Picture this: A wedding day that flows effortlessly, creating an experience that’s as enchanting as your love story. The secret? Meticulous planning! Remember, more details mean more magic. Ceremonies, typically 30 minutes to an hour, can be short and sweet, and for receptions, gear up for a celebration that lasts four to five hours!
Meet Abhi Madan, the creative mind behind Amarra, who’s teamed up with us to fashion a sample modern wedding reception timeline. Based on a 5:30 p.m. kickoff (adjust as needed), Madan, with a wealth of experience in design, production, education, and retail, ensures your day unfolds seamlessly.
This plan works if your ceremony and party are in the same place. There is no need for guests to dash to another spot before the fun starts. If your reception’s at a different spot, add travel time so everyone can smoothly transition from “I do” to the celebration! But before that, take a moment to explore Amarra’s collection of stunning wedding dresses and formal dresses. Ready to explore and find the outfit that’s just right for you?
Now, let’s chart out your big-day schedule with this guide!
The official ceremony start time is just for the guests, but for the main players – you, your crew, and the vendors – the wedding extravaganza begins well before that invitation clock.
11 a.m. Glam Squad Time
Get the glam party started! Whether it’s a troop of bridesmaids or a dynamic duo, 11 a.m. is the go-to kickoff for hair and makeup. Feel free to shuffle this around on your timeline if you’re rocking a different vibe with two grooms or a low-key look.
2 p.m. Photographer Comes In
Cue the photographer’s entrance 30 minutes before you’re rocking your wedding attire. It’s the perfect window to capture those dress, suit, or tuxedo glam shots, plus rings, invitations, and all those Instagram-worthy details.
2:15 p.m. Wedding Party Ready; Bride’s Hair and Makeup Done
By this time, the bridesmaids, VIPs of the bridal suite (maybe even the bride’s mother), are ready to rock. They should be flaunting their finery just as the bride wraps up her glam session. All set to be the background stars in those “getting dressed” photos!
2:30 p.m. Dressing Time for the Couple
Let the photographer capture those behind-the-scenes moments as you slip into your gown. Your maid of honor and crew can lend a hand, and don’t forget about Mom—she can add the perfect finishing touches.
For the groom, it’s the final touch-ups on the big-day look—tying the tie and getting that boutonnière just right, all for the camera.
2:45 p.m. Solo Portraits
Fully dressed and ready to slay, it’s portrait time! The photographer will work their magic at specially scouted spots around the venue. Each partner gets their spotlight moment.
3:10 – 3:30 p.m. Wedding Party Group Pics
It’s time for those epic group pics with the crew, bringing all the good vibes and capturing those celebratory moments with your ride-or-die pals. Thinking of unique shots like toasting with Champagne? Plan and get those props (think clean flutes) ready. In a bride-and-groom scenario, picture the bride vibing with her bridesmaids while the groom is striking poses with his groomsmen.
3:30 p.m. First Look
The (totally optional) first look is a significant moment where you and your partner lock eyes for the first time, away from the sea of eyes, watching you exchange vows during the ceremony.
3:30 – 4:10 p.m. Power Couple Portraits
If you’re down for a first look, this is the prime time for your photographer(s) to snap intimate portraits of just the two of you at cool, pre-scouted spots around your venue. Time to capture that magic!
For valuable insights on maintaining the timeless beauty of your gown, check out expert tips on wedding dress preservation.
4:10 – 5:00 p.m. Squad and Fam Photos
“Gather your fam in the venue lobby at 4 p.m., dressed up and ready to rock! Give your photographer the lowdown with a cool shot list that includes every family combo you dream of. And don’t forget to pick a family member to help the photographer identify everyone,” Madan advises.
During and Post-Ceremony
Now, it’s game time. Guests start rolling in, and the real fun is about to kick off!
5:30 p.m. Wedding Kickoff Time
Usually, weddings start about 15 minutes fashionably late from the time mentioned on the invite. This gives everyone some wiggle room in case things don’t go as planned and ensures everyone has a seat. It’s an intelligent move to dodge anyone missing the “I dos” because of surprise issues like traffic. Also, think about cranking up some tunes to get the vibe going and let everyone know the main event is about to kick off!
5:45 – 6:15 p.m. The Ceremony
This block varies the most, depending on your wedding flavor, notes Madan. Non-religious ceremonies usually run about 20 minutes, but it could stretch to a fantastic hour if you’re going for the religious vibes.
6:15 – 7:15 p.m. Sippin’ Hour
Send guests to the cocktail hour while you and your boo escape for post-ceremony pics with the photographer. A chill break to recharge before the rest of the night—decide if you want to join cocktail hour halfway through or sneak into the wedding suite for some private bites and sips.
7 p.m. Sunset Pics
Schedule extra portrait time before the sun takes its nightly nap to snag that magical natural glow. Check out Timeanddate.com for sunset precision – it’s always on the money. Remember, winter sunsets can be unpredictable, so aim for those pre-sunset snapshots around 4 p.m. and let the enchantment begin!
7:15 p.m. Guests Invited to Dinner
Let everyone know it’s dinner time! Inform your guests that the delicious feast awaits, and if they still need to be in the dining area, encourage them to go to their seats.
7:30 p.m. Grand Entrance and Dance Kickoff
Timing rocks if you jump from your grand entrance straight into your first dance,” says Madan. After two minutes, keep the good vibes flowing with a packed dance or a fade-out. Add a mini dance set before dinner for that extra hype.
7:35 – 7:45 p.m. Welcome Toasts from Hosts
The first two toasts are the welcome toasts, usually from the parents or a family member. Traditionally, it’s the father of the bride who kicks things off.
7:45 – 8:30 p.m. Dinner
It’s your chance to catch your breath and enjoy a delicious dinner! Take a moment to relax, enjoy the company, and savor the delicious dishes served during this dedicated dining time.
8:30 – 8:40 p.m. Bridal Party Toasts
As dinner winds down, the best man and maid of honour can drop their toasts here. “Set a time limit, though. I always say no more than five minutes,” Madan advises.
8:40 – 8:50 p.m. Parent Dances
“I suggest doing them right after toasts and then slide into an open dance floor. After the last official dance, crank up the beats and get your DJ or band to hype up the crowd,” says Madan.
9:30 – 9:45 p.m. Cake Cut, Bouquet and Garter Toss
Now is the moment for the delightful traditions of cutting the cake, tossing bouquets, and throwing garters if that suits your style. Embrace these fun rituals, and seize the opportunity to express your gratitude to everyone who joined in the celebration.
9:45 p.m. Hit the Dance Floor
It’s time to hit the dance floor and groove to the beats until the night wraps up! Let loose, show off your dance moves, and make lasting memories on the lively dance floor.
11:30 p.m. Grand Exit
Prep that final song with your DJ or band, and get ready for the grand exit. Say those last goodbyes and dash happily ever after!
How do I make a wedding timeline?
First off, check in with your wedding planner if you have one. Search online sources like bridal blogs and sites for wisdom on crafting the perfect timeline. An Excel sheet or Microsoft doc is your friend for keeping things organized and easy to tweak.
Will a first look help my wedding timeline?
Totally! A first look gives you and your partner more time on the big day. Doing it a few hours before the ceremony means you can knock out all those pics usually done during cocktail hour. It’s handy for evening weddings where daylight is a must for pics.
Should I go for an extended wedding reception?
Most receptions go for four to five hours, but if you’re expecting lots of toasts, speeches, and dancing—or just have a massive guest list—an extended reception might be your move. Make sure it’s needed and have a plan to keep the crowd entertained the whole time.
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