wedding Library service!
It can be hugely reassuring when you are trying to juggle guest-lists, catering, entertainment etc. to have a little help and guidance with planning and timings, and I would be delighted to help!
In the meantime, while we all look forward to those longer, lighter evenings and sunshiny wedding days...happy wedding planning!