With the average cost of a wedding being $15,000, it may be tempting to use your own home as the perfect wedding venue. But what should you worry about with a gang of hungry guests at the door? In today’s blog post, I have an exhaustive list of backyard wedding tips to help you get the biggest bang for your buck.
Backyard Wedding Tips – Space Issues to Consider
Separate events need separate spaces. The basic rules of wedding space allotment still apply, no matter how small the space. This means you should have a separate area for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception. Most wedding venues hold the ceremony in one space, and then move all the guests to the cocktail area. After cocktails, guests either move back to the converted ceremony space or to a different area for the reception. Make sure you have enough room.
Know your (guest count) limits. The easiest way to keep your party manageable is to limit your guest count. I could write an entire blog post about how to figure out the square footage necessary per person, but the general rule of thumb to calculate event capacity is to have six square feet of space per standing person. For seated diners, the rule is 9 to 10 square feet per person for rectangular tables and 11 to 12 square feet per person for round tables. It’s not just about the comfort of your guests, you also have to consider fire and safety rules.
In short, you want to make sure people don’t feel like they are seated on top of one another. Especially in the age of Covid, you want to give everyone enough room to breathe. You also need to consider what events you will be having. For a ceremony, count on a seat per person and these seats can be close together. But for your cocktail hour or the reception dance floor, you want to have a much larger space so guests can move around. Always remember: keep it small to keep it manageable.
Here are a few websites I found with excellent venue capacity information:
Count on bad weather. The number of weddings ruined by an unexpected rain shower is countless. Have a tent or a rain back up location on standby regardless of whether rain is in the forecast. Trust me, having a dry place for guests will be a priceless investment.
Backyard Wedding Tips – Catering & Staffing Issues
Don’t even think about catering it yourself. Everyone wants to save money, but having to run back-and-forth to the kitchen is not the way to do it. You can certainly supply dishes or even a cake, but having a catering staff on hand for service is always recommended. In addition, there are food safety issues that you need to leave to the professionals.
Have two bars if necessary. If you have a guest count above 50 and a large enough space, it helps to have a second bar. Guests will crush the bar when the cocktail hour opens and two bars can alleviate traffic. This second bar can serve only wine and beer and can be removed after the start of the cocktail hour in order to save space. Alternatively, you could have catering staff serving trays of water, wine, and champagne.
Hire staff and make sure you treat this as a proper party. The party may be at your house, but you still want it to be a party you can enjoy. You do not want to be the ones getting married and the people who have to clean up afterwards. A day-of coordinator is always a worthy investment. At the very least, make sure you have someone designated as the master of ceremony, and definitely consider hiring a cleaning crew for the next day.
A few of my favorite day-of wedding coordinators:
- Gillian Todd, Event Coordinator
- Emily Lester, EM Event Management
- Joanna Solazzo, The Day Of Company
Backyard Wedding Tips – Where to Save Money
DIY decor and wedding cakes are the ways to save money. Instead of worrying about the food or staff, I recommend concentrating your money saving efforts on the décor and cake. In case you are concerned about your baking skills, take a tip from the ‘semi-homemade’ show on the Food Network and simply buy a sheet cake from the grocery store deli counter, then decorate it yourself. Check out Kate and Nick’s sensational wedding cake for inspiration.
Doing your own flowers will save you the most. Flowers are likely to be one of the most expensive line items for any wedding budget. Supplying your own floral artistry is always a cheaper alternative. There are a number of different online purveyors of flowers in bulk, including Fifty Flowers and Blooms by the Box. Keep your flowers in a cool space, and have water handy to keep the blooms fresh. Alternatively, consider dried flowers or paper bouquets.
Backyard Wedding Tips – The Rules of the House
Know the noise ordinances in your neighborhood. Once upon a time, I was booked for a wedding in a beautiful house in the middle of Queens. One week before the wedding, the bride frantically emailed me to say they needed to change the venue because, as it turns out, the homeowner’s association would not allow parties with a guest count above 50. Be smart, and check out your neighborhood’s rules before you book your backyard. In addition to noise issues, special permits may also be required for parties above a certain guest count.
NYC ‘Quiet Hours’, as specified in Local Law 113, states that noise must be kept to a minimum from 10pm to 7am. In New York City, the easiest way to find your local noise requirements is dialing 311.
Tell your neighbors. Want to make sure your neighbors don’t call the cops to complain about your party? Aside from inviting them (of course), the answer is to simply tell your neighbors about your party well ahead of time. It’s the only polite thing to do. I also recommend a peace offering on their doorstep.
Make sure you are insured for parties of a certain size. No one wants to think about the worst-case scenario, but let’s say someone is injured during the course of your wedding or there is damage to your home. What do you do? First, give your insurance agent a call to check on your current coverage. Most homeowner’s insurance policies will cover a limited amount of liability. It’s important to know your (liability) limits before any guests arrive, however. Your insurance company can add an additional policy for a specific amount of time if you need to increase your coverage temporarily.
Here is a great article by State Farm Insurance on home party insurance considerations.
Know your shoe policy and make a plan ahead of time. Everyone has seen that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie is devastated at the thought of having to remove her shoes before entering the house. Personally, I’m a shoes-off kind of gal. But when guests are involved, then I just roll with it. If you still want to save your carpets, then think about putting down rugs or designating certain rooms off limits.
Backyard Wedding Tips – Logistical Details
Definitely plan to have enough bathrooms. If you have a guest count much above 20, then you will need to plan on having more than one bathroom accessible. (God forbid, one toilet goes down.) You also need to account for catering staff being able to use the facilities. Have each bathroom well stocked or consider renting fancy port-a-potties.
Plan for extra electrical and audio needs. One other major consideration is that a sound system and catering staff’s portable cooking equipment all require a huge amount of electricity. You no doubt will need to rent a generator to accommodate the party because nothing kills an event faster than a blown fuse.
Make a plan for your lawn. Check with a landscaper or lawn service to get your garden up to par well ahead of guests arriving. Then keep the landscaper on speed dial for any grass damage done during the main event.
Light up the night. String lights are rarely bright enough to light up a set of tables at night. Plan accordingly and rent some extra lights to make sure guests can actually see what they are eating.
Make sure you have clear signage. If you have a long driveway and guests are unfamiliar with the area, it’s going to help to put up signs so that they know where to go. Don’t forget about signs telling people where to park.
Have a plan for parking. Speaking of parking, this is likely going to be the biggest hassle for an at-home wedding. If your guest count is above 20 people, then you might consider a shuttle service to transport people from a parking garage to your home. If guests will need to park far away from your home, then consider hiring a parking valet to handle the situation.
Consider a special entertainment area for the kids. If children will be attending, you might consider having a special area for kids. This area might include toys, special snacks, and even a paid babysitter if necessary.
Decide what to do with the pets. You may love your fur-baby, but that doesn’t mean every guest will be a fan of your pet. You don’t want to cause an allergic reaction when fluffy sneaks up on Aunt Margaret. Give your pets the benefit of a night off by either corralling them in a back room or hiring an off-site sitter for the night. Your pets will thank you.
And if your pets will be part of the party, then make sure guests know ahead of time. With an influx of people in the house, some pets can become overwhelmed and scared, causing them to run. You can also have other behavioral issues like barking or jumping on guests. For your pet’s sake and the sake of your guests, be a responsible pet owner.
Backyard Wedding Tips – All the Stuff You Need
Don’t buy…rent. Doing it yourself means you need to supply everything from cocktail napkins to trash cans. But why buy a bunch of stuff on Amazon, when you can simply rent it all? First consider how many guests you will be having, then check an online calculator to see how many ‘things’ you need. You may have a few things at home, such as trash cans, and can cross that off your list. For everything else, consider renting. Especially in the case of dishes, silverware, and glasses, renting these items means you don’t have to wash them afterwards.
Rentable items could include:
- Ceremony Chairs
- Ceremony Decor
- Reception Chairs
- Dinner Tables
- Cocktail Tables
- Ceremony Backdrop
- Serving Tables
- Gifts Table
- Guest Book Table
- Dessert Table
- Place Settings
- Centerpiece Vases
- Table Decor
- Dance Floor
- Overhead Decor
- Photo Booth
- Food Prep/Storage Equipment
- Portable Restrooms
- Trash and recycling bins
Things to have on hand. A basic first aid kit and fire extinguisher are always a good idea. Also, consider stocking your bathroom with extra toiletries and please, PLEASE have enough toilet paper. I leave you with the online toilet paper calculator you never knew you needed.
Meet Nicole and Daniele
Accompanying this article are photos from Nicole and Daniele’s backyard wedding in September of 2021. These two were originally scheduled to get married at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in December of 2020. Needless to say, Covid had other plans. After trying to reschedule their wedding four times, they radically downsized the event to a guest count of 30 people and said ‘I do’ at the home of Nicole’s parents in Connecticut.
Nicole and Daniele hired Luna and Charlie Events to handle the details, and the wedding went off without a hitch. The ceremony was held in the backyard and the reception was under a tent. With plenty of lush forest around the property, all the portraits were taken in and around the house. Finally, their precious puppies were very much a part of the entire day (all guests were told ahead of time). Note, however, that dogs are not cooperative as ring bearers.
In case you were curious, Nicole and Daniele met in college during a super sexy macroeconomics course. (I’m kidding – there is nothing super sexy about economics.) The proposal, however, was much more romantic – especially since their love was long distance at the time. Nicole: ‘It was when I was living in L.A. and Daniele was at Stanford in Palo Alto. We weren’t going to be together for the weekend of his birthday because I’d been there the week before and he was supposed to come the following weekend.’
‘I was in class Friday afternoon and Daniele texted me that he had sent me cupcakes so I could celebrate his birthday ‘with him.’ He told me to go up to the mailroom in the Economics department to receive the package. I absolutely believed him, but when I arrived in the mailroom, he was there! He suggested we do a dinner picnic at the beach, so we picked up some food and drove to the coast. Daniele proposed to me on the beach.’ Well, maybe economics can be sexy after all.
Enjoy the images, and I’ll have more photo adventures for you next week!
- Event Planner – Luna and Charlie Events
- Bride’s dress – Pronovias, found at L’Fay Bridal
- Bride’s shoes – TOMS
- Hair stylist – Dana Bartone
- Groom’s attire – JCrew
- Caterer and florist – Mimosa
- Cake – By the Way Bakery
- Band – Silver Arrow Band
- Invitation – Paperless Post
Planning your own backyard wedding? Drop me a line, and let’s chat about your photography needs.
If you would like to see more images from my wedding photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com