While exhibiting at a wedding show this weekend I had some great conversations with couples about their upcoming celebrations. I was surprised to learn the majority were planning backyard weddings. Curious to get feedback from my fellow industry pros – I asked around. They said the same. Backyard weddings are on the rise!
Let me tell you, I couldn’t be happier. As an event planner, I love at-home weddings. I’m not sure if it’s the intimate vibe, the endless DIY opportunities or the fact that I binged watched “Father of the Bride” my entire early childhood. That being said, backyard weddings are A LOT of work. In fact – they are often the hardest weddings to plan and execute.
If you’re in the middle of planning one you may be feeling this pain. It’s difficult to fully anticipate all of the details needed to pull off a backyard celebration. Often times, mid-way through the planning unanticipated costs and logistics add up – forcing couples to have to make concessions, later on, to stay in budget. But fear not lovelies! Planning your wedding doesn’t have to result in chaos and confusion. I’m here today to share 12 essential steps for the perfect backyard wedding.
And hopefully, with these steps in your planning toolkit, no one will end up in a wedding-stress rage yelling at the grocery store clerk about the hot dog to hot dog bun ratio – (but seriously, watch the movie).
1. Get Rental Quotes Before You Commit (To The Backyard)
Many couples opt for a backyard wedding with the goal of saving money. While it’s possible to have an amazing budget-friendly backyard wedding these celebrations are often more expensive than their venue-based counterparts. Why? Most venues already own their own table, chairs, china, glassware, etc. When you’re planning in your backyard you’ll be renting most of these items. Additionally, a quality tent is essential – and often carries the highest price tag.
A good rental company is the backbone of a successful backyard wedding. Source a well-reputed rental company that carries a wide range of products and get a full rental quote for your wedding. Your rental coordinator will guide you on selecting and sizing a tent, advise on patterns and fabrics that match your vision and ensure your rental list contains all the items you will need – including any items you may have forgotten.
I always recommend clients ask their rental companies for a site visit either before or immediately after booking their services. Their perspective on the property is crucial. Even something as small as the width of the driveway or the slope of the land can make a huge difference in estimating rental costs.
2. Treat the Property Right
When deciding to have a backyard wedding it’s important to establish clear expectations and guidelines with the property owners (if the property isn’t yours). Since this location is likely sentimental, you’ll want to make sure your wedding is respectful of the property and grounds.
Evaluate the landscaping needs of the property early on – making a plan for grass treatment and establishing what (if any) plants you’d like to be blooming at the time of your wedding. I provided day-of coordination for clients who had beautiful flowering annuals put in a week prior to the wedding and there was not enough time for them to root. One cold night killed off most of the plants and there wasn’t enough time to replace them before the big day. While last minute landscaping like mowing and weeding is important – the majority of the grounds work should happen six month – or more – in advance.
Lastly – don’t forget the inside! In addition to childproofing (if there will be kids in attendance) and tucking away breakables, scheduling a professional house cleaning the week of the wedding takes one thing off your list (or takes pressure off the property owners if the place isn’t yours).
3. Get Your Permits In a Row & Love Your Neighbors
It is important to contact some key players once you’ve committed to a backyard wedding. Call your city or town hall, local police department, and fire department first to make sure you have any required permits and are aware of any noise ordinances in your area.
Next, contact your insurance company (or have the property owners contact theirs). See what your homeowner’s insurance covers and talk with your agent to determine if you need to increase your liability limit. This is a good option to consider if you are providing your own bar services. In some instances, you may want to consider adding liquor liability insurance. Hiring TIPS certified bartenders is a key way to ensure your guests are being served safely and helps protect you, the hosts, in case there are any accidents. Purchasing special event insurance may be a good idea depending on the scope of your wedding.
If you’re renting a tent – coordinate with your rental company to determine if they will contact DigSafe and/or public utility companies or if you need to. It is important to make sure your tent (if it’s staked) won’t hit any public utility lines. You’ll also want to make sure any private utiliities like an underground sprinkler system, septic tank or private well are not going to interfere with your tenting and setup needs.
Once you’ve covered those basics it’s a good time to get a hold of your neighbors. Let them know your plans and timing for the wedding including the timing of the ceremony (so they don’t run noisy lawnmowers at that time). A small gift for neighbors you’re close with (if they aren’t invited) goes a long way. Encourage them to call or stop by to let you know if the noise gets too loud – better to offer them a glass of wine to smooth the frustration than have them call the police.
Lastly, if you’ve already hired an officiant, make sure that they can legally marry you in your chosen location! After all this work you want to make sure you and your sweetie get to make it official.
4. Evaluate Your Electrical Needs
Most homes can’t handle the electrical needs of a wedding. Hire an electrician to do a site inspection of your home. Get clear information from your caterer, DJ/band, lighting company and any other vendors regarding their needs for power.
A site inspection and a clear idea of power needs will help you decide if a generator is right for your event (which is most of the time). Make sure to use a non-inverter generator that provides twice what you anticipate you will need for power (read more about anticipating your electrical needs here). Don’t forget to consider placement and noise when selecting a generator. I once provided day-of coordination for a wedding where the rental company could only place the generator near the ceremony due to the layout of the yard. During setup we realized the sound from the generator would drown out the ceremony. The client asked for us to turn off the generator – cutting power for close to an hour while the ceremony took place. While the vendor team were total pros and adapted on the fly to this unexpected change it was complicated logistics to manage – even for a planner!
If you plan to supplement power from your home with extension cords make sure you are using the appropriate cord length and wire gauge to avoid burning out any equipment. Have a sense of the circuit breakdown of your home to avoid overloading any one circuit (keeping blueprints on hand is always a good idea). Discussing electricity certainly isn’t as glamorous as discussing romantic photography or your dream wedding ring – but it’s an often overlooked component of backyard weddings that can make or break a couple’s experience on the big day.
5. The Lowdown on Restrooms
Since most residential restrooms can’t handle the … well… amount of flushes a wedding requires, supplemental restrooms are something you need to consider. We get it – who wants to think about port-a-potties when planning a wedding? Good news is that portable restroom options are incredible these days. If simple port-a-potties aren’t your thing there is a wide variety of restroom trailers to consider. These trailers can have individual stalls, fully flushing toilets, hot water, a sizeable vanity, and even air conditioning! When planning your restroom needs you’ll want to factor one restroom for every 35 guests and estimate about 3 bathroom trips per person. Costs on restroom trailers can range widely.
When selecting a restroom trailer company make sure to let them know the number of days you want access to the trailer. If you have family and friends on site for multiple days to help with setup and breakdown you’ll want the trailer unlocked for a longer timeframe. Concerned about keeping the trailer stocked and tidy throughout the event? Ask the trailer rental company if they provide an attendant (many do!).
Finally, when placing your restroom trailer it’s customary to keep it in a discreet location, but one that isn’t too far from your tent. It’s important to have the trailer placed near your source of water and electricity as the trailer will need to be hooked into both. Once set up a few lanterns, some potted plants and a cute sign go a long way to dress up your loo.
6. Light It Up
One huge benefit to a backyard wedding is you can hang as much lighting as you want and you can do this setup in advance. Backyard weddings shine with romantic lighting strung in trees and along tent walls. Most properties have focal points that you’ll want to highlight with pin spots or string lighting. If you’re utilizing candles make sure they are well enclosed as to not blow out – and try to avoid tall taper candles that can tip over and become dangerous. Also, It’s important to provide lighting around the restroom, parking area and any walkways for guests. These can be inexpensive and done yourself – but having well-lit pathways is both magical and practical.
7. Plan For The Weather
This seems obvious, but it’s worth elaborating on. Weather can be variable no matter where you live. Over preparing for the weather means that you’ll have one less thing to worry about week-of as you’re obsessively checking your favorite weather app.
With a backyard wedding, it’s helpful to start with your ideal weather and work backward on picking your date from there. Time of day is also crucial – avoid planning your ceremony during peak sun intensity or scheduling partying too late when temperatures drop off (unless you’ve rented heaters – then party on!). When evaluating whether your backyard of choice is a good fit observe the area on a rainy day. How long does the ground stay wet? Where does it flood?
Having a plan B is crucial. Can you relocate your ceremony or cocktail hour to the house or under the tent if you need to? If you’re really dreaming of being outside – get quotes on tenting the ceremony and any cocktail areas.
When planning your rentals be sure you have a quality tent that includes sides. Have them install them from the beginning or leave them off and have them show you how to put them up (it’s super easy!) in case you need some protection unexpectedly. The weather should also factor in when planning and crafting your decor. Your escort cards and table numbers need to be heavy enough or well reinforced to not blow away in the wind. Arm your decor setup crew (i.e., your friends and family) with quality tape and a pack of tent stakes for securing decor pieces – they’ll definitely need them.
We’ll talk later about taking care of your guests in case the weather doesn’t cooperate – but let’s talk about you. It is your day lovebirds! Make sure you have a wrap or sweater that you love with your dress. Buying a cute parasol for photos with your sweetie makes the most of a rainy day. Don’t want your dress to drag in the dirt? Opt for a cocktail length, or have your bustle bring the dress up high enough to not get muddy.
8. Prepare Your Vendors For Success
Happy vendors on your wedding day is key. They are working hard to make your dream a reality and outdoor weddings present special considerations for them both day-of and during the planning process.
Ask your vendors to do a site visit of the property. Have them evaluate what they will need and make sure they include any necessary items (a cook’s tent with rented cooking equipment for the caterer, extra electricity and tenting for the DJ, etc.) in their cost estimates.
It’s important to be flexible! Quality vendors will be honest with you when something may be tricky for a backyard celebration (for example: a plated dinner with no rented cooking equipment). Pick their brain on ways to get close to your vision or have them suggest alternatives that will be a success.
Keep your vendors in the loop on all of your backup plans and give them clear information as to what to expect. Have a plan for their parking, setup, and breakdown. Make sure any service areas are well lit and protected from the elements. Most vendors make sure they take care of their equipment and staff already – but extra consideration from the bride and groom will make them even more eager to go above and beyond for you on your wedding day.
9. Have a Transportation Plan
It’s essential to consider your parking options for your guests. A solid transportation plan eases stress and chaos the day of your wedding. If your property has enough room to park all your guests you’ll want to consider the wear and tear on the property. Designate a clear area for parking that is well marked from the road and well lit at night. Hiring a friend or professional to serve as a parking attendant reduces guest parking headaches.
If lawn parking isn’t an option you can consider street parking. Of course, you’ll want to evaluate if this is safe for guests (especially at night). It’s important to inform your neighbors and call your city or town to make sure you don’t need any permits.
Lastly, you can always consider providing transportation for your guests. If many guests are staying at area hotels check in on the shuttle options they can provide. Alternatively, you can contact a nearby business or church to see if parking is an option and shuttle your guests from there. If you are providing a shuttle or buses for your guests you’ll want to allow thirty minutes prior to your ceremony for the last bus or shuttle to arrive. Guests always appreciate a schedule of transportation at the end of the night for those with kids or who need to depart before the end of the celebrations.
A final note on transportation: don’t forget about your vendors! As mentioned in the vendor step a solid transportation plan needs to include parking arrangements for your vendors and their staff. Communicate with your vendors early to determine the access they need for setup, breakdown, and parking.
10. Imagine The Guest Experience
Backyard weddings allow a comfortable intimacy with your guests. You get to share a place that is special to you and your fiancee with all the people you love most. In addition to wanting to see you two tie the knot, your guests also want to know what to expect when attending your wedding.
If your ceremony is slated to be outside, have a solid plan B that keeps guests dry and warm in case the weather turns bad. If planning your wedding in summer, be sure your ceremony location has some shade or is brief enough for guests to be able to tolerate the hot sun. Water stations in hot months and warm beverage stations in cool months are great ceremony additions. Relief stations with bug spray and sunscreen are always appreciated.
Your wedding website is a great way to let guests know what to bring and keep them updated on any inclement weather. Think they might want a shawl, flats or an umbrella? Let them know. Alternatively, provide these items for your guests. Baskets of rubber heel protectors upon arrival, shawls as favors, fans as programs and flip flops on the dance floor are thoughtful touches that are practical and personal.
Lastly, never underestimate the importance of heaters and fans. Don’t wait to reserve these items. If there’s a chance the night (or day) may be chilly it’s so important to rent adequate heaters for the tent and any cocktail areas. Fans provide much needed air movement for tents and barn venues without cooling systems.
11. Consider a Planner
As an event planner and coordinator, I am aware of my biases here. However, if there was ever a time to consider a planner or coordinator, this is it. A good planner can help guide you through all the above steps (and more) or handle them for you entirely so you don’t have to. These logistics can get complicated and require consistent communication with your vendors. A professional planner can save you a LOT of time by orchestrating these technical details and using their professional knowledge and connections to keep your event on budget.
If you work with a planner (and even if you don’t) it’s helpful to consider day-of or month-of coordination services. Unlike a venue that often has an in-house coordinator, there’s no built-in option for at home weddings. A skilled coordinator will be able to oversee the installation, setup, and breakdown of all your rentals and vendors. Additionally, they can provide the traditional coordination services like queuing the ceremony and reception, establishing a day of timeline and acting as a point person for all of your guests.
12. Make it Yours!
Having a backyard wedding allows you so many opportunities to personalize every element of your wedding. Display your favorite mementos and photos of you and your fiancee’s love story throughout the house. Carry the warm, cozy vibe from the house into your reception by setting up framed photos of family and friends on guest tables or dessert stations. Help guests get to know each other by setting up homemade lawn games to get the party started and an outdoor lounge area with a fire pit and s’more station to relax at the end of the evening.
Ok, loves. Reading this guide may make you feel like a backyard wedding is too much work. Sure, there is a lot of things to consider and plan but in the end, it will 100% be worth it. There’s nothing as special as getting married in a place you cherish with all the people you love around you. Your backyard wedding can be as magical as you imagine. You don’t have to do this alone! Use these practical steps to get you closer to the wedding of your dreams. You deserve a wedding day that is stress-free, full of magic, and focused only on love and celebration. Congratulations!
Bonus! Are your eyes bleeding from too much technical advice? Mine too. Check out our backyard weddings pinterest guide here for all things beautiful and DIY. We promise there’s only a few pictures of restroom trailers.