There are an infinite number of ways to schedule events throughout your ceremony and reception. If you have hired a planner or coordinator, they should be putting a timeline together, however, it's normally up to you to choose when you'd like the ceremony to start.
There are several factors that should be taken into account when setting a ceremony start time. Before setting a time (and definitely before having invitations made), make sure you double check with a few people to make sure the start time works for them.
Officiant/Minister: Are they available at the time you want? Occasionally officiants will perform two weddings on the same day. How long do their ceremonies typically last? Average is 15-20 minutes, but we've seen them last less than 10 minutes or as long as an hour. This is gong to tie into both your venue and photographer considerations.
Venue: If you only have your venue for a few hours, you may not have much choice, or they may set the time for you. If you have your venue all day, you probably have a lot of flexibility. Make sure your start time isn't going to make the reception go past the required ending time. For example, if you choose our package that includes the DJ, 5 hours of reception time is included. If you start your ceremony at 7, assuming you have a 30-minute ceremony, you're only going to end up with a 4.5 hour reception since we don't allow events to go past midnight. If you are very clear on the venue's policies, you may not need to contact them, just make sure you are within the parameters they set.
Photographer: Talk to your photographer about how long they'll need to take photos after the ceremony. Yes, a sunset ceremony is beautiful, but if your'e planning to do all of your pictures after the ceremony, keep in mind that it'll probably be dark when you're taking pictures. If your photographer would rather take photos with the natural light of the sun, you may need to schedule an earlier ceremony time. You'll still be able to get beautiful sunset photos, it just won't be during the ceremony. It's a good idea to allow about an hour after the ceremony for photos.
Also keep in mind that the later the ceremony is, the later dinner is, and, let's be honest, people get hangry.
han'gry (adjective) 1. bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger
If you're going to have a late meal, it's a good idea to have hors d'oeuvres for your guests to snack on while you're taking your pictures. Doesn't need to be anything fancy; a fruit and cheese tray does wonders!
The time of year and day of the week may also be determining factors. If you're having an outdoor ceremony and/or reception in July or August, you probably don't want a ceremony at 3 or 4, when it's the hottest. If you're having a winter ceremony, you may want your outdoor ceremony to start earlier in the afternoon when it's a little warmer. It also doesn't get dark until 8:30 or so in the summer, but it's closer to 6 in the winter.
If you're doing a ceremony on a Friday that isn't a holiday, you need to keep in mind that people are probably going to be coming from work and might miss a 4pm ceremony, but could probably make it to a 6:30pm ceremony. Similarly, if you're having a Sunday wedding, people are probably going to have to work the next day (unless it's a holiday), and won't want to stay out too late. If there are going to be a bunch of school-aged kids at the wedding, parents also aren't going to want them staying out too late on a school night.
Obviously the bottom line is, it's your wedding and you can do what you want, these are just some things you might want to consider before settling on a time.