(Almost) Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Timelines, Part II

Making adjustments for longer wedding ceremonies

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a wedding photographer, it’s that a good timeline can be one of the most powerful tools in your wedding toolkit. A well-thought timeline is an easy way to keep guests feeling like they’ve been taken care of, and guests who feel taken care of almost always make the best wedding attendees. (Also, as an aside, we didn’t really have a timeline ourselves, which is why I barely got to eat any lobster stew at our wedding and missed out on all the good appetizers, harrumph. So, if nothing else, do it for the lobster.) Last week Elizabeth of Lowe House Events went over the basics of timelines (it’s a good starting point, even if the below applies to you as well) and this week she’s bringing us all the secrets behind making adjustments for longer/religious ceremonies, timeline gaps, weddings with no end time, and moving guests between separate ceremony and reception sites. Dig in y’all. This is good stuff. 


Religious or Otherwise Longer Ceremonies

As I mentioned in my previous post, the majority of weddings I do have secular ceremonies, most of which run about fifteen to twenty minutes long. But that doesn’t mean a religious ceremony isn’t just as easy to incorporate into the standard schedule. Religious ceremonies tend to be longer (on average from about thirty minutes on the short side, to one and a half hours plus if you’re doing, say, a full Catholic Mass. Full Modern-Orthodox Jewish ceremonies also tend to run at least forty-five minutes), so the key is to allow for the extra time. You may want to start the ceremony earlier, or just plan on cocktail hour starting later—either way, your timeline doesn’t need to look too different from the standard one I posted last week, you just move things in one direction or another to accommodate the ceremony. And talk with your priest/rabbi/pastor about the length. Most religious ceremonies have a lot of optional aspects that can impact the overall length—are you going to be including them or not?

I’m personally of the mindset that ceremony programs are almost always totally optional (and often unnecessary), but traditional religious ceremonies are where they can be the most helpful. Do the majority of your guests share your religion? Great, you’ll probably be fine without one. If they don’t, a program can help guests figure out what’s going on and what to expect next, as well as give them, say, the words to the prayers, hymns, or other group-participation aspects of your ceremony. (I can get through an Episcopal service with nothing, but I’ve been a regular churchgoer for fifteen years. Possibly not true for all of your guests.) Programs can also help people figure out what parts of the ceremony they should and should not participate in—for example, not taking communion at a Catholic wedding if they’re not practicing Catholics.

Of course, you can definitely have a longer ceremony without it being religious! Readings, music, speeches, etc., all take time, and I, for one, totally encourage you to include as many as you want. Try to finalize your ceremony at least one to two months out from the wedding (although ideally before you send out invitations), so that you have a good sense of how long it’s going to be and can create your timeline around that. If you’re not sure, put a timer on and read through it, allowing time for people to move to the front, sit back down, process, etc.

Separate Ceremony and Reception Sites

While increasingly rare (the most common request I get from clients looking for venues is that they want somewhere that the ceremony and reception can both be held) separate ceremony and reception sites still come into play fairly often, especially with religious weddings (not many churches/synagogues/mosques have space for a sit down reception for over one hundred people). There are two ways to deal with two sites—have a gap in between the ceremony and reception (see below) or allow just enough time for guests to get from one to the other. Some things to think about if you’re getting married in one location and celebrating in another:

  • Stuff: There’s likely going to be ceremony equipment/decorations/furniture, as well as reception equipment/decorations/furniture. Who’s going to be in charge of setting up these things, and of taking them down/taking them with them? (As a coordinator I can tell you that I always work a two-site wedding with an assistant, regardless of any other factors, so that there’s someone onsite at each location at all times.)
  • Timing: If guests are going straight to the reception, things are going to need to be set up there beforehand, since it’s unlikely anyone who’s at the ceremony will be able to beat the rest of the guests by more than a few minutes.
  • Parking/Transporation: How are people getting from one site to the other? If you’re planning on using shuttles, it can actually work well to have people park/meet at the reception site, and then shuttled from there to the ceremony, and back again—less driving for your guests, which also means less opportunity to get lost. If you’re not planning on using shuttles (which, is fine!) make sure that all of your guests have clear addresses/directions for both locations.
  • Restrooms/Refreshments: If your ceremony site is truly only holding the ceremony (and not, say, cocktail hour as well) think about how long people are going to be there. Generally I encourage people to provide at least bottled water at the ceremony, since many guests will be onsite for at least an hour (the first guests tend to arrive about thirty minutes before the stated invitation time) even with a short ceremony. If your ceremony site is outside/in nature, also make sure to think about the availability of restrooms there.

Separate Ceremony and Reception Times

Sometimes having a time gap between the ceremony and reception is inevitable—the religious venue won’t schedule ceremonies after a certain time of day because they hold evening services, or you simply can’t schedule back to back ceremonies and receptions at your two venues due to availability without booking your wedding two years in the future. While not always ideal, gaps aren’t that uncommon, or even that difficult to deal with. The first thing to think about (as with most parts of your wedding) is guest comfort. Do most of your guests live within a short driving distance? Or are they staying in nearby hotels? Are there things to do (coffee shops, museums, shopping) around one or both of your sites? Make sure your guests don’t have to spend a “gap” sitting in their cars in the parking lot, or awkwardly hanging out in the lobby of your reception venue waiting for it to start. In general, if you have to have a gap I think the ideal amount of time is about two to three hours, assuming that both venues and the hotels are within a half hour of each other. This actually gives people enough time to say, go and hang out and get some coffee, or go back to their hotel room to change/take a short nap, or check out some local galleries and stores. The one hour gap is the, I have to say it, worst. It’s not enough time to actually do anything, but too much time to…not do anything. So, if your reason for a gap is that you want to do photos after the ceremony but not miss cocktail hour, the solution is to do a one and a half to two hour cocktail hour. Because asking guests to stand around with nothing to do and nothing to eat or drink is just not very hospitable.

So! Here’s a sample of a wedding timeline with a two-hour gap between the ceremony and reception:

  • 9:00am—Hair and Makeup/Getting ready
  • 11:00am–1:00pm—Vendors arrive for ceremony setup
  • 12:00pm—Wedding party and family photos start
  • 1:30pm—Doors open/Guests begin to arrive/Pre-ceremony music starts
  • 2:00pm—Ceremony invite time
  • 2:15pm—Ceremony starts
  • 3:00pm—Ceremony ends
  • 3:00pm—Vendors start to arrive for reception set up
  • 3:30pm—Guests gone from ceremony site
  • 4:00pm—Ceremony site cleaned up/vendors depart
  • 5:00pm—Reception invite time
  • 5:00pm—Cocktail hour starts
  • 5:30pm—All guests onsite
  • 6:30pm—Move guests into dinner
  • 6:45pm—Buffet opens/Dinner served
  • 7:00pm—All guests have food
  • 7:15pm—Toasts
  • 8:00pm—First dance
  • 8:05pm—General dancing music starts
  • 8:05pm—Second set of pre-sunset portraits
  • 8:26pm—Sunset
  • 8:45pm—Dessert
  • 9:45pm—Last call
  • 9:55pm—Music off
  • 10:00pm—Guests depart
  • 11:00pm—Breakdown done, all staff departs

Receiving Lines

The receiving line seems to have gone out of style, but I am a big fan of it. It lets you greet all (or almost all) of your guest individually while also letting you actually sit down to eat a meal (since the other popular way to do this is to go around to tables during dinner) and, if you have two photographers at your wedding, is a great way to get photos of you with many of your guests. My favorite time to do the receiving line is from cocktail hour into dinner—post yourselves at a convenient transition point (aka, a doorway) when you have about a half hour of cocktail hour to go, and have someone be in charge of gently herding guests through you to dinner—you take about a minute greeting/hugging/fist bumping everyone as they come into the dining room, and then hey, it’s time to eat!

Weddings With Photos After The Ceremony

So, 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 at a ninety minute to two hour cocktail hour 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, instead of to cocktail hour. 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. (Do you really need individual portraits of you with every single person you’re related to? Probably not.)

Weddings With No Firm End Time

Maybe your wedding is at your house, or at a venue you’ve rented for the whole weekend, or some other magical place that will let you stay as late as you want! How do you wrap things up? There are four signals to guests that a party is over: 1) the bar closes, 2) the music stops, 3) the lights come on, 4) people start cleaning up around them. When deployed together only the very, very densest of people would miss the signal that it’s time for them to leave.

But maybe you don’t want people to leave! That’s totally fine, and please invite me. You probably will want your event staff, if you have them, to leave at some point though, unless you’ve budgeted for a lot of overtime pay. At some point the bar can become self-serve, the DJ or band can switch to an iPod (or maybe was an iPod from the start), and the kitchen can close or the caterers can leave, but leave behind some trays of leftover dinner food, or big bowls of chips and salsa. (Let’s be real, if you want people to stay and drink until two in the morning, you probably want to provide them with something to snack on.)

Still to come!

  • Morning weddings
  • Early afternoon weddings
  • Later evening weddings
  • Open house receptions
  • Cocktail party style reception
  • Wedding weekends

and then:

  • Set up timing
  • Break down timing
And just like last time, if your wedding timeline doesn’t fall under one of the variations above, or isn’t going to be covered in Elizabeth’s next post, leave us a comment and let us know! We’ll try and work an answer into a future post.
Photo by APW Sponsor Gabriel Harber

Elizabeth Clayton

Elizabeth has been planning weddings since 2006, and has done so full time under the Lowe House Events banner since 2011. She considers herself incredibly lucky to get to work on events full time—it just doesn’t get much better than going to a party most weekends because it’s your job.

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  • Amy

    I have to say I love these! Your last post cautioned that a timeline doesn’t have to be set in stone, but as a former theatre stage manager (Meg, can I get a theatre major shout-out!?) my timeline was unquestionable as far I was concerned. We had what I considered a tight timeline for the reception. Thankfully my fantastic uncle served as our emcee (we went ipod route, not dj, and you MUST appoint an emcee if you go ipod) and stuck right to the schedule with toasts, cake cutting, first dance, last dance, herding everyone one to do our “big exit.” For this total control freak, a down to the minute timeline and a family member who promised me he’d follow it, allowed me to let go, drink cocktails and have the BEST evening. :-)

    • meg

      Theatre major fistbump.

      I can’t remember if our timeline was ironclad. I just remember a haze of happy (because we HAD a timeline, and I was not in charge of it). (Now) APW Editor Kate was running it as her gift to us, so only she knows. As it should be.

    • As a print producer who doesn’t function without lots of pre-planning, the wedding timeline was KEY for me, as was a wedding stage manager. I knew myself, and I was sure I would not enjoy myself without knowing that things would run according to plan. In the week leading up to our wedding, people would ask us (well, ME, really, because no one thought to ask him, which is an angry rant for another time and place) if we were nervous, I’d say, “Absolutely not. We produced the shit out of this thing!”

      As fate would have it, we abandoned the timeline we crafted for months, had no place or time to do a run-through, and our stage manager spent our wedding day stuck in airline hell trying to get back to New York after a hurricane.

      While I would HIGHLY recommend having both a timeline and a stage manager, I can say from experience that having to fly (hard and fast) by the seat of our pants wasn’t the end of the world.

      We had a wonderful wedding day that went by in a blur, our guests had a great time as far as we could tell. After we did a lot of work in the morning to get everyone in the same place, we both took our planning hats off and figured our guests were grown ups, our guest list was tiny, and everyone would take care of themselves, and they totally did. (We’d like to think that our months of pre- planning helped the flying by the seat of our pants situation, but considering that a good 75% of our plans were totally thrown out, that position is debateable.)

      So to any of the fellow type A personalities out there worried about what happens if everything doesn’t follow your plans, it will be okay, and you will be married when it’s all over! (But seriously, a plan is a good place to start!)

  • Quinners

    I’m really excited for the “later evening” post, because my fiancee and I can’t have our ceremony venue until after their regular operating hours (which end at 7 pm) and I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO PLAN THIS WEDDING. I mean, I have a rough plan (treat all the guests to lunch, take off with the bridal party to get ready and have a light supper, take photos before the ceremony, quick setup, ceremony, treat guests to drinks at a bar), but I’m at a total loss when it comes to the timeline. The upcoming post should help, I think!

    • Kess

      That sounds really challenging, I’ll be really interested to hear how you pull it off! Definitely submit something!

    • Edelweiss

      I hesitate to mention this because I’m not Jewish – but- it might be helpful? I’ve been to a few Jewish Saturday evening weddings that have started at 7 or later because in their faith (or at least the way my friends practice their faith) if they marry on a Saturday it can’t be during Shabbat. So looking at some forums about how they ordered events, planned the timeline might help?

      • Quinners

        That would never have occurred to me, Edelweiss, but it does sound helpful. Thank you!

    • LIZ (SINCE 1982)

      I’m in this exact boat – my ceremony is scheduled for 8pm (eep!). Luckily many of my family and friends are night owls, but there will be kids there and although I’m being super proactive about letting parents know so they can plan for a midday nap, making sure there are edibles and drinkables available asap, etc., I’m still really worried about how it will all come off.

  • Samantha

    Love love love! So far I’ve learned that extra time is our friend! I’m used to scheduling for myself who I trust to zip around on time, BUT we are scheduling for 100 people! So extra time. Good. Pushing ceremony time up now . . .

  • emmer

    I love these posts! So helpful!

  • Oh, these posts are so helpful — just love them! I created my whole wedding timeline after reading the first post, and it’s already proven awesome when speaking with the vendors we’ve booked.

    So, here’s my dilemma: we’re getting married at 2 p.m. with a 4 p.m. reception, and a new layer of concern has cropped up: do I need to worry about my wedding wrapping up about 7 or 7:30 p.m. on a Sunday night when there are limited activities/bars/places for guests to go afterward — other than back to their hotel? Though our town is fairly large and most of our out-of-town guests should be staying at the same hotel, I’m worried that everyone will be bored/annoyed that a Sunday party is wrapping up early without any “after” plans in the works.

    Initially, I was doing it this way because. . . well, honestly? Because I would like to decompress with my husband after the wedding — and I get mad tired very easily. I’m a naturally exhausted person. And though I’m sure the adrenaline will be pumping, I will have been up since roughly 5:30 a.m. at that point (or maybe earlier . . . NERVES) and can’t imagine partying into the wee hours. I mean, I’m a book nerd.

    Is it on me to organize a “post”-wedding gathering of any kind? Should I even worry about it? Is it on us, the marrying couple, to worry about? Should I try to figure out a way for everyone to meet at a relative’s house, perhaps, or is that creating an extra layer of chaos for my parents/sister/etc.? (I feel like it is, and really don’t want to have to ask them.)

    I just . . . don’t know.

    • Amy

      Does the hotel have a decent bar or gathering place? If it’s ending at 7 you might want to give folks options. Didn’t her last post address this just a bit?

      • It did address this issue (and that’s what initially got me thinking about it!), but I think the circumstances are different on Sundays versus Saturdays. Where I could normally tell people to hang out at one of the cafes, bars or restaurants in town, they will all be closed. The hotel does not have a bar, but they do have a gathering place . . . hmm. Perhaps I’ll look into have my in-laws coordinate the out-of-towners there for a post-wedding chat session?

        As has been (very helpfully!) noted, I feel like this will resolve itself on its own . . . and that folks will naturally splinter off into groups to hang out after the formal wedding ends. That’s my hope, anyway!

        • KB

          I totally think it will splinter off – or an idea is to have your in-laws (or whoever) arrange a coffee ‘n’ cookies table or drink table with an iPod or something in the gathering place so that if people want to keep the party going, they can feel free! A friend of a friend also had an “after-party” in a suite in the hotel after their wedding rather than go out to a bar. If lots of people are staying at the same hotel, there could be a planned-yet-feels-impromptu hall party on the floor where they’re staying.

          • APracticalLaura

            Megan: As APW commonly reminds us, your guests are adults and they can take care of themselves!

            Even if there’s no bar in the hotel, people can hang out in the lobby! I hear ya, and your feelings are completely valid, but try and breathe! It gets exhausting trying to plan all of these mini-parties (rehearsal dinner, wedding itself, after party, brunch). Just try and kick back and remember that as adults, your guests can take care of themselves.

    • emmer

      At a lot of weddings I’ve gone to, after parties have just kind of naturally developed when they haven’t been organized. We’ve boozed it up in a hotel room (which eventually resulted in being asked to quiet things down :)), and also the hotel bar.

      If you have some favorite places to direct people to, you can, but I feel like most people who want to continue hanging out will find a way to make it happen!

      • The hotel room is definitely an option, Emmer — and I’m sure you’re right: those who want to hang will find a way to make it happen! I would, anyway.

    • Melise

      I don’t think it’s on you to organize anything at all. Unless it’s a holiday weekend, I feel like it’s not uncommon for Sunday afternoon weddings to end earlier than Saturday weddings, and people are okay with that. If I have to go to work in the morning, I probably don’t want to be out late anyway! If you have a website, you could list a few nearby bars as suggestions for continuing the party. That way, people will know where to go if they want, but you don’t actually have to organize anything.

      • That makes me feel better — thanks, Melise! I was thinking Sunday weddings would naturally end earlier than Saturday weddings, too, but now I have so many opinions chirping in my ear. (Isn’t that always the way?)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Honestly? We had a 2pm wedding, with cocktail hour beginning around 4pm (religious ceremony, different venues), and everyone left by 9pm. We left at 8:30pm. Lots of people left before 7pm. Our wedding was on a Monday of a holiday weekend, so the equivalent of a Sunday of a regular weekend.

      We also had no child-free 20-somethings, except for relatives with older parents also attending. We had a lot of elderly guests. We had planned on cake-cutting at 7:30, which would have meant people could have cake and be home by 9pm, while the more robust could dance until 10pm or 11pm. (9pm was when I’d observe the elderly guests wrap things up at other social events.) But that’s not how it worked out, and that’s OK.

    • Kelly

      We had a 12pm wedding with a reception from 2-7pm on a Saturday. We had a good mix of older guests, kids, and college friends. We held an “after party” in the hotel bar which mostly consisted of just our friends- all other guests presumably just headed home at 7pm and no one was weird about it. We left the after party around 10pm and a few of our friends stayed to hang out. We enjoyed the after party because it gave us a chance to catch up with friends we don’t see to often, but no one expected us to entertain them. I also get crazy tired, but was still running on adrenaline and because the party was low key we did get to compress a little before we left.

  • mimi

    I love these posts! We are getting married in August on family property in northern Michigan, so we don’t have a curfew. I’m assuming it will be a LATE night party, as the ceremony will be at 5 or 5:30, with cocktails, reception, and dancing to follow.

    Everything is on the property, so we just have to worry about to/from transportation. We’re working on renting a bus (school or otherwise) to transport our guests there and back. Could we maybe get a tip on timelines for shuttles – mostly for when guests should be picked up to get to the wedding on time?

    • emmer

      Yes! And tips for when the shuttle should come pick folks up would also be helpful. Our venue is probably going to be quite far (30 min) from the hotel, so it would probably make the most sense to just have one shuttle back at the end of the night (vs multiple trips), but I went to this awesome wedding where the hotel & venue were really close, and they just had constant shuttling going on (which I think is great for the guests). I’m worried about guests who come on the shuttle feeling like they’re trapped– but maybe I’m overthinking?

      • MM

        At my sister’s wedding this past summer, the venue was about a 25 min drive from the hotel. She had planned for the shuttle to make 2 trips back to the hotel (one at 9pm and a final one at about 11pm), but the shuttle driver didn’t stick to that plan. There were definitely people who felt trapped (one friend had a migraine come on suddenly) and my uncle had to leave early to drive my grandmother back to the hotel. I felt like the shuttle arrived at a good time (at about 4:15pm for a 4:30pm start time, and there was just one trip to the venue). Not saying it can’t work, just offering our experience.

        • This is my primary concern! We want to do shuttles because A) It don’t pay to drive drunk and B) we’re having our wedding in a state nature reserve, and I at least want to make the effort to cut down cars (though I’m sure a bus puts out just as many emissions), but I don’t want people to feel trapped.

          I’m thinking we’ll have three shuttle times- a little bit after the Ceremony (in case someone wants to go change, or gets sick and only wants to go to the ceremony), right after cake, around 7:30, and at the end of the evening. But what if someone gets super sick and can’t wait? Gah, the stress.

      • anon


        as a person whose family unit is evenly split with partiers and non-partiers (my dad and I leave as soon as the desert is over, my mom & bro toast the sunrise) I think you need at least two times for the shuttle, so early birds can leave or wardrobe disasters can be remedied (I can’t remember the last special event I didn’t have a horrendous spill of some kind).

        • KB

          I’m torn on the shuttle thing – our ceremony is a 10-15 minute drive from the hotel (20-30 minute walk), but not everyone is staying in the reception hotel, and I feel like people can find their own way back and forth. I feel like it’s an extra expense that won’t even get used in the end.

    • Well, people need to be picked up to get there on time depends on… how far away the pick up spot is. If you only have one shuttle, allow about 15 minutes for people to be late (ie if you say the shuttle is leaving at 3pm, actually plan for it to leave at 3:10/3:15,) and then enough time for it to drive to the venue, and for people to disembark (5 minutes?) That’s your pick up time.

      On the way back, however, multiple runs are definitely your friend. If possible, I like to have a shuttle leaving about every half hour starting after cake cutting [/dessert serving.] This can often be accomplished by having two smaller shuttles instead of one big one (the cost of this shouldn’t be much extra) and it prevents the situation of anyone feeling “trapped” at your wedding.

      At least in Northern California, you pay for shuttles by the hour, not by the number of trips or miles driven, and you’re often stuck with a 3-4 hour minimum that can’t be split up. May as well have it driving around rather than paying for it to sit in a parking lot!

      • emmer

        Thanks, y’all!

  • Mary Jo S.

    I would be very, very interested in seeing an abbreviated timeline. We only have 3 hours total (12-3) for our ceremony and reception (pictures are after the reception), and I am starting to worry that we won’t be able to finish in time. There is absolutely no possibility of running late.

  • Rowany

    Quick question: If you’re taking photos before a 5:00 ceremony, and you probably won’t take pictures until 7:00ish because of a late sunset, what’s the point of the cocktail hour? Could you just have a receiving line and go straight to dinner? They seem to be always assumed, but other than to make time for photos I don’t understand that they’re for.

    • Kess

      I always thought the point was to give guests a chance to relax and chat and mingle a bit. It’s not always so easy to get around to see all your various friends/family members and say hello when everyone is sitting at tables for dinner. But the experts may correct me!

    • Helen

      Personally, I like the cocktail hour in and of itself. Like Kess said, It’s a chance for guests to mingle and talk to one another without being limited by table arrangements (or distracted by dance music). I also feel like it adds to a general feeling of formality and occasion. We also have a venue-specific reason for wanting one: the book-filled historic mansion part of our venue isn’t large enough to accommodate our seated reception (which will be in the newer event center), but it’s awesome, so: cocktails! We’ll be doing most of our photos before the ceremony, and then enjoying our cocktail hour with our guests. If the cocktail hour doesn’t hold any particular appeal for you, though, I think you can definitely skip it. I don’t think any of the weddings I’ve been to that had a church ceremony followed by a reception at another venue had a cocktail hour, and I’ve also been to all-at-one-venue weddings without any cocktail hour. (Two of the cocktail-hour-free weddings I’ve been to also did not have assigned tables for dinner, and had a generally more casual vibe. Both of those took place out west – Wyoming – so there may be some regional differences at play.)

    • As others have said, the point of cocktail hour is actually to give people time to socialize (and eat appetizers. and drink cocktails.) I will say – I’ve only done one wedding without a cocktail hour, and… the guests all still stood around for 45 minutes mingling before they had to be essentially forced into their seats. Since most people arrive *just* before the ceremony, they often haven’t had time to say hi to the other people they know until afterwards, and cocktail hour is designed to give them time to do that!

    • Laura G

      I’ve been to many weddings without cocktail hours. Most of them were fairly informal buffet weddings without assigned seats. Most people snagged seats with a jacket or something then got up and wandered around some (stopped to chat on the way to get a drink, saw a friend across the room, etc). Dinner tends to be out for an extended time (2 hours, at least) so people can space their evening however they want. I guess this is because I tend to be invited to informal wedding, but I find an extended time before you’re allowed to sit down (aka, a cocktail hour) to be odd. FWIW, the weddings without cocktail hours were all in the upper south/mid atlantic (NC, Virginia, Maryland).

      • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

        Seconding Laura G’s comment. I’m pretty sure I’ve been to more weddings without cocktail hours (in SC, SD, and IL) than with them. Sometimes we went straight to dinner seats. At least once the buffet started while family took photos. And once everyone climbed a butte.

  • Jess

    Question about a wedding I’m going to. 3pm catholic mass. 6pm reception start time. Does this mean cocktail hour starts at 6? Or dinner begins? And, if there’s no notes about things happening in between….does that mean we’re fending for ourselves? In the example above, what time would the invitation say that the reception starts? So many questions!

    • Christina

      I’d plan to be at the reception at 6. If the reception’s at a hotel or restaurant or other venue where you can sit somewhere and have a drink, go early and do that. You won’t be the only one. If the reception is in a hall or museum or another place where they may not have the space until 6, if you go early you’ll likely be sitting in the parking lot until 6. Depending on if it’s a mass or just a service, you’ll probably be done at the wedding by 4:15/4:3, varying if they have any sort of send-off from the church or not. I’m well-versed in this “Catholic gap” and have spent times in McDonalds, in cars, at family members’ houses, in local parks, etc.

      During one memorable Catholic gap at a 9:30am wedding at the Basilica at the University of Notre Dame, my friends and I walked over to the football field and were able to watch some sort of spring scrimmage game. Made for some fun photos before the brunch started!

  • I am loving these timeline posts. I think our timeline is probably covered in the first post (Set-up at 5 when the museum closes, ceremony around 6 or 6:30, (pizza buffet) dinner around 7ish, party until 11, and clean-up till 12.) However, this post had added value for me with things like the receiving line. I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

  • Copper

    Thank you so much! And I’m so looking forward to the ‘weekend wedding’ version! Mine is somewhere between that and the ‘wedding with no end time’ version: we’ve got the venue for the weekend, the bridal party plus whoever wants to is camping out that night, but we have to turn the volume down at 10pm and anyone who wants to can leave at that point, so I expect we’ll have some things informed by each of those options.

  • Caroline

    How do you make sure your guests are entertained during a long cocktail hour? I’ve always been so bored during long cocktail hours. (Although maybe that’s because it’s often cold and I’m hungry. I guess enough food is a part of it…) Also, if you have 4-5 hours for a daytime wedding and a 1.5-2 hour cocktail hour (who drinks that much around 2 pm?), and then a meal, that seems like it leaves no time for dancing….

    • I guess finger food is a big part. Otherwise, mingling and conversation is usually the main focus.

      However, if you have found yourself getting bored when you’ve been in that situation, I can see how other people might. I don’t have any ideas off the top of my head other than keeping the cocktail hour on the shorter side, but I guess I’d just remind that it is good to balance “give your guests something to entertain them” with “your guests are grown-ups.”

    • Jenn

      you could offer some entertainment? caricaturist, interactive guest books (thumb paintings type things), music, etc

    • Samantha

      Why is your cocktail hour 2 hours long? Are you doing all of your photos during that time? Would you be willing to do photos ahead of time?

      I think make sure you have good finger foods so people can munch while they mingle. As for drinking, it’s a celebration so regular drinking habits aside, people will have a good time – whatever that means to your family – take a look at your guest list and see what you think those people would like. But if you really aren’t a fan of the cocktail hour then I would try to shorten it up a bit. You really only need it for cushion time to get everyone to the site and settled, give them a chance to chat and mingle before they sit down (since you sound like you are having a full sit down meal), and you to do photos if that’s when you are doing them.

    • ok – MOST cocktail hours are just that – an hour (or even 45 minutes.) You shouldn’t extend it if it means cutting other things out, even if you want to take your photos after the ceremony. If you have the time to play with and want to both take photos during and actually attend your cocktail hour, then go for it, but if your venue is only giving you five hours in which to get everything done, then you may just be in the position of having to choose between those two things.

      (also, let’s take a moment here to remember the immortal words of ESB – your wedding is not a photo shoot.)

    • Caroline

      I don’t think I’d want such a long cocktail hour, it just seemed to be what Elizabeth was suggesting, and I was trying to figure out how it works. We are definitely keeping photos to a minimum: a short list of family portraits and enough pictures of us to get one good one. I think we’ll probably have a more relaxed transition from cocktail hour to food. Just have cold food out then when we’re done with the fewest pics we can get away with (my fiancé does not like having his pictures taken for the most part although he admits he’ll want wedding photos someday), serve the hot food, (all of it finger food or fork food), and then the dancing can start.

    • Elissa

      We’re having ours long to give us time for photos + mingling. It’ll also give people an opporunity to watch the sunset over the sea – there’s not much of a view from the hall. We’re having lawn games like bocce and quoits – if you were inside you could probably come up with appropriate equivalents.

      Performers of some sort are another possibility – I used to be a fire performer and we did quite a few event cocktail hours, wandering through the crowd doing bits and pieces. Musicians, acrobats and circus performers, and a person with a big python are other things I’ve seen.

      I guess if you give people something to do (eg games) or watch (eg performers) or talk about (childhood photo display?), they should be able to amuse themselves fairly easily.

  • Wow, I’m surprised that the “gap” wedding timeline is the first! We had a very long gap — wedding at 11, extended family-only lunch (big gap for non-family), immediate family tea ceremony (small gap for extended family), then 6pm everyone-back-together reception (mingling + dinner + dancing + board games).

    The gap was possibly one of the biggest things I was concerned about, and it went off without a hitch, either because it wasn’t an issue, or because my friends were too polite to tell me otherwise. We did provide lots of suggestions for things to do in an afternoon guide that we gave out at the ceremony (a friend designed it with our “branding”), and we provided a few shuttles from a central location (Harvard Square) to the reception. Some people said they took a nap, other did touristy things in Boston. And we did have a dedicated crew of 5 closest friends who gave up the gap to help set up the reception venue.

    It all sounds much better prepared that I ever thought it was going to be, even right up to the day.

    • Hope

      This is similar to the timeline for traditional weddings in England, including royal weddings.

      • True, and I’ve actually heard complaints from friends attending English weddings of this format, though I think it is much harder for guests if you are in the middle of the countryside and there’s no way to “entertain yourself”.

  • april

    Thank you for this! I’m in the process of planning a wedding with a “gap” (ceremony at noon, reception at 6pm), and it’s hard to find good advice on how to handle it. My fiance’s family (Catholic) is taking it in stride, since a gap is pretty common at Catholic weddings. My family (WASP)–and specifically my mom–is freaking out a little, though. Any ideas on how to convince her that it’s not necessarily rude to ask guests to entertain themselves for a few hours? Would an informal lunch reception for the wedding party and close family be a good idea? Or does that make it too long of a day for people?

    • One More Sara

      I would just go with your original plan of letting adults entertain themselves.. and perhaps send this link to your mom to reassure her that it’s normal and not a big deal :)

    • Samantha

      You are the third person to mention it but why is a gap common at Catholic weddings? We’re having a Catholic mass and we aren’t having a gap. I’m so curious!

      • One More Sara

        I’m not Catholic, so I’m mostly guessing… But aren’t there usually Saturday evening masses? Probably to be sure that the whole wedding mas can be finished (and cleaned up) before Saturday mass makes for some early ceremony times.

      • Sheila

        It’s common for Catholic weddings because most Catholic churches have a regular Saturday evening Mass at around 5:00, so a Catholic wedding has to be early enough that it’s all over and cleared out before regular church-goers arrive. So unless you want your reception or cocktail hour to start around 3:30 or 4:00, you’re going to have a gap.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          As someone who goes to mostly Roman Catholic weddings – dozens of them – Sheila’s right. The weddings I attend don’t have gaps, though. They just have receptions that start at 2 or 3 or 4pm. The last one I attended had a meal at 3pm, which was confusing, but *shrug.* Others have served dinner at 5pm.

      • Samantha

        Ahhh, okay that makes sense. I didn’t even think of that, silly me. Thanks ladies. The church we are getting married at is so small there is no Saturday services. :)

  • Our wedding is vastly different from the majority of weddings, it seems, simply because we are foregoing both alcohol and dancing, which eliminates a cocktail hour and dance party. It’s basically all about the ceremony, with some nice food afterward, and the bonus of cake. Also? It’s a park wedding, and we’re essentially our own vendors, soooo…

    Here’s my projected timeline.
    9 am- Begin decorating park space
    12 pm- Grab some sushi, split to get ready
    3 pm- Meet back at park for pictures
    4:30 pm- Walk down the aisle
    4:45 pm- Ceremony finished, allow “mingle time” (a.k.a. move your chairs from the ceremony over to the tables) and “bride and groom private freak out” time
    5:00 pm- Cut cake, begin serving food
    5:45 pm- Serve cake
    7:30 pm- Bride and groom take off, coordinator does coordinaty stuff and gets the place cleaned up. (The possibility of being wrangled into cleanup ought to scatter the guests pretty fast, don’t you think? LOL)

    Also, a couple quick notes about our wedding: it’s small, meaning under 50 people; the only “vendor” is my friend providing the food; I have a day of coordinator so I don’t have to worry about all this stuff!; my fiance and I have pretty much decided to leave people to their own devices the whole weekend as far as food and entertainment go. Those that want to hang out will, those that don’t, won’t.

    • L

      This sounds like what we will be looking at – at a farm with no coktail hour or dancing. We are going to replace dancing with board games/lawn games/craft-style guest book. I am hoping it goes well, but I haven’t taken the time to organize it all yet with a timeline!

    • Nina

      Just a thought: I’d stick an extra 10-15min in there after the ceremony. 15min ceremony, followed by a 15min mingling/moving chairs, followed by a 45min dinner is really tight. You can do it, it can work, but things might also go long… ceremony takes a couple extra min because OMG You’re Getting Married, guests take a few minutes longer to catch their breath post-ceremony, wipe their tears before chatting, and oh yeah we should move the chairs, and suddenly it’s 5:15 already and oh look let’s have a bite to eat…

      It sounds like a casual affairs, so some delay may not affect things at all, but I’d just be mentally prepared for that. Particularly those 15min between the ceremony and the cake cutting.

  • I’m wondering if it would be reasonable, given that the dinner will be a pizza buffet, to start the dinner immediately after that ceremony for those who are ready to eat (since it will be dinner time) and have a cocktail “hour” going simultaneously for those who would prefer to linger on the rooftop and enjoy the evening? (Assuming that it is a nice day and we get to enjoy the outdoors. If it rains, our Plan A is to have it all indoors.)

    On the one hand, it treats everyone as adults who can decide when they want to eat and *where* they want to be. (They could grab a plate of pizza and come back to the roof if they want or they can eat at the tables that are set up.) On the other hand, perhaps this will disperse the “gathering” energy of having everyone sitting down to eat together? I can see both having pros and cons.

    • Jenn

      I feel like that might confuse people a little bit (I know they are adults who have common sense but sometimes in weddingland that gets lost!). If the food is out people might think it is the time to go eat or they will miss out and others might be confused about why some people are going in one direction and not the other and wonder what the itinerary actually is. You could make it work if you were really clear either in the programmes or in announcements that both options are available and they will both remain open for set amount of time, etc and then they can plan their time accordingly. But I think it is sometimes a lot easier on the guest, and almost a nicety, to make it as easy for them as possible!

      • “The pizza buffet will be open downstairs if you care to make your way down. There will also be cocktails available on the roof if you care to linger while waiting for the elevator.”


    • Samantha

      That just sounds like a cocktail style reception to me and it sounds awesome since we are having one too. Food and drinks available all night long. Eat when you want and for as long as you want. Mix and mingle and have a generally fantastic time. There doesn’t need to be a sit down dinner. We are having tables and chairs but not enough for everyone and none assigned. So maybe what you want to do is nix the formal sit down dinner all together and do the same thing.

      If you really want to do the sit down dinner separately from cocktail hour then I would say you need some hors d’oeurves for people to munch on while cocktail hour is happening to curb the hunger until dinner is served.

      • Basically, the food will be ready for people as soon as the ceremony is done. But I want to make it easy for people who are really hungry to get to the food while giving the people who want to hang out something to do while waiting for the elevators. Particularly, something more fun and standing in line (for the elevator and again for the food).

  • Oh! On the “leave us a comment and let us know” tip of things: How do you set up alternate timelines if you need a back-up plan, particularly for outdoor weddings.

    I imagine that a lot of the timing will work the same regardless if you are on Plan A or Plan B, but there are certainly likely to be things required for Plan B that wouldn’t be a part of Plan A and vice versa. Two timelines or timeline with footnote?

  • Vita Trefusis

    Thanks so much for posting this – SO HELPFUL!

    We’re doing a gap that I’m worried will be awkward.

    We’re having a small wedding, with the ceremony in a garden overlooking the sea (under a marquee – it’s Scotland after all!) The ceremony invite time is 3pm, followed by a cocktail and canape reception. The evening reception (dinner, speeches, dancing, etc) will start at 6pm in a hall a 10 minute walk up the street. We’re thinking that the ceremony will be over by 3:45, which leaves over 2 hours for guests to enjoy the cocktail, mingle, and then walk over to the hall. In the meantime we’ll sneak off to do some couple and family photos. Our caterers also need time to relocate and finalise dinner. Is this way too much time? Will people get bored?

    We’re thinking that if the weather is nice people could kill time by wandering around the lovely village. If the weather’s bad, the options are to stick around at the cocktail, go to the pub down the road, or have a very brief rest in their B&Bs.

    But I’m still worried that the gap is awkward and people might get annoyed.

    • Jenn

      I think 2 hours is ok for the cocktail hour, as long as you provide enough to last 2 hours! You don’t want everyone to swig their bubbly in 20 minutes and then stand around awkwardly. Another thing you could do is provide a cute scavenger hunt type thing for guests, nothing too difficult, but some things they need to find around town (maybe with some fun facts) and snap pics of things – it would get them involved and make the time pass quicker!

    • Samantha

      Le sigh. I would say I could definitely get lost for 2 hours in a Scottish village or pub. But I’m American and I love Scotland. hahaha. Sounds like a gorgeous ceremony.

    • Some of my favorite weddings have been one where there’s a bar break in the middle.

      That said. One time we got REALLY wasted and were about an hour late for the actual reception, so. (But we were also 20. I’m sure your guests are adults who can handle their booze intake.)

  • Jenn

    This may be more relevant for early afternoon weddings, but thought I would just share my current timeline if brides find it useful, it’s a way to fill gaps that may have been. We are having our 1pm ceremony and then reception at the same venue with no gaps. This is how we are filling the time so guests are taken care of over the 11 hours!

    1pm Ceremony
    1.30-2 ‘Cocktail hour’ – This is our cheeky 1/2 hour to enjoy the drinks and refreshments before photos!
    2-3pm Bridal photos, guest carry on with cocktail hour
    3-5pm Wedding ‘breakfast’ (what we call the main meal in the UK)
    5-6pm Table Quiz, cake
    6-7pm Bar, activities, photo booth, down time
    7-8pm Dancing starts with ipod music
    8-12 Band plays

    You do eat your meal a lot earlier (but this is more traditional in the UK) and you then traditionally serve some kind of evening buffet around 7 or 8 (we plan on bringing out loads of snacks then for people). But I think it works well, and it gives people a couple gaps in between things where they can have a rest or mingle or go to the bar, without feeling like they are waiting around for hours between events.

    • Copper

      Table Quiz? Is that like Pub Quiz? Because if so, LOVE.

      • Jenn

        yes, same as a pub quiz! :)

        • Copper

          Then can I crash your wedding? j/k, but in all seriousness that sounds like it’ll be awesome!

          • Jenn

            aww, thanks so much! That means a lot because we have put a lot of effort into thinking about how to keep guests happy and entertained, it’s been a big focus.

  • dawn

    My reception location is a historic home with a small old-fashioned ballroom and a somewhat inconvenient dining room, where we’ll have our buffet. There is not enough room for table seating for everyone inside, but there will be plenty of outdoor seating.
    I’m planning to have a cocktail hour (of sorts) as people arrive from the ceremony site (a 4 minute drive up the street).
    The meal will be a buffet of easily handled food reflecting both of our culinary traditions. This meal will not be a “sit-down dinner” but there will be plenty of food to be “dinner.”
    We are not having formal, staged photography, but we’re thinking of asking our photo-journalist photographer to take informal shots of us with family at the reception.
    My questions:
    How long should the cocktail hour be, given that people will trickle out of the church (we’re having a receiving line), and have to drive and park?
    Do people need to know when dinner will be, or can they just be told to line up to go through the buffet room after, say an hour?
    The process of going through the buffet will not be exactly speedy, due to the inconvenience of the room. How long after the last guests have gone through should we have our toasts? Our guests will be all scattered through different rooms and the garden, so if they haven’t yet gotten to eat, it will be inconvenient….
    and finally, when should my ice-cream delivery bicycle arrive? Cocktail hour seems like a good time, except …that’s before dinner. Should children especially have their dinner first? Or should I fit it in after dinner and before cake? Or after the cake? Or does it matter, since I’m not doing a “cake” exactly but multiple cakes…some of which don’t need to be cut?

    • Cocktail hour should start when the first guests arrive at the reception, and last at least long enough for the last guests to arrive to have an appetizer or two and grab a drink.
      No one needs to know when dinner will start except for the caterer (and the coordinator. probably the photographer too.)
      and toasts can start pretty much as soon as the last guests are through the buffet. OR, can be done before if that’s the only time people are all in one place!

      It’s your wedding – you can definitely serve ice cream before dinner if you want ;) Although with before, after, or with cake is also a fine time!

    • Jenn

      We are having an ice cream trolley come serve before dinner, along with the cocktail hour – so I don’t think it’s strange.
      But you could also have ice cream served alongside the dessert table.

  • So you sort of mentioned this, but didn’t have a solution, and it’s something I’m worried about: morning ceremony, separate ceremony and reception sites, and no gap. So the reception has to be set up beforehand and…how do we make this happen? Bridal party and family will be near the ceremony venue for getting ready time, and we really cannot afford a day-of planner. Is it weird to ask a trusted, non-bridal party but still really close friend to help with the setup? There won’t be much setup or decor at all and we will only have like ONE vendor who would be showing up that morning, so it seems like something most people could do pretty easily (and I’d totally do it if someone asked me to!)…but I don’t want to put my friends to work! I was thinking we could offer to pay for her flight or her rental car or hotel or something as a way to say thanks but is that just totally inappropriate to even suggest? Like I said, I’d be happy to do it for my friends but I still feel kind of strange asking someone to sort of be a semi-day-of-coordinator. Thoughts??

    • ElisabethJoanne

      “Your wedding is not an imposition.” Do you have a friend you know would enjoy the set-up? For example, I have a friend who DJs almost every wedding we attend. That’s how he enjoys the party. He also spends the entire weekend running around giving people rides to/from the airport and other important places. He totally enjoys it, even though someone else might consider it unpleasant “work.” If you’ve got someone like that, totally ask.

      Also, is it something the vendor can do? Our caterer did a few things that a day-of coordinator might otherwise do – She set up the escort cards, a gift table, the table numbers, as well as everything necessary to sit and eat. Our florist delivery fee included set-up of the centerpieces (our only decorations), and we paid the florist another fee to pick up the vases late the same night.

      Which embodies our community situation. We didn’t have a circle of peer-friends we could ask to do set-up and take-down. We just don’t have those kinds of relationships, don’t have a lot of friends under 50, either. So we paid people to do what other people would ask friends to do. OTOH, we had no fees for the ceremony site or the officiant, because we do have good relationships with people with those resources and skills.

    • Jen

      I don’t think it’s weird to ask a “trusted, non-bridal party but still really close friend” to help with setup at all!! Especially if you know them well and you know that this is something they’d be in to (if you’d be into doing it for said friend, maybe they’d be into doing it for you?)

      I have a long time friend who asked me to help with setup the day before the wedding, and also asked me to arrive at the venue early so that I could be there to receive all the flowers and make sure they went to the right places/people. I was MORE than happy to help out! There were a couple of women getting corsages that I didn’t know (the groom’s side), but I made sure to find someone who could point me in the right direction and it all went well (got a little bit stressed when the flowers were over 30 minutes late arriving…but they arrived before the guests, so all good in the end!!)

      Basically – how well do you know this person? Is this the kind of role that they would LOVE? Might they be really happy and excited to be given the opportunity to help out on your big day? Because I’m totally that person, and I’m betting you’ve got a couple of those in your circle of friends too :)

    • Laurel

      I would ask 2 or 3 friends so it’s easy and they’re not alone, and I would also think really hard about how much work it’ll be and how many people they’d need to make it happen. Set-up can take much longer than people think. Try to set it up so they’re there for a couple of hours and it’s not stressful. If you can swing covering their lodging, that’d be rad, but you could also do something like send each of them some kind of thank-you gift like a nice bottle of liquor.

      People have a hard time saying not to this kind of request, and can’t know in advance how much work it’s going to be (unlike attending the wedding, which usually involves pretty predictable costs/effort). That puts the responsibility on you not to ask too much. This is totally doable — just takes some careful thought.

    • Girl, I DREAM and LONG for my friends to ask me to decorate for their wedding. Are you kidding? It’s SO MUCH FUN and such a great way to chill out with some close friends before the wedding.

      Definitely ask some friends and family! If they are drinkers, you can provide them with a six pack or a bottle of champagne to get their creative juices flowing. They’ll have fun! My suggestion would be to get at least two people to come to your house before hand and talk over the entire decorating scheme with them (two is better than one, this way they’ll remember more of it). Provide everything labeled and ready to go, as much as possible, and then let them have fun turning your day into something awesome!

    • Amy

      (edited to fix where I confusingly said “ceremony” when I meant reception. oops!)

      This is exactly my timeline! I handled it by “hiring” a friend of my sister’s to take care of the reception setup. He’s a friend that she trusts, but not someone who normally would have been invited to the wedding. We’ll compensate him by letting him hang out and eat/drink at the reception (plus bring a date of course) and then also either get him a gift card to a nice restaurant or maybe just straight cash as a thank you. Either way this should be much cheaper than hiring a full on coordinator, and our wedding is small enough that we think a pro is overkill.

      I agree with the other commenters that it’s ok to ask your friend! But this is just another option to consider, if there is a friend of a friend who might be able to help out and not feel like they were missing out on your wedding to do so. (At least in our case, our helper would miss the entire ceremony, so it wasn’t an option to ask a guest to do it. Sister’s friend was the perfect choice!)

      • Oooh so this was actually my original idea, the friend-of-a-friend kind of thing, but then I was like, hm, is it better to invite someone I know a little better? But now I’m leaning more toward this idea because I think ideally, we’d have someone do it who could be OK with missing the ceremony (which just might be the best thing from a logistical standpoint, but we can work around it if we have to). I was thinking of offering to pay her, because it would still be less than hiring a pro. Anyway, thanks for sharing this; I’m glad to know the friend-of-friend route isn’t totally out of left field!

        • Amy

          I’d say just be careful to pick someone who you trust would be good at handling the things you need them to. My sister has done a lot of stage management / theater production stuff before, so I trusted her to pick the friend of hers that would be best suited to the job. Also, since he’s friends with my sister, he’ll hopefully have fun hanging out at the reception even though he doesn’t know me or any other guests.

          We’re still three weeks out from the wedding, so I can’t report as to how things went. But so far I’m confident it’s a good plan!

  • Emily

    So very helpful! I’m looking for help with 2 related dilemmas. Since I now have to scramble to find an alternative ceremony location (just fell through due to something outside our and the vendor’s control), I’m wondering whether we should a) try to find an equally quirky, interesting, awesome location (e.g. park) near the reception, or b) whether we should do the ceremony at our reception location, at a hotel.

    I’d love to do Option A to avoid the ‘boringness’ of having everything at a hotel (compromise with my folks of doing the reception there was to have a separate and awesome, now unavailable ceremony location). But considering Elizabeth’s hesitation about separate sites, I’m wondering whether it’s worth it to go through the hassle. I’m also really tense about doing everything at the hotel, since I feel like I’d be giving in to my mom, who originally wanted to do it that way. She hasn’t yet said “I told you so,” but I’m worried about that too.

    Dilemma 2 is similar to a comment above, where we’re doing a Sunday wedding and are wondering about after-party options, as most bars, etc. in this small city will be closed. Originally we couldn’t start until 5pm due to site constraints, although we may be able to start earlier.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      We had 2 venues. People drove the 30 minutes between them and parked, no problem. Neither had an adequate parking lot, yet we heard not even a bit lip about driving or parking issues. [Both had lots of street parking, and there was a parking lot 3 blocks from the reception site.]

      But we also had the exact opposite of a “quirky” or “awesome” group of people or wedding vibe. I mean, I think my friends and family are awesome, but we were consciously guided by tradition (real tradition researched at university libraries, in addition to lots of conversations with older guests) in all our wedding planning.

  • I love these posts so, so much. Everything is already becoming clearer in my mind!

    So here’s my timeline worry (worries) – can anyone offer any advice to these situations?

    Issue: we’re having the ceremony and reception at a state nature reserve (in the forest! Well, the Texas forest.), and we’ve got a gorgeous lodge to host the reception, and everything is great. BUT. Everyone has to be out of the park gates by ten. No exceptions. Which means, really, everyone has to be out by 9:30 because you know there will be stragglers.

    Issue the second: my fiance is dead-set against first look photos (to be fair, so am I, a bit).

    Issue 3: Because we have to pay park admission for our guests and it’s not near anything local, and all the fun park activities aren’t suitable for people in nice clothes, sadly. So we can’t have a gap.

    Issue 4: I want to DANCE. A lot. For hours.

    So, how do we structure this? What I wanted originally is a cocktail/hors d’ouerves reception, with LOTS of different appetizers and a few stations (make your own tacos, pizza bar, etc) that could provide more substantial food. But it seems like most cocktail receptions A) aren’t long and B) don’t extend till 9 pm. I’m also worried about older guests or family members not liking the lack of structure.

    We could eat really early, which probably wouldn’t be weird for my family (from Mississippi) or his (from England), but I feel like would be weird for our guests? Have any of y’all gone to weddings where dinner is served at 4 or 5 and then there was just lots of dancing afterward?

    Basically . . . does anyone have any suggestions? Ideas? We will have a photobooth and there’s also a playground right next to the reception venue, so little kids and non-dancers should be entertained, I would think.

    EDIT TO ADD: And it’s in November, so sunset is at 5:45 pm. I feel like that’s an important thing to note.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      1: Just drill it into their heads, and make an announcement or 2 day-of (maybe 1 at the very beginning of the reception, and one around 9pm or 8:30)

      2: We did all our photos between the ceremony and reception. This included extended family on both sides. It took 30-40 minutes.

      3&4: One of my favorite weddings ever was scheduled for 2pm at the church. We got to the reception around 4pm (full Catholic Mass), and had dinner between 5 and 6pm. That wedding broke up around 11pm. It also had mostly young, single, child-free guests. I went to a similar wedding at 1pm, with a meal served at 3pm. That was weird, but that wedding probably went on and on. I left early when I left at 6pm.

    • Jenn

      I don’t think it’s weird to have food at 4 or 5 (but I’m in the UK!)

      I think as long as you make it clear to your guests what to expect on the invite, wedding website, word of mouth, or programs than they will go with the flow. If they know they are eating early at the wedding they won’t have a massive lunch, etc.

      you could do a 2:30pm ceremony, photos 3-4 and a cocktail/dinner style reception with dancing starting after the food to get the dancing hours in.

  • C

    Thanks for this series on timelines, I love it so far – very helpful. Looking at an afternoon wedding, so will be excited to see that timeline.

    One question I have regards the transition when you have a set end time at a venue, but want guests to feel comfortable coming to an informal after party. We are planning an afternoon wedding and there is a strict end time — i.e., so the venue can open for dinner that evening. Because our time at the venue is not especially long (about 3-4 hours from wedding invitation time to end reception time), we are planning on having an informal afterparty gathering. How do we go about kindly indicating to people that the reception at the venue is coming to a close (with an invitation to the informal after party)? FYI – We will not have a DJ or microphones, or much formality during the reception

  • Katelyn

    Would it be possible to delve into the timeline of the reception itself? We’re thinking if doing a three course served dinner, and want to do things during the courses (speeches, father-daughter dance, bouquet give away, etc.)….I’m having trouble visualizing the overall flow and whether we should cut out some things.

    Gotta give a thumbs up to the receiving line, we’ll be doing ours as people leave the church after our ceremony :)

    • LIZ (SINCE 1982)

      I would LOVE to hear more about this as well. The transitions to and between the “events” especially – we’re not having a DJ so I’m starting to wonder how exactly we’ll get from cake cutting, to first dance, to father-daughter dance, and so on without just … yelling it out at people like a square-dance caller?

  • Kat

    Shout out to the receiving line! I love them, both as a guest and bride. We had one after we walked back down the aisle (priming our bridal party and parents to get it started a we had an outside ceremony so it wasn’t as obvious as standing outside the church door). We got to say hello to and recieve congratulations from our guests and some of my favourite photos are of the hugs.

    As a guest I always like to be able to congratulate the couple after the ceremony (plus you get a moment to see them, especially if it’s a big wedding).

  • Marissa

    I am so excited you are doing a morning edition! I am planning m,y own morning wedding and need some help!

  • Emilie

    We can’t pull off the sit down meal thing in our venue space (too small, but perfect for a cocktail party). We REEAAAALLY want to serve dinner though so are considering getting a food truck. What does a timeline for a mingle and roam around cocktail-esque reception with a portable dinner look like? When do guests get in line at the truck? How do we cue them? What about dessert?

    Love these posts.

  • Michelle

    Oh my god, this is SAVING ME right now! The timeline between the separate ceremony and reception location + the photographs, etc, was killing me. What a relief to know that I sort of figured it out along the same lines. Though I am REALLY looking forward to the morning ceremony one, because that’s what we’re doing (in 2 months, uhh, last minute anyone?). Thank you!!

  • MrsBasilEFrankweiler

    We’re thinking about having a greeting/ cocktail hour, then the very brief ceremony (seriously ten minutes) then segueing into the “real” reception with dinner ready within 30 minutes of the ceremony. Having some hang out time before the ceremony takes the pressure off of a grand entrance and gives us both a chance to visit with guests before the ceremony (and encourages guests to have a drink in hand during the ceremony). Starting things off with cocktail hour sounds fun and relaxing to me but I haven’t seen how anyone else has done this. Any ideas?

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  • Laura

    OMG. This is the single most useful post I have come across while planning my wedding. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

  • abby

    We are more or less doing an afternoon event that continues into the evening and I am trying to figure out times. .

    We are having an early afternoon reception followed by appetizers, music and yard games. After the ceremony we will leave to do our photos. When we come back to the ceremony area (back yard), we will be announced and then do our first dance. After the dance, we would like everyone to continue to listen to the live music, eat, drink, play yard games and dance. We would like time to socialize with our guests before heading to the reception area via a ‘2nd line’. The reception will be a ‘cocktail party style’ reception. We will do more dances with a DJ and our cake cutting here. I am basically just wondering how much time should we allot to between the ceremony and the ‘2nd line’. Thanks!

  • heidi

    Winter weddings! I am getting married in December, with dinner & dance reception. Instead of having a first-look, we want to have post-ceremony photos, and want to have some natural light for the pictures. Can you post a winter wedding timeline?

  • Toriclare

    HI! How do you handle timelines when you aren’t doing seating chart/ traditional seated dinner/ buffet. We will have enough seats for about 80% of guests, but the idea is for everything to keep moving. I went to a wedding like this and it was great, but have no clue on how they were successful

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