When you start wedding planning, one of the first things to do is determine the size of your guest list. This decision will influence your wedding venue, which could even impact your wedding date. While many couples choose to have large celebrations filled with friends and family members from all walks of life, others decide to celebrate with a smaller list of attendees. Especially now as guidelines for large gatherings vary state by state due to Covid-19, more and more couples are opting for a small wedding – at least in the meantime. These more-intimate weddings, while smaller in attendance, can still be magnificent events – sometimes even more so than a large-scale fête.
Fewer attendees at a small wedding will likely mean more room in the spending limit to curate the entire experience to your liking, so have fun with it! Choose a venue for wedding events that may not have been possible with a larger guest list, or go all out with your wedding décor so your guests feel like every detail was planned with them in mind. You'll want to thank your loved ones for attending the celebration, and what better way to do so than by personalizing the celebration with awe-inspiring décor, delectable food and drink options, and surprise entertainment? These are just some of the ways you can maximize small weddings – see more small wedding ideas below!
1. Send Gorgeous Invitation Suites
While many couples choose to go the inexpensive route when it comes to invites for fewer guests, there is something to be said about gorgeous couture invitation suites that have been custom-designed for a couple and feature stylish elements and details that none of your guests will want to throw away. These works of art are more expensive, of course, but with a small guest list, you'll have fewer to send out, making the investment appealing to even those with a tight budget. Similarly, you can have more elaborate place cards, wedding signage, and other seemingly small details that will transform your intimate wedding into an exceptional event.
2. Host a Destination Wedding
If you have a smaller guest list and have the means, consider renting out a boutique hotel or a private estate to celebrate all weekend long with only your nearest and dearest on the property. Destination weddings are also typically smaller affairs – as not as many friends and family members will be able to travel for the festivities – so take the opportunity to plan a weekend full of events, provide activity recommendations for free time, and give your loved ones welcome bags in lieu of wedding favors to make them feel at home. Don't limit yourself to the wedding locations that may have accommodated a larger group – there are many venues for a wedding that cater to smaller guest lists.
3. Plan a Welcome Party or Provide Gift Bags
Similar to the destination wedding suggestions above, if your spending limit allows (and you may have some extra room in the budget solely due to a smaller guest list), consider hosting a welcome party for all of your guests before your small wedding ceremony. If you'd rather keep the night before your ceremony reserved for a rehearsal dinner with an even smaller list of attendees, consider leaving welcome gift bags filled with your favorite treats for attendees staying at the venue or nearby. Get creative with these! Unlike wedding favors that your friends and family may just throw away, we love when welcome bags feature items personal to the couple, the wedding location, and provide value for guests that they'll want to take home with them.
4. Have Exceptional Entertainment
One of our favorite small wedding ideas is to get creative with your entertainment to make the entire event a true experience for your guests. A smaller list of attendees means less of your budget needs to go towards food and beverage, so consider hiring more entertainment for your ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception. Have a string quartet or harpist perform during the vow exchange, hire a lounge singer or jazz band to play during cocktail hour, consider a live band for the reception whether you have a dance floor or not, as well as a DJ for the after-party. You could even have unique entertainment, including dancers, aerialists, animals, etc.
5. Find Ways to Personalize the Celebration
With fewer place settings, consider using your family's collection of china or antique glassware instead of rentals. This is another one of our favorite small wedding ideas that will make your small wedding even more unique. We've seen some couples who have even purchased the chairs, settees, or other décor for their intimate weddings and later place the items in their home to add a special touch they'll always remember after their small wedding celebration. It's also a great idea to handwrite a note for each attendee thanking them for coming and displaying it on their place setting or including it in their wedding welcome bag.
6. Focus on the Fare
Food and beverage can be some of the most expensive elements of planning a wedding, so with a smaller guest list of your nearest and dearest, you have the opportunity to create a menu for an intimate reception that no one will soon forget. Instead of a salad plus a choice of entrée, consider serving a five-course gourmet meal that focuses on delectable flavors, locally sourced ingredients, and wine or cocktail pairings. If you're going for a more laid-back style for your small wedding reception, some couples hire their favorite food truck to provide the fare for the cocktail hour hors d'oeuvres, reception dinner, or late-night snacks! If you're a lover of sweets, don't stop at the wedding cake – add a donut wall, a table of your favorite desserts, or even multiple wedding cake styles and flavors for your guests to choose from!
Photo by Jodee Debes Photography; Planning & Design by Tessa Lyn Events
7. Splurge on Libations
A small list of attendees also means you won't be spending as much on alcohol, so make the drinks memorable for those in attendance. Instead of serving only wine, beer, and well drinks plus a signature cocktail, purchase top-shelf liquor and hire mixologists to craft custom cocktails for your guests based on their preferred ingredients and flavor profiles. Similar to the food truck small-wedding ideas above, some couples choose to have a special bubbly bar at the ceremony, cocktail hour or reception, others have special whiskey tents complete with cigar rollers, or even special beer- or Champagne-tap trailers. For non-alcoholic options, another small wedding idea is to upgrade the soda selections to include fancy mocktails and also have a coffee station!
8. Sit Family-Style
If the venue for weddings allows, have all of your guests sit together for the reception so it will feel like a dinner party! Instead of placing your guests at various tables throughout the reception venue, consider having everyone sit at one, long table. This will make the space feel more intimate and as though your loved ones are attending a high-end dinner party. If you go with these small wedding ideas, it's still a good idea to make your rounds to each guest as those sitting at the ends of the table may not be able to converse with you easily.
9. Go Big with Décor
With fewer tables to dress, you can truly create centerpieces that look like they should be in a magazine. You could even craft a magnificent floral chandelier, have a flower wall as your ceremony backdrop, or any number of high-priced décor elements that you may not have been able to consider if you were decorating 20 tables. We've also been loving ceiling installations, whether they're above the head table, over the dance floor, or at an entrance.
Photo by Thisbe Grace Photography; Linens by Nüage Designs
10. Make Pre- and Post-Wedding Events More Memorable
In addition to the ceremony and reception, plan a variety of events throughout the weekend that your guests will talk about for years to come. Did you have a signature scent for your wedding? Consider attending a group class where guests can create their own fragrance. Did you serve delicious Italian food and wine in preparation for your upcoming honeymoon in Tuscany? Go wine tasting with loved ones the day after the wedding in lieu of a post-wedding brunch. Whatever you choose to do, make it personal!