How to Plan a Small Wedding

Small weddings still require big decisions. For those unsure how to start planning, we’ll walk you through the most important steps from start to finish.

By McCall Minnor

How to Plan a Small Wedding
Photo by Carretto Studio

The First Look ✨

  • First and foremost, allow yourself enough time to plan and then some, just in case something falls through or takes longer than expected.
  • Create and finalize a guest list then, search for and book a venue that accommodates your small group and feels special to you.
  • If you’re interested in hiring vendors—like caterers, photographers, hair and makeup, and entertainment—you’ll want to secure those next.

Even before COVID-19 altered countless couples’ wedding plans, small weddings were on the rise. Intimate gatherings with a limited guest list have become increasingly popular for their simplicity, affordability, and feelings of warmth and togetherness.

Whether you enjoy all the dressings of a traditional wedding or prefer something a bit more low key, we’re here to help you plan your small celebration. Unsure where to start? Below we walk through the most important steps to planning a small wedding from start to finish.

Types of Small Weddings

How to Plan a Small Wedding Photo Credit // Vie Cherie Photography

Micro-Wedding

Micro-weddings are, as their name would suggest, smaller versions of traditional weddings. They typically start with a ceremony and are then followed up by a cocktail hour and then a reception. Micro-weddings are ideal for couples who still want to include all of their favorite wedding day traditions, just on a smaller scale. Guest lists usually cap out at around 50 people, most often with 30 to 50 people in attendance.

Minimum

Minimonies are small gatherings of ten or fewer people. Guests most often include your closest loved ones, such as immediate family and best friends, your officiant, and your photographer. They typically consist of an intimate vow exchange and some group photos followed by a nice dinner in place of a large reception. With social distancing guidelines still in place in many locations, this is a great option for those who would rather considerably downsize their wedding than cancel or postpone it altogether.

Elopement

Elopements are the most intimate of unions, with only the couple, an officiant, and a witness (or a few) present. While plenty of elopements take place at a city hall, there are countless spots you can have yours. Misty mountains, secret beach inlets, museums, backyards, and even travel destinations are viable locations for this private marriage ceremony and celebration.

Give Yourself Enough Time

First and foremost, you need to allow yourself enough time to plan. Smaller weddings may not be huge, all-out affairs, but that doesn’t mean one can be planned in a day (or a week, or even a month in most cases). There are still at least a few big choices to be made and details to iron out.

Wedding planning takes a good deal of time—regardless of size. It’s a good idea to always allow at least a little more than you think you need. That way, if something falls through or takes longer than expected, you aren’t stressed and under the wire. Depending on your style of event, planning could take anywhere from six months to the average fifteen.

Create Your Guest List

Before jumping into logistics—be it the venue, dining, or decor—you need to first create and finalize your guest list. It’s generally understood that small weddings have 50 or fewer guests, though certain venues may limit you to less.

Depending on where you live, restrictions on gathering sizes may also be in place due to COVID-19. The good news: Given the circumstances, the loved ones who don’t cut aren’t as likely to take not being invited to heart. That being said, prioritize those you want to be present for your small ceremony. With it being more of a private celebration, ask yourself who you’d like to be there to witness and participate. Immediate family, such as parents and siblings, and your innermost circle of friends are usually great places to start.

Choose a Venue

How to Plan a Small Wedding Photo Credit // Tiffany Chapman Photography

Once your guest list is set, you can begin searching for a venue. Since you’re not limited to locations that can fit a large number of people, the world is your oyster. Unlike bigger weddings, you aren’t beholden to a sizable church or hotel and have the opportunity to think outside of the box. Match the intimate feel of smaller nuptials with an equally intimate atmosphere—think a family home, Airbnb, secluded spot in a beautiful park, or a classic courthouse. Or lean into something nontraditional, like your favorite restaurant, museums, historic buildings, and travel destinations.

Keep in mind that if you’re booking a venue, the 2021 calendar is likely to fill up fast due to the amount of 2020 couples wanting to re-book. Find and book your venue first, then go from there.

Book Your Vendors

Not all small weddings need vendors, but if you’d like them involved, you’ll want to secure those next. This includes, but isn’t limited to, catering, photography and videography, entertainment, hair and makeup, florists, decor, and your officiant.

Like venues, other vendors are likely to fill their 2021 calendars quickly, so it’s in your best interest to contact them fairly soon. Just make sure that you have your wedding date, number of guests, and venue information on hand when you reach out. Having this information beforehand will help immensely with figuring out availability and a price quote.

Hire a Wedding Coordinator

If you don’t have a wedding planner, we highly recommend hiring a wedding coordinator. Unlike planners who assist with the entire wedding planning process, coordinators do so in the final weeks leading up to your wedding. Some even help run the day of, so that you can enjoy the entire celebration without worrying about logistics. Overall, they help ensure that your wedding day runs smoothly. This includes communicating with your vendors, creating and managing the timeline, directing setup and teardown, and handling any problems that may come up. Whether you’re hosting 15 people or 50, a wedding coordinator is a great source of aid and reassurance.

Large or small, your wedding day is a celebration of you and your partner’s union. Therefore, it should be given all of the time and prep it needs to be everything you’d like. Although it may be smaller than others (or than you’d originally planned), it deserves (and often requires) just as much planning and attention to detail. When planning, stay organized, timely, and most of all, focus on creating your dream day with the people you love.

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