If your wedding day runs behind schedule, it can cause you stress. Delays can annoy antsy guests. Delays could even cost you money. From the DJ booth, I’ve observed most delays boil down to 5 reasons. Fortunately, you can avoid these if you ask the right questions and plan accordingly!
Before I detail these potential schedule-busters, you might be wondering, “why is it a problem to run late? How could it cost me money?”
From the DJ standpoint, most wedding day delays result in less dance floor time at the reception. There usually aren’t many shortcuts available before then — you’re not going to cut the ceremony in half or skip dinner, right? I hate to see newlyweds miss out on that precious time to party with friends and family, as it’s often one of the more-relaxed parts of what’s usually a whirlwind of a day up until that point.
How could it cost you money?
- If you choose to make-up for lost time by extending the reception, you’re getting into overtime charges. While my overtime fee is relatively modest, it’s still higher than if the time was contracted in advance — and overtime fees for other vendors (especially your venue and/or caterers) can add up quickly.
- Even if you don’t extend the party, a delay earlier in your wedding day could trigger overtime fees from other vendors such as your officiant, your photographer or your transportation.
Now, these potential schedule-busters involve other wedding vendors, but I am not blaming any vendors. In nearly all cases, their efforts simply take more time than couples might have expected. The trick is to communicate openly with your vendors to ensure your schedule is realistic. This post will help you ask the right questions and share the proper details to make that happen.
#1: The salon took longer than expected
Salons take your wedding day look very seriously — they know you’ll be looking at your wedding day photos for years to come. Accordingly, the wedding day salon visit often requires more time than your typical hair appointment. Some pointers to ensure the salon visit doesn’t derail your schedule:
- Get nails done the day before, so you only have to do hair and make-up the day-of.
- Before booking anything, tell the salon exactly how many people will need hair and make-up done, and what time you ultimately need to leave the salon. This lets the salon manager determine how many staff they’ll need on-hand that day and what time you’ll need to arrive so everyone can leave on-time.
- Be honest about your expectations so the salon can be honest with their estimate.
- Keep it limited to the wedding party members who need their hair and nails done. On your wedding morning, the salon is already going to be busy enough with your wedding party. Let the staff focus on doing a good job rather than having onlookers causing distractions.
And it should go without saying, make sure everyone going to the salon is awake, showered and ready to get there on-time. This is often an early start to a long day with no time for naps, so everyone should be well-rested the night before.
#2: The limo got lost / broke down / etc.
Just like buying a car for yourself, the saying, “you get what you pay for” rings true for limousine companies. Paying more usually gets you more-experienced drivers. You can also expect newer, better-maintained vehicles, along with backup vehicles and drivers — just in case.
My pointers for limo/bus/transportation shopping:
- Look for reviews. After checking wedding-specific sites, look for “general” reviews on Facebook, Yelp, Google and so forth.
- Before contacting any companies, try to form a rough itinerary for the limo – think of all the people you want to transport, where their day begins, where it will end, and all the stops in between.
- When do you meet with limo companies, discuss your schedule and your plans. If you tell them the wedding’s at 3:00pm and you want the limo to drop everyone off by 2:30, they’ll work backwards from there to figure out what time they need to start picking people up. Consider your drive-time to any photo shoots between the ceremony and the reception, and any needs to drop people off after the reception is over. Having all these details in advance will let the limo company give you a realistic schedule and price quote.
- Book early — you don’t want to get stuck with “the last option in town” because the best limo companies are booked solid.
Keeping the limo company apprised of your plans (especially if you make changes) will help keep things running smoothly on your wedding day. If you expect to just give orders “on the fly,” you might not be able to get everywhere you need to be before your limo rental time runs out — and that’s another case where overtime could be costly.
#3: Post-ceremony receiving line
Receiving lines always take a long time. If you like the idea and you have plenty of time, go for it. If you have 2 or 3 hours between your ceremony and reception, a receiving line shouldn’t be a problem. But most couples forego this because schedules are tight and they’d rather greet everyone at the reception instead.
Even if you don’t plan to have a receiving line, take care to avoid being trapped in the dreaded “unintentional receiving line.” It happens when, after the ceremony, the newlyweds and wedding party stand around waiting for everyone to gather for the post-ceremony photo shoot. But when guests see a wedding party grouped outside after the ceremony, they assume it’s a receiving line. Once that starts, it’s virtually impossible to put an end to it without looking rude.
The “unintentional receiving line” can happen anywhere, but seems especially likely when the ceremony and reception are at the same location. After the ceremony ends and you begin your recessional walk back up the aisle, it’s best to not only exit the ceremony area, but to continue to a “safe area” that’s out-of-sight from guests. This allows you to get right into your post-ceremony photo shoot without delay.
#4: Post-ceremony photos
Although it’s #4 on the list because I’m going in wedding day chronological order, the post-ceremony photo shoot is actually the most-common cause of wedding receptions falling behind schedule. Many times, especially if the ceremony and reception are at the same location, the post-ceremony photos are taking place during the cocktail hour. The key word there is hour — and that hour will disappear before you know it.
Your photographer usually won’t be watching the clock — and I don’t blame them. Their job is to shoot great photos that you’ll treasure for years to come. They want to make sure every post-ceremony shoot is done right: good lighting, no awkward poses, nobody blocking anyone else, nobody blinking or looking away, and so forth. Maybe you’ll want some “specialty poses” or go to some special locations, which can take time.
Most of the time, these delays amount to about 15 or 20 minutes, which isn’t terrible. But I’ve had a couple of weddings where the post-ceremony shoot ran more than an hour longer than scheduled. Dinners were held in the kitchen, guests got impatient, and dance floor time was either significantly shortened, or overtime service was purchased.
But just like the other two items I’ve listed so far, this potential “schedule-buster” can be easily avoided as long as you plan ahead. Some pointers to consider:
- Can you do some photos in advance? My wife and I had our own wedding and reception at the same location, so yes, we had the “one-hour countdown” with our post-ceremony photos. At our photog’s recommendation, we had the entire wedding party and our parents on-site before the ceremony so we could take a lot of shots before the ceremony. Then, after the ceremony, we only needed to take photos with extended family members who weren’t there earlier.
- Make a list of photos. Who do you want in each photo? This is not something where you want to “just wing it” as it happens; you’ll waste time deciding who to include and tracking those people down. You might wind-up duplicating groups or leaving people out. Have a list of desired photos prepared, and ask your photographer (in advance, not day-of) how long they expect it’ll take to get through that list. If the list is too long, then you need to decide whether to pare the list down or adjust your schedule — either by extending the cocktail hour or moving the entire reception back by an hour (the latter is an option only if your ceremony and reception are at different venues).
- Appoint a “people herder” to keep the shoot moving along. Especially important if your ceremony and reception are at the same place: after the ceremony ends, you may have relatives and wedding party members wandering off to the restrooms, the bar, or just to mingle. Tracking people down for photos can waste a lot of time. Make sure everyone needed for photos knows they will be needed, and they need to stick around after the ceremony. Appoint a relative or friend to hold their own copy of the photo list and “herd” people to the photo area as needed so while one photo is taken, the people for the next photo are “on deck” and ready to go. (Obviously, this should be someone who knows what everyone looks like, and isn’t shy about speaking up and getting people into place.)
- Shooting on-location really eats-up a lot of time. “A quick run to a couple spots just a few miles down the road” takes more time than you’d expect. You’re not just going to hop out of the car, take a few quick snaps and move on — the photographer needs time to set-up lighting and check other factors to ensure the shots look great. If you must go on-location, “newlyweds only” is usually faster and easier than taking the entire wedding party with you.
- Consider backup locations. Even if you’re only planning to shoot at one location, what if the weather doesn’t cooperate? What if your spot is the same spot another couple has chosen, and it appears you’d have to wait awhile for them to clear out? Discuss backup plans with your photographer in advance so both you and they can be prepared if the need arises.
Although many venues offer a 4-hour reception as the default, many couples opt to add an extra hour so they can stretch the cocktail hour out by another 30 minutes. This provides more time for the post-ceremony photo shoot, but going much longer than 90 minutes can make guests antsy for dinner.
#5: Dinner Hour Was Well Over an Hour
Although the default estimate for dinner is one hour, every venue handles dinner differently. It also depends on which options you select and how many guests you will have. Again, communication is key: once your menu and guest count are confirmed, ask your catering director for a realistic estimate on how much time to budget for dinner. The manager should be experienced enough to crunch the numbers, factoring-in your guest count and the number of staff working. Now, there usually isn’t much you can do to speed-up dinner, but if you think their estimate is way off from what you expected, you could ask.
Buffet dinners allow guests the freedom to pick what they want, and as little or as much of each item as they make their way down the serving line. But that line can also be the downfall — some guests will move slower than others. Delays can happen while guests wait for staff to replenish an empty tray along the line.
Ask your catering director how long they realistically expect it will take to move everyone through that line. Ideally, the answer should be 30-35 minutes so that the very last people to be served still have a good 30 minutes to eat before we move along to the next event on the itinerary. If they say it could take longer, ask if a second (or third) serving line could be added so the line can move along faster. Sometimes it’s a matter of two lines merging into one carving station at the end; maybe all you need is another carving station? Again, it’s not always possible due to space or equipment limitations, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Oh, and finally — if there’s a buffet, where will it be? I’ve had a few weddings fall behind schedule not because the lines were slow, but because the buffet lines were set-up on the dance floor — and catering staff had to move everything of the way before we could open the dance floor.
Plated dinners eliminate the long lines (and the need for buffet line floor space). But the trade-off is that it takes time to serve each guest at their seat. Some venues have this down to a science: one Syracuse venue prides itself on “swarming” the ballroom with staff so that hundreds of guests can be served within 5-7 minutes.
But I’ve also seen some (apparently understaffed) venues take 30+ minutes to roll out salads, another 15 or 20 minutes to collect the salad plates, and then another 45 minutes to roll out the entrées. So you’re talking close to 2 hours by the time everyone’s done eating. Not only can that be frustrating to hungry guests (especially if dinner time isn’t until 7 or 8 o’clock), but it significantly eats into the dance floor time.
If your venue says it’ll take that long to serve dinner, you may want to ask if there’s any way they can add more staff, or have the salads out early (so people can munch on them during your first dance, toasts, etc.). Or, barring any ideas to “speed up” dinner, you may just need to add an extra hour to the reception so there’s more time for partying after dinner.
I’ve Got You Covered, No Matter What
Don’t stress yourself out trying to control everything right down to the minute. Sometimes there are delays you couldn’t possibly imagine in a million years. Or maybe you read my article and still thought, “eh, that won’t be a problem. And if it becomes one, so what.” No problem! I’m always ready to work through any unexpected issues.
As a former TV news producer and several years doing weddings, I’m well-versed in handling “late breaking developments” that require on-the-fly changes. I always bring more music than I need to every wedding… so if your cocktail hour and/or dinner hour need to run longer than we originally planned, don’t sweat it! I’ll always have extra music ready to cover. You won’t even need to call ahead or notify me, I’ll automatically “fill” until things are ready to move forward.
During a delay, I’m not only covering the delay, but I’m also looking ahead to the rest of the timeline, preparing options to get things back on schedule, or as close to it as possible. I’ll always give you a “heads-up” to make sure you agree with my suggestions (or to see if you have any of your own) before proceeding with any changes that would involve moving or eliminating any “special” events from the timeline.
And likewise — we occasionally have a dinner hour that moves along so smoothly that everyone’s ready to move on and start dancing sooner than scheduled. I’ll be ready for that, too!
Whether you’re a previous client with a story to share from your own wedding, or a future client who has witnessed delays at other weddings, what else would you add to this list? Feel free to post a comment below. Thanks for reading!