Wedding Planning Timeline – When To Book Your Vendors!

by Jennifer Reitmeyer on July 27, 2009

This week, I decided to do a little experiment.  We’ve had a lot of last-minute (for us) requests from brides and grooms in the past few months, and we’re often sold out on their wedding date.  For some of these couples, they know they are “late” in their planning, and are looking for any wedding DJs who are still available on their date.  For others, however, I get the impression that they have no idea that most of the companies they are calling will not be available.  Could it be that they are just victims of bad information?  Are they being told that they don’t need to hire a DJ until later in their planning process?

Curious, I went to the top three wedding planning websites to see what they tell brides.  Some of what I found made sense, but certain parts of each “wedding vendor checklist” didn’t seem to match reality.  I’ve broken them down their advice by vendor type, and added my sage advice as well.  Take a look:


When to Hire a Wedding Planner:

When to hire a wedding plannerThe Knot:  9-11 months
WeddingWire: 9 months 11 months
My suggestion: 12+ months

Notes:  There is a general rule of thumb that you can follow when booking your wedding vendors, “If it requires a specific person, do it as soon as possible.”  Certain wedding vendors provide products (like cake, flowers, and invitations) and can provide those products to multiple couples in a single day.  Anything else — the services — need to be secured as quickly as you can, because they are a scarce resource.  Wait too long, and the one you want will probably be booked.  A wedding planner will have the greatest amount of utility to you and can help with the rest of your puchases, so start here.  If you’re not sure if you need (or want) a wedding planner or coordinator, read my blog post about why you should hire a wedding planner.  I highly recommend hiring one — you’ll thank me later.


When to Book a Wedding Venue (Reception Site):

When to book a wedding venueThe Knot: 9-11 months
WeddingWire: 9 months 11 months
My suggestion: 12+ months

Notes:  This should also be done as soon as possible.  This is another scarce resource, and reception venues will book up to two years in advance of a popular date.  Contrary to popular belief, simply saying a date is your wedding date does not mean that is your wedding date — unless it doesn’t matter to you where you have your wedding .  You do not have a wedding date until you put down a deposit on your ceremony and reception sites.  Without a firm wedding date, you can’t hire any of your wedding-related services.  Hence, this is the place to start. 


When to hire a Wedding Caterer:

When to hire a wedding catererThe Knot: 9-11 months
WeddingWire: 9 months 6 months
My suggestion: 10-12 months
  Once you have your reception site booked, it is imperative that you hire your caterer as soon as possible, unless catering is included at your reception venue.  Every caterer has a limited number of events they can do on any given date, and booking early ensures that you will be able to choose the one you want.  I would also advise you not to wait for a tasting if it’s more than a month into the future — you should be able to get a clear picture of a caterer’s quality and their style of food from their website and WeddingWire reviews.  This is another area where a wedding planner can help a lot.  They have probably worked with every good caterer in your area and know who is good, who is not, and who will fit your budget.


When to Book a Wedding Photographer:

When to hire a wedding photographerThe Knot: 6-8 months
WeddingWire: 6 months 6 months
My suggestion: 10-12 months

Notes:  I was actually surprised by the “expert” timelines on this one.  Six months?  Really?  Most couples think the photographer is an important part of their wedding, and I can tell you that most of the top-tier wedding photographers in a major metro area are going to be long gone at 6 months to go.  In my opinion, you should include the wedding photographer in the group of vendors you hire immediately after setting your wedding date.  The top talent will book first, so hiring a wedding photographer close to a year before your wedding is a good idea. 


When to Hire a Wedding Disc Jockey:

When to book a wedding DJThe Knot: 9-11 months
WeddingWire: 9 months 6 months
My suggestion: 10-12 months
  This was one of the services that the timelines didn’t seem to agree on.  The same rule from above applies to your wedding DJ as well — you are hiring a specific person to be your disc jockey (and if you’re not, you really need to read our DJ Shopping Guide), and the top talent in your area will be the first to get booked.  At our company, a lot of brides and grooms seem surprised that we are completely sold out at 6-8 months before their wedding date.  Waiting too long to book your wedding DJ will leave you with a limited number of available DJs to choose from. 


When to Book a Wedding Videographer:

When to hire a wedding videographerThe Knot: 6-8 months
WeddingWire: 6 months 6 months
My suggestion: It depends.
  This is a tricky one, so I’m going to give a slightly nuanced answer.  If you’re going to hire a wedding videographer, you need to decide early in the process how important the wedding video is to you.  If a fabulous, amazing wedding video is a high priority for you, then you need to treat the videographer the same as the photographer and the wedding DJ and book them as early as possible.  If it’s a low priority and you’re just going to hire the cheapest person you can find, it can probably wait until later.  For the top wedding videographers in any area, the same scarcity rule will apply and they will get booked very early. 


When to Hire a Ceremony Officiant:

When to book a ceremony officiant pastor minister reverend priest rabbiThe Knot: 9-11 months
WeddingWire: 6 months 11 months
My suggestion: 9-12 months

Notes:  Another area where the timelines didn’t agree.  I personally think that finding the right ceremony officiant is crucial, assuming that your ceremony site doesn’t come with a pastor/priest/rabbi included.  A really good officiant can make your ceremony magical.  Since you’re hiring a specific person, the same rule applies and I recommend booking them early in the process.  This is yet another area where a wedding planner (as well as your photographer, videographer, and disc jockey) can really help – we’ve all seen great (and not-so-great) ceremonies and can offer suggestions based on what type of ceremony you want.


When to Book a Wedding Florist:

When to hire a wedding floristThe Knot: 6-8 months
WeddingWire: 6 months 6 months
My suggestion: 6-9 months

Notes:  Now we’re getting into the wedding vendors who can do multiple weddings in one day.  Most florists can handle a few weddings at a time depending on the size of their shop, so booking one at a year before your wedding isn’t as crucial.  That being said, I think that it also depends on how important the flowers are to you.  If you have your heart set on a certain florist or a certain style, then I say pull the trigger and put down a deposit.  The really good florists in our area still sell out during the busy season, so you can’t wait too long.


When to Hire a Wedding Cake Baker:

When to book the wedding cakeThe Knot: 6-8 months
WeddingWire: 6 months 6 months
My suggestion: 6-9 months
  Most wedding cake bakeries will do multiple wedding cakes on any give date, so you’re safe waiting for a little while.  I highly recommend visiting multiple cake shops and sampling their cakes – this is a fun date night for you and your spouse-t0-be.  You can’t beat free cake!  Plus, you’ll end up making a better decision if you shop around a little bit.


When to Purchase Wedding Invitations:

When to buy wedding invitationsThe Knot: 6-8 months
WeddingWire: 6 months 5 months
My suggestion: 6 months

Notes:  Since you’re not going to be mailing your invitations a year before your wedding, you don’t need to buy them that early either.  However, I do recommend sending “save the date” cards to your guests as soon as you secure your reception site and wedding date.  Find a good stationer in your area that carries the styles and brands you like, and use them for both. 


When to Book Wedding Transportation:

When to hire the wedding limoThe Knot: 2-3 months
WeddingWire: 2 months 6 months
My suggestion: 5-6 months

Notes:  Ok, I thought this one was ridiculous.  If you are going to hire professional transportation (limos, shuttle buses, whatever), then you need to hire someone good and you need to do it more than 2 months before your wedding.  Any wedding planner will tell you that the wedding vendor they have the most trouble with are limo drivers.  The good ones will provide you with a clean, great looking ride and get you to the church on time.  The bad ones will show up late (or not show up), get lost, and make you late for the wedding you’ve paid so much to plan.  My advice is to do this about 6 months before your wedding, and pay a little extra to hire the best company you can find.  Ask your wedding planner for advice on who to hire, chances are she’s had a bad experience with more than one of the limo companies in your area. 

***Additional note:  If you are getting married from late April through the beginning of June, you really need to jump on your limo situation.  Most brides don’t think about it, but it’s prom season — most limo companies will completely sell out on Fridays and Saturdays.


That’s it!  I hope this was helpful.  As you can see, the “experts” don’t even agree on the wedding planning timeline.  The best advice I can give is: a) hire a wedding planner, b) book your reception site and set your date immediately, c) book anything that requires a specific person as soon as possible, and d) do your homework when you hire your vendors and check out their reviews on WeddingWire.  Let me know what you think, and happy planning!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

WishLaura July 27, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Amen! You hit the nail right on the head.

I agree that booking a full-service wedding planner should be done in the 12-14 month range. If the couple is looking for a wedding day coordinator, though, 6 months should be plenty of time.

Thanks Evan!


Evan July 27, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Thanks, Laura! Glad you liked it!


Candice July 27, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Hi Evan,

Sounds great! I’m surprised and a little put off by I hope couples will take this advice so I’m not scrambling to find a photographer for my client 6 weeks out, (yes, that has happened.)

Take care!


bash July 27, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Fantastic tips and I’d say your time frames are right!


Evan July 27, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Thanks, Terri!


Kendall July 27, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Nice work Evan. I agree completely about meeting with several cake bakers also. We all have out own sense of taste and style and all pastry chefs are not for all brides. And who doesn’t like eating delicious cake?

All my best,


Evan July 27, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Thanks, Kendall! It always pays to shop around a little :)


Reston Limousine August 2, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Thanks, Evan, for pointing out that prom season often coincides with spring weddings and that demand is heavy at that time; you’re right, it’s not something that’s comes to mind when considering the timing of booking their wedding transportation. We suggest booking as soon as a couple has set a wedding date, particularly if they want a specific color for their vehicles that day, such as a white stretch limousine. Your readers are invited to visit for more information about our fleet, the largest in the DC metro area and our wedding services!


Evan August 2, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Sure thing! Nobody ever really thinks about that when they are planning a wedding. I also don’t think couples realize just how important using a reliable transportation vendor is… if they don’t get there on time, it’s a waste of time and money!


Sarah February 5, 2010 at 2:14 am

This is EXACTLY what I was looking for! Thank you! I too agree with your time lines.


Jen Weddings August 20, 2011 at 12:50 am

I guess the bigger the city you are having your wedding in, the earlier you have to book all the services. In big cities the line for a good venue can be 1.5 years. Thanks for the timelines, your suggestions are very practical!


Denise May 8, 2012 at 6:05 pm

These are great tips. Thanks! What would you recommend for day-of coordination for a vow renewal RECEPTION ONLY? How far in advance should I secure my wedding planner?


Adrienne May 10, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Glad you enjoyed the tips, Denise! As for your question, I’d say that hiring any vendor sooner rather than later is a good idea, since it gives you the best chance that your first choice vendors will be available. You really don’t want to have to settle for whoever is available! That said, 4-6 months is probably a good goal — further out if you’re looking for month-of or partial planning. Remember that even if you only need day-of coordination, a lot more work on the planner’s part goes into it long before your actual day! Congratulations on the renewal, that’s exciting!!


NomikiG June 23, 2012 at 8:24 am

I love your checklist, it covers the essentials and provides a great list for brides. If you’re a bride looking more helpful planning tools and wedding stress relief tools you are welcome to browse my blog,
Warmest wishes, Nomiki


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