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Your Wedding Day Timeline: Plan the Order of Your Wedding Day

From when to start getting ready to how long you should leave for the speeches, our modern wedding timeline templates are on hand to help you plan a hiccup-free day

Image of an order-of-service sheet by Ruby Blue Co

Image of an order-of-service sheet by Ruby Blue Co

The key to a smooth-running wedding day is all in the planning. You don’t need a minute-by-minute schedule (that only makes things more stressful!) but a basic structure or wedding day timeline of when you need to start getting ready, your arrival time at the ceremony, and when the wedding breakfast and speeches will be, will all make you feel more in control and relaxed.

Naturally, putting a wedding timeline together can be confusing if you have no idea of how long these things are going to take. That’s why we’ve created a sample modern wedding day timeline based on ceremonies starting at both 1pm and 6pm, as well as alternative timelines for an 11am start, and brunch and afternoon tea style receptions, along with some helpful tips on putting together the order of your day.

Note: all the below timelines assume the ceremony and reception are being held in the same venue. Allow extra time if guests have to travel between locations. Use the below templates to create your own wedding day timeline.

Sample Wedding Day Timeline: 1pm Ceremony Start

A newlywed couple laughing and smiling as they walk through their ceremony venue

One of the most common wedding ceremony start times in the UK is 1pm, so we’ll kick off with that. If you’re having a 12pm or 2pm ceremony, move this schedule back or forward by an hour respectively.

8am: Breakfast and shower

Your stomach might be doing somersaults but do try to eat something – especially if you’re going to be enjoying a glass of champagne as you get ready.

9am: Hair and make-up services begin, photographer arrives

This timing ultimately depends on how many of your wedding party VIPs require hair and makeup. The bridesmaids and/or mother of the bride should always go first, followed by the bride, if there is one!

10am: Bouquets arrive, suppliers begin set-up at your venue

You’ll need to confirm the set-up procedure and when your suppliers will have access to your venue beforehand, but around 10am generally works for a 1pm start.

11am: Get dressed

The bridesmaids, mother of the bride and any other members of your wedding party who are with you should all be dressed by this point, so they can help you get into your outfit and be in the background of your ‘getting ready’ shots.

11.45am: Photos with your wedding party, consider a light snack

Now is the time for more formal photos with your wedding party before you hit the road.

12.30pm: Your groom or partner arrives at the venue, guests also begin to arrive

Your partner should be there to greet friends and family as they arrive, while other members of his or her party can help guide guests to their seats and hand out order of service sheets (if you’re having them).

12.45pm: Depart for venue with the photographer and the members of your wedding party

Remember to allow time for traffic if you’re getting there via car!

1pm: Ceremony starts

And breathe… don’t forget to ask someone to fluff your dress if you're wearing one in order to have it looking picture perfect as you walk down the aisle.

1.45pm: Ceremony ends, confetti shots, couple departs for photos

Maximise the drama for your confetti shots by waiting in another room after the ceremony while your guests depart – then you can swing open the venue doors to your adoring public.

2.15pm: Reception drinks begin, canapés are served

Whether you have champagne, beers, or a specially designed wedding cocktail, ensure there’s a non-alcoholic alternative too.

2.30pm: Couple returns with the photographer, photos with the wedding party

You might wish to have a few group photos outside your venue – if that’s the case, give your photographer a list of everyone you want captured ahead of time. You should also designate a family member or member of the wedding party who knows who’s-who to help coordinate and identify everyone.

3.45pm: Seat guests for dinner

Let guests know it’s time to move into the dining area – it’s time to eat!

4pm: Starter and main course

The amount of time you’ll need for dinner depends on what you’re serving. A two-course meal will naturally take less time, as will a buffet-style meal or sharing platters on the tables. Caterers tend to expect around 100 guests to move through a buffet in 20-30 minutes, while plated meals tend to be served 40-45 minutes apart, so you’ll want around two hours in total.

5.15pm: Speeches

There’s no set rule about when the speeches should happen (though if you have nervous speakers, sooner might be better than later), however, between the main course and dessert is a great place to start.

6pm: Dessert

As dinner is wrapping up, the speeches/toasts should be too.

6.30pm: Cutting of the cake, couple depart for more photos if required

Announced by your toastmaster, on-the-day coordinator or even a member of the wedding party, the cutting of the cake isn’t a tradition people always keep, but it’s another great photo opportunity. You may also want to sneak away with your photographer for some additional ‘golden hour’ portrait shots during the 30 or so minutes leading up to sunset.

7pm: Evening guests arrive

While your day guests get to enjoy champagne and wine throughout the day, your evening guests, of course, miss out on this. Why not greet them with a glass of bubbly or complimentary soft drink to ensure they feel properly welcomed?

7.30pm: First dance

If you choose to, this will be your first dance as newlyweds to your favourite song. After the dance, it’s traditional for the couple’s parents to join them on the dance floor, then other guests will follow.

7.45pm: DJ/band starts, open dance floor

Enjoy the party – it’s time to celebrate!

9.30pm: Evening food/wedding cake is served

Sometimes simplicity is key when it comes to the evening food – one or two options, such as hot cheese toasties or hog roast sandwiches, done really well will often go down better than a cold beige buffet. Just make sure there is enough for everyone.

11.30pm: Couple depart

It’s time to say your final goodbyes and head off on your happily ever after – which always takes longer than you think! If you’re planning a dramatic exit with sparklers or something equally festive, ensure this is planned ahead of time and have a designated member of the wedding party (or your coordinator) hand out everything that’s needed.

12am: Party finishes

Ensure the finishing time is clear on the invitations so people can organise their transport home ahead of time.

Sample Wedding Day Timeline: 6pm/Twilight Ceremony Start

Image of an order of events sign illustrated with flowers

A twilight wedding ceremony will usually take place somewhere between 5pm and 7pm, depending on the time of year. There are two main reasons why a couple might choose a twilight ceremony: either they can get a cheaper deal with their venue, or they plan to party later into the night.

Evening weddings aren’t child-friendly, however, so bear that in mind when compiling your guest list. But it does mean you can sleep in on your wedding morning!

2pm: Photographer arrives, hair and makeup services begin

Your photographer will be able to capture some great detail shots while your wedding party VIPs have their hair and makeup done, including photos of the outfits, accessories, and stationery.

3pm: Your own hair and makeup begin, bouquets are delivered, and suppliers begin set-up at the venue

Don’t forget to count your bouquets and corsages when they arrive to ensure you have everything you need.

4pm: Get dressed

It’s time!

4.45pm: Wedding party photos

Your photographer will also want to capture some beautiful portrait shots of you on your own at this point.

5.30pm: Your groom or partner arrives at the venue, guests also begin to arrive

It’s also helpful for members of your partner’s party to know logistics, such as where to park or where the toilets are, so they can guide your guests.

6pm: Ceremony starts

Waiting for those doors to open is the most magical feeling… enjoy it!

6.30pm: Reception drinks and canapés are served

Now you can really start to relax, and the fun can begin.

7pm: Couple departs for sunset or ‘golden hour’ photos

Make the most of this time of the evening and that beautiful natural light by sloping off with your photographer for some intimate portrait shots.

7.30pm: Couple returns

Time to mingle with your guests and enjoy a glass of fizz.

7.45pm: Cutting of the cake

This can be done in another area of the venue if staff need time to make the switch from ceremony set-up to reception.

8.15pm: Buffet/food is served, toasts are made

In lieu of any formal speeches, now is a good time for you as newlyweds to say a few words and thank your guests for coming.  

9pm: Dance floor is open

It’s time to party and dance until the night ends!

12am: Party finishes (or continues in another bar!)

Always check with your wedding venue how late you can celebrate – different venues have different licenses. You may be able to have an extension but that could involve extra fees.

Alternative Wedding Day Timelines

An order of service sheet from Ruby Blue Co

11am ‘Morning Ceremony’ Timeline Template

A morning ceremony is fantastic as you get the whole day to spend celebrating with your loved ones – but you need to pace the day correctly. Don’t serve alcohol too early or guests may overindulge too soon, and make sure you have enough food planned for throughout the day.

You’ll all likely want to freshen up for the evening so having a two-hour gap between the end of the speeches and the evening guests arriving is essential.

7am: Hair and makeup services begin

8am: Bouquets arrive, suppliers begin to set-up at venue

9am: Get dressed, photographer arrives

10am: Wedding party photos

10.30am: Your groom or partner arrives at the venue, guests also begin to arrive

10.45am: You depart for the venue with your photographer and wedding party

11am: Ceremony starts

11.30am: Ceremony ends, confetti shots

11.45am: Reception drinks and canapés are served, couple departs for photos

12.15pm: Couple returns, group photos

1pm: Guests seated for lunch

1.15pm: Three-course lunch is served

3pm: Speeches and coffee

6pm: Evening guests arrive

6.30pm: Cutting of the cake and first dance

7pm: Dance floor opens

7.30pm: Evening buffet served

Brunch Wedding

A 10am wedding ceremony lends itself to a brunch reception. Have a cocktail hour of mimosas or Bloody Marys starting at 10.45am and serve a sit-down brunch or buffet from 11.30am. The key to this is not letting your guests get hungry and not serving copious amounts of alcohol too early. It means you can have speeches by 12.45pm; cake at 1.30pm for dessert; and the day can end around 4pm or 5pm.

Afternoon Tea Wedding

A 12pm or 1pm ceremony is ideal for afternoon-tea style food to be served after your reception drinks. Gin cocktails in vintage tea cups will set the tone for a classic English menu of finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and cakes.

We’d recommend serving this earlier than a typical wedding breakfast, at about 3pm, so guests don’t get ravenous. You can either end your wedding at 6pm with no evening party or ask evening guests to attend from 6.30pm onwards. Serve up something equally informal, such as a barbecue or food from street-food vendors, from about 7.30pm.

A newlywed couple portrait in a church

What is the Most Common Wedding Ceremony Time in the UK?

Most ceremonies in the UK start between 11am and 3pm, depending on the type of service. Church ceremonies can take place both in the morning and the afternoon, while registry office and civil wedding ceremonies will only take place in the afternoon. However, the most common start time for a wedding ceremony is between 1pm and 3pm.

How Long Does Each Part of the Wedding Day Last?

First-look photos: 15-20 minutes

Still not quite as popular in the UK as they are across the pond, first look photos will need to be scheduled just before the ceremony. Allow 15-20 minutes for the photos to take place, but longer if you wish to travel to a different location to do them.

Civil ceremony: 20-30 minutes

A straightforward registry office wedding or civil ceremony at a venue can take as little as 10 minutes, but with the addition of readings, poems and music, your ceremony will typically last around 20-30 minutes.

Religious ceremony: 45-60 minutes

Religious ceremonies will obviously depend on your denomination and religion. A standard Church of England service will typically take around 45 minutes (including the address, prayers, hymns, and readings), while a Catholic service will usually be longer if it involves mass.

Photos after the ceremony: 30-45 minutes

Most couples will choose to have some photos with their wedding party after the service. We’d suggest allocating 30 minutes for this but do speak to your photographer for their suggestions. Some photographers might prefer to take you to another location for your private couple shots, but this time will coincide with your guests travelling to the reception venue if it’s in a different place to the ceremony.

Reception drinks: 90 minutes

‘Cocktail hour’ is perhaps a misnomer, as you’ll want to allocate around an hour and a half for these. This gives enough time for guests to freshen up, and for you to mingle and have photos with them, before being seated for the wedding breakfast. If you’d like to have a receiving line, add on another 15 minutes, depending on your guest numbers.

Wedding breakfast: 2 hours

Around two-and-a-half hours for the wedding breakfast is about right, if it includes the speeches. Your venue and caterers will have plenty of experience and knowledge about how long this should take, so consult them for a rough estimate. 

Speeches: 30 minutes (for three speeches)

We wouldn’t recommend more than 10 minutes per speech, otherwise guests will get bored. It's your choice at what point during the meal the speeches occur – often it’s between the main course and the dessert but it’s really up to you.

Cutting of the cake: 5 minutes

The cake cutting usually happens before the evening guests arrive – and it doesn’t take as long as people think! If the staff at your venue need to transform the wedding breakfast room into a dancefloor, consider doing the cake cutting in another room to give them a chance to make the switch. And encourage people to bring their drinks!

Evening reception: 4 hours

Between 7-8pm is a good time to ask evening guests to arrive. You should aim to make your departure at around 11.30pm, before the party ends at midnight.  

How to Plan Your Wedding Day Timeline

A heart-shaped cake that reads

To give you even more of a helping hand, we’ve compiled our top 10 tips with the help of an expert to make sure you don’t miss a thing…

1. “Always allow time for guests to move from one part of the day to the other,” says wedding planner Jess Ghansah of Occasion Queens. “Buffer in time between calling guests for dinner and the food being served, for example. It can take 15-30 minutes to get them seated sometimes, depending on the number of people. Always make sure there’s enough time in the schedule.”

2. Similarly, always allow contingency time for bad weather and traffic – it’s better to be early than late!

3. “Don’t try to cram too much into your day,” says Jess. “The last thing you want is to feel stressed or rushed because you’re running over time. Put the most important things in your schedule and speak to your coordinator about the ‘nice-to-have’ elements that you’d like to do if there is time.”

4. Remember, the number of bridesmaids you have will dramatically affect your wedding day timeline. If you’ve got lots, you’ll need two hair and makeup artists and will have to allow two hours’ prep time for them to get ready.

5. If you want to capture cute photos together in your matching robes or PJs, alongside the more reportage “getting ready” shots, don’t forget to factor these in to your morning after hair and makeup is finished.

6. If you’re putting together a Spotify playlist of background music for the wedding breakfast or other parts of the day, ensure it is long enough. The last thing you want is for it to end too early.

7. If you want to cut down on photography time between the ceremony and the speeches, speak to your photographer about a pre-wedding shoot with family members. You’ll need to be ready earlier in the morning but will have plenty more time with your guests later on.

8. “Try not to have more than four speeches,” says Jess. “It’s one of those parts of the day that can go completely off schedule and add a lot of extra time on to the meal. Make sure your speakers know they need to stick to around 10 minutes and ask them to practice so they don’t go over or off-piste on the day!”

9. Make it clear on your invitations when guests are expected to leave. Have a 'carriages at' time – and make sure there’s a last call from the bar and a last song from the DJ. Your suppliers will want to know when they can start setting down.

10. When it comes to creating your own wedding day timeline, always liaise with your own wedding planner or venue coordinator to ensure you’re on the same page.

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