Rachel Griffin, owner & lead wedding planner
Deciding What Traditions to Keep
Plan Along with Me Series – Step 7: Timeline Considerations and Wedding Traditions
If you’re following along in our series, we’re seven months into your wedding planning adventure! It’s time to put some thought into how you both want your day to flow by deciding what traditions to keep. (If you’re just starting out, catch up here!)
About now your vendors might begin reaching out to check in on your plans and touch base about final details meetings. They’ll also begin to ask about your wedding day timeline. Knowing how you feel about the following options will help enormously!
Traditions that have a big impact on the flow of your wedding day are things like First Looks, joining your Cocktail Hour, reception traditions like a Bouquet Toss or Parent Dances, and Special Exits.
Whether or not to have a First Look with your partner is always a big question. Deciding if you want to see each other before the walk down the aisle definitely takes some discussion.
If you’re a couple that believes whole-heartedly in the magic of that first moment being down the aisle, go for it! Your family and friends will enjoy getting to be a part of the experience and you’ll have their fellowship & love surrounding you both. Plus, it’s a time-honored tradition, right? You seriously can’t go wrong if this is where your hearts are at.
Tips for the Timeline:
Try to minimize travel time between the ceremony and the reception. This will help you maximize your photo time following the ceremony since you’ll be taking family, bridal party, AND your couple photos in that time frame.
Streamline your family photos as much as possible. Make sure the formal ones after the ceremony are ones that really need to be “formal” and ones that you’d truly order or save. If they could be just as good as candid or more casual photos at the reception, consider having your photographer grab them later in the day. Also make sure the family on the list knows to stay and be ready for pictures. Think about assigning a family member to help your photographer wrangle your group.
Consider working in 10-15 minutes for you both to be alone before the reception. A private drive back to the reception is perfect for this. It will give you a moment together to take it all in and breathe before all your guests begin vying for your attention.
If you’re a couple that prefers an equally magical but more private moment, I’m going to highly recommend an official First Look prior to the ceremony. I’m a huge fan of them and here’s why:
My favorite thing about First Looks is that they slow your day down and let you spend your wedding day together. A First Look gives you that time alone together to just take the whole day in and relax a bit. If there are nerves at all, once you’re together, they are drastically reduced.
First Looks also give you plenty of time for your couple and bridal party pictures. You’ll have separate time set aside for these, so all you’ll need to worry about after the ceremony is the family list. You won’t have to rush through the pictures you (in reality) probably care the most about. You can also consider multiple locations for pictures since you’ll be able to plan as much time as required ahead of time.
You’ll both also be fresher for pictures since you just finished with hair & makeup and put your dress & suit on.
Finally, seeing each other before the ceremony takes all the pressure off the processional. Everyone can be on the same side of the venue, you don’t have to worry about sight lines that might ruin the aisle moment, and you all can walk and line up together at the same time.
Tips for the Timeline:
Talk with your photography/videography team ahead of time to get an idea of how they usually arrange a First Look and how much time they like to have. Everyone works differently, so knowing your team’s preference is key.
Scope out a location and factor in how travel time effects it to make sure you’ve got plenty of buffer time built in.
Consider asking your family & friends to help you keep the moment private by staying away for the first little bit. Your planner or photographer can run and grab them to join in afterwards for their pictures. Having a small amount of time to yourselves (with just your photography team present to document) makes all the difference, I promise.
Joining your Cocktail Hour
This is becoming more and more popular with our couples and, when it works out, can be an awesome idea. It tends to get the party vibe started sooner because as the guests of honor, you’re there to begin the celebration that much earlier. You can also mingle with a ton of your guests during this time and maybe eliminate the need to go around to all the tables during the reception.
Tips for the Timeline:
This is much easier to accomplish if you’ve chosen to do a First Look. Since after the ceremony you’ll only need to take the family pictures, you’ll usually have plenty of time left to join in at Cocktails with at least 30 minutes of time to mingle.
If you’re not doing a First Look but still want to join your Cocktail Hour, consider making it an extended one, for example an hour and a half. Your guests won’t mind if there’s plenty of refreshments and they know what to expect. You could even make a timeline sign with the key times of the day or include that timing on your wedding website, so they have a heads up beforehand.
Make sure your photography/videography team is aware that you want to do this. Not everyone does, so they probably won’t know or assume unless you tell them ahead of time. You want them to be aware, so they aren’t planning a photo schedule for your entire hour.
How your reception will flow will depend a good deal on which traditions you’d like to incorporate and which ones you’d rather do without. Reception events can include any, or all, of the following: Bridal Party & Couple Announcement, First Dance, Blessing, Toasts, Parent Dances, Bouquet & Garter Tosses, and Cake Cutting. Often you may also have special cultural dances, reception games, or even sorority/fraternity songs you may want to incorporate as well.
These days, there’s no right or wrong answer on which ones to include. I can tell you that your guests will usually want to see you have your First Dance together, and often Toasts (one on each side typically) are a huge hit too. The ones most frequently set aside are the Bouquet & Garter Toss and Parent Dances.
If you’ve got a tricky family situation, or one or more participants in the tradition are super shy, but you’d still love to do it – talk with your planner and DJ to come up with a creative way to make it work for you. We’ve tweaked all sorts of reception events to make it work better for our couples.
Things like presenting your bouquet to the longest married couple (instead of a bouquet toss) or doing joint parent dances because no one wanted all the attention focused just on them, work really well. One of my favorite twists was when our bride took it in turns to dance with all three of her sons instead of a father/daughter dance. They switched at each chorus of the song, and it was lovely!
Tips for the Timeline:
Try to spread out the traditions throughout the time period. Break up the special dances and toasts so guests don’t end up just watching things happen for long periods of time.
It’s a great idea to have a different tradition (like a reception game or bouquet toss) follow your Cake Cutting. It distracts from your event team cutting up the rest of the cake.
Share with your wedding professionals any cultural traditions that they may not know about, or be familiar with, so that they can make sure they have the correct amount of time planned to incorporate them. It’s always better to talk through it than assume they know you’re doing it and how it works.
Factor in your photography and videography contracted timing into the timing of your traditions. If you really want a photo of you cutting the cake together, make sure your photographer is still contracted to be there when it’s planned to happen.
There are a couple different opportunities during your wedding day to arrange a Special Exit – after the ceremony or at the end of the reception. It’s possible to also stage a “Fake Exit” for pictures with your photographer, but more on that later...
While most venues have outlawed rice because of the effect it has on the birds, Ceremony Exits can usually be a pretty big range of things and make for great photos. Florals (dried or fresh), birdseed, bubbles, or even streamers are popular. The light is usually great too, since it’s still daytime.
For Reception Exits, sparklers are hands-down the most popular. I’d say bubbles come in at a close second. Other fun options are glowsticks or even noise makers.
If you’d like a Special Exit at either location, make sure you check with your venue about any restrictions or rules they have about them. Some locations allow certain options but not others.
Realize that if it’s not something that’s biodegradable, you’ll need to assign someone to clean it up or collect the items afterward. If you’re doing sparklers, you’ll want a bucket of sand for the burnt ones and good lighters to get them started. And again, if you want the exit documented, make sure your photography team will still be there for it within their contracted hours.
It’s always a good idea to have a designated person to hand out the exit supplies to guests and to direct them where to go for it and how to line up. Your planner and photography team can definitely handle this, but if you don’t have one (or both) at this point in the night, you’ll want to have someone else lined up to help.
Tips for the Timeline:
For a Ceremony Exit, you’ll need to decide if you’re doing it before or after family photos. If most of your guests will be in the family pictures, after pictures is probably just fine. If most of your guests won’t be in the pictures, you’ll probably want to have the exit, then double back for the family photos afterward. This way all the guests not on the picture list can head over for Cocktail Hour instead of just standing around.
For a Reception Exit, plan to begin lining people up 15 minutes before you need to be out of the venue. It’s slow to get your guests all moving at the end of the night and it will take a few minutes for them to gather their things and line up. You’ll want to make sure the exit doesn’t push you over your contracted time with the venue or your photographers.
A note about “Fake Exits” This is a popular idea if your photography team maybe isn’t staying all the way to the end of the night, but you still want those amazing images. Usually, the DJ will announce that it’s happening, have everyone move outside and line up, you’ll do the “exit,” then head back inside for the remainder of the reception.
Brutal, unfiltered, truth coming up.... this is WAY harder to accomplish successfully than people realize. It’s SO difficult to bring your rocking reception to a screeching halt, make everyone go outside, then get it back up to the same level when everyone finally gets back in after the photos. You often loose a bunch of guests as well that decide it’s a good time to cut out a bit early.
In my opinion, a BETTER way to navigate this is to quietly leave with just your immediate family and bridal party. Go find a perfect spot to have the photo op and then rejoin the reception. It’s significantly less people, takes way less time to accomplish, and your guests probably won’t even notice you stepped out for a minute. They’ll be able to keep dancing and partying without the interruption, and you still get those gorgeous photos. Ten to fifteen people are enough to create the look of a traditional exit, and you’ll be able to give them the heads up in advance to expect it.
Deciding what traditions to keep just takes a bit of discussion with your partner and knowing the different options you’ve got available to you. Once you know how you both want your day to flow and what you want it to include, you’ll be able to answer any questions your vendors have for you. Way to go!
Check back next month for Step 8: Trusting your Vendor Team.
Until then, happy planning! - Rachel
P.S. I love hearing how couples are planning new twists on wedding traditions! Comment and share what you’re planning for your day!