The secret to an awesome wedding? A well-planned wedding day timeline

For many couples, one of the most important parts of their wedding day is the reception. We get it, you want to get out on the dance floor and drop it like it’s hot with all your family and friends! But there’s usually a whole lot of other stuff that has to happen before you get to that part of the night, which means, there’s a whole lot of potential for major time delays and wedding day chaos. 

So in this episode, we are talking all about how to fine-tune your wedding day schedule so that party time, actually starts on time.

Home » Blog » Podcast » How to Plan a Wedding Day Timeline That Will Maximize Your Party Time

How to save time when your ceremony and reception are at two different locations

The most helpful thing you can do is to be really mindful of when the ceremony starts and when the reception starts. 

If there is a long time gap between the ceremony and the reception, we always recommend providing your guests with some suggestions of nearby things they can do to kill some time.

The venue you choose for your ceremony will only have so many times available. So if possible, we always recommend choosing whatever available start time will leave you with the smallest time gap between the ceremony and reception. 

That way there is a much smaller chance that guests will show up either way too early or way too late.

Pick a time to start your ceremony and stick to it!

Starting your ceremony on time is the key to making sure the rest of your timeline stays on track. If the ceremony starts late, it’s near impossible to make up for the lost time. The only other time where that delay can be absorbed is during the dance portion of the evening.

 And that’s no fun! So when it’s go-time. . . it’s go-time! 

How to play your wedding day timeline to maximize your party time
Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

Making sure the ceremony starts on time (and just keeping the timeline on track in general) is a huge part of a wedding planner’s job. So if you don’t have a wedding planner, make sure you put someone in charge of making sure the ceremony starts on time.

Want to know how else a wedding planner can help? Check out our blog post: How to Vet Your Wedding Vendors (Part 1)

Should you put an earlier start time on the wedding invitations?

We all know people in our lives that are notoriously late for everything. (You know, those people that will say they’re on the way and they haven’t even left yet.)

So sometimes couples will want to fudge the start time on the wedding invitations to make sure that all the guests are there and seated before the ceremony starts. 

But this can be really confusing for your vendors and can end up causing an even bigger time delay. This is why it’s best to just pick a start time and stick to it. 
It’s much easier to take a 60-90 second delay to wait for the last-minute stragglers to get to their seats than it is to try and stay on time with a false start time.

Is it a good idea to shorten cocktail hour to less than an hour?

Shortening cocktail hour to 45 or 50 minutes is something you can definitely consider. BUT whether or not it’s a good idea really depends on the pictures you were hoping to get after the ceremony. 

Weddings are like an unofficial family reunion. Your wedding day may be one of the very few times where everyone in the family gets together. So if that’s the case, we recommend planning an entire 60 minutes for the cocktail hour so that your photographer can snap pictures of all your extended family together in one place.

How to play your wedding day timeline to maximize your party time
Photo by Nevels Media on Unsplash

Save a lot of time by taking advantage of a first look

One huge advantage to doing a first look is being able to knock out a lot of pictures before the ceremony starts as opposed to squeezing in the time to do it after.

You can utilize that time to also take pictures of the wedding party and pictures with the immediate family. That way a large majority of the pictures will be done and out of the way before the ceremony even starts. 

Then during cocktail hour, your photographer can focus on getting those last few extended family pictures or whatever else may be left to get of the wedding party.

Be upfront with your officiant about your timeline

The length of your ceremony will largely depend on your officiant. So when you meet with your officiant to talk about what you want the ceremony to look like, at least give them a time frame that you’d like the ceremony to be done within. 

If you don’t give your officiant a whole lot of direction, they may unintentionally prepare a 45-minute ceremony when you were maybe only expecting something around 15 or 20 minutes.

Communication is key and clearly communicating your timeline with your officiant will help keep things moving right along.

The most common time delay that often gets overlooked is bustling the wedding dress

Many wedding gowns will have a way that you can pin up the trial of the dress so that you don’t step on it while you’re working the room or dancing on the dance floor. There will be a very specific way to bustle your wedding gown based on the design of the dress. 

A lot of times, brides will plan to do this before being introduced to the reception. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like something that would be a very big deal but trying to figure out how to bustle your gown on the fly can end up taking a lot of extra time.

How to play your wedding day timeline to maximize your party time
Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

We recommend that you put one specific person in charge of bustling your gown. Ideally, this is someone who can go with you to your final dress fitting. That way they can get a hands on demonstration of how the dress bustles and they’ll be able to practice doing it at least once.

Pro tip: We recommend taking a picture of each step of the process so that you can refer back to it later.

Another part of the evening that can take up a lot of time is dinner

The best way to stick within a specific time frame for dinner is to consider your guest count and to plan accordingly. It is going to take much longer to feed 250 people than it will for 50 people. 

So you want to make sure that you plan something for dinner that will get food on people’s plates in the quickest amount of time. Depending on your guest count, a buffet or station service is usually much quicker than a plated service. 

But this is definitely an important conversation that you will want to have with your food caterers. Just make sure they know how much time is available for dinner service and they’ll let you know what your best options will be to accomplish that.

Not sure what questions your should ask your caters? Check out our post: How to Vet Your Wedding Vendors (Part 1)

Overlapping best man and maid of honor toast with dinner service, yay or nay?

We often get asked if there is anything that can be overlapped during dinner service, like the best man and maid of honor toasts. Although it seems like it would be a great way to save some time, we don’t recommend it. 

There’s already a lot of commotion going on during dinner service. Guests are focused on getting their food, getting back to their seats, and enjoying their dinner conversation. So as you can imagine, it makes it pretty difficult to quiet the room and get the guest’s attention for toasts. 

But we do recommend that you pay close attention to the toasts on your timeline. Similar to the actual ceremony, if you hand someone a mic without any guidelines, there really is no telling how long it will take.

4 of the best time-saving tips for toasts at the reception

1. Limit the number of people who will give toasts at the reception.

If you have a large family and a large wedding party. There may be a number of people that you’d love to hear a toast from besides the best man and the maid of honor. 

But instead of having them all give a toast at the reception, let the additional speakers give toasts at the rehearsal dinner! That way everyone who wants to will have a chance to give you their well wishes without using up precious reception time. 

2. Use the word “toast” not “speech.”

Trust us, it makes a difference. When you think of a speech you immediately think at least 5 minutes. Whereas when you think about a toast, you think of something short and sweet.

“Hello, I’m so and so. This is how I know the bride or groom (or both). They are totally awesome people and I’m so happy for them. Here’s to a lifetime of love, laughter, and happily ever after. Cheers!” And done. 

And chances are, your best man or maid of honor will have a lot more substance to their toast. (Surprisingly, you can say a lot in 2-3 minutes.) It’s just really helpful to set that stage so to speak. 

How to play your wedding day timeline to maximize your party time
Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash

3. Set a time limit and encourage them to prepare something.

We’ve said it once but we’ll say it again, give your speakers a time frame. Just let them know that you’d really love for them to keep their toast between 2-3 minutes max. 

Setting a time limit will help encourage people to prepare something as opposed to just winging it. The biggest problem with winging it is that sometimes people don’t know how to end their toast, so they just keep going. . . 

4. Address your guests with a toast of your own!

Instead of stopping by every table to thank your guests for coming, consider giving a thank you toast to everyone at once! 

That way instead of feeling like you have to hit every table, you can at least focus more on stopping by the tables of people who may have traveled a long way and most likely won’t be staying the entire time.

Ever been to a wedding with a pretty major time delay? Tell us about it in the comments below!

The Wedding Duo: A Wedding Planning Podcast

Listen (or watch!) the Wedding Duo on:

Or anywhere you listen to podcasts

Connect with us on:

The Wedding Duo: A Wedding Planning Podcast. Your go-to resource for wedding planning tools and ideas

Listen (or watch!) the Wedding Duo on:

Or anywhere you listen to podcasts

Connect with us on:

The Wedding Duo: A Wedding Planning Podcast. Your go-to resource for wedding planning tools and ideas
How to play your wedding day timeline to maximize your party time

How to Plan a Wedding Day Timeline That Will Maximize Your Party Time



Grab your free wedding day checklist here!




After 10 years in the wedding business, we know what it takes to plan a wedding without overlooking any details. We’ll help you do the same.

Wedding advisors for the DIY couples

We're Serena & Dominic


Let's Get Social


Grab your free wedding day checklist here!

Download Your Free Guide!