Wedding Day Timing Dos and Don'ts

Bridal experts share their best tips for putting together a day-of wedding schedule, as well as common mistakes to avoid.


1. Don't underestimate how long it will take to get hair and makeup done. "I always suggest having beauty services done in the same location for timing purposes," says Stacie Ford of Stacie Ford Weddings. Another common mistake is that brides want to go last so their makeup stays picture-perfect for photos. A safer approach is to go second to last and ask your artist if they can stick around to do any necessary final touch-ups. Consider your bridesmaids and their timeliness habits when assigning slots — you'll want to schedule your most responsible 'maid first in the day. "If you start with someone who is perpetually late or has the tendency to be a bit high-maintenance, then she can throw the entire timeline off with her tardiness or pickiness," says Beth Helmstetter from Beth Helmstetter Events

2. Don't rush getting dressed. Photographers love to get pictures of this magical moment with the MOB and bridesmaids. "We often find that brides think it will only take a few minutes for them to step into their dress and add the final touches, but in reality, they need at least a half-hour," says Aimee Dominick of A. Dominick Events. All designated helpers should be in their dresses and have their hair and makeup finished.

3. Don't schedule too much time between parts of the wedding day. "At first, booking the ceremony and reception far apart may not seem like a big deal, but couples will eventually realize that they have displaced their guests for a considerable length of time with nothing to do. It can become expensive trying to occupy them with activities like a hosted bar at a local hotel, and you'll also open yourself up to become their personal concierge," says Paula Ramirez from Historic Mankin Mansion. Skip the hassle by trying to find a property that can host both your ceremony and reception. If this isn't feasible and guests are driving from one spot to the next, then build in just enough time for the first guests have food and beverage waiting for them at the reception when they arrive.

4. Don't open the floor up for everyone to say a few words, or you could be there all night! Wedding guests have been looking forward to hearing their favorite songs and having a blast on the dance floor, but they can't do that if the reception is crammed with too many events, including multiple speeches. Dominick suggests allowing three to five minutes maximum for those preparing to speak.

5. Don't rush guests during dinner. "If you're doing a plated meal, it takes about 30 minutes per course, so a three-course meal would come out to around an hour-and-a-half," says Jamie Bohlin from Cape Cod Celebrations. (Note: This figure does go up a bit if you're having over 200 guests, but it's a good general frame of reference.) Consider serving a preset salad so that when your guests arrive at the table, they can begin the first course while you do your introductions and first dance. Or display your cake buffet-style so that guests don't have to stay seated for the dessert course.

6. Don't wait too long for the cake-cutting. "Many guests see this as the point in the night where they can think about leaving (especially if they have kids or a long drive home). If you do it soon after dinner, they are more likely to stay and enjoy your delicious dessert," Zhou advises.

Despite everyone's best efforts, weddings can run behind schedule. "If the ceremony runs long, then the cocktail hour may have to be cut down, and you'll want to talk to your photographer to see if it's feasible to expedite shooting the bridal party. The easiest part to cut — while not always a popular choice — is the block of time when the dance floor is open to guests, which will impact fewer vendors than if you try to steal time away from the meal or taking photos," Zhou says.