Even a small backyard wedding will need extra parking. Plan how you will manage this well in advance.
Your alternatives are on-street parking, use of a parking lot some distance away, shuttle minivans, a school bus, a coach, valet parking or cabs and Uber. Here are points to consider to help you decide.
You will need to give parking information when you send out invitations. And you will need to remind guests by email the week before too. You’ll need to plan for almost everyone to arrive at the same time but wanting to leave at different times.
Information you need before you make parking plans
How many guests are coming? Reckon two per car. Is anyone definitely NOT bringing a car – local guests within walking distance and people using train stations or airports and then getting a taxi for example?
How many suppliers will need unloading and/or parking at your house? Add to these ‘essentail parkers’ anyone elderly or with a disability problem who need easy and fast access to your home.
Are there any groups of guests booking into the same hotels who could arrive together? You could get a shuttle bus for them or the hotel might be able to help. But everyone will have to agree to the time that you set for pick up from the hotel and return.
Now you have a good idea of how many parking spaces you need at or very near to the venue and how many people can be bussed or taxied in together as a group. For the rest of the guests you’ll need to find a way of them leaving their cars in safety during the day of your wedding.
Finding car parking spaces near you
Consider these options – but only if you know they are usually unused on the day you are celebrating your wedding.
A local school may be free evenings and or weekends
A local business may be free after 6pm and on the weekend.
A local restaurant. Most restaurants close at least one day a week, though not on Saturday of course!
A local church
A local village hall
A local club (most clubs either open during the day or only open at night). Consider sports clubs as well as night clubs and anyone else with a clubroom which has parking outside.
Local public car parks run by private companies or the community
A local store (useful for evening weddings or on a day when they close)
You will need to ask permission to park well in advance. Some people will be immediately happy to help you out considering the event. Others may need convincing. What could you offer them? It could be money but it could be help at a later date with an event they will be running. Public carparks may not want to block book for your guests.
Getting from the carpark to your home
It’s possible you will find space near enough for guests to walk. But bear in mind that most women will be wearing heels and their shoes will probably be new too. So they won’t be able to walk far.
Could you suggest they bring flat shoes for the walk and the dancing?
To minimize the number of people who have to be transported from the parking area to the house ask drivers to drop off their passengers at the venue then drive out to the parking spaces. You may need someone out front to keep the line moving quickly and to pacify neighbours. You will need a cab or a driver to collect and drop off all the drivers.
If you need to shuttle guests between parking and venue remember that any shuttle vehicle you use will need time to get from the parking to the house, drop off the guests and get back to repeat the trip. Depending on the size of shuttle you use this could take quite a time. You may have to organise something to keep people occupied while the shuttle ferries the last of the guests. So perhaps a slow start to cocktails or a non-alcoholic sparkling drink could keep everyone in the mood.
The best way to bring people to the house is by bus. Talk to your local school and ask for their school bus contact. You will have to pay for the time you are using the bus but it will be cheaper than almost any other solution.
A school bus does not need to look penny-pinching. It can look fun. Will the company allow you to put up some simple decorations such as balloons inside? Could you make the bus part of the theme by having stands for flowers or cakes made of old text books?
Rather than using mini vans which can be very difficult to get in and out of always book a bus or coach. Coach rental companies will be more expensive than the school bus company but the interior will be more comfortable.
You can find companies (in the UK anyway) that have decorative vintage coaches for this purpose. They cause quite a stir as they drive through the streets with people pointing and waving.
You’ll need to decide if the coach will stay around the whole day to ferry people back to their cars or if you will give strict times to your guests. Most wedding planners give guests a specific time and place for taking the bus to the venue and a specific time or two different times for getting the bus back. Anyone who doesn’t book a time or who fails to get on the bus will need to take a cab.
Your own private parking area
Finally there may be a huge field next to your home. Wonderful. But warn guests so that they know to have flat shoes with them that can cope with grass in rain or shine. If you have more than 20 cars parking in the field you will probably need someone to manage the space into neat lines with areas left for easy access.
You will also need to walk the route from the furthest parking space to the venue at night to assess if guests will need lights. If they do, then ask them all to bring a torch. Otherwise you could offer cheap lights as wedding favors from a basket by the door.
Can guests park on the street?
This will usually be very difficult. In your plans you have a list of the suppliers who will need to park or at least unload close to the house or marquee. Nothing must block them in. But if the homes all have large front drives or yards then some guest parking may be possible.
First you must check with the local police and possibly your local community or council on whether street parking will be permitted. Then you must apply for a permit if required. Remember to ask about any noise regulations too. If your guests are leaving at midnight they will disturb neighbours with banging car doors and shouts of goodbye.
Once it looks as if street parking will be allowed you will need to contact each of your neighbours up and down the street to explain when the cars will arrive and when they will leave. Most people will be very understanding as long as nobody parks across their driveway. But it’s worth taking them all a little present when you ask – a cute little cupcake with thank you on it perhaps!
A couple of days before the wedding go round and pop a note into all their mailboxes reminding them of the date and times your guests will be parking.
Rent my driveway
Some schools in England, and I presume everywhere else too, have started a rent-my-driveway scheme with local residents. This allows parents to park in a driveway while they drop off and pick up their kids from school without the danger of parking on the road. There’s a fee. Could you arrange something similar with neighbours for just that one day?
Should you offer valet parking?
Valet parking sounds ideal, doesn’t it? But when you think through the details it may not be quite such a great idea. First there’s cost. Get the valet company to visit and give you a figure. Then pour yourself a big drink.
If the cars have to be taken any distance to be safely parked the whole operation becomes slow. There will be a group of staff heading over with guest cars to the parking area then they’ll need to wait to all come back together in one staff car and restart the process. Valet parking is perfect for restaurants and hotels and city venues but not so good for your home unless you have a big field or similar space very nearby that just needs careful management to allow all the cars to get parked.
Should you encourage car sharing?
You should not actively work to get people to car share in case you find yourself liable if there is an accident. Car sharing to get to work or take the kids to school is a very different proposition than getting people to share a car after most or even all of them will have been drinking alcohol and may also be very tired. People will soon decide amongst themselves if they wish to car share. Don’t get involved.
Uber and cabs
Make sure that absolutely every guest is given the local contacts for cabs. And tell them to book in advance. Then remind them, if they haven’t booked a parking spot and/or shuttle bus seat with you, one week before. Whenever possible encourage guests to book a hotel or Airbnb room nearby. They’ll be able to drink and dance till they drop and your conscience will be clear.
The last thing anyone wants is guests to be drinking and driving.
Read about all the other planning needed for a home wedding in 20 questions you absolutely must answer before you decide to have the wedding reception at your home.