Chicago Wedding Planning Tips: Craft your Wedding Day Timeline Like a Pro

When planning your wedding in Chicago, it’s important to have a detailed timeline. This not only serves as a roadmap of your wedding day, but includes logistics and important details that help your wedding vendors work effectively.  The average timeline we create for our clients is around 16-18 pages long. This lengthy document ensures that wedding days run smoothly and efficiently. Having planned hundreds of events, our Chicago wedding planners have compiled some of the small, but important, details couples often overlook.

The 10 Most Overlooked Items We Include on Every Timeline

Wedding Planning Tip #1: Add important security, safety and communication details

At the top of every timeline we note the locations for defibrillators and fire extinguishers as well as the direct phone number for the hotel/venue security staff and location of the nearest hospital.  If there is a WIFI password, we will include it in this section as well.   Safety is a priority for our wedding planners.  Before every event, we send out a quick questionnaire requesting emergency contact information for both vendors and wedding party members alike

Planning Tip #2: Indicate parking, roadway and loading dock information.

Abbreviated versions of the timeline go out to wedding party members and the wedding vendor team.  We always let them know the parking situation at each location (rehearsal dinner, getting-ready locations, post-wedding brunch, etc.).  Our team also researches local events to see if there will be any road closures that make getting to your locations difficult.  As Chicago wedding planners we also know to check the bridge lift schedule as those times can negatively impact a wedding timeline if not accounted for in the pre-planning phase

Chicago Wedding Planning Tip #3: Note who has the rings and who will bring them to the ceremony.

The timeline details let the photographer know who is in possession of the wedding rings so they can be photographed.  We also like to include who is actually responsible for taking the rings to the ceremony site so they don’t get left behind. 

Emerald Cut Diamond Engagegment Ring Ritz Carlton Chicago Wedding
Make sure you discuss who will bring the rings to the ceremony. Photo credit: Studio Finch

Wedding Planning Tip #4: Transition time

One would think that the transition from “getting-ready” time to heading off to the ceremony would be fairly straight forward. Having more than a hundred weddings under our belts, we can tell you that is far from the truth.  We always include how long it takes to walk to a first- look location or to an awaiting shuttle. While it may seem excessive to allow 15 minutes for an elevator ride to the hotel lobby; we can tell you the delay is real.  On a busy weekend in the Windy City (like 4th of July or Labor Day), our Chicago wedding planners know there is always a lengthy wait for elevators because hotels are at full capacity. 

Additionally, we ask the venues if there are any other wedding room blocks staying at the hotel. Likewise, if there are any other large events taking place on the premises.  Typically, we find that other wedding parties are running on a similar schedule.

When there’s 34 members in the wedding party, allot extra time to get everyone on and off the shuttles. Photo credit: Artisan Events

Planning Tip #5: Private time for the newlyweds following the ceremony

“Yichud” is a ritual followed by the Jewish faith whereby the couple has private time together immediately after the ceremony.  We love this ritual and recommend all our couples take some time for themselves. Having 10-15 minutes alone before joining guests at cocktail hour, gives you a much-needed breather away from cameras and well-wishers. 

Chances are if you weren’t hungry prior to the ceremony, you’re probably ravishing by now. We always request that the catering team have a plate of appetizers, water and favorite beverage for our couples.  As the private time wraps up, our team will use this time to bustle the bride’s dress if needed.

Chicago Athletic Club Appetizers on Wood Board
We always have the catering staff prepare an assortment of appetizers for the newlyweds to enjoy right after their ceremony. Photo credit: Kent Drake Photography

Chicago Wedding Planning Tip #6: Save time for a first reveal of your reception space

We love allowing for overview photos and a couple’s first reveal of their reception space. Shortly before guests are allowed into the reception, our timeline requests all venue, catering and band/DJ members to step out of the room. This allows the photographer and videographer to capture some great overview photos without staff in the background.

Additionally, our team goes in and ensures that the head table placesettings and chairs are perfectly lined-up for some stunning detail photos.  (As wedding planners, our biggest pet peeve is seeing social media photos of a gorgeous table with chairs all askew.)  We will also designate which guest tables the photographer should shoot. Often, we will temporarily remove extra items like salt and pepper shakers as well as a place setting or two. This keeps he photographed table from looking too crowded.  

One of our favorite moments of the day…

Once those shots are done, we bring in the newlyweds for a first look at their space. After months of planning, they finally get to see the space they have only been able to visualize.  It’s so much fun to see their expressions of excitement and wonder.

Wedding Reception Table and Chairs Chicago History Museum
Perfectly lined-up chairs for your client’s wedding at The Chicago History Museum. Photo Credit: Ann & Kam Photography
Bride and Groom in Cathedral Hall University Club of Chicago
After months and months of planning, it was fun for our couple to see the grandeur of their wedding reception space at The University Club of Chicago’s Cathedral Hall. Photo Credit: Artisan Events
Wedding Reception Tables Gold Coast Ballroom Drake Hotel Chicago
Room flip reveals are even more spectacular. The amazing team at The Drake Hotel Chicago had one hour to work their magic and transform the Gold Coast Ballroom from a ceremony set-up to a dinner reception for 315 wedding guests. Photo Credit: Peter Gubernat

Wedding Planning Tip #7: Timing for Sunset

Sunset is one of the first things that gets plugged where we’re developing our client timelines.  While summer offers plenty of daylight, late-Fall and Winter offer fewer hours to capture outdoor photos.  Once we have this time, we work backwards to figure out scheduling for first-look and wedding party photos.  Certain religions also require couples to marry before sunset, so this is important information to note.  Even at the peak of summer solstice, it’s nice to know the “Golden Hour” or “Blue Hour” period. You can then schedule 10 minutes to sneak away and capture those perfect, pink-tinged photos.

The rooftop at The Ritz Carlton Chicago was the perfect place to capture some sunset photos. Photography: Studio Finch

Planning Tip #8: Anniversary Layer Instructions

Cake-cutting time always includes instructions to either serve or save the top layer for the newlywed’s first anniversary. Other instructions include the use of their own cake knife and server or if the venue/caterer will provide. If you would like them to provide these items, make sure you have this pre-arranged. (This is a great detail to go over during your final venue walk-through).

6 layer white and gold wedding cake with monogram at InterContinental Hotel Chicago
Some bakeries like Bittersweet Pastry Shop will make a new top layer for your first anniversary so you don’t have to worry about storing a cake in your freezer for a whole year.
Photo Credit: Kyle John Photography

Tip #9: Vendor mealtime

Be sure your timeline includes the designated time for your wedding team to take a quick dinner break. Since their dinner is often served in a separate space; pick a time when the photographer can safely be away from the main reception room. You don’t want to miss capturing any important moments. 

Don’t forget to check if any of your vendors have allergies or dietary restrictions.  While we communicate this information ahead of time to the catering staff. We also include vendor meal counts and allergy information in this section of the timeline so the vendors can easily see that we have taken their needs into consideration.

Wedding Planning Tip #10: Event Strike Details

The timeline not only indicates when the event concludes but how much time vendors have for breakdown.  Most venues allow for a 1-hour clean-up. You may be charge overtime if the space is not cleared within a certain timeframe.  Be sure to convey this information to your wedding pros and alert your venue should more time be needed. 

This section of our schedule also outlines the couple’s personal items and where our staff should bring them at the end of the night.  This includes items such as the guest book, cards, gifts, bouquet, cake topper, etc.  Some of these items may get relegated to a parent’s car or hotel room and others may go to the couple’s suite.    Post-wedding day, our couples don’t have to wonder about the whereabouts of their belongings because it’s all been detailed in the timeline.

Some final suggestions from our Chicago wedding planners

As a final note, its important to not overwhelm your wedding vendors with too much detail.  We provide each vendor with a filtered timeline that only contains the information they need.  Your make-up artist could care less when the band loads-in.  The florist, on the other hand, will need the band’s load-in time if they are sharing a loading dock or fright elevator with the band’s set-up crew.

Lake Forest and Chicago Northshore Wedding Planner Lynne Kennedy
Lynne Kennedy is an Accredited Wedding Planner and founder of The Gilded Aisle Weddings, an award-winning luxury wedding planning firm with offices in Chicago, New York, California and Italy. Lynne can be reached at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


join us on instagram