How to Nail Your Evening Wedding Schedule

How to Nail Your Evening Wedding Schedule

As the wedding formalities draw to a close, the nerve-racking speeches are over and your guests have clearly gone to town on the free table wine, now is the time to get the evening party underway.

You'll need to have a plan of action in place of course, but lest us forget that in the world of children, family and weddings, things rarely go like clockwork.

At this stage of the day, there are still some key moments to go - from the cutting of the cake and obligatory first dance to the evening buffet, and most importantly (as some unbiased folks may conclude) your evening's entertainment.

Let's start from the top. What aspects do you need to take into consideration when planning an evening schedule? Your venue is bound to have their recommendations and so it's important to work these around your own personal preferences too. As someone who's witnessed and performed at countless weddings over the years, I'm going to focus on how to ensure your wedding party is the very best it can be.

Every wedding is unique and so it's impossible to put an absolute time on anything, but for the sake of this article, we're going to assume evening guests are arriving at around 7pm – 7:30pm, working towards midnight carriages. Below are just a few things to take into consideration.

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6pm/6:30pm - Meal and Speeches End / Band and DJ set up

You may well be aware that speeches can occasionally run on – and they can. On and on. It may be an idea to let your best man know that whilst you are both thoroughly looking forward to a total and utter character assassination of the groom, let it be a short execution as opposed to drawn-out torture. This is not the time for a 30 minute stand-up debut.

Separate rooms or one location?

If you're booking a wedding band or DJ, you can expect them to offer a standard arrival time of around 5:30pm – 6pm, giving them plenty of time to be set up before your evening guests arrive. In an ideal world, you'll have them set up in a separate room to the meal so that guests can seamlessly move from one room to another but this isn't always an option.

If your meal and evening party are both taking place in one location, the venue staff will likely have a brief turnaround period after the meal which is the ideal time for your entertainers to set up. If guests can be ushered into a bar area, then this is preferable – bands and DJs will usually set up and sound check in around an hour, leaving guests some mingling time before the evening gets properly underway.

wedding early set up fees

Early arrival fees from Bands and DJs

Some bands do take longer than an hour to set up so it's always worth checking before finalising your schedule (we always include the set-up time on our booking confirmation email). If you're having everything in one space whilst also hiring a band that takes 90 minutes to set up for example, it could be worth looking into an early arrival for the band.

In general, bands will charge an hourly fee to arrive earlier than their standard 5:30/6pm arrival time. If you need the band set up before your meal, it's always worth finding out what this cost will be to avoid going over budget.

If it means costs will spiral out of control, it's not the end of the world; bands regularly set up in a room full of guests, especially at marquee weddings where it's commonplace, and they broadly go unnoticed. Bands and DJs will on the whole be very quiet whilst setting up, requiring just a brief 10 minute sound check at the very end of their set up. It may be a compromise but it's sometimes the easiest, most cost effective way to make things work.

7:30pm – Evening Guests Arrive and the Evening Officially Begins

It's time to get the party underway! Hopefully everything is going as planned, but if things are running behind schedule, my advice is to go with the flow – it's now firmly out of your hands!

If you've hired a DJ, we suggest they take on early evening duties to ease your guests into the party atmosphere. If instead, you've opted for a live band without a separate DJ, they'll almost always include playlists free of charge as well.

8:15pm – The Cutting of the Cake

Many wedding planners will advise cutting the cake fairly early on in the evening, so shortly after evening guests arrive is usually the perfect time followed immediately by the first dance.

evening wedding schedule

8:30pm – 9:30pm – First Dance and Band Set 1

Whilst some couples revel in their chance to shine on the dance floor, for others, it can be a daunting prospect (especially for us men with two left feet). If you're that way inclined, it can be tempting to bring the cake cutting and first dance forward in order to 'get it out of the way', but if the band are performing the first dance, this then leaves you with an early evening set which, as any self-respecting musician will tell you, is usually best to avoid.

9:30pm – Evening Buffet / DJ or Playlists

A good piece of advice is to avoid any clashes between your band and evening food. Regardless of the level of talent, no wedding band can hope to compete with mini-burgers and bowl food. If you're serving an evening buffet, you'll want to allow at least 30-45 minutes before the band rejoin you for their second set. Your DJ will of course continue to keep the party in full flow during this time - as will your playlists if this is what you've opted for.

10:15pm – Band Set 2

This is when the glory takes place - hands in the air, air guitars ahoy, it's time to let loose and prepare for tomorrow's post-drunken shame. The second set is when the band bring out the big guns – they've done this before, they know how to make an unforgettable party so leave it safely in their hands and enjoy!

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11:15pm – DJ / DJ Playlists

As the band finish on a high you'll no doubt want to continue the shenanigans right up until the very last song. A wedding DJ is always a sure-fire way to end the night with a bang if the budget is available, but otherwise, many bands will also offer a manned DJ service for a small additional fee.

Midnight – Carriages

Whilst traditionally the bride and groom might leave the reception a little earlier than guests, this is rarely the case these days (although does occasionally happen) – after all, who would want to miss their own party!

Midnight is the most popular end time for the majority of venues, especially those with sound restrictions in place, although many do offer a 1am finish for an additional fee. If this is the case, we recommend that your DJ continues with the party – often a cheaper option than paying four or five musicians for a late finish.

Hopefully this has given you some tidbits of advice to take into consideration. It's not to be used as gospel of course as there are so many different factors for each wedding that we couldn't hope to account for. Whatever you do, don't stress, enjoy the day and go with the flow!

About the Author

Adam Mezzatesta founded Bands For Hire entertainment agency in 2010 having performed and worked in the music industry since 2000. Bands For Hire represent a wide range of wedding bands, jazz bands, acoustic bands, string quartets and more in every corner of the UK.