How to Create Your Own Wedding Timeline

When planning a wedding yourself, it is easy to overlook the tiny details of your wedding day. Sure, you've got the big things down like ceremony start time and when its time to start getting your hair and make-up done, but what about what time does the photographer need to arrive prior to the ceremony based on the length of your contract? So, in an effort to help DIY brides, we've pulled together a list of questions to help you start to pull together a day-of timeline for your wedding to ensure all things go smoothly. 

How to Build Your Wedding Day Timeline

First, check your venue contract and find out: 

What time can you have access to the venue for decorating?

Some venues, such as wineries and other locations, have reception start times for a reason, as they have other customers there during the day. Be sure to check on how early you can arrive to decorate and/or gain access for the caterer and florist to begin set-up.

Who will be setting up items such as the guest book, favors, table decor, etc.?

If you have a day-of wedding coordinator, this will fall under their responsibilities. However, you might have a friend or family member (it might even be your Mom) who will be responsible for setting up small details at the venue. Be sure to plan plenty of time for that person to be able to complete set-up and get ready for the wedding.

 Photo Courtesy Daniel Min Photography

Photo Courtesy Daniel Min Photography

Will you be getting ready there? What time can you arrive?

If your ceremony and reception are at the same venue, chances are you may be getting ready there. If so, you can probably gain access to the bridal suite hours before your ceremony starts. Be sure to check on that time and coordinate with your hair and make-up person so things go as planned. 

If you are not getting ready at the venue, how will you and the bridal party get to the venue?

Sometimes, you may choose to get ready at home or at a hotel suite for everyone to be together. If so, you'll need to plan for transportation for you and the bridal party to get to the venue. You may want to call a car or limo service to make things easier and have extra space, especially considering you'll be in your dress.

If your ceremony is at a church, what time does the ceremony start? Who is responsible for decorations at the church?

Some churches have a coordinator to help, however, you will most likely have to designate someone to ensure flowers, programs, etc. are in the right places.

How long do you have the venue for in your contract?

Typical contract length is 4 hours for the reception, 5 hours for ceremony and reception if both are held in the same place. Based on your timeline, you might also want to consider if you need another hour at the  venue and potentially plan for an additional charge.


Based on the above answers, review your other vendor contracts to determine the following:

What time will the florist be delivering the flowers to the church and/or venue?

One common item most brides forget is to have their bouquets delivered to the location where you are getting ready to have them with you for pre-ceremony photos, your first look if you are doing one, etc.

What time is the cake being delivered to the venue?

Most times you'll get a window, so you'll want to be sure someone will be at the venue for them to get in.

How long have you contracted your photographer?

Based on the length of time, be sure to plan for the photographer to arrive in plenty of time to take pre-ceremony getting ready photos and then stay to the end, especially if you have a special exit planned.  

How early will the caterer need to arrive?

Be sure to coordinate with the venue to be sure someone will be there and the caterer can gain access at the appropriate time to begin set-up.


Once you've thought through everything pre-ceremony, you have to think about the order of events of the ceremony and reception. Be sure to think about the following:

 Photo Courtesy Kathryn Ivy Photography

Photo Courtesy Kathryn Ivy Photography

What music will be playing during the various parts of the ceremony and reception?

While you may think its only a few songs, there are potentially multiple songs needed for various parts of the ceremony and reception. Here's a list:

  • Processional - Seating of the grandparents and parents, groom's entrance, and bridesmaids entrance. This can be the same song or different songs. 
  • Bridal Processional - The song for the bride to come down the aisle.
  • Recessional - The song for the bride and groom to walk back down the aisle as husband and wife.
  • Ceremony Entrance Music - The song for everyone to be announced at the reception.
  • First Dance - The song to play during your first dance as husband and wife.
  • Father-Daughter Dance/Mother-Son Dance - Songs to play during the special dances at the reception.

How long will you take photos after the ceremony?

Work with your photographer on how much time he or she needs to take the formal family photos and your portraits after the ceremony prior to the reception. This is why most couples plan a cocktail hour to get guests into the celebration while waiting for the bride and groom to take photos. 

What is the order of events at the reception?

Once you are announced, do you want to do your first dance right away or do you want to start eating? When will you cut the cake and do toasts? What time will you plan your exit to ensure guests are still there?

Who will be responsible for gathering gifts and any remaining decor items?

Most venues require that all personal items are removed and that the venue is fully cleaned at the end of the night. You and your groom will be long gone after your planned exit, so be sure to plan for someone to gather gifts, all remaining decor items, any remaining items from the bridal suite, etc.

Whew! We know that is a lot to think about, however, those details are the important details to think about ahead of time to ensure that your wedding day runs smoothly and you can enjoy the party that you've spent months planning - rather than answering questions on the fly during the event. 

At Dellwood Plantation, we have over 15 years of experience running smooth weddings. All of our packages come with a mistress of ceremonies to ensure that your wedding will run smoothly once you start your walk down the aisle to your new husband. We invite you visit the plantation and learn more about our comprehensive wedding packages.