Relaxed Wedding Day Timeline: How To Spend Time With Guests & Party More

I’ve been a professional wedding photographer in Ireland and abroad for 8 years and photographed over 260 weddings. Trust me, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen things go wrong sometimes, and I’ve seen things done right a lot due to the couple’s or their wedding planner/coordinator’s diligent planning.

First of all, if you want to have a relaxed wedding, you gotta plan as much as you can in the run up to the big day. Planning is key!!!

Regardless of how informal you think you want your day to be, you will need a timeline of events. It will be needed for your ceremony celebrant, for your caterers, your photographer and videographer and most importantly your guests. I recommend having a big (ish) sign at your reception displaying the times for key events throughout the day like how long the drinks reception is going to last, what time is dinner call, speeches, cake cutting, first dance, sparklers etc . That way you will set an expectation about what’s to come, get your guests excited and let them know when they need to be where etc. I literally have guests coming up to me at every second wedding asking if I know when the food is going to be served or when will the dinner start!

Several key things to keep in mind when planning you wedding day timeline:

- You need to think about the experience you want your guests to have! Very important! Yes, it’s your day, but you invited all these people for a reason and you want your guests to have a great time and maybe talk about your wedding for a long time afterwards saying it was the best wedding they’ve ever been to ;)

- As a bride and groom you will want to spend time with your guests

- Don’t keep your guests waiting for food for a long time. Have you ever been to a wedding where dinner is 4 or 5 hours after the ceremony, or there aren’t enough canapes going around? People get hungry and bored, which is not great for your photos either ;)

- Tell everyone that ceremony is 30 min earlier than it actually is. One of my couples wanted to make sure things are on time on their wedding day, so they put 2:30pm on their invitations instead of 3pm when the ceremony actually was going to take place. It worked like magic! Even people who were 20/25 min late got there ‘on time’ for 3pm start :) The bride herself was ready for 2:30pm to make sure she doesn’t delay it!

- Keep the speeches short and sweet. No one, I repeat no one likes a long speech, regardless of how funny you think it is when you write it. 5 min per speech is ideal. 10 min is ok. 15 min is bearable. Brief whoever is making a speech on the timeline. More often than not speeches do go on for longer. Even if you briefed your Dad and your best man that they can’t talk for longer than 5 min, assume they are going to be talking for 15. Another thing about speeches - sometimes people have them before the wedding meal, just to get them out of the way - go back to the point above! Don’t make your guests wait for food. If you want to have speeches before dinner, get the starters served first. Imagine yourself as a guest. There is a 3 or 4 hour gap between wedding ceremony and dinner. Then you sit down all excited about the meal. Bread comes out to your table, and then speeches are announced and all you have to nibble on is bread. And speeches last an hour… And your glass is already empty by that stage… And you are bursting for a wee, but you don’t want to be rude and walk out in a middle of the speech ;-)

- Have your speeches during the afternoon drinks reception. That way you’ll get them out of the way earlier, you won’t make anyone wait for their food or sit for a long time after the meal delaying the first dance. And the format will be more informal with people hanging around with their drinks :)

- Get the dancing and evening party going as early as possible. Your guests came to celebrate and to paaaarrtaaaayyyy! Get the formalities out of the way, get everyone fed, then open the dancefloor and get that party going. Honestly, the amount of bored faces I see at weddings when people sit at their tables after the meal is finished and nothing is happening, when all everyone wants to do is keep the things flowing and start dancing. Don’t make your guests wait until midnight when they are half asleep.

- HUGE time saving tip! At Irish weddings the food orders are often taken when ALL the guests are seated. It’s so time consuming and I witnessed the whole process taking an hour at some venues. All whilst your guests are just seating there with nothing to eat. When you send out your invites, include a card with menu options (if you have them, like salmon/beef/chicken or veggie) and ask your guests to RSVP with their choice of meals. That way you can then pass on the info to the catering team and they will know exactly what to serve for each table.

So, with all of the above in mind, I’ve put together a couple of sample timelines for weddings in different seasons:

Sample Timeline For Spring And Summer Weddings

From late April till late September

8/9am - Start getting ready

1/2pm - Ceremony

1:30/3pm - Ceremony ends (depending on whether it’s a humanist ceremony or church service)

2/3:15pm - Drinks reception, Photos

4/4:30pm - Dinner call (during the summer months, your photos can be done whilst the guests are being seated for dinner, which usually takes 30min)

Starters & Mains served

6pm - Speeches during dessert

7/7:30pm - Evening guests arrive, mingling time

7:30/8pm - Cake cutting

8/8:30pm - First dance

8:30/8:45pm - Sunset photos (optional). Sometimes if there is a beautiful sunset I take my couples outside for 10/15 min for a few photos in the golden hour light.

9pm - Sparklers

8/8:45pm - Paaaartyyyy!

Sample Timeline For Autumn and Winter Weddings

From October till March

8am - Start getting ready

12pm - Ceremony (1pm at the latest)

12:30/1pm - Ceremony ends

1/2:30pm - Drinks reception, Photos (It gets dark as early as 3:30/4pm in winter months, so ideally all the photos take place shortly after the ceremony to make use of natural light)

4pm - Dinner

6pm - Speeches during dessert

7/7:30pm - Evening guests arrive, mingling, sparklers

7:30/8pm - Cake cutting

8/8:30pm - First dance


Of course these sample wedding day schedules are guidelines. They don’t take into account the travel time between locations as these vary for every wedding. If you need to travel for an hour between the ceremony and reception venues - consider having an earlier ceremony etc. Overall I recommend dedicating about an hour and a half for the drinks reception, which will allow you to mingle with your guests and have family photos taken (with portraits taking place whilst guests are being seated).

Hopefully these schedules will give you an indication of approximate timings. They are geared towards starting an evening party as early as possible to maximise having a relaxed time with your guests in the evening when all the formalities are over and everyone is fed and happy ;)

If you know someone who is recently engaged and may find this blog useful, feel free to forward them the link!