How to plan your wedding day timeline
Weddings are diverse not only in different countries, but even within the family, since couples have different lifestyles, priorities and dreams. So when coming to plan the wedding day timeline brides and grooms might face big question marks. When is the ideal start time of the ceremony? When should we start the dinner? And many similar ones. In our blogpost we try to give You a general guidance to be able to plan your big day.
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As I always used to say, weddings are totally different, and accordingly there is no good or wrong wedding day agenda (except some extremities, of course). In Hungary the wedding guests used to be “entertained” continuously, but for example in Germany it’s absolutely normal to “send them” home between the ceremony and the dinner. The most important is to consider the composition of the guests, if they are coming from different countries and/or culture and try to find the “golden middle ground” as we used to say here in Hungary.
But what is the first question You have to ask from yourself, when sitting down to plan your wedding day agenda? Not all of our clients used to find it out. :) The first question we ask, if the bride wants to appear in front of the groom only at the (first) ceremony or she doesn’t mind, if he sees her before. Why is this so important? If she wants to appear in her bridal gown only at the altar, then we cannot make the wedding photo session before the ceremony. In this case, we still have 2 options: make the photo session between the ceremony and the dinner OR make it on a separate day.
If the wedding photo session is between the ceremony and the dinner, then we need to start the ceremony relatively earlier to be able to fit the “extra program” in. If considering the Hungarian customs of dinner starting around 6-7 pm, it means a ceremony start around 3-4 pm. Civil and symbolic ceremonies used to take appr. 30 mins, church ones appr. 45-60 mins. Congratulations and group & family photos are appr. 30-45 mins (depending on guest number). The length of the wedding photo sessions varies between 30-90 mins as per the preferences of the couple and the photographer. This is why appr. 3 hours are needed between the two events.
If the photo session is before the ceremony or on a separate day, then we can start the ceremony later, something like this: ceremony at 4-5 pm, congratulations, group and family photos, welcome drink, seating of the guests and then dinner to start around 6-7 pm.
All other times, like one more ceremony, travel time between the locations, speech or gift session before dinner must be added accordingly.
When having the ceremony and dinner starting times, brides can find out when to start their getting ready. Bridal hair and make-up used to take 1-1 hour, plus I used to add 30 minutes for dressing up. This latter includes the time needed for shots with the bridal party, champagne moment with the girls, etc. The hair and make-up time, of course, might vary on the basis of your hair length and the difficulty of the hair and make-up style, so always ask these infos from your hair-dresser and make-up artist!
Since bridal getting ready always takes 2-3 hours midday, I used to highlight the importance of a light (but obligatory :D) lunch for the bride, since next time she will have the opportunity to eat something is at the dinner. Finger-food or mini sandwiches are the best option for this, for which You needn’t use cutlery, You just grab something, somewhen in your hotel room.
The other technical times (when the decorator arrives, when the DJ arrives, etc.) is something You don’t really need to deal with. It’s the task of the wedding planner to discuss it with the vendors.
Back to the reception part, I used to say there is only one fix time we need to keep as written in stone: start time of the dinner. It’s quite important to keep this time, since the food is prepared/finished on site “a’la minute”, which means that it is in the perfect condition at 7 pm, if we told the chef we would start the dinner at 7 pm. The only exception is, if we start the dinner with a cold entrée, but in this case max. 10-15 minute delay is acceptable.
Everything after dinner is flexible (except if we planned a performance, like singer, dancers, etc. since they might have another event to attend on that day). When we have the number of courses and the way of service (buffet, served, mixed), the caterer/restaurant/hotel can tell us how long the dinner will take approximately. Most of the wedding dinners in Hungary used to be finished in 2-3 hrs.
Wedding speeches might be in various schedule depending on the number of speakers and the length of the speeches. If we had a long day with the guests getting only some bites throughout the day, I used to say, max. 1 welcome speech should be before dinner. And all others (if any) can be in between the courses (if it’s a served dinner) or after dinner (if it’s a buffet).
First dance used to be after the dinner when all of the speeches are finished to start the party - at least in Hungary. In some other countries couples make it when entering the room, before dinner. In my opinion, the first one is better, since we can make the father-daughter and mom-son dances (if any) and then invite all the guests to the dance-floor and this has a good arc and your DJ and wedding mc will know how to build this up.
Cake-cutting is another point, in which the countries differ. In some countries they are cut right after the dinner and are served as a dessert. In Hungary it’s a “show element” and it used to be done in the middle of the party, 60-90 mins after the end of the dinner. It’s timing is flexible and the moment is decided on spot seeing how the mood of the guests is going. We never stop the highest party to cut the cake. We rather find a moment, when we see everyone is a bit tired and more people are sitting at the tables than dancing on the dance-floor.
Since in Hungary weddings used to last till dawn (at least 2-3 am or longer), we always serve a so-called midnight snack or dinner. Traditionally it used to be stuffed-cabbage, but modern and/or international clients used to order something lighter (finger food, snack bar, hot-dog, burger bar, pate bar, pizza, etc.).
The open bar and drink packages here are calculated for 8-9 hrs, because of the length of a Hungarian wedding. Function room rentals are similar, most of them is included in the wedding package till midnight, 1 or 2 am and you need to pay extra hours after this.
Most of the wedding vendors also used to stay until appr. 1 am (like planner, wedding mc, photographer, videographer), since after this time, You are “just” dancing and nothing special moment happens. the DJ or band will stay with You until the end, of course. :D
If You ask my opinion about the wedding day timeline boards and cards, I tell You I’m not a big fan of them. If we have these signs, boards or cards in front of the guests, they will check it from time to time. We are living a running world always controlling ourselves and being stressed about what’s next. Shouldn’t a wedding be a day, when we just go with the flow and enjoy ourselves, celebrating the love of the newly weds? I think it should. In addition, as I mentioned already, some elements of the wedding day are flexible, so we can’t really determine its exact time in advance.
I hope these general rules and advices will help you to plan your perfect wedding day. If you involve us as your wedding planner, of course, will will find it our together, but I hope others also find this writing useful! :)