The Much-Needed Wedding Day Timeline

Learn expert tips and surprising details on what should be included.

While the décor elements are more visible, having your big day progress smoothly will transform your celebration from merely a beautiful event to a magical one.

Photo: Carter Rose for F8 Studio

We’ve all been to a stunning wedding where the ceremony starts an hour late, the toasts are interminable, and the maid of honor is running around frazzled asking if anyone’s seen the photographer. When planning your own special day, you can avoid wedding fails by creating a detailed timeline. While the décor elements are more visible, having your big day progress smoothly will transform your celebration from merely a beautiful event to a magical one.

Happy I Do Day wedding card gift idea for bride groom

Photo by Koman Photography; Planning & Design by Ilana Ashley Events

Creating a Timeline: Who, How & Why 
All of your vendors should know when you expect them to arrive, when they should be done setting up, and what time they need to return for clean up. Consider making a condensed version for your wedding party and family to ensure that they know where they need to be.

Block off your wedding day into 15-minute segments that start from the time you wake up until you depart for your hotel suite. Include when all of your vendors should arrive, when tasks need to be completed, and the progress from different events during the reception (i.e. doors open for your guests, dinner service begins, etc.). The more details and specificity you include, the better! Discover some of the necessary components you’ll need to include by reading below.

Hair & Makeup
- Ask your stylist how long they need per person and work backwards from the ceremony time through your photography schedule.
- Keep in mind if anyone in your wedding party needs time to breastfeed or has small children at home, which might affect when they are able to arrive for their appointment.
- Add in time for eating breakfast and lunch between beauty appointments! This will also avoid fainting bridesmaids and drunk groomsmen.

Bride reading card from groom or family member in white robe bride

Photo by Laurie Bailey Photography; Planning & Design by Ilana Ashley Events


- To ensure you receive beautiful detail shots of your wedding gown and accessories, schedule your photographer to arrive toward the end of your makeup appointment.
- Will you be giving gifts to your partner or bridesmaids/groomsmen? Factor this into your photography timeline.
- Think about the photos that you want most and create a shot list so your photographer knows who to include in each image. Ask them how much time is needed for these important portraits.
- Consider designating a family member as your photographer’s go-to person when trying to wrangle everyone together.

Detail shot of badgley mischka shoe heels for wedding day detail shot

Photo by Alyssa Marie Photography; Planning & Design by Ilana Ashley Events

- Include sufficient time for your wedding party to line up, as someone always needs to make a last-minute stop at the restroom or reapply their lip gloss.
- Communicate with your officiant about the length of the actual ceremony. Based on the size of your bridal party, add additional time for your processional and recessional. 
- Include the detailed order for the processional and recessional as well as the respective songs to be played.

Cocktail Hour
- We recommend including a private moment with your new spouse after you recess down the aisle. It’s also an ideal time to have food and drinks; include this note in your timeline so your catering staff can properly prepare.
- If you plan to take family photos after your ceremony, communicate with your caterer so that severs are present at the photography location offering cocktails and hors d’oeuvres to your most important guests. 
- Almost every wedding gown needs to be bustled. Include the names of your designated helpers and add sufficient time within your schedule to complete this task.

Server holding cocktail tray in coupe glass raspberry champagne

Photo by Braedon Photography; Planning & Design by Ilana Ashley Events

- Communicate to your DJ/band how you would like to be announced for the first time and include phonetic spelling.
- Note the songs for each specialty dance and whether it will be played fully or partially. If it’s a portion of the song, include the time that you would like the song to end.
- Include the order of speeches and how to announce each person. We recommend a limited number of toasts and communicating a time preference to your speakers (i.e. two to three people at two to three minutes per person).
- Notate the needed items for a seamless cake-cutting ceremony. Include this in your timeline to be completed at least 15 minutes before the actual cake cutting. 

With a detailed timeline, your wedding will not only be beautiful but also flawlessly executed, allowing you and your guests to simply enjoy every moment of this special day.

For more tips, discover Ilana's advice on what to do once you get engaged, read a photographer's perspective on creating the ultimate multimedia timeline, and learn ways to help your photographer capture special details