At-home weddings offer a great setting for warm, intimate and personal celebrations with family and friends. A lot of couples wish to get married in their homes, backyards or their parents’ summer home. And then there is a ‘however’.
However, as much as this is intimate and personal (and fabulous an idea!), it involves a lot of work and a lot more attention to details. As you know (or at least I hope you do) you’ll have to bring in pretty much everything – tables, dishware, linens, tents, bathrooms and more. Each element is important and if something is missing, then it will cause inconveniences. And running around last minute might not be an option.
But don’t get overwhelmed just yet. Check out this ultimate step-by-step guide (well, not really ultimate because there can never be enough information in planning a wedding – so let’s say good enough) good enough guide that will help you plan your backyard or at-home wedding. In this guide, I am including links to more details, visuals to understand the overall planning process in one go and general rule of thumbs wherever applicable.
Once you go through this, I am confident you’ll have a clearer vision and sense of direction. Then it’s just a matter of implementing the plan for your awesome day! Yay!
THE FOUR STEPS TO PLAN YOUR AT-HOME / BACKYARD WEDDING
There are 4 steps to plan an at-home/ backyard wedding:
- Assess it’s Feasibility
- Create a ‘to-do’ list
- Create a timeline to achieve this ‘to-do’ list
- Have A plan B (C, D) !
STEP 1 - ASSESS IT’S FEASIBILITY
Before you begin planning your wedding, you need to think hard (real hard) if hosting a wedding is even feasible in your property. Some of the questions you need to address are:
- The wedding officiant
- The budget
You’ll need to check whether you need any special permits or site inspections to make this celebration legal. This includes:
- checking with the fire department
- checking with the police department
- check about noise restrictions in your neighborhood
- if your local town/city hall has a limit for how many people you're allowed to have in your home
- permit for parking on street
- finding out if construction is planned in your area around the time of your wedding. You don’t want it to be dug up or noisy on the day of your wedding.
Do you have enough space to fit your guest list and is the space weather friendly?
Estimating the number of expected guests will determine if you have enough space to host it at home. After all, in the attempt of being cozy and intimate, you don’t want people feeling sweaty and claustrophobic.
Let’s use a simple example of 150 wedding guests to determine your space. For that number, you can expect roughly 75 cars, 20 waiters and 15 tables.
General space guidelines are:
- For a typical row seating, a general rule per guest is 6 -10 sq. ft of floor space.
- Standing - 8 sq. ft. per person
- Partial Seating - 10 sq. ft. per person
- Dance Floor - 2-4 sq. ft. per person
- Bar - 100 sq. ft. per bar
- Buffet - 100 sq. ft. per table
- Band - 100 sq. ft. per person
- Disk Jockey - 50 sq. ft. per table
This should be able to help you decide how many guests you can actually fit in comfortably.
You will also need to assess if your wedding date is weather friendly. In case of rain or a ‘mother-nature-gone-upset’ situation, you will need to move your guests indoors, and in that case you will need to assess if you can fit all of them inside as well. You can use the same measurements more-or-less as a guideline.
The Wedding Officiant
It is important to check if your priest, rabbi, minister or any other licensed officiant can come to your home and perform weddings outside of their places of worship, as sometimes it’s not recognized by the church.
Budgets depend on a lot of factors.Here’s a snapshot and link of a real couple’s budget spend for their backyard wedding. This should give you a rough idea on what you can expect to spend on yours.
Another budget breakdown example for your comparison is as below:
- One Tent - $1000
- Additional Tent(s) - $500
- Bathroom - $1500
- Lighting - $1200
- Dance Floor - $100
- Tables & Chairs - $500
- Total - $4800
STEP 2 - THE ‘TO-DO’ CHECKLIST
The permits are sorted, the guests can fit in your place and the officiant can come! Great, and now what!
Once you're sure you can and still want to host the wedding in your home, you're ready for the next steps. Here’s 20 things that you should look into while making arrangements for the wedding. Yay, fun time! (Hey, trying to pep you up!)
1. Prepare and send invitations: Try to get your invitations in the mail six to eight weeks before the wedding date. For guests who may need to book airline tickets, send out invitations at least two months in advance.
2. Address electrical needs: Most homes can't handle the electrical needs of a large party. Bring in an electrician for site inspection. You'll probably need to rent a generator to insure that any grills, coolers, roasters, lighting tents and musical entertainment don't cause circuit overloads. You’ll want to start researching and reserving equipment around six months before your wedding.
3. Prepare for landscaping: You would want your lawn to be in peak form. You can either DIY with a lawnmower or hire a landscaper. If you're planning on a spring wedding, start preparing in the fall. Talk to your professional landscaper about reseeding, replanting, and sodding.
4. Check if your ground is on level: You don’t want chairs, tables, dance floor to be on uneven ground. Professional tent companies can ascertain whether or not they need to put down a foundation or if they'll be able to lay a dance floor directly on the ground. Your other vendors (caterers, florist, band) need to determine what is necessary to keep floral arrangements, decor and the cake table from tipping over.
5. Plant Early: Make sure to find out the appropriate planting times for the flowers you'd like, so they'll be in full bloom on your wedding day. For a spring wedding, cool-season flowers like tulips, daffodils, and lilies of the valley will be in bloom (which need to be planted the autumn before). For summer, try annuals like geraniums, Gerbera daisies, and African daisies, which should be planted after the threat of frost. Perennials are a hit for fall, like Japanese anemones, chrysanthemums, and blue salvia - these should be planted the fall before. Check out this link for tips and tricks on a garden makeover.
6. Hire crew for different tasks. This includes a catering crew, a cleaning crew, for parking cars and a wedding coordinator.
- Catering crew: The crew should also include people responsible for setting up, cooking and serving the guests. For serving, usually you can allocate 4 to 7 tables (seating for 20-30 guests) per waiter. Unless of course if it’s a moderate size buffet, where up to 5 waiters are good. Schedule a site visit and make sure the caterer has everything they will need in the kitchen in order to prepare the menu. They’ll need to know how much space there is to work in, fridge and stove details - incase they may need to bring in a completely functional traveling kitchen.
- Cleaning crew: May be the best decision you'll make. In the days leading up to the wedding, the last thing you want is a massive house-scrubbing session. Also, after the party gets over, you will need them to clean the entire place out.
- Crew for parking cars: valet parking, parking on streets etc.
- A wedding coordinator: who can provide a fresh perspective on the property and what you can and cannot do and handle all the chaos happening on the big day.
7. Rent a dance floor: Walking on grass can get uncomfortable and even unsafe - especially for women in heels! If your celebration is outdoors, you'll probably need to rent a dance floor. Portable dance floors are available to accommodate almost any size party.
8. Book Sound, AV & Lighting: for speeches, toasts etc. You will need ambience lighting for when it gets dark.
9. Book a bar and bartenders: This is for serving beverages (alcohol/non-alcohol) to guests. Generally, you can have one bartender per 60 guests. Make sure you hire bartenders that are professional, who aren’t clumsy and don’t spill drinks around the place!
10. Rent / buy other items: Depending on the scale of the wedding, check on all the items you will need to rent or buy: This includes:
- tables and chairs
- table linens, glassware, and dinnerware
- lots of trash bags and cans
- Either rent quality table service or use high-end disposables, depending on how formal your wedding is, so you're not stuck washing dishes afterward (hard plastic plates are good).
Once you have the list ready, list out the places you will source them from, example Amazon, Target, CVS, Party Stores.
11. Rent Port a Potties! (Yes, toilets!):
- A general rule of thumb is to have one bathroom for every 35 guests and three bathroom trips per guest. Most septic tanks and plumbing systems can't handle that many flushes, so portable bathrooms are a must.
- Upscale portable bathrooms are now available that have lighting, sinks, heated water, and even air-conditioning.
- Also, keep in mind that your guests will need a place to wash their hands and do a mirror check, so keep the area well lit.
12. Decide on music: Determine whether you want to hire a DJ, Live music (full band, smaller band or solo artist) or a DIY iPod with speakers and prepared selections. Invite the DJ / Live Band for a site visit. This will determine the wiring and power supplies needed and the expected noise level on the day.
13. Decide on your décor, look & feel - This includes flowers, centerpieces, aisle runners, party lights, candles etc. Make sure your personal belongings and fire prone objects are kept away.
14. Arrange for vendor visits: It’s very important to have all vendors visit your home so they can address their concerns, provide suggestions and get familiar with the space. It will help them plan well in advance and determine what extras they'll need to bring. Once the vendors are confirmed, ensure all is covered in their contracts.
15. Get a floor plan: A floor plan will help you determine what goes where and what happens where. It will help everyone including vendors know where they are supposed to come and set up. Example, DJ set up, F&B set up, cake, lighting, seating, tables, chairs, aisle, toilets, etc. Note that he food set up should be away from the seating area to avoid too smells. For the seating, check the direction of the sun - You don’t want guests facing the sweet lil glaring sun.
16. Book a photographer and/or videographer: For capturing your moments.
17. Confirm the menu and keep time for food tasting: Keep in mind special dietary requirements, allergies etc.
18. Talk to your neighbors: If you’re having an outdoor ceremony, let them know what time it will take place to make sure you don’t clash with their plans. Let them also know what you are planning, and warn them of potential noise and traffic. You don’t want a repeat from the movie Neighbors, do you?!
19. Get wedding insurance: I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this point. There are 2 insurances: Third Party Liability Insurance and Event Cancellation Insurance.
- Event Liability Insurance helps protect you if someone causes property damage to the venue or someone is injured at your event. Up to $2 million in coverage can be purchased any time up to 1 day before your event, with policies starting at around $75.
- Event Cancellation Insurance reimburses you for lost deposits & non-refundable amounts if you have to cancel or postpone your event due to unforeseen circumstances
Check with your vendors to make sure they have their own insurance policies as well. For more details, you can check out links online.
20. Re-check permits!
STEP 3 - CREATE TIMELINE TO ACHIEVE TASKS
This guideline will give you a rough idea on how many months in advance you need to plan certain tasks. This will vary for each couple. The lesser the time you have for your wedding, the quicker the work needs to be done.
STEP 4 - HAVE A PLAN B!
Weather and parking are some of the major issues you will need to address while planning an at-home wedding. It is very important to get together and come up with alternatives.
Plan B for weather
1. Rent Tents: Rent a tent to protect your guests from uncertain weather predictions, such as rain and blazing sun. Usual ones are 40 x 60 tent or 50 by 90.
Here’s a guide on how to choose the tents. Make sure it has sides to keep out a driving rainstorm and bugs (tents with meshing sides). Also, check out this link for more info on deciding on tents.
2. Rent fans, heaters and folding chairs: Determine whether you need fans or heaters depending on the season at that time. If it's a warm day, hand fans, extra supply of refreshing drinks, extra electric fans and portable air conditioners can be brought in. During fall and winter, propane heaters can warm up the place. Purchase bug sprays and sunscreens, just in case any guest needs it. Also, in case you need to shift everyone indoors for the wedding ceremony, you might need the folding chairs.
Plan B for parking
Chart out parking options: Plan B would be to arrange for guests to park at a nearby school or church. In that case, you will need to provide a round-trip shuttle service. Another alternative is hire a reputable company for valet parking.