Having a Smaller Over-the-Top Wedding: Fewer People, More Experience!
One of the things that's come out of the pandemic affecting events is the discussion about smaller guest counts. Sure, it started as a necessity as everyone started to consider the possibilities--
What if we can't have the guests who would have to travel? What if we are limited in the number of guests allowed for awhile? What if a big group of guests may not feel comfortable gathering later this year but our closest friends and family would? What if we just want to be a little safer by having a little smaller group?
But I also think something else is happening beyond couples asking themselves what if they HAVE to make it smaller. I think as some couples considered this, they started to entertain what that would feel like and, perhaps, started to like it. And maybe they caught themselves thinking, "Wait. What if I WANT to make it smaller?" Sure-- for some-- if you are ready to rumble with your college pals and throw down on the dance floor and really have a blow out, the big party is still for you! And still going to be just as much fun (once we can get back to it!) But some couples entertained what doing a smaller event would look like-- what would it feel like do MORE for FEWER?
Sitting down for dinner with people you really know and are part of your current life instead of finger foods with lots of people you haven't seen in a decade. What if you could have nice, comfortable chairs for every person instead of budgeting for 300? What if everyone could have a full dinner spread served at the table where they could concentrate on soaking up the company instead of buzzing around for quick bites? What if you could shift your budget and have everyone stay in the same lodging and turn it into a weekend-long affair for 65 instead of a 4 hour long affair for 250? Could you have a day-after brunch or a welcome party with those extra funds? Could you really go the extra mile to make your guests feel special since so much more could be done for each one versus a little for a lot of folks?
This perhaps landed some people thinking-- man, that sounds good!
Honesty, I am thrilled to see this possibility opened in the minds of some of those that are drawn in by this idea. In our company, we have been doing these for YEARS! They have so flow under the mainstream radar and been some of our most memorable (and even some of our biggest budget and most detailed!) events!
We have done full weekends-- complete with special welcome events, such intimate incredible ceremonies that transitioned into receptions complete with soft seating, dinner tables, real chairs, beautiful bars, stations that could be more interactive like oyster bars or live cooking stations. It's something to behold.
In fact, my most memorable wedding of all was this type of wedding-- my own wedding! In November of 2018, we did exactly that. I had hundreds of weddings under my belt in my career and loved so many of them, but I knew a 300 person wedding wasn't our style. At the same time, I wanted a full wedding, the whole deal. After all, it was SUCH a special lifetime milestone event! As we talked and reflected on what a wedding meant to us, I kept coming back to that I really felt it was as much about celebrating and THANKING all of those people who had brought us to this point in our lives as it was about celebrating our union-- that being invited to our wedding was to say, "You helped make this possible. Come be a witness." We made the ultimate VIP guest list. And yes, it was hard. People I LOVED and have such fond memories with may not have been invited to this particular event. I would be lying if I said that was super clear to us as we started to make our list. It took a little time. We finally really landed on clear reasons we would bring people in and that it would be largely family, people with whom we had shared a home (like roommates), etc. We brought together around 65 people and had the most memorable night of our lives. As we started to plan, we really got into this idea of these guests being truly guests of honor. After all, they really are! We searched high and low for a venue that could really help us provide that atmosphere, but I imagined people stressed out hurrying between hotels and searching for parking and not being sure what was next, and I found myself thinking what became the theme for every step afterward-- I want them to just have to get themselves here. Once they get here, I want them to be taken care of every step without thinking. We ended up finding a 12 acre property with an immaculate home that is rented as a luxury vacation rental and private event property. We and our families and closest friends arrived on Friday morning and settled in completely. We ordered in breakfast, lunch, and coffee from a local coffee shop and nestled in as if it were vacation. We held a cocktail style welcome dinner that night at the property (where the wedding would be also but in a different area, and this made guests so comfortable because they knew the space on wedding day!) We invited every single guest to the welcome dinner, and MANY of them came. We were able to make toasts, do a quick run through rehearsal privately outside while our guests were still mingling, and linger as long as we wanted. When it ended, we were able to linger with our parents and close family sitting in front of the fireplace and do final prep and shuffle off to our bedrooms. The next day, hair and makeup came to the pool house where I stayed and took care of about 10 of us-- some of my close female family members, sisters, etc-- and my husband wandered around playing guitar and hanging out with his dad and some of the other guys that were hanging at the house while vendors (and my amazing team) flooded in to make the magic happen. When it was time for the ceremony, we felt like we knew the place backwards and forwards, and we could really be present.
From there, we didn't skip a single bell or whistle-- Our guests arrived and were directed exactly where to park (a parking lot we rented from a nearby business) and shuttled in golf carts right up to the door. They sat in a circular formation for our ceremony, which felt so intimate. My father walked me down the aisle as our musicians sang and played. Another song was sung during our ceremony, we did a marriage certificate signing in front of everyone. Guests grabbed champagne as they transitioned from the ceremony. We had a saxophone player walk around playing for the cocktail hour complete with a full interactive oyster bar. We came out and did first dances to live music. Then, we all retreated back indoors for a full seated dinner. It was one of my favorite parts. Everyone was seated (yes! We had an old school seating chart, and it worked beautifully! SO many people got to know one another!), and our dinner was served to the table course after course including chargrilled oysters coming hot off the oyster bar outside, fresh bread, salads, family style sides being changed out throughout the night, filet mignon or fancy pork chop (whichever the guest chose on their RSVP, which actually turned out to really be a cool way to get them involved from day one! We heard them asking one another all night, "Did you do filet or chop?"), table service for wine and drinks, and we had acoustic musicians sit inside and play and sing throughout dinner with fireplaces lit. The energy and joy was just totally palpable.
We wondered if people would get bored, but funny enough, the opposite happened. They lingered forever! We had to shoo them back outdoors, where they found classy fire pit coffee tables lit in the center of lounges, music again, candles lit, a bar open, and the oyster bar had transitioned to a flaming live bananas foster station.
We cut the cake, toasted champagne, and mingled. Almost every guest dove into both desserts, some danced, lots sat in lounges around fires and swapped spots all night, stood at cocktail tables, or around the pool that was lit with candles and greenery. we were able to get to everyone personally and even with just this guest count, that took us the whole reception! I was able to go in and check on my grandfather off and on throughout the night and meet some of Bryson's close loved ones I had never met. At the end of the night, almost EVERY guest stayed for our exit. We went in and changed into fun getaway outfits, a black SUV picked up all of our suitcases and waited for us, and we ran out with nearly tangible love totally overflowing onto us. We swept off to our overnight stay in the city and headed off to our honeymoon the next day. Our family was able to actually stay and spend the night on the property since we had it for the weekend and leave at their own pace the next day, which was so nice. I didn't want our parents driving three hours home or getting transportation back to a hotel after their kids' wedding! It really felt like we were able to have "touch points" at every turn for every guest. And that's what we wanted. We talked about it after, and we don't have a single regret. We went into our honeymoon in total bliss, but equally as important (and so unexpected!) we could FEEL the pure joy amongst our guests for MONTHS after. They still, to this day, talk about the details. And not in awe of what it cost, which I admit was a pretty penny. But they just remember how they FELT-- so well! They remember loving the oysters. They remember the food being incredible-- we intentionally chose a caterer who really is more of a "chef" and specializes in preparing seated dinners in real time. The steaks came out sizzling. When we see them in passing, our loved ones still to this day say, "Oh, man...I remember...." and mention some detail. Who they sat by, the person singing, the shuttle that felt so good taking them back to their cars that night (even though it was in walking distance) after they had been in heels for hours, the oyster girls interacting with them and teaching them new ways to try their oysters, the banner on the bar that said, "We were together. I forget the rest."
THAT is what we imagined when we closed our eyes and imagined our wedding.
We had hiccups like most every event does-- I ditched my dress less than two weeks before our wedding and ordered one online that felt more like myself in a total wedding dress roulette gamble. We had to make a last minute change to have our dinner indoors because the high on our wedding day shifted to 40 degrees! (Which is a unicorn day in New Orleans!) But all in all, it was absolutely perfect. All that to say, we still do these types of events and have been for years, as I mentioned within my company-- we seat full guest lists in soft arm chairs, sofas, upholstered benches, etc. for ceremony seating and flip all of those pieces to lounges for receptions. We seat full seated dinners that we sometimes put in place during a "flip" after the ceremony. We have clients who book pieces with us for welcome dinner, wedding day, and for a "Sunday brunch" send off-- we work with them to create cool designs and even to repurpose pieces so they can use some of the same pieces multiple days, which gets you a little price break. We have seen it first hand so many times, and now, we love that others are starting to be open to this idea. We can't wait to see what our lovely, smart, and creative local wedding planners do as their clients give them the opportunity to run with this idea. If you have a creative, high-touch, detailed planner, they can plan this kind of wedding. It gives them (and you!) SO much more freedom to give every guests MORE as opposed to what they often have to juggle-- even with what may seem a large budget-- which is to give MANY guests enough.
Our company is BUILT on this. Our thing is literally, "Create spaces that create experiences." Not let's create pretty things. Every piece, every design we do is entirely rooted in how it makes you feel the second you see, touch, or even smell it. We can do this at a much larger scale-- it's part of our value. We help bigger events not lose that "feel" as well by bringing it back to some root of experience with our pieces and designs. But also, it's only fitting we would love these smaller opportunities to really drive that home.
If you are looking for the New Orleans party, to dance the night away to a 10 person band and have the big blowout of your dreams, still go for that! It's okay! It's so fun in a different way! (Even in some ways that you won't experience with the smaller style wedding.) We don't really think one is better. They are just different! But if you catch yourself thinking -- as I mentioned before-- kind of loving this idea....we say go for it! It can be just as incredible and in a totally different experiential way.
Some pics of a few of our past ones below!
[Venue: Race and Religious, Floral: Antigua Floral, Photography: Monsoleil, Planner: Mint Julep]
[Venue: Il Mercato, Floral: Kim Starr Wise, Photographer: Lainey Reed, Planner: Elyse Jennings]
[Venue: Estate at Charropin Beach, Floral: Antigua, Photographer: J.Daniels Photo and Monsoeil, Planner: Elyse Jennings]