Planning your dream wedding can feel like putting on an elaborate show. And with behind-the-scenes suppliers to coordinate – hair stylist, make-up artist, caterer and florist – as well as those waiting in the wings to play their supporting roles to your leading lady and man – the photographer, master of ceremonies and DJ – a meticulous running order is the only way to ensure your day gets the standing ovation it deserves. It'll also help you decide your order of service for the wedding ceremony. We spoke to some of the central cast about getting those big-day timings spot on…
Bridal beauty: 1h45 for the bride
Having your hair and make-up done is where your timings can hit its first snag, setting off a domino effect of lateness for the rest of the day. Don’t underestimate how long bridal beauty can take - you should have a good idea of how long your hair and make-up will take after your wedding make-up trial.
‘Allow up to one hour and 45 minutes for your makeover,’ says make-up artist Lina Cameron. ‘A long-lasting look requires thorough application and blending, which takes time.’ Also, allow a few minutes for touch-ups before you walk down the aisle.
Make sure you allow all hair and make-up to be done at least 30 minutes before you need to leave, just in case things run over. So, if you need to leave at 12.30 for a 1pm ceremony, make sure you're done at 12pm.
Your bridesmaids: 45 minutes
Got eight bridesmaids? You’ll need to leave time for them all – or invest in multiple hair and make-up artists.
‘Allow 30 minutes for each bridesmaid’s makeover, but from a timetable perspective you may want to add 15 minutes to this for extra flexibility in your schedule,’ says Lina. If there’s ever a time to put yourself first it’s on your wedding day, so make sure you have your makeover before anyone else in your bridal party to minimise last-minute stress.
Whatever you do, don’t put your dress on too late. ‘It takes longer than you think to do up, and you need to get to your ceremony on time,’ says planner Anna MacDougall of Bride & Glory.
Posing for portraits: 30 minutes to 1 hour
It’s also key to build in enough time for those all-important first snaps of you in your dress; it's one of the photos you must remember to ask your photographer to take.
‘Aim to be ready one hour before you need to leave,’ says photographer Katy Lunsford.
‘That way there’s plenty of time for things to run late and for the photographer to get some lovely shots of you looking perfect before the wind blows or you cry.’ Add to this the transport time to your ceremony venue and you’re guaranteed a stress-free morning.
The wedding ceremony: 30m to 1 hour
How long the ceremony lasts very much depends on what type of ceremony you are having, and if you're having any hymns or readings. For example, civil ceremonies tend to last just under 30 minutes, however Catholic weddings can go over one hour, so best to check with the person marrying you before you print the order of service.
Mixing and mingling: 1h30
‘There’s a magic time of around an hour and a half that seems to work really well for a drinks reception,’ says Anna. This will leave you enough time to capture those must-have couple shots and chat to your guests; any longer, and you may need to offer more food and drink, and consider additional entertainment, such as a caricaturist.
If you’ve slaved over the details for months, make sure they get preserved in picture form, too. ‘Let the venue know the room needs to be ready at least 15 minutes before guests go in to allow the photographer to get shots of the tables and various touches,’ adds Katy.
The wedding breakfast: 2h to 2h30
This is the bit everyone has been waiting for, so give it the time it deserves. ‘Allow between two and two-and-a-half-hours for a sit-down meal, two hours for a buffet and one hour for sharing platters or afternoon tea,’ says Sarah Hammond, director of Rhubarb catering. It’s also essential to let your caterer know when speeches are taking place. ‘If they are between the courses it can be tricky because no one knows how long they will last.’
Speeches: 30-45 minutes
How many times have you been to a wedding and the speeches have gone on for so long that you got bored? You want to avoid this, so best to keep all speeches under an hour.
Catching the sunset: 1h
Got your heart set on dreamy couple ‘golden hour’ shots, weather permitting? Then you need to allocate some time in your running order. ‘The best light for photos is the hour before sunset, so try to plan in some downtime between the day reception and evening party,’ says Katy. ‘If you are having an autumn or winter wedding, start as early as possible to maximise your natural light.’
Let's party: 2hours+
Imagine this scheduling fail: your evening-only guests are set to turn up at a certain time and have to wait outside because the speeches aren’t done or the dessert is still being served. Awkward. So do your best to adhere to the timings throughout the day and – not to belabour the point – keep those speeches on target.
‘I can no longer count the times I have heard that speeches will be a maximum of five to 10 minutes each, and they very rarely are,’ says Anna. ‘If you are inviting evening guests, make sure you build in enough of a buffer before they arrive.’ The good news? ‘Once the evening part of your wedding has started, you’ll no longer need to worry about the schedule and can focus on throwing some epic shapes on the dancefloor!’