Wedding Day Timings

Image Credit: Danielle Smith Photography

Planning your wedding is quite possibly the first large event you have planned. So, if you are struggling to put together a wedding day schedule, then this is perfectly normal. It can be hard to strike the balance between enough structure to ensure your day runs smoothly, whilst allowing a little flexibility so your special day does not become too rigid.

If these issues sound all too familiar, then you are not alone. Ensuring the smooth running of a wedding comes with experience. So, it’s not uncommon for couples to feel slightly overwhelmed when trying to pull together each aspect of their wedding day.

Although, there is no exact science or secret formula. You will be pleased to know that I have a selection of approximate timings, points to consider and a huge helping of wedding timing top tips.  All of which will help you put together a wedding day schedule that is perfect for your big day.

Firstly, before you even attempt to draft your wedding day schedule, speak to your venue and suppliers. It may be your first wedding, but it almost certainly won’t be theirs. Don’t be afraid to reach out to each of them, starting with your venue. Ask if they have a selection of past wedding day schedules they can share with you. It’s also worth asking for their opinion on which of these schedules are most suited to the style of wedding you are planning.

In addition to your venue, your photographer and caterer will also be able to make a huge contribution to your final timeline. Ask your photographer how long they will require to capture group shots at your ceremony location and images throughout your drinks reception. Also, ask your caterer how long they require for service of your wedding breakfast, which will depend on your guest numbers as well as your final menu choice.

Once you have gathered the above information you will then be in the perfect position to begin drafting your wedding day schedule, which should always start with bridal prep.

Image Credit; Terri & Lori Fine Art Photography & Film

Bridal prep

Working back from your ceremony start time, considering the following points will allow you to establish the ideal time to begin your bridal preparations.

  • How long will your HMA require to complete everyones hair and make up. Obviously, the best way to confirm this is to speak to your hair and make up artist following your trial. Or, once final decisions on hair and make up have been made. If however, you are looking for a general guide, I would allow around 2 hours for bridal hair and make up and an hour for each bridesmaid and any additional members of your bridal party
  • Will you be asking your photographer to capture images with your bridal party prior to the ceremony and also the big reveal to your dad once you are ready and in your dress. If so, this will add around 30 minutes to your bridal preparations
  • You will also need to calculate the journey time from your bridal prep location to your ceremony. Remembering to allow extra time for traffic and a small amount of photographs once you arrive at your ceremony location
  • If you have a civil ceremony, you will also need to allow around 20 minutes to meet with the registrars prior to your ceremony.

Top tips for bridal preparations

  • Remember to factor in time to eat breakfast, lunch and a cheeky glass of bubbles
  • It can take around 30 minutes to put your bridal gown on. So, be sure to allow enough time to enjoy this special moment
  • Add an extra hour to your bridal prep timings to allow for any element which may take a little longer than expected


The length of time you allow for your ceremony will depend on whether you are having a religious or civil/non religious ceremony. As a general guide I would expect a religious ceremony to last between 30 minutes to an hour with civil/non religious ceremonies typically lasting between 20 & 30 minutes.

When finalising your ceremony timings be sure to consider how long your photographer will require to capture photographs after your ceremony. Which could include the group shot of all your guests as well as your confetti shot. You should also take into account travel time between your ceremony location and your reception, if they are not being held within the same venue.

Top tip for your ceremony

  • Ask your guests to arrive 30 minutes prior to your ceremony start time, to minimise any late arrivals

Image Credit: Terri & Lori Fine Art Photography & Film

Drinks reception

Your drinks reception has a dual purpose. Not only is it the ideal opportunity for you to mingle with your guests over a glass or two of bubbles, but it will also be the time when your photographer will capture a number of your wedding day photographs.

I have always found an hour and a half to be the perfect amount of time to allocate to your drinks reception. However, some couples prefer to extend this to two hours or shorten to 1 hour. Before confirming the duration of your drinks reception be sure to send a shot list to your photographer. This will allow them to advise how long they will require to take the images you have requested. You should also discuss the length of your drinks reception with your caterer to confirm you have requested the correct amount of canapés and drinks for your guests.

Top tips for your drinks reception

  • Ask a responsible member of your bridal party to assist your photographer with gathering your guests for photographs
  • If your confetti shot and group shot, (which includes all your guests) are being taken throughout your drinks reception rather than at your church, arrange for these to take place straight after each other and just before first call for wedding breakfast. This then limits the number of times guests are required to gather together, as well as providing a seamless flow from the drinks reception to your wedding breakfast
  • If your photographer is not familiar with your venue, suggest that they have a sneak peak prior to your wedding day so they can check out the perfect backdrops for your photos

Wedding breakfast & speeches

Based on a three course wedding breakfast, I would usually allocate two hours to this part of your big day. However, service time will depend on your final menu choice, the number of guests you have and the size of your catering team.  Therefore, you should seek advise from your caterers before confirming the final timings for your wedding breakfast.

When allocating time to speeches, you should be mindful of your guests comfort. Guests really enjoy listening to entertaining speeches. However, there is a limit as to how long they will sit for before becoming restless. You should also bear in mind that speeches will often overrun by 10 -15 minutes. If you have the standard three speeches from the father of the bride, groom and best man, then allowing 30 minutes is perfect. If however, there will be additional speeches such as a brides speech or maid of honour’s speech then you may wish to extend the speech timings to 40 minutes.

Top tips for wedding breakfast & speeches

  • Allow around 30 minutes between the end of your drinks reception and service of  your wedding breakfast. This gives your guests time to visit the restrooms and find their seats
  • If you are breaking with tradition and having your speeches before dinner or between courses, be sure to inform your caterers, as they may need to adjust their preparation timings
  • Leave 30 minutes from the end of speeches/wedding breakfast to the arrival of evening guests. This then allows a little wiggle room should dinner service or speeches over run slightly

Image Credit: Terri & Lori Fine Art Photography & Film 

Evening reception

The evening reception is the perfect time for you to relax, have fun and forget your schedule. For this reason I would recommend cutting your cake and scheduling your first dance early on in the evening, ideally 30-45 minutes after you have invited your evening guests to arrive.

Top tips for your evening reception

  • Schedule the cutting of your cake and first dance to follow on from each other. As with your group photo and confetti shot, this limits the number of times you are asking your guests to congregate together
  • Discuss with your caterer prior to your wedding day how many tier’s of your cake you would like them to cut. This will save you having to make any decisions when you are enjoying your evening party
  • It can be frustrating for guests if they are trying to arrange taxi’s at the end of the night. To try and prevent this gently remind everyone the time they are required to arrange their carriages prior to your wedding day,(stating it on your invitations is not always enough)

Whilst you may not be including every element mentioned above in your wedding day.  I do hope the information within this blog post has provided you with a little guidance, which will hopefully make this tricky task a little easier.

If however, you are struggling with your wedding day timings, or any other element of planning your wedding. Please do take a look at the wedding planning services I offer and please do get in touch if you would like to discuss how I can assist you.


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Image Credit: Danielle Smith Photography

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Essex wedding planner Hayley Jayne Weddings & Events in garden

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Hayley Jayne Weddings & Events
Brentwood, Essex

01277 226785
07889 171453

About Hayley

With a keen eye for detail, organisational skills that are second to none and the love of a “to do” list it was inevitable that Hayley would become an events planner. She started her career within the legal profession and was a Personal Assistant for 14 years before training with the UKAWP to become a professional wedding and events planner and then going on to launch “Hayley Jayne Weddings & Events”.

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Hayley Jayne Weddings & Events trained with the UKAWP