When you think of the ultimate wedding, soaring guest counts, full weekend agendas, and over-the-top elements might come to mind. Whether it’s for a full weekend in Aspen or somewhere more tropical, generally the thought process is: Bigger is better. While it can be fun to invite every single person you know, there is something to be said for hosting an intimate affair.
Small weddings are the perfect opportunity to make your guests feel extra special while reclaiming time to truly experience your own big event. Plus, the smaller headcount provides the opportunity to do things that you couldn’t at a larger scale, from unique entertaining ideas to more customized dining options.
For those of you thinking that a small wedding, whether that means inviting 100 or 10 people, might be the way to go, we reached out to some of the wedding industry’s best to get the inside scoop on throwing the ultimate intimate wedding.
Here are their (plus some of our!) best ideas for a small, intimate wedding.
Make It a Destination
“When hosting a boutique wedding, couples have more agility to go somewhere exciting to make memories, be it the Napa wine country or somewhere beachy.” — Stephanie Cole and Sarah Drake, founders, Cole Drake Events
Make Welcome Gifts More Personal
“Make your guests feel special. Possibly drop off brunch boxes the night of the wedding for the next morning, or leave special messages in their guest rooms each evening with small gifts of what’s to come all the way until they depart.” — Renny Pedersen, owner and wedding director, Bliss Weddings & Events
Get Creative With Your Ceremony
“With a smaller guest count, clients can throw out traditional ceremony norms! The trend now for smaller weddings is to create an intimate ceremony in the round so everyone can get a bird’s-eye view.” — Danielle Elder, owner and principal planner, Classic Events
Make Your Entertainment Over the Top
“If you want more of a party atmosphere rather than simply a dinner reception, go over the top with the entertainment to keep your guests’ attention. This can be a dance performance, a photo booth, or even a themed entertainer like a murder mystery game.” — Wendy Kay, owner and creative director, Birds of a Feather Events
Ditch the Microphone
“Consider forgoing a microphone during the ceremony if your officiant is happy to project into the crowd. Sometimes the lack of a microphone can lend to the intimate atmosphere.” — Alex Chalk, senior planner, Taylor’d Events Group
Splurge on Lush Place Settings
“When you only have a small group to entertain, you can treat them to the most beautiful china, special surprises at their seats, and monogrammed linens.” — Chelsey Morrison, owner and principal designer, Gather Together
Plan Events Around the Wedding
“Whether you whisk guests off to Tuscany and rent a villa with a private chef for everyone to enjoy or head to Provence where you plan wine and cheese tastings to experience the culture, think about more than just the wedding itself. A small guest count gives you the opportunity to create events surrounding the main affair to entertain and spend intimate time with your friends and family.” — Cristina Verger, founder, Cristina Verger Event Planning & Production
Indulge in the Cuisine
“If you’re a foodie, splurge on a five-course gourmet meal, complete with table side preparations or carvings.” — Courtney Wolf, wedding planner, Invision Events
“If you can, host everyone at one big table for your dinner. It makes the event feel like a truly intimate gathering rather than a ‘wedding banquet.’” — Jenna Lam, founder and creative director, Jenna Lam Events
Get Creative With Your Venue and Seating Arrangements
Choose a local, yet unexpected wedding venue, like a museum, brewery, or secret garden, or have an at-home wedding for an ultra-cozy affair. Other interesting venues might include a historic library, a converted building (such as a former airplane hangar or warehouse), or a city, state, or national park—just be sure to note any permits you may need, as well as any regulations that may impact your décor choices (i.e., candles, or anything that requires water flow or electricity).
You can even experiment with seating format; consider poufs, picnic blankets, alternating chairs, and pews, or arrange chairs in a spiral shape for example.
Personalize Every Element
Go nuts with décor personalization: Think everything from welcome notes and place cards, to gift bags and centerpieces. To get started, browse sites like Uncommon Goods, Minted, and Etsy for personalized objects like wood-etched city maps, wine bottle vases, and stationery by independent makers and artists.
Make it more personal and ask for wedding help in place of wedding gifts; your social circle probably has a sharp photographer, enthusiastic baker (hello, homemade wedding cake or cupcake tower!), talented musician, and crafty decorator to lean on.
Think Outside the Entertainment Box
Peruse your local university's music department; there are bound to be some students who could be available for your wedding's musical accompaniment. Or keep your ears open for live performers you've noticed while out at a bar or restaurant and if they're open to doing weddings, ask them for their business card.
Beyond musical acts, you could also consider having a tarot card or palm reader to entertain guests, have a date night ideas suggestion box, or host a silent disco.
Keep a Well-Stocked Bar
Kick things off and offer a pre-ceremony, signature cocktail. Wedding Wire reports mobile bars, specialty ices, natural elements like edible flowers and herbs, and hard seltzers are trending at weddings across the country. For an additional customized experience, stock your own bar, though check with your venue first.
Consider that not everyone partakes in alcohol, so it could be a good idea to offer non-alcoholic options, including sodas and flavored sparkling waters, to virgin versions of your signature cocktails.
Create Opportunities to Gather and Socialize
Capture the scene and squeeze everyone into a group photo—which is impossible to manage with a much larger group. And for fun, poll the crowd during the reception for first anniversary ideas and tips for blissful married life.
Elsewhere during the wedding festivities, set up a lounge area or fire pit for everyone to gather around. Opt for an unusual "guest book" for guests to sign, like asking them to film a message with a tablet or old smartphone; sign a block from a Jenga game; float a few Polaroid cameras for guests to snap at-will for a visual guest book; or have them sign a giant globe or map.
Go for a Super Casual Reception
Forgo the caterer and hire your favorite food truck (or two!); for super small, casual weddings, have a potluck and ask guests to bring their favorite family recipes; or forget the traditional reception and throw a casual party at a bar or restaurant.
Whether you host a reception or not, pass the mic around and make it an "open mic night" for guests to say a few impromptu words. Get interactive and bust out the lawn and board games.
Consider the Afterparty
Host an afterparty at your favorite dive bar, or grab a late-night snack at your favorite ramen spot, taco stand, pizza-by-the-slice place or burger joint. Even with a small wedding party, call ahead as a courtesy to let the restaurant know of your impending arrival; or book a private room to have everything set up when your party arrives.
Skip the Formal Ceremony
Tie the knot at City Hall and throw a blowout reception instead. You can still hire a photographer and dress up for City Hall, and use the cost-savings from the ceremony to upgrade floral arrangements, entertainment, and food options at the reception.
If you plan to get married at City Hall, know that you may need to make two separate appointments—one for the ceremony, and another to get your marriage license. Most courthouse nuptials occur during weekday mornings, so this may impact your immediate post-wedding ceremony activities.
Remember that you need a witness physically present, even if you plan to livestream the ceremony; and research the number of people you're allowed to have during the ceremony ahead of time, as it varies by courthouse location.
Shoot for Off-Peak Timing
If you can, get married during off-peak times, such as during the week, when vendors are likely more available and affordable. According to Wedding Wire, the wedding off-season is typically considered December through March. During this time, cost-savings can be had on everything from your venue to your top-choice wedding photographer, the live band you've bookmarked, and maybe even lower rates for your honeymoon.
Mellow Out the Reception
Wind things down at the reception with an herbal tea cart or bar, or a tray of milk and cookies, or even a pretzel wall. Or, close the evening with a group breathing or mindfulness exercise or a gratitude sharing circle to cap off the evening on a positive, thoughtful note.