Knowing how to build a wedding day timeline is a key to ensuring your wedding day is executed with flexible precision, but the benifits of a well written timeline start well before your wedding day.
Over the years of planning weddings for countless couples, our team sat down and really got into the nitty gritty of how we structure our wedding day timelines and why they not only work so well for us, but they work for the entire vendor team. The end result came to this short list of timeline elements based on how they function and are used to convey information and flow.
Skeletal timeline elements are the points on your wedding day timeline that under no circumstances are able to flex greatly and change. These are elements such as contracted vendor service times, when vendor access to your venue is permitted, delivery and setup windows for external rentals and decor, when our ceremony/cocktail hour/reception start times are (these do have a small window of flexibility), and when all strike needs to be completed at the end of the night. When these elements truly are set in stone, we often will mark them in bold and highlight them in our vendor welcome emails containing all final wedding day documents to ensure vendors are extremely aware of our non flexing areas and can prepare themselves and their services accordingly.
These are the wonderful moments our couple, their bridal parties, families, and guests will experience. These elements often come with the most flexibility as they are dealing with groups of people who want to celebrate and not be strapped to a rigged timeline. For each of these elements we create “cushion” around the event. Two of my favorite examples are first looks, and speeches. For a couples first look you can realistically anticipate it lasting around 5 minutes from the moment everyone is in place to when we move onto the next part of the day, however we create 10 minutes worth of buffer time around this. Why? Because the last thing we want to do is rush this sweet moment because we have something scheduled too closely behind it. The same thought process goes for speeches. Most speeches last anywhere from 2-3 minutes, but I always space them out in 5 minute increments. There will always be some that feel like lighting flashes last longer, and others that will stretch beyond that 5 minute allocation, but because we apply this cushion to all speeches of the night everything always balances out. All elements have their own cushion levels we use on all of our timelines, and occasionally when we have complex family dynamics, known chatter boxes, or any array of specific factors to consider we work outside of our “equations” and work with the information our couple can give to create the most accurate cushions possible. It’s because of this that our wedding days flow almost perfectly to the minute of the master timelines our vendors receive from us, and leads to a day that feels effortless for our couples and their guests.
Windows on your timeline are things we reserve for elements that have too many variables to accurately predict. The best example would be sunset photos. As we approach summertime here in Virginia Beach, brides across the city are adding sunset photos to their timelines, but the sun doesn’t always cooperate with the rest of the days flow and needs. Let’s say your wedding day timeline has a 5:30pm ceremony start time, 6:00pm cocktail hour start time, 7:00pm reception start time and you plan to have grand introductions, and first dances all prior to your dinner service. For all of those elements we would anticipate dinner service starting around 7:30/7:45pm give or take introduction lengths. Typically the sun here in Virginia Beach will set around 8:30 during the summer months which means our couple can anticipate needing to get out for their photos between 8:00/8:15pm. Easy right? Unfortunately not. things like weather patterns are always challenging. If we have heavy cloud coverage, the light photographers rely on for sunset photos often disappears sooner than on a clear day which may mean you need to be out for photos prior to dinner service. This is where windows come in. When working with a couple we always make a rain plan for our layouts, and our windows act as the “rain plan” for certain qualifying elements. We will work in two and sometimes three separate windows of time in between and around other elements to ensure that when the moment strikes, whatever that means, there is a plan and we shift the timeline to focus off of the given window we fall into day of. All allowing for structured flexibility in our couples wedding day, and ensuring every element our couple wishes to incorporate has its moment.
Lastly we come to our fluid elements. These are the moments on a master wedding day timeline that always make it on following any of us planners saying “we would rather have it on the timeline and remove it day of than not have it and take time from another area to make room for it in the moment.” Lately things like a bouquet toss, formal cake cutting, changing into a different dress all fall into this category of wedding day timeline elements. They really have the freedom to roam throughout the timeline area it lives (pre ceremony, ceremony, cocktail hour, reception), can be moved at a moments notice, or can be canceled all together. The reason these elements are the least structured is simply because they really don’t involve any other vendors outside of your planning team. There are no hoops to jump through, restructuring to do, or aggressive communication trains that need to happen, and in their absence no one would even know they were missing.
Knowing how to build a wedding day timeline is a skill we have honed-in over the years and have down to a rhythmic science these days. It’s these timelines that communicate your exact wishes to your entire vendor team, creates the right amount of structure and flexibility (aka planned fluidity), and allows for you and your loved ones to feel like you are simply and effortlessly flowing from one moment into the next.
If you are just getting started with your wedding planning journey be sure to fill out our inquiry form and schedule a consultation and learn why our couples love saying they were a Sincerely Jane couple!