How to Time your Wedding Day

One thing many couples ask is how to time their wedding day to perfection. What time should we hold the ceremony? How long should we allow for the drinks reception? How long for the wedding breakfast? What time should our band or DJ arrive? As a wedding planner, I will always be there on the day to ensure that the pre-planned schedule is being followed, however here is my advice…

How long do you want your day to last?

Firstly, find out by what time your venue asks you to finish and keep that in mind. Now, decide whether you want a full 12 hours of celebration, or whether 10 hours is enough. Even though you may want to maximise your day as much as possible, cost can become a factor. The longer the day, the longer you have to pay your photographer, provide food and drink and even provide entertainment.

What time should you kick it all off?

A lot of venues in the U.K. aren’t licensed past midnight. If you’re going for a 10-hour day (which in my experience is plenty), this means starting at 2pm. For me, this is the perfect wedding day start time. It allows the couple to have a leisurely morning getting ready and it gives your guests time to have a light lunch before the wedding begins. You want to be ready approximately an hour before the ceremony begins or before you’re due to leave for your ceremony. This gives you time to meet with your registrar (if required), allows time for photos and gives you a buffer in case you are (inevitably) running late.

Other start-time considerations:
  • If you’re getting married in the summer, you may prefer a later start since it won’t get dark until 9/9.30pm
  • With a winter wedding, you may prefer an earlier start to make the most of the daylight (if this is important to you)
  • If you have lots of bridesmaids and everyone is having hair and make up done, make sure you allow enough time for everyone to get ready comfortably. It’s going to be a long day so you don’t want to be dolled up by 6.30am, nor do you want a last-minute panic.
The Ceremony: 30 minutes to one hour

In terms of your ceremony, most religious ceremonies tend to last 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your faith. Some, of course, are longer. Civil ceremonies are generally shorter, at around 30 minutes if you include a couple of readings. If you choose for a celebrant to marry you, then you have completely free rein over your ceremony and so you may choose the length as well.

Drinks Reception: One and a half to two hours 

After the ceremony, you have your drinks reception. During this time your guests can enjoy a couple of drinks and canapés without feeling like they are waiting around. You do, though, need enough time to go off and have some photos with your photographer. Time to mingle with your guests is important too. Most couples find that an hour and a half to two hours is enough for this part of their day but it is important to check with your photographer as they may feel differently.

Wedding Breakfast: Two and a half to three hours

Now it’s time for your wedding breakfast and speeches. The more traditional approach is to have the speeches after dinner, but many people are having them beforehand these days. This allows those making speeches to enjoy their food. You could even have your starter, then speeches, then main course and dessert, to please everyone. Based on a three-course meal and three speeches, allow two and a half to three hours for this. If you have more people making speeches, you should ideally ask for the speeches to be shorter, rather than extend your wedding breakfast beyond three hours.

Evening Guests

Once you figure out what your start time is going to be and using the above timings, you can work out what time your evening guests should arrive. 7.30pm to 8pm is a good bet.

First Dance

If you are having a band play during your evening party, consider that they are likely to play two sets of one hour each. You may want a DJ to fill the gaps, or you can provide your own playlist and play it over the speaker system. Four hours is usually enough time for dancing so, based on a midnight finish, your first dance could be at 8pm. You’ll want the band or DJ to set up before then, so they will need to arrive earlier. You should check how long they need and also confirm with the venue that they will have the space to set up.

The last thing to remember is that timings are just a guideline. If your drinks reception goes on longer than planned because everyone is having so much fun, don’t panic! If the speeches take a little longer, does it matter? Of course not! Your venue is likely to be a bit flexible, although the food will be ready when it’s ready! If your schedule and knowing how to time your wedding does concern you, my On-the-Day Coordination services can help you to enjoy the day.

Love, Lucy x


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