Have you ever been to a wedding where everything just seemed to flow naturally? There was never any awkward downtime. The bride and groom didn’t feel frantic or rushed. Everyone stayed till the bitter end dancing and celebrating the newlyweds. It may have seemed very organic and completely unorchestrated.
We’ll let me let you in on a little secret. Every wedding that flows like this has one really good, highly orchestrated timeline behind it. Events throughout the night are scheduled down to the minute and there’s a particular flow that keeps everyone engaged.
At first glance, it may seem like you’re packing a lot into a little amount of time. But, wedding guests are like small children. They’re there to be entertained and the second they get bored and it doesn’t feel like a party, they’re gone. You may think no one would ever leave your wedding early because they’re bored. But here’s what’s going through their mind the second there’s a lull.
I really want to stay and celebrate with Bride and Groom. But, I’ve already had two glasses of wine. If we keep sitting here like this I’m just going to drink more. Then I’m going to have to Uber home and find a way to come back for my car tomorrow. I don’t really have time for that. Since we’re just sitting here, I could leave now, drive myself home, get out of this uncomfortable dress and these stupid heels, drink my own wine which is much better than this anyways, and cuddle with my dog.
Whereas if the night is flowing away, their thoughts go a little more like this….
This is the best wedding ever. I know I’ve already had two glasses of wine, but keep em’ coming bartender. I’ll just Uber home. That’s why it’s around anyways right. I’ll find a way to get my car tomorrow. Let me kick off my heels and let’s party. I never get to get dressed up like this so I’m going to make the most of it.
It’s a little hard to believe at first read but I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve done that have ended two hours early, even though the guests are a “party crowd”, because couples insisted on a free flow timeline.
That was a bit of a long introduction, but hopefully I’ve convinced you. Now that I have, keep reading to find out my perfect timeline tips to keep the party flowing all night.
Ceremony and Cocktail Hour
Ceremony time is going to vary for everyone. The average non-church ceremony these days is about 15 minutes. Regardless of when your ceremony ends, you’ll want to immediately go into family and formal pictures. Alot no more than one hour to get all of your post ceremony pictures done. I would also advise that once you do this hour of pictures, don’t plan on leaving your reception again. For this portion of the day, your timeline will look a little something like this…
5:00 PM – Ceremony Ends
Guests Begin Cocktail Hour
Post Ceremony Pictures Begin
5:45 PM – DJ announces for guests to please find their seats as introductions will begin shortly (This is only applicable if you’re doing introductions. If you’re skipping them, the DJ will ask guests to find their seats as dinner is about to begin if you’re doing a plated dinner)
6:00 PM – Post Ceremony Pictures End
Introductions (if you’re doing them)
*Note: If it’s only you and your new spouse being introduced, introductions will literally take 30 seconds. If it’s your parents and the whole bridal party, you’ll only need about 3 minutes. That’s really all it takes including time to get you lined up.
For your reception, this is the flow that I have found works best. While you’re welcome to rearrange, all my brides that have followed this template over the years have had one heck of a celebration.
Following introductions, have your blessing or welcome toast if you’re doing one. Typically the blessing is given by your officiant or a family member if you’re religious. A welcome toast is traditionally given by whoever is hosting the reception. As soon as that is done, start dinner. I always always always suggest you take 5 minutes to sit down and eat something before visiting with guests. Once you start talking, you’ll never stop to eat. Here’s how it will look on your timeline….
6:02 PM – Welcome Toast (given by the hosts – see this post for host info)
Blessing (if applicable)
6:05 PM – Dinner Begins
You should allot about an hour for dinner from start to finish. However, about 40-45 minutes in once all guests have their food, do your toasts. Doing them while dinner is still going on gives the guests who have already eaten something to do while other guests are finishing eating. Plus, at this point everyone is still in their seats and paying attention.
6:45 PM – Toasts
7:00 PM – Dinner Ends
As dinner is ending, I always suggest getting in your ceremonial cake cutting. You don’t have to cut and serve it to guests right then but get the ceremonial part out of the way so you can enjoy the rest of your night with no interruptions. After cake cutting, do your dances and open up the dance floor.
7:05 PM – Cake Cutting
7:07 PM – First Dance
7:15 PM – Dance Floor Opens
Now that the dance floor is open, you can hang the rest of the night with your guests without interruption. Visit, have fun, and soak up every minute you can of this night. If you’re planning on doing a bouquet and garter toss, I generally suggest allowing your DJ to decide when to do those based on lulls in dancing. Tentatively put it on your timeline about an hour to an hour and half into dance but ultimately allow your DJ to make that call.
8:15 PM – Bouquet and Garter Toss
Based on this timeline with your ceremony ending at 5:00 PM, I suggesting ending your reception around 9:00 or 9:30 at the latest. That may seem early, but when you consider that your ceremony probably started at 4:30, guests arrived a few minutes early plus they had to get ready and drive there, that’s close to a six to seven hour day for most of your guests.
End the formal reception then and plan an after party at your favorite bar if you want to keep the party going. This will allow guests that want to go home an opportunity to leave and those that want to keep partying an outlet to do so.
Alright, now that we’ve covered the basics, download my timeline template below to create your perfect wedding timeline.