Weddings rarely begin at the exact time printed on the wedding invitation. However, most ceremonies begin within fifteen minutes. I consider the wedding having started on time if the first bridesmaid begins walking down the aisle within a quarter hour of the expected start time.
Weddings that begin between fifteen minutes and a half hour late are behind schedule, but it’s not typically a significant problem. Beyond half an hour and that’s when your problems will start to mount and can accumulate quickly thanks to the domino effect.
I recently officiated a wedding where there was no discernible sense of purpose on the part of the wedding party. I began to wonder if the bridesmaids and groomsmen even knew why they were attired in such fancy clothes. Getting the attendants organized and extracting the bride from her room was something of a challenge. The wedding party was not lined up and ready to begin until about a half hour after the ceremony was set to begin. And then we found out one set of parents had not arrived yet. (This happens more often than you might think—many times the father of the bride.) Given the length of most ceremonies, if we had begun on time, the parents would have missed their own child’s wedding! Needless to say, we held for the parents’ arrival, but the delay knocked over the first of the dominos that then began to fall.
A serious slip in the schedule and you can impact the amount of time your photographer has to capture your memories of the day in pictures—either because you’ve run out of daylight or more likely, the photographer was contracted for a specific length of time. Your caterer has to carefully time a menu in advance. Schedule slips can wreak havoc on the formalities at a reception when dinner needs to be served within an optimal time frame.
Wedding vendors such as the venue and the DJ are often booked for a specific block of time. If you’ve booked a hotel ballroom for a three hour reception and your wedding started an hour late, the hotel isn’t likely to shift your reception by an hour. You’re going to compress your festivities into a two hour party.
Some delays cannot be avoided despite best laid plans, but many can. I once had a bride hold her wedding for forty-five minutes because she left her veil at home and sent someone to retrieve it. Sorry ladies, the veil isn’t required for the ceremony and she should have chalked it up to bad luck and retrieved the veil for portraits later. I had one ceremony delayed for almost an hour and a half because a bride did not like the way the salon had done her hair so she went to a different salon to start over. I did not know the cause for the delay until after the wedding or I might have said something. Her decision making was poor to say the least. Guests and vendors have better things to do than sit around waiting for such vanity.
Weddings significantly delayed because of circumstances beyond anyone’s control do happen, but they are completely understandable precisely because they are beyond our control and are also fairly uncommon.
If you want to avoid excessive delays, you should impress upon your bridesmaids, groomsmen and family members that punctuality is absolutely critical on your wedding day. No sense of purpose on their part and you could find yourself with a truncated reception…or vendors having to leave because of other commitments.
I pad in adequate time for late weddings when I am arranging my schedule—both professional and personal commitments, but even so I’ve had a couple of weddings come dangerously close to me having no choice but to leave because of a conflict. It hasn’t happened yet, thank goodness.
If someone or something starts to cause a schedule slip, quickly determine if it is absolutely critical or is something that can be handled at a later time. For example, that veil could have been retrieved for portraits later. A flower girl throwing a tantrum can be dropped from the processional. A limousine blowing a tire…well, there’s not much you can do about that other than call ahead and let everyone know the situation.
Be prepared for vendors to have a late charge clause in their contracts – it’s only fair since significant delays require additional time and possibly expense on their part. Odds are your wedding will be fine and your ceremony will start within fifteen minutes of the time indicated on your invitation. But if it doesn’t, just try to be realistic and maintain a flexible attitude.
Be considerate of other people and their needs as well. Remember that while it’s an emotional high point and a very important day in your lives, keep it in its proper perspective. This is but the first day of the rest of your life together.
The commentary on this blog is my own opinion developed over years of officiating a wide range of wedding sizes and styles. I am always happy to answer any questions you may have. firstname.lastname@example.org
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