Should I hold the wedding at home?

In Weddings by Joni

At-home, garden and backyard weddings are now more popular than ever with most governments restricting the size of gatherings due to the Covid pandemic.

Is a home wedding or reception as successful as using a venue? Yes, it definitely can be. But you need to do some very careful planning.

Is a backyard wedding cheaper? If you are willing to DIY every aspect of the day, yes, it is cheaper. But most people end up spending more than they expected because they need to hire essentials. The best way to keep a wedding budget as low as possible is to invite fewer guests.

Here are the 20 essential issues that the family need to talk through before deciding on a home or backyard wedding:

  1. Number of guests
  2. Which parts of the home and garden will be used?
  3. Can you put up a tent, marquee or awning?
  4. The dance floor
  5. Noise and neighbours
  6. Extra toilets
  7. Professional caterer or home cooking?
  8. Buffet arrangements
  9. Table service
  10. What needs to be rented?
  11. Parking
  12. Facilities for children
  13. Heating if the weather is cold
  14. Who will help?
  15. Dealing with early arrivers
  16. Dealing with overnight guests
  17. Setting a deadline for the the end of the celebrations
  18. Theme – what’s realistically possible?
  19. Decor and flowers
  20. Lighting

It’s a big list and will take you some time to work through. But as you are probably organising a smaller wedding than originally planned, things are definitely easier today.

Last year I felt that a successful at-home wedding or reception was probably not a great idea for most couples. But today (summer 2020), with smaller celebrations, I have changed my mind. I think an intimate backyard or home-based wedding is an excellent idea.

The pros and cons of a backyard or home wedding

Wouldn’t it be magical to get everyone gathered under your roof for this momentous event?  Perhaps you have a delightful garden you can’t wait to show off in its full glory.  Perhaps there’s a sense that this is the last time your home is also the home of your daughter. 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed about an event that is a year away and just say ‘Of course, darling’. But there’s a lot to be thought through first.

So make the coffee, and start talking.  You’ll need to do this at home because most of the questions need you to walk the house and garden, possibly drag furniture around, take measurements and make notes.

You need to give an unemotional answer to every question then look back and decide if overall it’s a good idea. Even if you decide it is, you need to note the areas where a compromise will need to be made

The words ‘dream wedding’ and ‘compromise’ don’t sit very well together do they?  But better to acknowledge the reality now than ruin the day for yourself.

Right, notebook out, here we go.

How many guests do your daughter and her fiancé want to invite to the wedding reception?

What percentage of these does she estimate will be unable to attend?  Once you have a realistic figure for how many people will be coming then you and your daughter need to have a good look around your home and garden to decide if so many people can easily spend several hours there. 

Read my article on how to organize seating for some ideas about this. It also explains how to use the seating planning tool, The Top Table Planner, which I mention lower down this page.

It’s a good idea to drag tables and chairs into possible positions for say 10-25% of your numbers, depending on what furniture you have.  Imagine the space people will need around them whether seated or standing.  Then see if there really are 3-9 more areas of this size, depending on how many your practice area accommodates.

If not, and the bride really wants a home reception then here comes the first major compromise.  Your daughter must cut the guest list.

How will areas be used during the reception?

Walk through your home and garden and decide how each room or area will be used on the day.  Where will people come in?  Where will they put coats and presents? Where will the aperitifs be served? Is there space for older guests to sit down while they enjoy their champagne? Which bathrooms will they use when they arrive?  

Where will the wedding breakfast be served? Think about the best layout for this space.  Can you fit circular tables and a top table in or can you make a square of tables?  Or will people wander off with their food to eat in informal groups, possibly in several rooms? Where will the bride, groom, mother and father of the bride and of the groom and the best man sit so that people can see and hear them give their speeches and toasts?

After the meal where will people dance?  Where will people chat?

I use The Top Table Planner to map out event areas. You can use it for one main room or tent or add other spaces including the backyard or garden. It’s very simple to use and to share with your daughter and her fiancee. You can keep playing with it until everything fits just right, decide on shape and size of tables, where the bar goes, where the food prep goes, where the dance area is and then you can allocate seats – if it’s a formal sit-down reception – to guests. It’s frankly invaluable. Here’s a link to their website where you can have a free trial.

Where will you, the bride and the bridesmaids get ready and can this room be closed to guests?  Where will you keep important or valuable things so that they are easily accessible to the bride and groom when they leave – for example their going-away/honeymoon clothes and suitcases, tickets, cash, keys, phones, emergency numbers and so on.

A bridal dress hanging up in a home bedroom

Can a tent or awning be erected?

If space is now starting to look cramped the simple solution is to add a temporary structure.  This can be a large awning covering a side of the house where there are French windows/patio doors that will open into it directly. If there is space in the garden then a full marquee or tent can be put up.  These come in lots of sizes. 

Here’s a post I’ve written recently with lots of useful information on how to choose a tent style and how to calculate the size you need plus examples of costs for USA and UK. Tents and marquees – styles, size calculation and costs.

I’ve made a short video about choosing a marquee. You can watch it on YouTube here.

Where will people dance?

You may have beautiful lawns surrounding your home but high heels and grass are a messy combination.  If you don’t envisage guests gyrating in your living room then you will need a dancefloor put down.  It doesn’t need to take the full guest list but reckon it needs to take at least 20% at any one time.

Read this post about types of temporary dance floor you can create at home. There are also detailled instructions for how to build a wooden dance floor which you can decorate to fit the wedding theme.

Will noise be a problem?

A small party indoors which you may be used to hosting will not be a worry but will people be outdoors especially as the evening draws on?  Chatter and laughing might sound great to you but not so wonderful to the next door neighbour trying to get her baby to sleep.  You will probably be having music, too.  Will that need to reach the garden?  How will neighbours feel about that? 

Are there enough toilets?

After champagne and food one thing is sure – everyone will want to visit the loo.  If they have to queue is there space to do this?  If there – God forbid – should be a blockage is there an alternative bathroom available?  You may need to plan for a portable loo or loos to be positioned on your property.  Is there the space?

For the lowdown on hiring portable toilets read my article on calculating how many toilets you need, what type to choose, and the cost.

Will you use a caterer?

If you do, then they will need somewhere to set up, plate up and rest.  They may bring a large van or truck for this.  If so, where will it go?  If you are not using a caterer where will you cook, serve, and stack used dishes?  Where will you store food before the day?  Is your fridge large enough?

If you are getting food delivered or catering yourself you will need people to serve the meal or attend to the buffet table. You will probably need someone to manage the bar as well. I’ve written a separate article about how many servers you need for a home wedding and what other staff you may need behind the scenes. How many servers do you need for a home wedding with 25, 60 or 150 guests?

For my video about this go to YouTube here.

What type of food will be served?

Finger food only?  A full buffet with main courses, desserts and possibly cheeses? Or do you want a sit down meal where plates of food are brought to each guest as the three, four or more courses are served.  Wines and water are normally placed on the tables every six to ten people but what if people ask for soft drinks?  Who will serve them or will guests disturb the table by getting up to fetch them themselves?  These decisions impact space requirements as well as catering needs.

Will guests be sitting at tables?

A more formal sit-down meal means all the tables should be grouped together to allow for easy service but also so that people all get to take part in the toasts.  If a buffet is the way you want to go, then where will the buffet tables be placed?  Courses can be on separate tables around the garden which will help a bit with queuing hassles.  Many people will want to sit down while they eat their buffet meal, especially older guests.  Where can they do this?  Will you have lots of small tables or one long refectory style table?

Will you rent tables, chairs, linen and glasses?

The simplest is to rent everything – tables, chairs, occasional seating and tables, dinnerware, cutlery, glasses and table linens. Or if your guest list is small you may already have these items or can borrow them from neighbours, friends and family.  But this means quite a bit more work both before and after the big day.  And you need to have somewhere to store these items too.

Will parking be a problem?

Look at the numbers on the guest list and imagine where they will all park.  Is it do-able?   Will it annoy your neighbours?  Will it take ages for everyone to get parked?  When planning the space needed remember that people will leave at different times and you don’t want any scrapes when people reverse out. Read my article on how to organize parking for a home wedding here.

How many young children are expected?

Where will they play?  Is there somewhere mothers can change babies without holding up the queue for the bathroom?  Will they eat on a separate table?  Do you have the space for a children’s quiet room where toddlers can take a nap or go to sleep before their parents are ready to leave?  If not, will parents leave earlier than you’d hoped? Will children roam around?  You need to look at your house and garden with a new eye – where are the safety hazards?  Swimming pool?  Kitchen? Access to a busy road?

Will you need outdoor heaters?

What time of year will the wedding take place?  Will it get cold in the evening?  Do you need to hire outdoor heaters?  Is there somewhere everyone can be out of the rain if the heavens open?

To find out about heaters for a tent or a small outside area read this post: How to heat a tent or marquee.

I’ve also made a short video. Watch the video on YouTube.

What help can you expect?

Even if you get a caterer or hire most things your home will be disrupted for quite a while.  All of this means work.  Who can you call on to help you?  Does your daughter live with you or locally?  Are the groom’s parents local? Are neighbours dying to pitch in?  Think realistically about what help you can rely on.  Don’t underestimate the amount of lifting and shifting needed.  Nor the cleaning and gardening before and after the event.  You don’t want to be exhausted on the day.

How will you deal with guests arriving early?

As it’s your home some people, especially family, will think it’s OK to turn up early.  This won’t happen if the marriage service is held nearby and guests are expected to go immediately to the reception.  But there’s usually a gap in proceedings to allow for photos and you’ll need that gap to get home and ensure all is ready.  Even if you make the time of the reception very clear to guests you must plan for elderly relatives needing somewhere to sit down and relax.  And they’ll choose your home for this.  Do you have someone who can look after them and keep them well out of your way while you attend to all your last minute tasks?

Will anyone need to sleep over before or after the wedding?

It’s going to be massively stressful to have relatives arrive a day or so before and take one of your bedrooms.  Even if you let them know that they must get their own breakfast and so on, they will probably have come a long distance to be with you and expect long chats in the evenings and meals to happen at regular times.  Then there may be some who need to stay over because it’s too late for them to get home, or they’ve drunk more than is safe or the children have all fallen asleep and they don’t want to wake them.

Again everyone will say they understand you are busy and they will be self-sufficient but, let’s be honest, that isn’t the way it will turn out.  If you use a venue then you can use your house for the long-lost relatives and the too-late-to-drive-homers will make their own plans.

What time will guests leave?

Is there a time you will go round to each guest and say you need them to leave?  How comfortable would you feel about doing that?  Presumably your daughter and husband will already be installed in a hotel somewhere ready to fly out on their honeymoon the next day, so you can’t ask for their help. 

What time is it fair on the neighbours to switch off the music and send people home?  You’ll be very tired and you’ll need to get up early to clear up the following day.  Two in the morning might seem reasonable to people in their twenties but not to you.

What is the theme of the reception?

This matters because it is much easier and cheaper to host a rustic theme than a glamorous one.  Get the theme sorted out before committing yourself.

Simple home wedding floral display of white roses in silver vases

What decorations and flowers will be needed?

Will the garden be in full bloom?  Will you be stocking the tables with cute little bunches of your own flowers in mason jars or jam jars or will there be a florist involved?  When will they set up the flowers?  Will they need a workspace beforehand?  If it’s mainly going to be the garden as beautiful backdrop will you need extra help during the spring to make sure things are looking at their best in June?  Who will mow the lawns or deep clean the hard areas the day before?

Read my article on making a wedding arch if you are doing the flowers yourself.

How will the reception be lit?

Will you hang fairy lights through the trees?  Who will do this? Anyway, you will still need more lighting.  Candles can be beautiful but dangerous.  Electric lights need cabling which may need to be secured to the ground or a wall.  Who will do this for you?  If the reception is held indoors you will not want the main lights on as this kills the mood.  Do you have enough side lights?

These are just brief notes.  If you decide to go ahead with planning a reception at your home then you will have lots of questions. I have written more detailed articles on many of these topics so take a look at them and the accompanying videos if you decide to hold a home or backyard wedding.

So what did my daughter and I decide to do?

My daughter and I considered using my home in France for the reception.  At first this seemed like a brilliant idea.  I live in a stunning chateau complex with beautiful well-kept gardens and fabulous views over the countryside.  The mayor’s office – which is where you need to do the legal marriage ceremony – is literally two minutes’ walk away.  The photos would be fabulous.  And I would feel involved and useful. 

We also thought it would save quite a lot of money.  But sadly, when we answered the 20 questions, we realised it was not going to save any money and at 70 I would probably be taking on too much to enjoy the occasion to the full.

As it turned out my daughter used a fabulous countryside venue in England and both the marriage ceremony and the reception could all be held there. The planning and decor were wonderful and everyone, including me, had a really excellent day. Just one hiccup – I had a flu attack and completely lost my voice. Just imagine if I had been organising that wedding at my home in France!

So be realistic about what you can achieve whilst still having a great time yourself. That said, a good home or backyard wedding is a memorable occasion.

If you will be celebrating in the UK here’s an article I researched and wrote about holding not just the reception but also the marriage service at home: Can you get married at home in the UK? Rules vary across the countries of the UK making it relatively easy to marry at home in Scotland but more difficult to do the same in England.

You’ll find masses of really useful information and advice in my posts collected in the Home Wedding category.

I’d love to hear from you in the Comments area below if you have specific questions about home and backyard weddings or if you have organized a reception at your home and can give us all some more tips.