There are many benefits to having a small wedding. To get you started, here's our wedding planning checklist and things to consider.
There are plenty of benefits for planning a small wedding day. Rather than getting lost in a myriad of wedding details during the planning process, having fewer guests narrows the focus and helps to create a more intimate environment. In turn, you’re able to direct more energy into celebrating your love and impending partnership. Beyond that, there are other aspects such as saving money with fewer guests to spend on or opening up possibilities such as making a destination wedding and other activities more feasible to stage. Having a simple wedding with fewer guests also makes for a more relaxed wedding planning timeline—and a more stress-free planning process overall. (No need for a wedding planner here!)
If you’re planning something small and simple for your big day, we’ve created a checklist of important considerations and wedding ideas you’ll want to keep in mind so you can have the ultimate wedding—no matter how many (or few!) guests you ultimately decide to have:
Defining who is significant enough to cut to receive a wedding invitation is key to narrowing down your small wedding guest list. Whether they play an important role specifically to you as the bride and/or groom, narrowing the list isn’t necessarily about exclusivity. It’s about seeking to narrow the focus and magnify those within your life—as an individual or as a couple—who have been key to you in reaching this milestone, whether that be through personal growth and development, support, witness to key events, or whatever else.
So, before you get too far into wedding planning, narrow down which friends and family members you want to invite and finalize your guest count; that way, you know who to direct towards your wedding website, what RSVPs to expect, and where to put people on your wedding chart.
Your wedding style is the overall look and feel you want to capture at your wedding. And while it will, of course, play a large part in your decor and attire, it will also dictate pretty much every other part of the wedding planning process—from what reception venue to choose to what stylist and makeup artist you want to help you get ready on your big day, what florist you want to do your wedding flowers to wear to host the rehearsal dinner, what playlist you want your DJ to rock on the dance floor to what kind of wedding favors you want to give your guests.
Even though you’re having a small, simple wedding, you still want it to look and feel cohesive—and uniquely you. So, choose your wedding style from the get-go. For example, do you want to go with a classic, romantic wedding theme—or does something more modern feel like a better fit? Do you want to go big and bold—or do you want your style to feel more subtle and understated?
Once you’ve defined your wedding style, you can use it to dictate all of the rest of your wedding planning choices—from what dresses you want your bridesmaids and flower girls to wear to what kinds of linens you want on your reception tables.
Rather than needing a large hall or similar wedding venue that can accommodate a large crowd of 100 or more, a smaller wedding opens up the possibilities of where your ceremony and festivities can take place. Suddenly, a backyard wedding is in play because it can fit your entire guest list without overcrowding. A low-impact outdoor wedding is now possible too and packing out won’t be such a burden with a smaller wedding party. Suddenly, a destination wedding becomes more feasible with fewer guests.
With a wedding venue checklist, you can choose the location based on what fits your vibe, rather than have it primarily be driven by the numbers game of accommodating a larger crowd. Alternatively, you can still go big in terms of venue size. Perhaps, fill it however you see fit, playing with a small number of guests in an open space to create an atmosphere more akin to a contemporary art installation.
At a small, intimate wedding (or really, at any wedding!), all eyes are on the happy couple. It’s your own wedding; you deserve to look your best! As such, choosing your wedding attire is a hugely important step in the wedding planning process.
If you’re a bride, you’ll need to choose a wedding dress, wedding shoes, and any accessories, like a veil and wedding jewelry. Choose a dress that not only makes you feel amazing, but is in line with your overall wedding style (for example, if you’re having a casual backyard wedding, you wouldn’t want to get a dress that’s overly formal.) And keep in mind that you’ll need to leave enough time for your dress to be tailored; ideally, you’ll want to start looking for a dress at least six months before your special day.
If you’re a groom, you’ll need to look for a tux, a wedding suit, or another look that fits in line with your wedding style (for example, if you’re having a laid-back beach wedding, you might wear a linen shirt and slacks). Generally, grooms have more wiggle room in terms of shopping time—but don’t leave the task of finding your wedding outfit to the last minute. Give yourself at least a few months to lock in the perfect look (and get that look tailored, if needed).
If you’re having a bridal party, you’ll also want to lock in looks for the bridesmaids and groomsmen well before the wedding—ideally you’ll let them know what they need to wear at least a few months before the big day. That way, they have time to find their clothing, buy or rent the necessary items, and get them fitted and/or tailored as necessary.
Similar to venue choice, a smaller guest list often opens up dining options. Places that might not have the capacity to cater to a large wedding may now be available. Similarly, approaching favorite restaurants that don’t traditionally offer event catering may now be open to your smaller gathering.
Another benefit to a smaller wedding plan is that you’ll be paying for fewer people, thus fewer plates. This may enable you to save money in the budget overall or to splurge elsewhere. It also may mean that you can go gourmet since you’ll be spreading your wedding budget among fewer people, and you can opt for spendier catering than if you were feeding 100 people. (Just make sure to book a caterer who does tastings; that way, you can try the food before your wedding—and make sure it’s the right fit for you, your partner, and your guests.)
Curating an experience for your guests to participate in is more feasible with fewer guests. For example, a group rafting outing suddenly becomes more tenable when you’re able to fit the entire guest list on a flotilla of only three rafts. Planning for an on-the-go lunch is suddenly easier and more transportable, too. Perhaps a pre-wedding bonfire? A smaller guest list means you can see all of their faces around the flame of the campfire.
Whereas the bachelorette party and bachelor parties tend to be the only added, experiential component of a wedding other than the wedding ceremony and wedding reception itself, with a smaller guest list, you can create an experience all of your wedding guests can enjoy!
Will you have guests coming from out of town? Will your guests all be sequestered together at the destination of your choosing? With fewer guests, wedding tasks such as arranging accommodation becomes less of a headache. Maybe you’re having a getaway wedding, which requires your guests to travel out of town to attend. Whether or not you’re making reservations on behalf of your guests or if they’re handling them individually, trying to find enough availability is less of a hassle if there are fewer people that need bookings for your wedding date. Alternatively, it might make sense to rent out the entirety of a boutique hotel for all guests to stay at if your numbers are low enough. Having everyone in semi-communal housing during the event can help extend the experience to something more all-encompassing than merely a wedding ceremony, creating further opportunities for guests to bond.
Planning a small wedding can open up bigger possibilities that would otherwise be off the table with larger numbers. Lean into the aspect of it being small, and craft a special experience that allows you to highlight the best aspects of your relationship and share them with those closest to you.
Planning a more elaborate affair—or need more support and structure on your wedding planning journey? Make sure to check out Zola’s ultimate wedding planning checklist and timeline!
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