Wedding Day Timings – your essential guide, by Jenna Hewitt
I think there are two sides to putting together any amazing wedding: the look and design on one hand and then the planning and ‘making it happen’ on the other. In my book, both are super important. Today, I’m focusing on the planning side of pulling together an unforgettable wedding celebration – the importance of the timings and how on earth it’s all going to flow. Have you ever been to a party billed as “the best event ever” only to feel slightly underwhelmed? Not by the lack of design or “pretty” WOW-factor but by the fact that you weren’t fed in time and/or enough, or it took ages to get a drink? It’s these details that can really dampen an atmosphere. Planning out your wedding day, what will happen and when deserves attention.
A WEDDING DAY PLAN IS IMPORTANT
If you aren’t already convinced of the importance of a plan, let me help. A wedding day has a surprising number of moving parts, events and, most importantly, suppliers involved. I always like to think of my wedding suppliers as part of my team and, to work well, any team needs to know the plan. They need to know when they are needed, how much time they have and what’s expected.
WHERE TO START?
When planning my weddings I always start with the key event – the wedding ceremony itself. This is the pin point from which everything else will flow and it’s the first thing to agree. From this, you can work backwards and forwards in terms of the big events that come next.
The next step once you’ve agreed the ceremony timings is to understand how long your ceremony will take. This will be dependent mostly on the type of ceremony it is and things like the number of readings, songs and elements involved. A civil ceremony can be as short as 25 minutes. If you are having a Catholic ceremony with mass you can expect just over an hour. Talk to whoever is conducting your ceremony and ask their advice.
So you’ve booked your ceremony. Next thing is to work backwards from here. It is so easy to forget about planning what will happen before the ceremony – big mistake. When are you going to get ready? What time do you need to be ready by? When and who is going to set up and style your venues? When do they need to arrive and have things sorted by? If you have musicians playing, they will need to set up. When will they do this? When will suppliers have access to your venues? Understanding access restrictions and timings from your venue is super important, as is liaising with your suppliers and understanding how long they will need to set up or do their piece. I feel insanely dull writing this but it is really worth it for some piece of mind on the day! As a wedding planner, these are the types of questions ingrained in my mind as a “standard, goes without saying” mental checklist.
After the ceremony there’s typically a standard flow of events to follow. I’m a big fan of your wedding your way, so there shouldn’t be anything set in stone, but as a general rule….
Post ceremony you’ll want to celebrate! Cue drinks reception and some nibbles (canapés). Personally I think an hour and a half is the ideal time to allocate to this part. It gives people a chance to mingle, grab a drink (or three), have a little bite to eat and generally relax. My caveat with this is make it entertaining. An hour and half without any entertainment is a little dull. Music is the obvious choice but there are heaps of other ideas – interactive drinks or canapé stations, a photo guest book, garden games, table tennis… you get the idea. You want to give people the chance to run off a little steam ahead of the wedding meal (where they’ll be sat for a decent stretch of time).
THE WEDDING MEAL
As a foodie, for me, this is one of the main events! When you are working out your meal timings, talk to your caterer. It is going to depend on things like, number of courses you have and the style of service (buffet, plated etc.). You will also want to ensure time for things like the speeches, cutting of the cake (if you choose to do this). As a standard guide, I allow 2 hours but make your wedding unique, work it through.
On to the topic of speeches… in my experience these are high on my list of “likely to throw off your timings”. They can take a whole host more time than you think. I’ve never gone as far as to ask speakers how long they need but I always make sure that whatever events follow them, there’s flexibility built in the plan. One thing I’d say to please consider is when you decide to do the speeches. Yes, tradition says post meal. But… consider this… people by this point have been sat a while. They have been fed, watered and they are most likely ready to MOVE. If they then have to endure 45mins plus of speeches, I would challenge anyone not to feel slightly heavy lidded. You want people to hear those speeches, to listen to them. I love it when my couple decide to “pepper” the meal with the speeches. This year one of my couples have 5 speeches but each is happening at a different part of the meal. Father of the Bride is doing a welcome before the starters. Bride and Groom are doing a double act post starters and best men are after dessert. Mix it up!
PARTY THE NIGHT AWAY
Once the meal and speeches are done, the next main event is normally the first dance (if you are doing one). From here it’s mostly about the party and things become a little more fluid, but you’ll still have things to consider like timings of any late night food, entertainment and what time you want (or need) things to finish by.
A personal (obsessive bugbear) of mine is when silly things get overlooked in a wedding plan schedule. An example. A couple plan for their reception drinks to finish at 16:00 and their wedding meal to start and take them 2 hours to 18:00. This would never happen. Why? Because people need to move. They need to get into place, find their seats, get seated. If you would like your wedding meal to start at 18:00, you need someone to call people to be seated around 20 minutes before. Herding 100 plus guests takes longer than you think. You need to allow time for people to faff, move and get sorted.
Master of Ceremonies feels a really formal title. I’m on to the topic because I’ve just mentioned “calling” guests for dinner. Simply put, to me, this is a caller. It’s someone with presence and a loud voice who announces the key events and generally helps keep things on track (“ladies and gentleman, please can you take your seats for the wedding meal”). I recommend all my couples have one. You can hire a professional one in. I never have. My couples prefer to give the responsibility and honour to someone special (a best friend, Uncle, someone not in the main wedding party but someone important). When I run a wedding, the MC is one of my key team members.
DELEGATING THE PLAN
I’m hoping I’ve given you a good start point in working your wedding plan. My second to last piece of advice is, delegate it. Work as hard as you want in putting together that plan but, on the day, delegate the responsibility for it to someone else – you want and deserve to enjoy it. I would suggest having someone (a trusted friend or supplier) take care of that plan from the moment it begins. This brings me on to another very important point. Share the plan. It’s so obvious but, if you do not share that wedding plan with all of your suppliers and wedding A-Team, it is quite simply in your head (and therefore a little pointless…).
NOTHING GOES TO PLAN!
The annoying thing with any plan is nothing ever goes to plan! Don’t let this put you off having one. A bit like life, nothing ever goes 100% to plan, but having one gives everyone a steer. Failing to plan is planning to…