Tips For Planning A Small, Intimate Wedding
Size doesn't matter... or does it?
This past year, there have been a number of schools of thought on the size of a wedding and the importance associated with the number of people in attendance. I've always been a quality over quantity kind of girl with a humble yet perfectly formed guestlist of 68 for my own wedding, however I appreciate that some couples have huge families, and many past lives that have intertwined with many sets and groups of people. I have witnessed the struggles of my couples having to either cut down their wedding guest list numbers due to COVID, budgetary constraints or venue purposes. I've also seen them wondering how they are going to 'beef' up their numbers when a venue requires a minimum number of guests, (should they fall short and they are charged extra per head!). This past year though has really highlighted to me and my fellow suppliers that couples are either really sticking to their guns and postponing to allow their day to be as big and full as they wish, or there are couples who are just super eager to get married and are culling their guest-lists to a mere 15 nearest and dearest. This actually was a god-send for one couple who really just wanted to get married without the 'big do' but expectations of family and friends impacted on their plans; using COVID as an excuse they were able to uninvite some of the guests that they didn't really want to come in the first place.. ever cloud has a silver lining and all that.
I've worked and coordinated weddings of all sizes some with guests in attendance of upwards of 200, an average of 120 and the smallest of only 2 guests. I've seen the stress associated with all of these styles of weddings in equal measure, and although we have been given the go-ahead for potentially weddings heading back to the larger numbers come June 2021, I still want to encourage couples that just because they can have a big wedding... doesn't mean they have to. One year on from whence lockdown officially started, I wanted to review and reflect on what has worked well in weddings this past year and here are some of my top tips on how to make your intimate wedding day, just as gorgeous as possible. ♡
Did you know: Typically a very small wedding of less than 20 guests is called a microwedding, whilst a small wedding is considered as having between 30 and 60 guests. However, it’s really up to each couple what they consider “small” and it is very subjective.
When looking at and researching your venue, don't just look at hotels and grand manor homes, but stretch that search to restaurants, hotel suites, galleries, gardens, and even wine bars. Often these types of spaces will be able to offer you an exclusive and private space that is unique. There may be great indoor and outdoor areas, and the food can be tailored and more personal to you both. You may think about using your own family home, a park, hiring out a private home (hello AirBnB) or perhaps you might think of taking your guests to a favourite spot of yours. The venue can be far more flexible when looking at smaller guest lists and this in turn can give you some beautiful spaces that might not need much decor too!
You are also more likely to find a venue that can accommodate all of your guests with overnight stays making it that little bit easier on you and your guests. It can make the wedding into a wedding weekend, creating even more of a magical experience where if you wanted you could meet for brunch the next morning. It also reduces the worry of hiring in taxis or transport if you are in one space.
Those on your guestlist that might not be able to come (pregnant/vulnerable/elderly/not local) might completely understand that they were left off of the guestlist, but it doesn't mean they have to miss out on the fun! Find a fantastic photographer and/or videographer who can capture the day for you and your guests in a beautiful and more informal way. Capturing a wedding reportage style allows the photographer to really break-away from the traditional photos, and gives them backstage access to your guests laughing, crying, dancing, eating, as well as takes those looking at the pictures or video on the journey of the day.
Live streaming is something that I have done a few times over the last year and it was really an amazing way to bring guests from afar into your day. Even having the Best Man's speech zoomed in was pretty epic, and just because people can't be there in person, doesn't mean they can't be in spirit and virtually.
Break your day into different days
With a small wedding you may make the decision because you are really keen to get married now, and happy to have a larger soiree at a later date, or it might be that you prefer smaller more intimate gatherings. Either way, you may have guests that you are unable to invite, as such a great way to break up the wedding celebrations is to break your wedding into a wedding weekend. Perhaps you rent out a big house, have the ceremony on the Friday with a post-ceremony intimate meal, then invite another set of friends or family to a brunch the following day, a delicious meal in the evening with another set of friends and then a picnic elsewhere with a different set. It could be spread over a weekend, or a month, but either way you are able to adapt the day to share with many people in different circumstances allowing you to prolong, but also to celebrate with many people, yet in multiple intimate settings.
With a more intimate guest list, you can focus on creating a personal and unforgettable experience for you and your guests. Fine-tuning your guest list can be a difficult, arduous and often touchy subject with your partner, family or friends. Who 'qualifies' for the main event (ceremony) or the reception? With only a limited number, there will be guests who are left off the list however I feel there are two schools of thought. You can either communicate with your friends, family etc that you are having a small wedding, limiting to a certain number and just sadly you can't invite all but you'd love to celebrate with them separately. Alternatively, you can just crack on and hope people aren't offended. No matter what, and no matter the size of your wedding, the guest list is always a contentious topic and many people believe they have an input into saying who gets an invite. This is your day, and you should spend it with those whom you love and cherish however there is a grey area when it comes to someone else footing the bill. Often there are battles that you can't win, but with a smaller intimate wedding, you may have more sway on who is on the guest list than if you were having a larger 'do'.
Depending on your venue, you might have a lot more choice with a smaller wedding than you do with a larger wedding due to quite a number of larger venues having their own catering team, or outsourced catering company that is part of their supplier list. (Of course this can be the case for smaller venues too).
However you might find that instead of formal catering, you prefer something a little more informal, and with this you can have a lot more room to play! Do you love picnics? Afternoon teas? Food trucks? Pizza oven? Start listing your favourite meals or things that you would love to have, and you just might find that you can not only afford the fancier three course delectable tasting menu with less people, but you could also have something totally unique and personal to you both.
Accessories & Styling
When you are looking at 200 guests, those stunningly beautiful powder blue linen napkins at £1 a pop to hire in starts to look a little too luxurious and I know many couples who will forfeit the look of their wedding to accommodate more people, or it might be a choice between linens and candles, or flowers. When having more guests, the styling consideration and budgeting costs can often be quite jarred and I so often have to remind my couples that those pictures on Pinterest are not always as possible to recreate on your own budget. However having a smaller guestlist can make it much easier to make your stamp on the venue and bring those visions to life. You could consider embroidered napkins, hand calligraphy name cards, handwritten bespoke menus, etched metal or acrylic signage or welcome baskets for guests staying over in their rooms. Smaller weddings can give you the opportunity to become super customised and bring you as a couple to the table in a way that would usually be prohibitive financially with those larger parties.
I have some incredible stationery suppliers and friends who offer bespoke invitations which can be also used throughout the wedding day to create a seamless style and this is far more of an option when weddings are a little more intimate. You might consider writing personalised thank you notes to each guest, something incredibly tiring to think about before the wedding with 150 or so guests but absolutely do-able with smaller parties.
Just because your wedding may be smaller, it doesn't mean that your budget needs to be. (Although of course it can be!). With a larger wedding, small items and touches can get lost in the number of guests, larger tables laden with food and wine, but not so much when you choose more of an intimate wedding style. When it comes to allocating budget, you may like to prioritise elements that make guests feel welcomed or looked after. I've loved working with some amazing chefs on curating a menu with beautiful wine pairings for courses, or personalising canapes or desserts. I've always advocated the five senses when wedding planning and this is the ideal size of wedding where even the smallest touches will make an impact for example find a scent that is both relaxing yet energising, not overpowering but not too subtle. Live music is a great area to place budget, but make sure that the band isn't too large as to be overpowering. You may think a smaller wedding means you need 'more more more' to overcompensate, however tastefully curated pieces/add-ons that enrich the experience of the day for the guests are a far better way to splurge.
Tip Eight: Timeline
With less guests to get around you actually will have time to see everyone and speak with everyone, which is far more important to the guest than say baskets of flip flops, plastic bubble wands and even photobooths. You may feel with a smaller wedding that the timeline isn't so important as you aren't shepherding hoards of inebriated guests from one area to another, however it is still as important than ever. Having a clear flow of the day means that everyone on your team - planner, venue, suppliers, caterers - will not neglect any detail you have decided upon and it remains smooth and stress-free. I would always recommend that you hire in a planner or an on-the-day coordinator to help you host the day in a seamless way. They can create a great timeline that navigates through your day, telling a story and giving you the peace of mind that things won't be missed or go awry.
I hope this has all been inspiring for you and has given you some things to consider. If you would like any support planning your intimate wedding, I would love to hear from you – you can reach me through my contact page or directly on my email address at laurenalexanderweddings.com.