Some of the most amazing locations we’ve ever planned weddings at have been the home, backyard, or ranch of the bride and groom or one of their family members. There are few things more special than the ground beneath your feet telling part of the story. The sentimentality of a wedding at a private residence is unparalleled and irreplaceable, and we jump at virtually any chance we get to be part of one.
With that said, here’s the deal – it’s a common misconception that hosting a “backyard wedding” will be easier and/or cheaper than booking a venue. Simply put, venues are designed and built for large events – homes are not. This is often underestimated and cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, this misconception leaves far too many couples miserable in their wedding planning process. They wind up surprised by logistics and expenses they didn’t know to expect.
I hope to shed light on the planning and preparation required for a private estate wedding so you are informed about what lies ahead and equipped to tackle what it takes to make your vision a reality!
So without further ado, let’s talk logistics.
Large events draw more power than most homes are capable of supplying. There needs to be enough power for the caterer, the DJ, and additional lighting. This means you need to bring in a generator and necessary equipment to distribute power to the various areas of the property. Knowing where the gas valves and electrical panel is also crucially important.
There needs to be water suitable for drinking, hand washing, and cooking. The water on property may or may not be suitable for any or all of these purposes. If it’s not, then water will need to be brought in, either by you as the host, the caterer, or the bar. If it is, you’ll need to determine where the hose bibs (aka water spigots) are located around the property and have hoses available that are long enough to reach the areas that need water, and without being a trip hazard.
You need enough space for guests and vendors to park. The rule of thumb is about 1 car per 2 guests, plus vendors. You’ll also want to make sure that cars will not be in sight during the event (and in photos). If there isn’t enough space on property, you could have guests park at a large lot nearby. A neighborhood school is typically a great solution since there won’t be many, if any, cars in their parking lot on a Saturday. This, of course, needs to be approved by the school. The next step is arranging either a valet service to get vehicles to and from the guests, or a shuttle service to get guests to and from their cars, or both so that guests have an option between the two. You’ll need parking attendants and/or informational signage at the parking lot to let guests know where to go, what time they can expect the shuttle to loop back, etc.
The rule of thumb is about 1 restroom per 30-50 guests. That means you’d need at least 2 restrooms available for 100 guests. Even if there are 2 restrooms available in the house, the plumbing in a residence cannot usually handle 50+ people using the restroom for hours and, more often than not, the homeowner doesn’t wants guests and vendors walking in and out to use the restroom.
So, you probably need to rent mobile restrooms (aka porta-potties). If you’re thinking about the blue ones that don’t flush, don’t worry – I’m talking about ones with much better amenities. They are trailers that have running water, power, and A/C. Oh, and fun fact: they have mirrors too. The trailers do have stairs up to each stall, so be sure to get one that is ADA compliant if any of your guests have limited mobility. There are fewer of those models available in inventory, so reserve it as early as you can.
If you’re going to plan on guests using the home’s restroom, make sure you stock up on toilet paper! And, we don’t recommend a cloth towel for drying hands since so many people will be using it that it gets wet and becomes useless pretty quick.
Most residences have trash and recycling bins that accommodate a household just fine, but the waste of a wedding typically fills a commercial dumpster. (*cringe* Sorry, planet!) You have a couple options here. You could rent a dumpster from Waste Management which they will drop off before the wedding and pick up after (info about that here). You could also pay the caterer a haul-off fee for them to pack up the garbage and take it with them at the end of the night. You need garbage cans throughout the event space too, in the catering prep area, at the bar, and in a few places for guests to use as needed.
While there may be adequate lighting for the main event spaces, there are several other places that may need to be supplemented. The most commonly forgotten of these are pathways, tented spaces, and dark corners. You may also want to bring in specialty lighting to create your desired aesthetic (i.e. market lighting throughout, twinkle lights in trees, chandeliers overhead, etc.).
Believe me when I say, if there was a way to control the weather, a wedding planner would have discovered it by now. Since there are no guarantees that rain, snow, wind, or heat won’t be an issue on wedding day, there needs to be a Plan B, just in case.
In addition to a contingency plan in case the weather prevents the wedding from happening at all as originally planned, you need to bring in things that will help keep people comfortable outdoors like market umbrellas or patio heaters (or both).
Most counties enforce a noise ordinance that prohibits noise above a certain level past a certain time. If you plan to end the party before that time, great. If not, and you have neighbors nearby that may not be cool with the music blaring into the night, consider popping by to give them a heads up so they have the chance to share any concerns with you at that point and have your phone number if anything comes up the night of the wedding rather than calling the cops (or, ya know, resenting you forever).
You need to be covered for any property damage or personal injury that may occur during the event. You can get a a one-day policy through companies like Event Helper. If there is a pool in the backyard, we highly recommend covering it with plexiglass or something similar so that it can be walked across (and not fallen into – better safe than sorry!).
Venue grounds are consistently maintained to be ready for events each weekend. However, the property you intend to use for the wedding likely needs some TLC to get it wedding-ready. Get started as soon as possible on the projects or decide how you will disguise unsightly areas (pro tip: pipe and drape works fine, but hedge walls are perfect for this!).
Be sure to consider things like leveling the ground so no one twists their ankle in a pot hole; putting new grass down or planting fresh flowers; scheduling a visit from pest control to prevent unwelcome guests crashing the party (i.e. flies, wasps, mosquitos, etc.) Double check that any renovations are HOA-compliant if applicable.
Discuss the homeowner’s expectations about guests and vendors walking on the grass because, while venues were designed with events in mind so there is rarely a concern about this, the same can’t always be said about the backyard of someone’s home, so have this conversation early. Something else to know is that most rental companies require that you turn the sprinklers off 2-3 days before the wedding if you’re having them install a dance floor because wet grass will ruin it.
If ever there was a time someone would want their home to be sparkling clean, it’s when there are going to be 50+ people coming over, so hiring a professional cleaning service beforehand is a great idea. And, if ever there was a time someone wouldn’t want to have to clean their home, it’s when there were 50+ people over, so it’s also a great idea to have the cleaning service come back afterward.
In addition to the areas of the property you intend to use for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception, you need to determine where a few other things will be. The first is the catering prep and cleanup area. This should be somewhere out of sight from guests and, ideally, out of earshot as well. You don’t want the sound of clanking dishes to distract anyone during your vows. The next area is where everyone will get ready for the day. If getting ready will take place somewhere else, you need to at least have a place for the bride to be tucked away as guests are arriving. The last is ample photography locations. The best case scenario is that there are a few different places where each set of photographs can happen so that you have some variety in your gallery.
If you’re creating an event space at home, you’ll need to bring in everything you need since you probably don’t have all of it on hand. This includes dining tables, cocktail tables, linens, chairs, ceremony arch, dance floor, bar, etc. This also includes anything your caterer needs like appliances, food prep tables, garbage cans (and liners), etc.
And last, but certainly not least, you need someone (quite a few someones actually) to make the event happen behind the scenes. I’m not talking about a planner – this isn’t a sales pitch, I promise – I’m talking about a team of people to move the existing outdoor furniture out of the way and set up tables, chairs, etc. before the event, restock the toilet paper or plunge the toilet if needed during the event, and clean up after. It’s tricky to be the couple at your wedding because you’re both the host and the guest of honor. As the host, you want all of your guests to have a good time and as the guest of honor you want to enjoy your party. Having a team of people there to take care of the heavy lifting and behind-the-scenes details is 100% necessary. I promise you’ll thank yourself for taking that advice and kick yourself if you don’t.
This tip isn’t specific to a private estate wedding, but it never hurts to have the reminder that it’s not a party without ice! The rule of thumb is about 1-3 lb of ice per guest depending on what time of year and what you need ice for (i.e. in water; in tea, lemonade, etc.; in cocktails; in tubs to ice down beer, white, champagne, soda, etc.). Have a plan for where the ice to be used in drinks will be kept cold before it’s needed at the event, what kind of tubs, buckets, coolers, etc. will be used to ice the drinks down, and who is responsible for overseeing all of this to make sure it happens.
Cheers to the backyard wedding of your dreams! I hope these tips help guide you through your planning process and ease the stress of unexpected challenges along the way. Have questions? Leave a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Event Design + Production: Your Inspired Event
Photography: Krizel Photography
Florals: Simply Flowers
Rentals: Expo Party Rentals
Lighting: Light Up The Walls
Stationery: Trademark Inspired
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I thought it was interesting when you mentioned that you need to determine the catering prep and cleanup area when you are planning an outdoor wedding. In addition to having areas for prep, you would need to make sure that you set aside enough space for seating. If you want to make sure that you have enough chairs, you could work with a party rentals company.
Thanks for the reminder about restocking the bathroom so guests will be comfortable. My grandfather has a ranch with a lovely garden area where I want to have my wedding reception. Rather than use his home bathroom I think it would be good to rent portable toilets.