Timing Your Wedding Day

by | Feb 24, 2021 | Wedding Info and Advice, Weddings Info | 1 comment

Perfectly Timing Your Wedding Day
Who am I to tell you how to time YOUR day? That is a good point. I have, if it helps, been to A LOT of weddings, and I wont tell you anything. I have to been to weddings that have been amazing and I have been to others that due to poor timing… have had some issues. It is often something that I am asked for advice on by couples and I am certainly always happy to help.

So what is the correct way to plan your wedding? There are a lot of personal decisions as well as some rather basic ones that are the same (there or thereabouts) at the vast majority of weddings. When working out the timings of your day, it can really help to know how long different elements of your day will actually take. So, I am beginning with these ‘staples’ of wedding planning

  • Hair and Make Up – dependant, but around 30 minutes per person for makeup and 30-45 minutes per person for hair
  • Civil Ceremony (registrars and similar with celebrants) – 20-25 minutes
  • Church of England – 45 minutes
  • Catholic ceremony (full) 1hr 15 mins or shortened, usually around an hour.
    I am lucky enough to have also photographed weddings from a variety of other cultures and faiths, however, I find that the times are not always consistent. So if you are having a different kind of ceremony, check with the officiant as to how long it will take to say your I-do’s.
  • 3 Course Meal – 2 Hours in most venues (small venues and large weddings can take up to 3 hours)
  • 2 Course meal/Buffet – Around 1.5 hours 

The Entire Day

In regards to the running of the day itself – well, again. It is your wedding, if you both want to do it in a different way, then go for it. I will be doing an entire blogpost of ‘doing the day differently’ very soon, but if you don’t see how you could do things differently, I am delighted to say weddings in all kinds of orders can work great. I have been to some where the main meal has been before the actual marriage service, others where we did a ‘first look’ with the bride and groom before the ceremony, some that have no speeches, others that have everyone in the room say a personal toast! So you really can choose to do it how you like. As for a traditional running of the day, it usually goes something like this:

  • Wedding couple get ready, usually separately
  • Travel to ceremony?
  • Ceremony 
  • Ceremony Ends – guests leave to reception area 
  • Travel to reception venue?
  • Reception Drinks
  • Traditional Family Photos (if wanted)
  • Meal 
  • Speeches are traditionally after the meal 
  • Evening guests arrive 
  • Cake cutting followed by first dance
  • Dancing and go home (or carriages if you are fancy)

As I mentioned, the above is the traditional running and neither the order, or the items are obligatory.

What Kind of Wedding?
Anyway, its about time that we go back to the point.  So, what kind of wedding do you want? Its stands to reason, that if you want everything to feel lovely and relaxed, then you really need some ‘spare’ time in the day. If, you want it to be all go, then you can fill every available minute with the activity of your choice! I have a blog which discusses the different ‘types’ of wedding that you might choose HERE. In any wedding, there are certain ‘linch pins’ or anchors that the rest of the day works around. These can be anything than you want, but are usually the ceremony and the meal time which once

For a bride/s/bridesmaids:
Hair and Make-up in the mornings
Niki Lawrence, Freelance Makeup artist from Niki MakeUp advises that it usually takes around 30 minutes for each persons make up and 30-45 minutes to do a hair style per person.  The Bride will usually require one hour for makeup and two hours for hair and makeup. If you have a lot of people getting ready and needed hair and make-up done, why not speak to your hair/make-up artist about having an additional artist to keep things running quicker (this also allows you to sleep a little longer in the morning!) 

If you want any special images of yourself or with your family or bridesmaids after you are ready, this will usually take around 10-15 minutes, so make sure you will leave enough time to do this before you have to leave! 

The groom/s/groomsmen: 

You guys need to look your best too, so make sure you and the guys have enough time to preen yourselves and feel your best. In my own experience, the guys don’t tend to rely on other professionals for this bit, but if you are, great … just allow time.  If you have a dedicated photographer for the guys, then make sure you leave some time to get some stunning shots of you all at your most dapper.  In a wedding between a bride and groom, grooms need to arrive at least 45 minutes before the ceremony.  This is important to have time gather yourselves, ensure that the last minute jobs are covered and to greet the guests. You will find that you may need to deal with a mini-crisis which can occasionally occur the night before/morning of the wedding. It could be that the florist cant find the church or that auntie Mabel is calling you repeatedly on your mobile with regrets that she can no longer make it!

Janet Large from the gorgeous venue Luton Hoo advices to not forget that If you are having a civil ceremony, bear in mind that you will need to have an “interview” with your registrar before the ceremony. For grooms, this is usually about 30 minutes before the ceremony start time and takes around 10 minutes.

If you are both grooms – It really depends on how you want to do it.  You could both arrive together and greet the guests before the ceremony, or you could arrive separately just before… or any combination of the above really.

The Journey to the ceremony venue

Time how long it takes you to do the journey, ideally at similar times/day to when you will be travelling. Then for planning purposes, add a little bit on.  A little bit! The bride does not need to arrive any more than 5 minutes before a church ceremony and 15 minutes for a civil ceremony (again, you need the interview with them before the ceremony). It can be a little awkward if bride arrives ages before the ceremony, as your guests will also be arriving! You can, of course ‘drive about’ near your ceremony venue until it’s the right time if you are an ‘early person’. Lastly, don’t forget to have a couple of alternative routes planned in case there are any changes to the day itself. 

The Ceremony
As above’s basic guidelines, it takes the set amount of time for your chosen ceremony. When it finishes, you will both walk back down the aisle and be able to breath properly for the first time in a few hours and will hopefully lead your guests into glorious sunshine.  It can take a while for your guests to filter out of the ceremony area! – If you have under 80 guests, it will take around 5 minutes, 80-120 guests, around 10 minutes and anything over this can easily be 15-20 minutes just to exit (yes really!) 

If your reception is in the same venue, then you will probably have receptions drinks and canapés (if you are having a late meal, then you probably will benefit from canapes for your guests, especially if your ceremony time is early).

IF going to another venue, decide before the day if you want to do anything else whilst you are at your ceremony venue. Ie: shots of you two together or confetti etc and leave time in for those.  Make sure that you do the same journey planning as above (for leaving to get to the ceremony) before the wedding day! It can even be worth stopping elsewhere on route if there is something special on the way to the ceremony. Make sure you factor this into your timings, the below pictures are from a planned 30 minute detour during the couples stunning rural Wales wedding.

The busy bit
If you think all that sounds busy, you’ve seen nothing yet. The ‘Busy Bit’ at any wedding is the almost always the time between the ceremony finishing and the meal starting. The absolute minimum time allowed should be 1hr 30 minutes for an ‘average’ sized wedding and 2 hours minimum if you have over 140 guests in the day time. If you can give yourself more time, then…. I would definetly recommend that you use it; 2 – 2.5 hours works well, especially for summer weddings.  Worth noting that for all of these times, people move much quicker when its is cold! So you can often get away with shorter times during winter weddings! Also ask yourself if this is when you want professional musicians playing? The guests will be enjoying it, but as a couple you are likely to be a little busy to really appreciate it. Moving music/entertainment to a different part of the day (ie: the meal) could work better if this is important to you.

  • Greeting guests – congratulations and hugs can take longer than you might guess, but are certainly a good expenditure of your wedding day!
  • Confetti – The opportunity for those you love to throw things (well paper) at you? Well worth the 10 minutes or so it uses.
  • Main Group and Family Shots
  • Canapés and welcome drinks
  • Some couple shots
  • Relaxing (never to be underrated)

How long do group shots take?
Well you can discuss with your photographer to do as many or as few as you would like. You don’t want to do too many! Just the most important people in their correlating groups where the photo will still mean a lot to you, even in 20 years. So this bit depends on a few things, how many guests you have, how many different shots you want and mainly, just how well behaved your guests are?

I say this, as this makes a huge difference. Delays during group shots are usually caused by ‘oh he is off having a cigarette’ or ‘oh she’s gone to check in’, all of these will likely make your photographer facepalm and will certainly cause small delays.  I like to make this part of the day run as smoothly as possible by going through the shots wanted before the day, even going so far as to take all of the names of key people so that we can gather them all the quicker on the day. As a rough estimate, I would say for around 10 shots with an average sized wedding would be around 20-30 minutes. 

To Canapé or not to Canapé

If budget is an issue, you can actually utilise good timings to negate the need for certain costs. For example, the canapés are usually essential if there is a lengthly amount of time where guests are expected to go between meals. However, if you plan your day with a smaller gap and a later start time (ie: after guests would have had lunch), you can choose to leave out these extras without anyone really noticing. You can read about some alternative ways to feed your guests here.

Your Meal
A three course sit down takes around 2 hours for most venues, sometimes, if you are doing a DIY wedding and a have a small catering team, it can take longer. Buffets tend to take less time, unless you have 100’s of guests, in which case, even with staggered queuing, time can really add up. Generally speaking, if you have a lot of guests, it will take bit longer and small weddings generally take a bit less time.  Speak to your venue to help work out how long your meal is likely to take.

These are traditionally done at the end of the wedding breakfast (or you know, dinner). However, these days many couples choose to conduct speeches at a different point of the celebrations. The next most popular time slot is before the meal is served, this can be especially useful if one (or more)  of the speakers is actively dreading this duty. It can make the meal beforehand a nervous and unpleasant affair, I have seen grooms literally unable to eat their (expensive) meal due to their sheer terror of public speaking.  If you do decide to go with this, make you realise that it will bring your seating time forward by the time it takes to pour the bubbly and do the toasts. 

Other couples get the speeches out of the way during the drinks reception. Using the time between the ceremony (or after the meal if the time of year allows), when your guests are relaxing outside to do the speeches can be a really wonderful way to do things.

If you are wondering how long speeches take, I can assure you that it varies greatly! If you are happy for your speakers to tell their life stories, great, just make sure you allow the time for it. However, it may be worth bearing in mind that the guests may be getting a little fed up if the speeches go on, particularly noticeable when the speeches are before the meal and everyone is getting a little hungry!  The best speeches, in all honesty are around 10 minutes or less. In all my years and in all the speeches I have covered, it is the more succinct speeches which have gone down best with the guests. I would certainly caution over an individual speech going beyond 15 minutes, it just gets harder to keep everyone engaged beyond this point.  My record for speeches was just over 4 hours (not a typo) and I am sad to report that I heard quite  bit of grumbling from the guests as I moved around the room, not to mention the others actively sleeping with their heads on the table!

Traditionally, speeches are usually done by the father of the bride, the groom and the best man (in that order).  If you do not have a traditional set up on your top table, no worries! Whoever you like can say a few words, more frequently each year, a bridesmaid will say a few words about the bride or a bride will do her own speech.   If you are a bride reading this and you want to speak: speak, just bear in mind, if you are all working around 10 minutes, that each time you add a speaker, you also add 10 minutes.

After the Meal, but before the dancing

This is the portion of time between when your wedding meal ends and your evening celebrations begin. In good weather, it would traditionally be the time when you and your guests relax outside the venue, having a drink and greeting your evening guests as they arrive.  You might also use this time for some more couple portraits, especially if it times well with dusk or the sunset.

Only really one word of caution with this one. If this gap is too long, the atmosphere from the day can start to fade, taking the energy with it! Perhaps around an hour to 90 mins is ideal and plenty of time to reset for the evening.

The Evening

Traditionally this is when you cut the cake.  It allows your evening guests to get involved and its  great photo opportunity for them. The nice thing about doing the cake at this point in the day, is that once all of your guests are gathered for the cake, it is really easy for you both to then lead them over to the dancefloor for your first dance! Otherwise, unless you have other things planned here, you can relax about timings!

Ending the evening
This is usually down to your venue, but it is something important to ask them BEFORE you book.  Some venues are in residential zones and they can have really early music cut offs, sometime 11:00pm or 11:30pm, but  I have been at venues which require music switched off as early as 10:00pm!   Others have little to no restriction on them and you can negotiate keeping the evening going in to the early hours if you think your guests will just not want to stop celebrating! 

After the evening… well, I will leave that bit entirely down to you. From what I hear from my couples though, though, you may well not be able to resist sleep as soon as you are alone!


It can be a lot of fun to add in extras to your wedding. I have seen some interesting forms of entertainment over the years, from a Bucking Bronco competition, to a professional comedian, treasure hunts, quizzes, circus acts etc. With big weddings and a lot of time, these can be wonderful additions to the day. Just bear in mind any additional time pressures or linch pins they will add into your day and adjust accordingly!

Hiring a Second Photographer
A second photographer assisting me can certainly make me feel like I have been given additional time at a wedding. Instead of racing between events and moments to ensure I am in as many of the ‘right places’ as possible, I trust that my second shooter is generally in the places that I cannot be. They help to gather additional natural shots and keep the group shots and couple images moving as efficiently as possible. If you are considering a second photographer, you can read about all the benefits HERE



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