Timeline Tips; Bridging the “Gap of Doom”

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of variations of the following question regarding the length of time that comprises the “Gap of Doom” in time between your ceremony and your wedding reception.
“We had planned on a _____ o’clock start time for the reception, but the only time my church has available for our ceremony is at ______ o’clock.  It’s only a ____ minute drive from the ceremony site to the reception venue, so that leaves guests with _____ hours to spare.  What should I do?”
There are a variety of reasons why couples struggle with a longer-than-ideal gap for a number of reasons, but most fall into two categories:
  1. Scheduling timelines with venues — church, park, banquet hall, etc.
  2. A desire for lengthier-than-customary (traditionally about an hour) post-ceremony photography time.
As an entertainer, it’s not my intention to judge these issues from an etiquette standpoint.  My primary concerns are how the “Gap of Doom” will affect your party.  Obviously,  in a perfect world, we all know that the ceremony will occur just far enough in advance of the beginning of cocktail hour in order for guests to drive to the reception venue where appetizers will be waiting for them.  Appetizers and/or cocktails are offered to guests during the hour delay before the return of the bridal party and the beginning of dinner.  However, as you may have noticed, we don’t always live in a perfect world, and — as always — there are a number of options, here.  You could…
  1. Do nothing.
    Schedule your day however you please; your guests are adults (or are with adults) that are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves for 30 minutes to 8 hours, if necessary.  It’s your event and you can certainly plan it how you wish — if a ceremony at that certain location followed by __ hours of photos in __ different locations and a reception that begins at exactly ___ o’clock is the only thing you can envision for your wedding day, then so be it.  Make your timeline clear in your invitations and leave it to your guests to adjust.  They will have ample notice ahead of time to make plans of their own.  However, do bear in mind the following inconveniences to your guests, and consider their possible affects on your personal enjoyment of your celebration.  Remember: it’s called the “Gap of Doom” for a reason — the problems that can be caused by this gap are compound:
    Discomfort — they probably didn’t choose their outfit because it had the most breathable fabric or the most sensible shoes.  After a short amount of time, they’ll get hot and their feet will begin to hurt.  Will they still want to party later on with achy feet?
    Boredom — this may affect their mood later on.  Will they be pleasant if they’re irritated?
    Hunger — this may affect their mood later on, too.  Solving the problem may affect their appetite later on.  Will they eat if they’re full from a snack at McDonald’s?
    Disorientation (for out-of-town guests).  Will they get lost trying to find a movie theatre to kill some time?
    Fatigue —  again, this may affect their mood later on.  Will they dance if they’re tired or cranky? 

    Your guests may avoid these inconveniences in a number of ways.  Some of these may affect your celebration, as well.  Pitfalls to watch for:

    — Guests skipping your ceremony
    — Guests skipping your reception
    — Guests napping between the ceremony and reception, possibly causing increased fatigue.
    — Guests eating between the ceremony and reception, possibly spoiling their appetite for dinner and/or causing increased fatigue.

  2. Opt to adjust your photography strategy
    Consider the advantages of strategical planning with your photographer.  There are several techniques you can use to reduce the amount of after-ceremony time devoted to photographs.  First, make a list of your must-have photo groupings for both before the ceremony — the bride with maids and family, the groom with men and family — as well as after the ceremony — the bride and groom together and with attendants and families, etc.  Second, carefully consider the number of different locations where you’re planning on taking photos after the ceremony or consider a separate portrait session with your photographer on a different day either before or after, together or separate, maybe a Trash the Dress session to save precious after-ceremony time.  Trust me, the candid photos of energetic guests cheering for your Grand Entrance will be worth it.
  3. Opt for an earlier reception start time.
    Consider the advantages of an earlier reception start time.  Happier, more energetic guests, reduced entertainment time rates (if using the same entertainment for ceremony and reception), reduced food and beverage rates, and a new world of elegant entree possibilities — brunch buffet with Bloody Marys and Mimosas?  Yes, please!
    Tip: If dancing under the stars is part of your dream day, you can still achieve that with lighting in many spaces (contact DJ AJ9 for details about lighting design)
  4. Opt for a later ceremony time or even an on-site ceremony.
    Consider the advantages of a later ceremony time.  You may need to consider a different venue, but it might be worth it.  Happier, more energetic guests, reduced entertainment time rates (if using the same entertainment for ceremony and reception), less travel issues, and reduced venue rental costs by combining the venues.
  5. Opt to offer an alternate organized activity.
    Consider the advantages of offering food and/or entertainment for guests during the interim, and save them the trouble and inconvenience of figuring out what to do with themselves — an extended cocktail hour with appetizers, an open house and casual lunch or snack at the home of a relative, a group tour of a museum or historical site, a bowling party, games or sports at a local rec center or country club, etc.  Happier, more energetic guests, more time to spend getting to know one another or catch up while gearing up for the evening’s festivities, and a stronger sense of community among your guests.  It’s perfectly fine to ask for a separate RSVP to this type of event to ensure that you save room for the right number of guests.
  6. Opt to hold your event on a different date.
    Consider the advantages of choosing a different date for your celebration — whether it be for the ceremony, only, or for both the reception and the ceremony — when you will be able to create a better timeline for your event.
Hope this helps!  Remember: if in doubt, the opinion of a qualified Wedding Professional, such as your Master of Ceremonies (if involved in helping you manage timeline issues) or your Wedding Planner, are probably just a phone call away!
Contact DJ AJ9 at 330-253-2900.  We’re happy to help!

1 Comment

  1. Spencer Photography

    Excellent article. Might I make one further suggestion that would completely eliminate any gap between the wedding ceremony and the reception that may be caused by time given for photography. Have the bride and groom have a “First Look” before the ceremony. This is a moment before the ceremony, where the bride and groom see each other alone, with only their photographer present. This way, they can do all of their formal and creative photography prior to the wedding ceremony, thus, leaving them time to enjoy their reception and their guests immediately following the ceremony. This creates a front loaded day but, again, if we are trying to eliminate any gap between the ceremony and the reception and make the day most enjoyable for the guest, it is a small sacrifice. Not only that, but the day will more relaxing if you have more time to enjoy the day. Also, ask yourself this, is the groom more likely to shed a tear at seeing his beautiful bride for the first time a) in front of, possibly, hundreds of wedding guests, or b) all alone with just his bride?

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