Did you know that weddings can take 200-300 hours to prepare for? And it’s not just the time. It’s the decisions, the venue, the decorations, the guest list, and family politics that can leave you wondering where to begin. To save you time, you’ll find all the details for how to plan a wedding from beginning to end here.
Make Your Event Timeline
If your wedding were a business, the timeline would be the C.E.O. All significant decisions go through it. Without it, the entire thing falls apart. So, what is it? A timeline is a schedule that keeps you on track while you’re planning a celebration. It’s basically just a big calendar that tells you when everything needs to happen.
First, get a blank sheet of paper. Then write down any and all things associated with the big day. This includes what vendors you want to use, the venue, etc. Write everything you can think of that needs to be done.
Now, we’ll break it down into categories. Each vendor gets its own spot. Go through the list and write down when each thing for the wedding needs to be accomplished. That means due dates for deposits, final decisions on the cake and guest list, and what time the venue is booked for the wedding day. Yes, this will require research and/or reaching out to said vendors to check availability. This step can take a few days, so get started early.
Add all new information into a spreadsheet, and keep track of what’s been done as you go. You may also opt for a paper planner if you prefer.
Now, a wedding can take as much or as little time to plan as you like. The basic rule is, the bigger the wedding guest list and the more popular the venue, the more time you’ll need. I’d recommend six months to twelve months if you’re picky about vendors. If your celebration is small and intimate, though, you can probably get away with just a few months. But that’s for a very simple courthouse wedding.
As we go through this post, you’ll get a better idea of how to plan a wedding and add things to the timeline. Read on for details.
Book a Venue
This should be done before anything else. Why? Because if you don’t have a place to celebrate your wedding, it’s going to be pretty hard to have a wedding at all.
Start by thinking about your guest list. Will it be a small party? Or are you going to invite several hundred people? Each venue will have restrictions on how many people can be on-site at one time, so you need to have a rough count.
Next, decide on a theme or overall look for the event. Is it elegant? Casually chic? 20’s theme? Whatever you decide, use it to help you determine the venue. Go through their website’s pictures to determine if it will lend the right ambiance for your big day.
Last, pick out one or two places to tour. Go look around, either on your own or with a guided tour, and make notes. It’s good to check out a couple of places to see what you like best. Once you find a place you really want, I’d recommend taking a guided tour with a venue’s staff member. This way, they can answer your questions. Make sure to take your fiance with you when you pick out the venue!
Here’s what you should ask:
- Do you have your own vendors?
- Can we bring our own vendors, or do we need to use yours?
- What’s included in the price? Chairs? Tables? Decorations?
- What does it cost to add hours to the event at the last minute?
- What are your clean-up requirements?
- What time can we get into the venue on the wedding day?
- Can we do the rehearsal here, and what is the cost?
- Do you have dressing rooms on-site?
- What are the best spots for photography?
- What is your cancellation policy?
- How much is the down payment?
By now, you probably know what vendor to go with. Make your selection and book it before they get too busy. Then add all relevant dates to the timeline.
Decide on Party Rentals
Rentals are materials you borrow for your wedding day. This can include tents, tablecloths, chairs and chair covers, and even chocolate fountains. Determine who you want to rent from and schedule a meeting with them to decide what to rent. Add this meeting to the timeline.
Also, many venues include party rentals. Sometimes it costs more, but weigh this against the cost of convenience. (Driving across town, returning things later, having to do the set-up yourself, etc.) Perhaps you’ll decide the cost is worth it.
Get a Deejay
The biggest tip here: check reviews before hiring. This person will be in charge of entertainment and music for the entire affair, and it’s not the place to help out your cousin who just started a business. This isn’t to be mean – it’s to keep the peace and make sure your wedding runs smoothly.
Go with someone who has excellent reviews from multiple people. It’s even better if you can get a referral. Ask them if they also do lighting and tech, because this will be easier than hiring someone else to do it. A lot of deejays will even let you come to one of their events to see their work. Take them up on this, so you know exactly what you’re getting.
Your deejay will want to know your preferences for songs and will need a list of the ceremony and reception songs. Add meetings and deposit due dates to the timeline.
Decide on Food
You need to decide what kind of cuisine, whether you will serve a meal or just cake, and if you want to order food or bring in a caterer. By the way, a caterer is not the same thing as a cake baker. Sometimes the caterer will do both, and sometimes the dessert will be made by someone else entirely.
If you go with a caterer, they will require a deposit and want to sit down with you to discuss the meal. Ask a lot of questions about what’s included, like wait staff and clean-up. Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting.
If you want to order, do so early. Large orders take time. Call the restaurant or deli and make sure to get contact information for the manager and chef. Add dates to the timeline.
The cake is a similar process. Talk with the baker about what design and flavor you want, and add tasting days, and deposit due dates to the timeline.
Hiring a Planner – or Not
Wait – isn’t this article about planning your own event? Yes. But guess who’s going to be really busy on the day of your wedding? You. Because of this, it might make sense to hire someone for just the day or week. This will likely be a wedding coordinator who works with your venue, though you can hire a contractor to assist just for that day. A coordinator will help out with organizing at the venue, while a planner helps through the whole process.
You can choose to not do this, of course. Just know that people might come to you with a lot of questions on the wedding day. It’s better to get a friend who will not be occupied with anything else that day to help out.
The Guest List
You will possibly have more headaches over this than anything else. But don’t worry, here are some ideas to make it easier:
- Limit plus one’s to only married or very committed partners.
- Don’t create a seating chart.
- If you make a seating chart, keep it simple by grouping people by family, colleagues, or friends. (Guests will mingle on their own, so don’t get too concerned about who sits by who.)
- Have a few designated tables at the front for immediate family, and let everyone else sit where they want.
- Send invites by mail to avoid any awkward moments.
Send Out Invitations
There’s a lot of options here, from ordering online to making them yourself. But there do need to be invites of some sort or people will have no idea when to show up.
For simplicity’s sake, stick with maybe one or two nice engagement photos, or just a pretty background. Make sure to include:
- Date and time of the wedding.
- Address to the wedding.
- Phone number to call if lost (not you).
- R.S.V.P. return cards or instructions for website R.S.V.P.
- Meal selection, if applicable.
The Month Before
- Call all vendors and venues to reconfirm.
- Make sure all deposits are paid.
- Confirm that everyone has R.S.V.P.’d or regretfully declined.
- Type up a day-of schedule, including what time each vendor is arriving, contact info, and the order of events.
- Get in touch with the day-of coordinator or contact person and run through the event details and schedule.
- Confirm flights and hotel room for the honeymoon.
The Week Before
- Last, reconfirm with vendors.
- Give a day-of schedule to the coordinator, contact person, and anyone involved with the ceremony. This includes the officiant and the deejay.
- Take care of all appointments like haircuts, spa, etc.
The Day of the Wedding
Arrive at the venue at the agreed-upon time. Bring extra copies of your schedule, just in case. By this point, everything should be handled. You can check in with the coordinator to make sure, but really your job is done. Except for the, you know, getting married part. Then, it’s time to party!
All you need is to get instructions from the venue about when the site has to be cleaned up. The same day or the next day? Then, arrange to have friends or family take care of this for you. You shouldn’t be handling this because, hopefully, you’re on your honeymoon!
What to Do After the Event
When you return from your vacation – and had the chance to open all the fantastic presents you got – it’s time to say thank you. Pick up some cards, or have some ordered already.
It’s best to save addresses as you go along with the planning so that you’ll have them ready when you mail out thank-you notes. You can have guests write down their addresses at the wedding and put it in a box for reference.
That’s It! How to Plan a Wedding from Beginning to End
This should give you a good overview of how to plan a wedding, including the timeline, vendors, venue, and what to expect for your event. Enjoy the day, and remember that, above all, it’s a chance to celebrate with those you love.