It happens to most brides at some point in the planning process. The thought “we should just do a simple backyard wedding” crosses your mind. While it is possible to have a simple backyard wedding, it’s often much more involved than most couples realize.
In this post, we’ll go over the unique things you need to think about when planning a backyard wedding. I do want to point out that the majority of these items will also pertain to a “unique venue” where you are responsible for bringing in all rentals, catering, and other services.
The one thing I find in common about many of these spaces is that couples find that it can be an easier or cheaper option than renting a more traditional banquet hall or hotel venue. And then they find out that there are a ton of extra details that they need to worry about.
Before we get into it, I want you to grab the free guide that I’m going to reference throughout this post. It's going to outline the step-by-step details that we're talking about here, as well as include a backyard wedding planning checklist.
All right, let's get started. Our first two steps are going to sound pretty familiar.
Step 1: Backyard Wedding Budget
Just like any wedding, you must discuss the budget first before you commit to anything else. The difference here is that a backyard or a unique wedding venue typically requires more vendors and logistics than you need to budget for. We'll get into the specifics with steps four and five, but the biggest cost for a backyard or unique venue is going to be the tent costs or the venue rental, the hard rentals, meaning tables, chairs, etc., and then the catering and bar service that includes the staffing that you'll need.
These items combined will typically make up about 40% to 50% of your budget, so an oversight in any of these areas can really throw things off significantly.
Step 2: Create your Guest List
Again, this one sounds a little bit familiar, but it's really important to make sure that you know how many people you'll be inviting to your wedding, and if your space can accommodate it.
If you're unsure if your backyard or space can accommodate the guest list that you're thinking about, have a rental company come out and determine the layout and capacity for the area. They can come out and measure the space and let you know what size tent you'll need and how many people can fit under that tent. F
Step 3: Determine your Location Needs
Most couples planning a wedding at a unique venue start with a specific location in mind, like your backyard or a certain space at a family home. People often underestimate how much room they're going to need and forget key elements that you need to host an event at home.
Let's talk about some of those now.
Will you need different areas for the ceremony, cocktail hour dinner and dancing? How will the guests transition from one area to the next?
Do you have room for food service, like a catering prep area or buffet tables? I typically recommend a separate tent, but some caters are able to work out of the house or their catering trucks. Either way, the area needs to be easily accessible for them and easy for them to leave after dinner and not have to drive across a dance floor or a packed tent.
Will you need to bring in restroom trailers? I recommend one toilet per 50 guests. And if you don't want people inside the house, or maybe you're going to have more people than the bathrooms in the house can accommodate, you will need to bring in trailers. (I will say that the portable restroom industry has significantly upped its game in the last few years. There are some really nice restroom trailers that you can rent. Your guests won't even know that they're in a bathroom trailer. Now, of course, these come at an extra cost, so we'll want to make sure to add that into the budget.)
Is there electrical and water access in the spots that you need? So for catering prep, those restroom trailers, the band or DJ, lighting for the tent, lighting for main pathways, etc. Make sure you know where those electrical access points are and let your vendors know.
Is there an accessible parking area for the guests or for valet to park? You'll typically have one car per two guests, but don't forget the vendors will also need their cars close by.
Check with your city for details on noise ordinances. You'll typically find that amplified music needs to stop at a certain time, but you can continue the party a little bit after that. Honestly, it all comes down to your neighbors, which brings us to
If you're worried about crabby neighbors, get ahead of it by offering them an invitation to the party. Chances are though if they're crabby neighbors, you don't want them at your parties. So what we've done in the past is we've offered to pay for a hotel for them for the night so they can enjoy a nice staycation and you can avoid the noise complaints, shutting down the party.
Make sure to have a backup plan for bad weather. Ideally, you will not need to use it, but if you don't have a plan for where the guests will go if mother nature does not cooperate, you're taking a huge risk that can't easily be addressed last minute.
Step 4: Determine What Rental Items you Need
Organizing and booking your rental items is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to hosting an event at home or a unique venue.
The main items that couples need are going to be:
Tent(s) for possible rain, but also for shade on sunny days
Tables (guest tables, catering prep, food service cocktail tables, etc)
Chairs for both the ceremony and the reception,
Linens (both tablecloths and napkins)
Service ware (plates, dishes, silverware, flatware, and all of those details that you'll need for the actual food service.
Step 5: Determining What Staffing Help you Will Need.
When your wedding is being held in a traditional venue, like a banquet hall or a hotel, you don't need to worry about staffing for the event. When you opt to have your wedding in your backyard or a unique space, you will need to bring in all of those staff members.
Now, sometimes most of this is going to be covered by your catering team, but make sure that you have this conversation with them ahead of time to ensure that everything is covered. So you're going to need a catering company and a chef, wait staff that stays through the end of the night to bus the tables and clear the trash, and licensed bartenders (I recommend one bartender per 75 guests).
You're going to need to make sure that you have somebody to set things up and to tear it down. If you're having the event at your house, I would highly recommend hiring a team to clean the house earlier in that week. You may also want to consider a valet team, somebody for coat check depending on the season of your wedding, and security if applicable.
Step 6: Create your Layout
Please do not just sketch out a layout by hand. It's likely that things will take up more space than you anticipated. So while that's a great way to start, make sure that you do have some kind of system that is putting things together by scale, because likely you're going to think you can fit a lot more items in the space than is actual reality.
While you're putting this together, I want you to remember these things that are commonly left off of layouts:
Place card table, or a spot for your seating chart
The bar and space for a bar back table and guests traffic/lines (So make sure the bar isn't put right next to one of the guests tables)
Dance floor or space for dancing (I recommend you start with a 12 by 12 space and anywhere up to 30 by 30 would be a very good size dance floor)
A catering prep area, check with the caterer to see how much room they need, and if they need any tables for their prep.
If you're assigning seats for the guests, make sure that you assign table numbers on your layout. It is a very easy thing to miss.
Coffee and water stations, as well as a dessert station
Table or a spot for your DJ or your band.
Step 7: Setup and Tear Down Logistics
As you're getting your quotes from the rental companies, you're going to see that most companies will include drop off only, except for the tents.
This means that you'll be responsible for setting up and tearing down all of the tables, chairs, and other rentals. It seems simple, but it can be a very time-consuming task.
Here are some tips to help you save either money, time or sanity, hopefully a mix of all three:
For setup, you can typically arrange to have the delivery of the main items (so the tent tables, linens, chairs) have that set up a couple of days before the wedding and picked up a couple of days after.
If you have family and friends around, you can save quite a bit of money by doing the setup yourselves, if not, it is worth adding in that extra setup fee so you're not running around and doing that last minute on the day of the event.
Make sure that you give a copy of the layout to whoever will be in charge of the setup and discuss any possible alternatives that may need to happen.
For tear down, make sure to clarify with your rental company what their expectation is at the time of pickup. Do the tables need to be stacked by the driveway or will they take them and fold them down from under the tent? Can the chairs be left set up under the tent? Many companies have extra fees if they arrive and they're not ready to be loaded up on the truck.
Don't forget about the trash at the end of the night. It may be tempting to say you'll take care of it the next day, but the mess that a few critters can make overnight can be significant. So if your caterer is not staying to handle this through the end of the event, make sure you have a plan for where the trash will go and who will be taking care of it throughout the event.
And timing. If you are at a unique venue, make sure you have a clear understanding of what their setup and tear down timeline is. If you only have a couple of hours for setup and an hour or so for tear down, you'll most likely need to hire somebody to help make it happen in that allotted time. The tasks often take much longer than you anticipate, and you don't want to be running late on the wedding day or be hit with additional fees at the end of the night if you go overtime with your venue.
Okay, I know I just threw a lot of information at you guys, but don’t stress out! Take it one step at a time, and it will all come together.