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How To Plan A Wedding Timeline

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

Planning your wedding can be exhausting both mentally and physically. And one of the biggest stressors for couples is planning the timeline of your special day. Coordinating vendors like your caterer and photographer, deciding on what formalities you would like to include, wedding games and basic timings for guest arrival, ceremony start and other wedding day needs can just be overwhelming. And to be honest, the added cost of a professional wedding planner can also be a financial strain for many people.

So first thing first, if you have a wedding of 100 plus people, and you do have the budget to hire a professional wedding planner… I highly recommend it. If you do not, which is totally understandable and the position 80% of couples are in, do not worry.

There are basically five main parts of the wedding day to plan:

1. Set-up/Decorating

2. Pre-Ceremony

3. Ceremony

4. Reception

5. Clean-up

For the 20% of you that hire a professional wedding planner, usually their services cover all the above. In addition, their services can also include searching for a venue, wedding dress, tuxedo’s and more. But every planner is different so be sure to go over everything and double check the contract to ensure what was discussed is also guaranteed in writing.

For the 80% of you NOT using a wedding planner… here are some great tips I have found to make your wedding day planning that much easier.

1. Set up and decorating: You don’t have to buy it, you can probably rent it… your venue might even let you use it for free. First, ask your venue if they offer table settings and décor. Also, there are many rental companies that rent everything from tables, chairs and dance floors to vases, centerpieces and other décor. You can always find great décor on Facebook wedding sites for Rochester, NY, Buffalo, NY, Elmira, NY, Ithaca, NY and Western New York, at rock bottom prices.

Ask a friend or family member to oversee the set up and decorating of the venue (ceremony and reception spaces). Take a picture of how you want your table settings to look. It is important to have someone else oversee the set up so you can walk away if needed. They can also handle all of the last-minute decisions and needs... along with a final last-minute walk-through to ensure everything is picture perfect just before your guests arrive. You will be way to busy getting ready to be worrying about décor and that is certainly the last thing you need on your mind.

2. Pre-Ceremony: The pre-ceremony is really two parts. First, it is the time for the wedding party to get dressed, put on make-up, do hair, etc.. Second, it is the time your photographer will take pictures of the bride and bridal party and the groom and groomsmen. And if you wish, a first look of you and your fiancée. A professional photographer will actually create a pre-ceremony timeline for you as it pertains to photographs.

3 & 4 The Ceremony and Reception: If you have a professional DJ, they should work closely with you to develop a full timeline from the start of the ceremony to the end of the reception. If not, here are some important things to keep in mind or consider when making your own timeline.

First, it is best to coordinate the reception to begin directly after the ceremony. Many people think it is a good idea to space this out… but in reality it just leaves your guests trying to figure out what to do in between and a real headache for guests who do not live local. Allow a half an hour for your ceremony and then begin your reception immediately.

While you, your wedding party, and the photographer go take pictures, you will have a cocktail hour for your guests... This should not be longer than an hour. Remember, the ceremony is about you both, the reception is about your guests. Time it so people are not waiting around getting bored.

For dinner you want to schedule about an hour. It can always go longer if needed, but again, you do not want your guests waiting around getting bored after they have eaten. Also, a big mistake many people make is not having at least two buffet lines if you have more than 125 guests. Below, you will see a general timeline of what a typical wedding looks like … I always recommend a tighter timeline and if something takes longer than expected, everything else can adjust. Giving too much time can create dead-space and cause your guests to be, as we said earlier, bored.

5. Clean-up: If your venue requires that you clean up the same evening as your reception, have a team of friends or family members organized that can handle this for you. Make sure to have one main person in charge of this. Its your wedding day, you both do not need to worry about the clean-up. Get out of there and let others do that for you… you have sex to worry about! Lol.

The PDF attached below has an ideal timeline that my company, Top Entertainment DJ ( has fine-tuned over hundreds of weddings. As a wedding DJ, I make sure my clients know that not only will I put on a great dance party for their guests, but I will also develop a timeline and coordinate the flow of the evening. I will ensure the caterer, photographer and any other vendors are all working together to make the night flow seamlessly. My goal is to make sure my couples have an amazing night with their loved ones, not worrying about what needs to happen next.

A properly planned wedding should run smoothly and stress-free.

Timeline Sample
Download PDF • 205KB

-Marshall Green, Owner

Top Entertainment DJ

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