7 Small Wedding Reception Ideas

Hosting a small reception opens your celebration up to a lot more options. For those planning an intimate event, we’ve gathered seven can’t-miss ideas for your celebration.

By McCall Minnor

Small Wedding Reception Ideas
Photo by Rachel Havel Photography

The First Look ✨

  • When limiting your reception to a handful of people, your location options open up. Think fewer hotels and more gardens, wineries, restaurants, cozy backyards, and even museums.
  • Dedicate more time and effort to small details, like personalized decor, handwritten notes, and special china to make your gathering feel more intimate.
  • Since large-scale catering isn’t necessary, rethink how you can serve food,from indulgent fine dining to food trucks or even a potluck.

The saying may be bigger is better, but there are plenty of advantages to hosting a small reception. Not only does keeping a small guest count allow you to do things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to (like booking a unique venue or having custom dining), but it allows you to personalize everything down to the smallest detail. For those considering a smaller soiree, we’ve gathered our top seven wedding reception ideas to make your small celebration an unforgettable one.

Choose a Special Location

Your location has a huge impact on your intimate affair—and with a small guest list, your options drastically open up. Rather than limit yourself to your typical reception venues, allow yourself to think outside of the box (or ballroom). Invite your loved ones to a garden party, backyard bonfire, or rooftop dinner with the best views of the city. Book a private space at your favorite winery, museum, or treasured restaurant.

For a spot that’s stunning, cozy, and low-prep, you can also rent out a beautiful Airbnb in your area of choice. When you limit your reception to a handful of people (or thirty), all of these become much more manageable. With endless options, ask yourself where you imagine your dream wedding celebration taking place—no limitations. Also, take a look at spots that are special to your relationship. Where you met, got engaged, or created special memories is a great place to start.

Focus on the Details

It’s all in the details, especially when it comes to a small gathering. With a shorter guest list, you can dedicate a lot more time and think about the little things. Have fun with the decor and surprise elements that’ll especially delight everyone—from handwritten welcome notes, to place cards, to centerpieces.

For example, use your family’s special china or silverware in place of rented pieces or order custom glasses with each guest’s initials monogrammed on them. Make it even more personal, and ask any crafty friends or family members if they’d like to help decorate instead of buying a wedding gift. These types of personal touches make an intimate gathering even more noteworthy and memorable.

Put Together Thoughtful Wedding Favors

With a small reception, one detail that can afford a personal approach is your wedding favors. Because fewer people equals fewer favors, your focus doesn’t need to be on cost. You can prioritize thoughtfulness a little more than you might be able to with a larger crowd. Some of our favorite wedding favor or welcome box ideas include sparkling shot glasses, a candle and personalized matchsticks, and a fun, on-theme bottle opener. Finish each favor off with a handwritten thank you note and notice how many guests appreciate your great gifting.

Get Creative With Seating

7 Small Wedding Reception Ideas Photo Credit // Lauren Reynolds Photography

Small wedding receptions allow everyone to be close and celebrate together. Lean into this idea by ditching spaced out tables and getting creative with your seating. If possible, go communal and host everyone at one big table for your meal. This gives off a wonderfully intimate family get-together feel and is inclusive to all in attendance. It also assures that you’ll be able to spend an abundance of time talking to everyone. If not everyone can fit at one table (or you’d rather not hunt down a very long one), try arranging a few nearby. Horseshoe, U-shape, and hollow square formations with the couple at the head work perfectly to keep everyone together.

For a more casual atmosphere, consider creating a living room-like set up by arranging a combination of armchairs, sofas, and smaller tables. While renting furniture is more expensive than your standard tables and chairs, keep in mind that you won’t need much to host a group on the small side.

Have an Open Mic

Speeches are a notable part of any wedding reception. Take advantage of a smaller guest count by opening up the speeches to anyone who’d like to say a few words in honor of the newlywed couple. If you’re all seated together, you can go around the table or simply ask anyone who wants to speak to stand (no need for glass clinking every couple of minutes). Just be sure to have someone keep track of a time limit if you’d like to impose one—and be prepared for any jokes or stories your loved ones might share.

The newly married couple can also take advantage of an open mic situation by taking a few minutes to thank everyone in attendance. If you have a small enough group, we highly recommend going around the table to thank each person individually. Share how you know each other, what your relationship with them means to you, and how thankful you are that they’re there to celebrate your wedding.

Rethink Food

Large-scale catering isn’t a necessity when it comes to a small reception. That being said, there’s an opportunity to branch out and break from tradition where the food is concerned. On one hand, because you aren’t hosting many people, you can go all out and indulge in fine dining. Perhaps a high-end meal and flowing Champagne is too lavish for 100-plus guests, but for a much smaller group, it becomes a possibility. A lower guest count also means you can get a bit more creative with what’s served, rather than trying to please as many people as possible. Select or create splendid dishes, add in more courses, or include more options on the menu. You can also branch out with drinks with a unique wine or cocktail selection.

For a reception that isn’t so fancy, consider hiring a couple of food trucks or hosting a potluck. Both are highly customizable options that are nice and easy to coordinate, so you won’t be stressing on the day of. Looking for something in between? Call a few weeks ahead and book a private room at a nice restaurant. Just make sure you look over the menu available to you and confirm the number of people you’ll be bringing.

Reimagine Entertainment

Like food, a small crowd allows you to be open to more unique entertainment options. For one, you can stick with the usual live band or deejay. Regardless of crowd size, these entertainers are guaranteed to put on a good show and get everybody dancing. If you’re going for something a bit more low key—and, frankly, less costly—you can also put together your playlist. It’s as easy as hooking your phone or laptop up to some speakers (rented, if need be) and letting it play. However, if busting a move isn’t quite your goal, you have plenty of other options. For a more relaxed sit-down or hangout, look into local musicians (such as a string quartet or harpist) that can provide a beautiful backing track to your gathering.

Beyond musical acts, consider entertainment and activities that’ll be fun for you and the group. Photo booths, live painters, yard games, DIY dessert or cocktail tables, and even fireworks (if you can pull that off) are just some fun ways to tailor your guest experience.

7 Small Wedding Reception Ideas Photo Credit // Sasha Haagensen Photography

Backyard picnic or upscale affair, your reception is all about celebrating your marriage and the love between you and your spouse. Having a small reception only emphasizes this with your closest loved ones all around. When planning, take into account how you want to enjoy your special day, as well as what you want your loved ones to remember most. From the big ideas to the smallest details, take advantage of the smaller size and make it your own.

Simplify Your Wedding Planning at Zola