Putting Together a Timeline

You've got your venue, your photographer, your DJ, your dress, and your caterer.  You've sent out invitations and gotten most of your guest list finalized (as a side note-- what's up with people not RSVPing?  How rude!).  It would have been nice to have a wedding planner, but the budget wouldn't allow it.  Or maybe you've hired a day-of coordinator (very good move, by the way), but she won't be on the scene until a week or so before the wedding.

In the mean time, your DJ and caterer have asked for a timeline, and you don't really know where to start.  

One of our recent brides planning her perfect day

One of our recent brides planning her perfect day

When do we do our first dance?  How long does dinner last?  Are people going to dance for an hour or two hours or three hours, or twenty minutes??  We have the venue until 10:00-- is that enough time to fit everything in?  Or too much time???  Ack!

Fear not, young bride.  Putting a wedding day timeline together can be daunting at first, but it's really not a big deal once you learn a few guidelines.  Let's jump right in...

The Basics

Unless you're going pretty far out of the box, there are some things that almost every wedding is going to have.  They're listed below, some with rough time estimates.  Now, hold on!  Don't freak out if it doesn't follow what you already had in mind.  There's no order set in stone, and when it comes down to it, you can really do whatever you want.  This is just the order I prefer them in, and it's pretty typical.  But we often work with vendors who feel differently, so who knows.  One final note before you look: the less common items are in italics.  Okay, now have at it...

  • Guests arrive; pre-ceremony music begins (~15-30 min before ceremony)
  • Ceremony (~20-30 minutes)
  • Cocktail hour (~1 hr)
  • Reception begins: i.e., guests invited into reception area
  • Grand entrance
  • First dance
  • Welcome speech
  • Dinner
  • Toasts (~45 min after dinner begins)
  • Father/Bride dance
  • Mother/Groom dance
  • Money dance
  • Anniversary dance
  • Open dancing (~20-40 min)
  • Bouquet/Garter toss
  • Cake cutting
  • More open dancing
  • (Grand exit-- e.g., sparkler send-off, bubbles, glow sticks, etc.)

I suggest you start with that and then add, subtract and modify things as necessary.  Remember, none of those things is gospel, and some are more flexible than others.  For example, the first dance could just as easily go after dinner-- and many people prefer it that way-- but I just have a personal preference for doing it right after the grand entrance, which I'll discuss in a minute.

Spacing things out

So the next question is, how much time to allow for each thing, and how much time to allow


things?  There are no hard and fast rules to this either, so your most important resource is to trust your judgement.  Here are a few rules of thumb, though:

  • Dinner service will take more time than you think.  If it's a buffet, the first people to get food may even be finishing while the last people are taking their first bites.  But table service isn't always much better-- the more guests you have, the longer it takes the wait staff to serve, take away, and serve the next course.  So allow for at least 45 minutes.
  • Everything else will take less time than you think.  Your first dance won't take five minutes (the full song is only three and a half minutes long, after all!), toasts won't take forty-five minutes (unless you have a long-winded best man, which is not unheard of), and no one is likely to pay much attention to the cake cutting for more than five minutes or so.  And the grand entrance is over before you know it!  Don't believe me?  Right now, put on the song you're thinking of for your grand entrance, have your future hubby do the announcement of the bridal party, and you mime everyone coming in the room-- if you make it past two minutes, I'll give you a dollar. ;)
  • People will want to talk to you.  You're sort of a big deal on your wedding day, so everyone will want a picture and a few minutes of conversation with the rock stars of the evening.  That's not a bad thing, but do the math and all those minutes start to add up.  So it's a good idea to allow some time for this, either going table to table during dinner or scheduling something like an anniversary dance, thereby working the shmoozing into your timeline.
  • The last two hours are flexible. This is your time either to play catch-up or to stretch-out, as necessary.  But after the dinner and toasts, it's more important to let people have fun.  So schedule the bouquet/garter/cake cutting tentatively on the timeline, and let your DJ actually announce them when it feels right, like when the dancefloor slows down.  Just make sure it's before your photographer leaves for the night.

Wrapping Up

If you made it to the end of this 800+ word blog, you'll see we've attached a sample timeline.  So download it, copy it, modify it, make it your own.  If you have any questions/concerns/comments/complaints, just contact us, and we'll make all of your wildest dreams come true.


The Backyard Wedding

It's a great way to cut corners. With half the money you would have spent on a more traditional venue, you can deck out a good-sized backyard. That probably means shaving off at least a grand from your wedding expenses, which is nothing to sneeze at (who sneezes at things anyway?)

But it's not just about the money. Backyard weddings have other advantages over commercial venues. First, you probably won't have the strict time limits, which means you will have a lot more time to set up and you won't have someone watching the clock to kick you out at the end. Believe me-- there are plenty of hot-shot venues that will charge you extra if your music stops at 11:02 instead of the 11:00 you contracted for! The thing I like most about a backyard wedding, though, is the intimacy of it. A home feels so much more personal than any grand ballroom, surrounded by close friends and family where no one feels obligated to be something they're not. If you're the couple that wants to make a big deal without making a big deal, the backyard wedding may just the ticket.

But there are a few drawbacks-- or potential drawbacks-- to be mindful of.


Trying to fit cars for over a hundred wedding guests on a typical residential street can be an issue. Sometimes it's worth getting a trustworthy nephew or friend to help park cars, especially for the older guests.


Most backyards are fairly well lit-- just not in a style fitting an elegant wedding. Brighten things up with uplights on the trees, strings lights overhead, paper lanterns, etc. Most equipment rental places or DJ/entertainment companies (including ours) will offer uplights and market lighting and will even set them up for you. You can even get cheap string /market lighting at places like Target, Wal-Mart and Amazon.


You'll have a lot of people visiting the loo over the course of five or six hours. If the house doesn't have at least two bathrooms with plenty of handtowels and toilet paper, or if you just don't want all the foot traffic inside, you may consider renting some nice portable ones.


Don't forget the heat lamps. Even if it is in the middle of summer, you should probably have at least one around for the evening-- your aunt will appreciate it.

Too informal

Remember what we said about the intimacy of it all? That's very true, but watch out. If you cut too many corners, you're wedding reception will start to look like just another summer barbeque. So hire professional vendors and go big on decor and lights wherever you can.


Oh yeah, them! Unless you live next door to your own mother, your neighbor won't think the day is nearly as big of a deal as you do. So be sure to tell them ahead of time what you're doing, get their blessing, and offer an agreed-upon time when the music will be off. Depending on your relationship, you might even invite them to come over once they here the music cranks up.

Bottom line: if you devote half the money you would have spent on a a venue to sprucing up a backyard, you can have a wedding as elegant as any your guests have ever seen. We've done weddings in every type of venue imaginable, and we've seen fairy tale weddings to end all fairy tale weddings! But the backyard wedding has a special place in our hearts. If done right, and with just enough added sparkle, it will be a very special evening that both you and your guests will remember and appreciate forever.