I thought I'd take this opportunity to kick off wedding season by discussing most of my client's least favourite topic. The timeline. It’s important to remember that wedding timelines act as a guideline. This is one of the main questions many of your vendors will be asking you about. When does your ceremony start? When does it end? What time does dinner start? What time do you plan on doing your cake cutting? Although all these questions may seem daunting and make you anxious – Don’t panic! I KNOW it can be overwhelming, especially in the early stages of planning. All that you have your mind on is picking your venue, dreaming about dress shopping and booking your photographer … the last thing you’re thinking about is what time your first dance is supposed to start and that is O K A Y! I'm here to put you at ease and help you relax!
Here are some of my tips to make sure your day goes smoothly!
INVITE TIME VS. START TIME
The “invite” time is the time on your invitation. The earliest guests will show up about half an hour before this, so be prepared for that. And then there are the late guests. No matter the size of your guest list, you can put money on the fact that ten of them will be around ten minutes late, even if they’re all staying down the street from the venue. Do yourself a favor and plan on starting the ceremony fifteen minutes after your invite time. There’s nothing more awkward than a late arrival standing at the back of the aisle because the bridesmaids are walking down.
Although many people these days do not do a receiving line, it’s the best way to allow you to greet all (or most all) of you guests individually. The other popular way to is to go around tables during dinner and have your photographer follow you to get photos of you with your guests. The best time to do a receiving line is after your ceremony right outside the church or venue of choice. Your pastor or host can announce that the couple will be available outside. Another option, if you are planning a cocktail hour is to do it from your cocktail hour into dinner – the most suitable transition point is typically the door way. You would want to have someone in charge of gently herding guest through to dinner about half hour before your cocktail hour ends. This gives you a minute of greeting/hugging/fist bumping everyone as they come into the dining room.
When you are serving dinner depends largely on:
1) What type of food service you’re having (the most common options being buffet, family style, and plated)
2) How large your guest list is
It takes about twenty minutes for one hundred guests to get through a buffet. Plated courses are usually spaced about forty-five minutes apart. And family style also takes about fifteen-twenty minutes for one hundred guests to be served.
So plan accordingly—I highly suggest starting with a minimum of bread on the table to give guests something to snack on while they wait for their turn at the food, although plated salads are also a great way to start out an otherwise buffet meal for the same reason. And of course, always discuss timing with whoever is actually serving your food—they should have the best idea for your particular menu.
I encourage people to do toasts close to the end of dinner – this way you have a captive audience and people are in the headspace to be attentive.
***Note: Make sure the MC announces toasts will be happening shortly so guests can be ready with their cocktails or drinks on hand. Also tell the catering staff that they should continue to serve/clear/etc. while people are speaking (they’re good at doing this discreetly), and have your photographer to go through the buffet line first.
Note what time it’s going to happen! (There are lots of places online that will tell you) You’re going to want to think about lighting, especially if your event is happening partially outdoors. And also…
Whether or not you opt for an “official” photographed first look, the truth is that a lot of couples these days tend to do formal portraits before the ceremony, because otherwise you’re stuck wrangling people during cocktail hour, which
a) Means they’re less compliant
b) You miss out on mingling with your guests/stuffing seared shrimp in your mouth.
Also, we always suggest a second set of portraits right before sunset for two reasons—the light is totally different, and gorgeous (they don’t call it golden hour for nothing) and you’re also in a totally different space emotionally—the ceremony is over, you may have had a glass of champagne, and you’re married, as opposed to about to get married in an hour. You really only need to spare ten to fifteen minutes for these, and you should plan on it being just the two of you and your primary photographer. This mini session also has the added benefit of giving you a short break away from the crowd.
WEDDINGS WITH PHOTOS AFTER THE CEREMONY
But hey, maybe one or both of you is against taking photos before the ceremony—how do you get them in after? The extended cocktail hour is your friend. I’d encourage you to schedule the ceremony about thirty minutes earlier than you normally would (so, set it for 3:30pm instead of 4:00pm), or dinner thirty minutes later, or both, thereby giving yourself a ninety minute to two hour cocktail hour so that you’ll be able to join in for at least half an hour. Remember if you do this that you’ll need enough drinks and snacks to feed your group for the extended length, so plan ahead (or talk with your caterer) as needed.
Also make sure that everyone who’s going to be in photos knows ahead of time, and goes from the ceremony to the photo site. Get extended family photos out of the way first, immediate family second, wedding party third, and then do your couple portraits last—the key is to release the most people to cocktail hour as quickly as possible. A well-thought-out shot list will be your friend here—take the time to sit down with your photographer and make it, and try to condense the family portraits as much as possible. (The key is making sure each family gets a picture with you, not each person!)
While this rule seems to have gotten lost over the generations, traditionally it’s considered acceptable to leave a wedding once the cake has been cut—at that point you know that nothing else major is going to happen (it’s just partying from there on out) and hey, maybe you have a sitter to get home to, or just want to be in bed to watch the ten o’clock news. And while you may not be aware of this rule, if you have any guests over sixty-years-old then they do, and they will wait for you to cut the cake or pie. So don’t wait until too late to do it. I mean, no one wants to leave without a piece of cake or pie.
The universal signal that things are about to wrap up or wind down. You don’t have to make it official, but if you do it can be a helpful to sign to people that they should start preparing (mentally) to leave.
If your venue has strict timing rules, or noise restrictions, or you’re paying a staff hourly and they’re going to go into overtime or time-and-a-half at some point, don’t forget about breakdown. While generally faster than set up (it’s a lot quicker to toss decorations into a box than it is to take them out and perfectly arrange them) I rarely see a breakdown that’s under an hour, and sometimes they end up in the one to two hour range. Think about all of the things that are going to need to happen once the lights go on and how much time that will take, and plan the end of the night accordingly.
These are some things I would highly encourage you to think about before setting your Timeline. I hope some of these tips have been helpful to you as your writing out your big to-do lists and things to think about!
Look out for Part II that will discuss more of your big day and things that you may want to think about and have someone else take care of.