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The Ultimate Wedding Checklist (2021)

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The worst wedding nightmares nearly always result from poor planning. But our complete wedding checklist will have your wedding planning in tip-top form in no time.

Just follow our schedule, and with a dash of your creativity, your wedding will come to life over the coming months. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with information, but if you take your planning one step at a time, you will soon be considering going into the wedding planning profession yourself…

At Encore, we deal with weddings the whole time, providing top quality musical entertainment to make weddings come alive. So we are well qualified to explain all the ins and outs of wedding planning to those in need.

So dig in, and good luck!

Download our Free Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist [PDF]

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Contents

 

12+ Months to Go

Write a Rough Guest List

Deciding on who you’d like at your wedding can be bittersweet. But remember: this is your day—don’t feel bad that you can’t invite everyone! Many couples enlist the help of family to ensure you don’t forget any relatives (what was the name of that aunt again?).

Once you’ve got your guest list to a manageable few pages, you’ll start to see whether you’ll need a large venue or a more intimate setting. It’ll also become clear what kind of budget you’re looking at. You can always revisit your guest list down the road if you find that you can fit a few more people in, or if your budget is causing a bit of a squeeze. Consider it a work-in-progress until the invites are sent!

Determine and Set a Budget (+ Who’s Picking Up The Bill)?

First thing’s first: weddings don’t come cheap. Deciding how much you are going to spend on your special day is paramount. All your decisions—whether it’s booking the venue, music, photographer, caterer, or florist—will flow from this. Couples often choose to spend more on some areas than others. This ensures they’re not skimping out on the elements that matter most to them. If you’re a big music fan, you might want to consider reserving a healthy budget for a music-friendly venue and the perfect band for your reception.

You might also have family or very close friends that want to help fund your big day. Often, it’s simpler to let them pay for one specific part of the wedding (like the flowers or cake), rather than asking them for a specific amount. Getting these discussions out of the way early is the name of the game.

Need a hand? Check out our Ultimate Wedding Budget Guide

Set the Date & Book a Venue

Setting your wedding date almost entirely depends on your wedding venue. Venues are often booked up to a year in advance—making sure you sort this out early means you won’t be disappointed. Choosing a venue at this early stage also allows you to budget correctly, to know whether you’ll need caterers, and what kind of music you can host. It is also usually by far the biggest cost. Shop around, choose something that suits your style, and you’ll be well on your way with planning this thing!

Keep in mind that venues will often allow you to reserve the date before making a deposit. Make sure your most important suppliers, like your celebrant or registrar, are available on the date you’ve chosen before parting with the deposit.

Book Registrar/Minister

If you’re having a civil ceremony, you’ll need a registrar to officiate. Booking a registrar is simple: just Google “book a registrar” and add the name of your county. You’ll be shown a bunch of local registrars that you can book for your special day. Keep in mind that some registrars only allow bookings within twelve months—if that’s the case, make a calendar note for twelve months before and you’ll be well on top of this.

If you’re having a religious ceremony, you’ll need to look into the options available at the place of worship where you plan on getting wed. Many parish churches have attendance or locality requirements. But let your fingers do the walking: an email or call will quickly clear up any questions you may have.

Think About Hiring a Wedding Planner

Wedding planners can be very useful, and take a lot of the stress out of planning your wedding. The flip side: it’ll be one more additional cost and won’t have as much control over the whole process. At the end of the day, this comes down to preference. If you are planning on hiring a wedding planner, get them involved early on—they can get the details sorted while you focus on the big picture items.

Choose a Theme and Decide Formality

Break out the mood boards, colour palettes, Instagram, and the all-important Pinterest! This is where you can let your creativity shine. Let yourself be inspired and choose something that represents you as a couple. Nowadays wedding themes range from rustic to festival-themed, to the classic ballroom-style wedding.

The other part of choosing a theme is pinning down the formality of the wedding. It could be laid back, casual-smart, or more of a formal affair. Whatever you choose, make it clear to your guests—they’ll want to know how to dress for the occasion! 

Booking a Photographer/Videographer

All the best wedding photographers and videographers are booked up months in advance. Like booking your musicians, the early bird gets the worm. Make sure you do your research, find someone whose style suits your vision and book early to avoid disappointment. Many photographers and videographers will offer packages at different price points—this allows for the best possible results, while still allowing for various budgets. Make sure to discuss your needs with them, but don’t wait too long before pulling the trigger and booking.

Booking Caterers

Catering comes in all shapes and sizes, not only the official reception dinner. For instance, there are wonderful street food providers, gelato parlours, and cocktail vendors that can supply your guests with delicious food and beverages at any point on your wedding day (after the ceremony while you take photos, for instance). Many venues also come with catering options, so make sure you check with them before booking additional catering.

If you’re looking for a bespoke catering service for your wedding, consider taking a look at Feast It—it’s just like Encore, but for food providers!

Appoint Your Wedding Party

Gather your closest ones—it’s that point where you’re going to ask them if they will be your bridesmaids and groomsmen. No doubt you’ve already chatted about this with them, but it’s time to lock them in officially. They’ll be the ones you want to have by your side throughout the whole wedding preparation process: comforting you whenever it gets stressful, and making sure your special day is truly unforgettable.

Send Save The Date Letters

Once your wedding date is set and you’re happy with the broad outlined details, it’s time to start telling everyone about the big day. Save the Date letters are the perfect way to keep your guests informed and make sure they plan to avoid any potential clashes in the future. Get creative with these and incorporate a bit of your wedding aesthetic if you can. Maybe you can use the same font you might use in the ceremony leaflets, or you can get your signature foliage entwined with the design!

Now some of the big decisions are coming together it’s time to start getting excited about the details…

 

12-9 Months to Go

Start Shopping for Your Wedding Dress

Here’s where your dreams of walking down the aisle begin to take shape. Again, this is where Pinterest will be your best friend. Think about your style and go from there: research styles and designers, and look into local shops that stock what you’re after. Your next stop is the really exciting part—trying dresses on! Make a day of it with friends or family, keep an open mind, and you’ll be sure to find a dress you love.

Book a Florist

The difference between a well-planned flower arrangement and a rushed one is like night and day. Get in touch with your florist early and let them know what kind of theme and colour palette you’re going for—they’ll provide their expert advice: which flowers are in season, how they can be integrated beautifully into your venue, their various packages, and how much it’ll all cost. To the surprise of many, flowers can be very expensive! While stunning decor for your wedding is definitely worth the price, you should think early about how important this aspect of your wedding is so you can budget accordingly.

Book Wedding Cars/Transport

Like all the items on this checklist, getting in early pays dividends. Whether you’re looking for something a bit unusual—a horse and carriage or a decommissioned bus—or just a few vintage cars, chances are other couples are looking to snap them up for their wedding too.

The practical aspect of this is also important: make sure to give realistic timings to your transport provider. No one wants to be stuck calling a taxi on their wedding day because the reception finished at 3 am!

Book Accommodation/Bridal Suite

Securing places for yourself and your wedding party in a hotel near to your reception, or at the reception venue, can be easily overlooked. Once you’re booked in, you might also want to tip off your friends and family about where you’re staying—especially if you’re the type of person to keep the party rolling well into the night.

Get Wedding Insurance

We know. It’s the last thing you want to be thinking about as you plan your wedding. But things can go wrong. Wedding insurance is usually very inexpensive. Our advice: get it, and then forget about it. No need to dwell! It usually covers things like if the venue or your suppliers let you down, or even if you have to cancel due to illness, injury, or severe weather. This way, if something does happen, you won’t be out of pocket.

Organise Toastmaster/Master of Ceremonies

A Toastmaster/Master of Ceremonies is there to guide you and all the people you love through the day, including introducing the speeches. You can hire professional Toastmasters if you want a touch of class, or if you’re looking for the budget option, the father of the bride, best man or groom will often do it. Any excuse for dad to show off in front of people… classic!

Music and Entertainment 

Atmosphere is everything on your wedding day. And what better way to create an atmosphere than live music! This is an integral part of any big celebration, and at Encore we have thousands of musicians at your disposal.

From Dundee to Durdle Door, we have musicians of every genre and style to keep your guests entertained. There are lots of moments to feature music, so here are some insider suggestions from our team of professionals:

There are endless options to make your wedding even more special, so get browsing and don’t be afraid to step out of your musical comfort zone! There’s so much great music out there waiting to entertain your guests…

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6-9 Months to Go

Think About your Wedding Cake

Everyone loves cake. And it’s one of the most iconic moments of the day. But professional wedding cake bakers are normally working flat out all year, so make sure you think about this sooner than you might expect. There are thousands of options out there, so get Googling for inspiration.

Wedding Party Attire

This is one of the most entertaining things to do with your wedding party before the big day. Go Bridesmaid dress shopping and browse suits online with your Groomsmen. Getting your most trusted and valued friends all suited and booted and looking glam will make your day even more special. Most retailers will allow you to try on lots in store to get that perfect fit. But online specialists also offer to send colour swatches of material, so don’t be shy to think outside the box…

Bridal Accessories

No wedding dress is complete without the perfect accessories. Now you are beginning to form a clear idea of what your wedding aesthetic will be, you can add the finishing touches to the Bride and Grooms attire. And don’t forget the shoes! No Disney bride is complete without the perfect glass slippers…

Book Hair and Makeup

Speaking of looking fly, don’t be shy of the big excuse to get some professional hair and makeup booked in. Get all the gals together to browse the local options near your chosen venue for a smooth transition from your prep location to the venue.

Night Accommodation and Honeymoon

Make sure you plan these well so you have as much choice as you want. Local hotels make a great place to crash after the big day is over (weddings are tiring!). And make sure you browse all your favourite holiday sites to find the perfect honeymoon destination. 

Remember though, fancy hotels are the perfect destination for some, but if you’re a bit more adventurous, the perfect option could be backpacking through the Himalayas or white water rafting in South America. This is your one opportunity in life to splash out on a fancy trip, so think outside the box. You can chill on the beach on any holiday, make this one a place to remember!

And don’t forget to book time off work for this. Nothing worse than a mid-cocktail call from the boss asking where you are…

Plan Stag Do and Hen Do

Some people choose to plan their celebrations, but others are very happy to leave these potentially raucous affairs to the best man or maid of honour. It’s up to you how it comes about, but make sure you get planning this well in advance so all your favourite people can be there. And don’t be afraid to keep things tame if you want to, or to go wild if that’s more your style. Base jumping I hear you say? We’ll leave that decision to you…

Wedding Website

These days, rather than sending out lots of information by post (to get lost in a draw you never go in), it’s a much simpler option to create a simple wedding website featuring all the information your guests will need. This includes:

  • RSVP information
  • Date
  • The Schedule of the Wedding Day
  • Location(s) 
  • Nearby accommodation recommendations
  • Dress code
  • Any extra fun details, like song requests

Doing it this way also means you can alert your guests to changes without having to send out a new batch of invites. Organisational and efficiency bliss!

Wedding Stationery

By this stage of planning, you should have a pretty solid idea of your wedding aesthetic. So choosing your design of invites should be straightforward. Websites like Etsy are full of affordable and customisable designs to suit your preferences. Or you can opt for bespoke designs from a range of designers easy to find online. Most companies will let you order samples of your design before ordering in bulk!

But stationery doesn’t just include invites. Don’t forget to consider orders of service, place cards, weddings signs and menus if you need them. Designers will often be able to incorporate the same aesthetic into all of these parts of the day to help tie everything together. 

If you’re trying to save money, you can always opt to DIY all your stationery. It’s a super fun way to get excited about your wedding before it gets stressful!

Send Your Invites

Once you have ordered or made your invites, it’s now time to send them out. Around 6 months before the wedding is a good time. If you don’t have a wedding website, then make sure to include the finer details like timings of the day, nearby accommodation recommendations, dress code as well as your RSVP details. It can also be a fun idea to include a gift list or website address for this so people know how and what to give you. 

Also, don’t forget to ask about dietary requirements. There’s nothing worse than your vegan best friend being delivered a steak!

 

3-6 Months to Go

Food Tasting and Finalising the Menu

We told you it got fun, didn’t we?! Now is your chance to go and sample the menus from caterers you have shortlisted. Often they will have a huge range of options, so it’s good to go in with some ideas of what you might want. But also bear in mind most catering companies have done countless weddings before and will know what works best. Once you’ve locked in your choices, all you need to do is let the caterers know all the dietary requirements of your guests (once you have all the RSVPs).

Wedding Rings

This is definitely not a decision to rush. Nowadays there are endless possibilities with wedding rings. Whether you want a ring with diamonds in, a rough-textured surface, a silver or gold or purple ring, or anything you can dream of, you should be able to find it. But don’t get too carried away. Remember to choose something that complements your engagement ring, and it’s a good idea to set a budget for this. 

If you want bespoke rings made it can take a bit longer, so be wary of this. However, there is a growing trend in sustainable, recycled and second-hand jewellery, so make sure you check out all possible avenues even if you want a simple classic design. 

Decide on Final Timings

Your order of ceremony is more exciting to plan than you might think. Chatting this through with the vicar or registrar who is marrying you will give you a taste of what the main event of the day will be like. 

As well as the ceremony’s timings, decide on the overall timings of the whole day. Make sure to consider how people will move around (especially elderly or disabled guests), and whether there is seating available for those who might tire quicker. Making a clear schedule can also be very useful for caterers and suppliers to know when their services are required.

Also, make sure you consider the cleanup. All it takes is having a plan for who, what and how the evening will come to a close. There’s nothing worse than an 11pm curfew which cuts off your favourite song, and then being handed a broom and having to sweep up for half an hour…

Check Your Passports Are Valid

This is very easy to do and won’t take long, but it has potentially catastrophic consequences if you miss this step!

Wedding Favours

Some couples like to give a small gift to everyone that comes to the wedding, called a ‘favour’. These can range from something gooey and edible to wildflower seeds. Don’t blow too much budget on this, but if you want to explore ideas, now is a good time to browse websites like Etsy and Pinterest, and then buy in bulk. 

 

2-3 Months to Go

Wear Your Shoes In
A nice and simple task to start us off. It’s as easy as putting your shoes on and walking around doing the chores. Does advice get better than this?!

Final Dress Fittings

Your body shape is pretty unlikely to change in this short amount of time before the big day, so if needed there’s still time to make any small adjustments at this stage. After this, if you’re happy with everything it’s time to take it home! 

DIY and Guest Book

Any DIY you have planned for decorations now is a good time to start finalising this. You should have a good idea of what decorations are lacking, and DIY is a fun way to fill up the gaps without breaking the bank!

This might include getting creative with a guest book, maybe make it a photo album to be filled with photos from the day, or it could be a big blackboard for people to write notes and messages on.

Musical Requests

Any specific songs you want to hear can be very easily arranged with the musicians you’ve booked. Just give them enough time in advance to learn them or dig them out of their music libraries, and your customised dancefloor will come to life! This is a helpful opportunity to also confirm any timings and necessary details with your musicians.

Check out our wedding song ideas here: 10 songs guaranteed to keep your guests dancing

Wedding Party Meetup

It’s so nice seeing all your favourite people in one space, and your wedding party are a special part of that. So gather your bridesmaids and groomsmen and have a little meeting to keep them up to date with how the day will all work out. And this is a great excuse to get the guys and gals mingling if they don’t know each other already. If everyone is at ease on your wedding day, it will all run nice and smooth and you won’t have to be introducing people to one another. 

Some couples also like to give gifts from the bride to the groomsmen and from the groom to the bridesmaids as a way of thanking them for their friendship and support. It’s all just absolutely lovely!

 

1 Month to Go

Write Speeches

Now is your moment to shine. Whether you decide to have the bride or groom (or both) make a speech, this is your chance to show everyone why this person makes you the happiest you can be and why you’ve decided to take the step to get married. It’s also the perfect opportunity to start your career as a standup comedian, so no pressure…

Stag Do and Hen Do

Let the games begin…

Decide on your Witnesses

This is a step that’s easy to miss but should be fairly easy. It’s normally one of the closest people (often a parent or relative) from each side of the family. These are the people that sign the register alongside you to officiate the marriage legally. 

Chase Your RSVPs

We know your Cousin Jane always forgets to reply. But here’s our reminder to check in with all those more forgetful (and dare we say, disorganised) guests who haven’t got round to sending a reply to the invite. This will help you finalise numbers for caterers and help finalise your seating plan…

Seating Plan

Many couples find this one of the most thrilling aspects of wedding preparation. After all, it is your greatest opportunity for match-making perhaps ever! If you are having a formal seating plan for your wedding breakfast then it’s normally a good idea to try and organise it in a way that everybody will know at least one other person on their table. That way everyone feels comfortable, but you still get to see the delights of mixing ex-army beef-loving SUV-driving Uncle Roger with your best friend who runs a Vegan ECO campaign. Oh, the joys of match-making!

 

1 Week to Go

Confirm Final Numbers

Confirm exactly who will be there and adjust any details like seating plan, dietary requirements or venue accessibility accordingly.

Confirm Final Details with Suppliers and Caterers

Any last-minute questions? Any details you are worried about? This is your final opportunity to double-check everything that your suppliers and caterers have agreed to. Now is not the time to casually mention you’ve moved the venue from Dorset to Hawaii.

Brief the Important People

Make sure your family and wedding party know exactly how the day will unfold. If you make sure you do this during the week runup, not only will it release some of those pre-wedding nerves, it will also mean you can sit back on the day and just let everything happen without having to tell people what they are meant to be doing. 

This is one of the most crucial steps in all your planning. Communication is everything! If the people cutting the cake don’t know they are meant to be doing that, or if your best man doesn’t know he is meant to escort Granny Meredith to the reception ahead of schedule, then these things won’t happen. So get them off your checklist nice and early!

Collect Attire

If you haven’t already got them, now is the time to go and collect your pre-ordered suits and bridesmaids dresses. Just make sure your rugby-playing jock of a best man doesn’t accidentally split his trousers before the big day! Now is not the time George…

 

Wedding Day

Pick Up Flowers and Cake

Make sure you aren’t the one doing this, so you can relax. But make sure it’s been allocated to somebody reliable so your flowers and cake arrive like magic exactly when and where they are supposed to be. Magical cake and flowers make anyone happy!

Get Ready for the Ceremony

This is a very precious moment so make sure you give yourself lots of space and time to relax through this. Get dressed and enjoy having your hair and makeup done so exquisitely to your liking! For both the bride and her bridesmaids and the groom and his groomsmen, this is a very intimate and unbelievably exciting moment. So be sure to ask your photographer to get some shots of this before everything else kicks off. 

RELAX AND ENJOY THE DAY

If you’ve followed this detailed plan, all your careful preparation should have paid off. Everyone should know when and where they need to be, and the transitions between ceremony, wedding breakfast and reception should be delightfully smooth and effortless. 

So relax and enjoy what will be one of the happiest days of your life! And remember to enjoy the marriage as well as the wedding…

 

3-6 Months after…

Thank You Cards

After the excitement of the day and your delightful honeymoon have died down a bit and married life begins to feel like the new wonderful normal, it might be nice to send out thank you cards to those that contributed especially on the day. The normally includes family and wedding party, and anyone who did anything extra special on the day (like readings in the service or any extra baking goodies for the wedding breakfast buffet).

Organise A Photo Viewing

One lovely way to celebrate what was (of course) an amazingly successful and enjoyable day is to look back on the media you should have by now from the photographer or videographers. Gather your closest friends and family, pop on your favourite music from the dancefloor playlist and relive the special day with some nice wine and cheese… what better way to celebrate marriage, eh! Family, friends, good food and some music!

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Matt Venvell

Matt is a recent Music Graduate of Oxford University. He now splits his time between being a freelance drummer/percussionist and a content writer. In between these, Matt loves to learn about how the world works, enjoys the outdoors, and is always looking for more music recommendations.

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