Common Mistakes When Planning
a Backyard Wedding

By: Kealia Reynolds Entertaining

Though a backyard wedding may be smaller and a little more relaxed than a traditional wedding venue, it will still require careful organization and planning. Here’s everything you need to know about planning a backyard wedding.

Common mistakes made when planning a backyard wedding

Mistake #1: The couple thinks it’s easier and cheaper to have a backyard wedding.

Though an established venue will most likely provide the proper equipment, your backyard won’t, meaning you’ll have to rent items that you normally wouldn’t have to with a traditional venue. “The big ones that couples assume won’t cost a lot tend to push their budget over: chairs, tables, dance floors, bars, tables for catered food, lighting, portable restrooms, parking attendants, and staff,” says Meaghan Hurn, owner of Hurn Events Management, a full-service wedding and event planning team.

According to Christina Karsadi-Tadiello, owner of CKT Signature Events, “Most likely you will be spending the same if not more than hosting [your wedding] at a venue. How can this be remedied? Hire an event planner who has done these types of events before. It doesn’t need to be a full planner. Even a day-of coordinator can guide you in your last minute details.” 

Misconceptions about budget can lead to a lot of lost sleep before your wedding day, so explore total costs before you commit.

Mistake #2: The couple doesn’t have a Plan B.

Not having a contingency plan for your backyard wedding in the event of bad weather or an emergency can cause major stress on the day of. According to Jennifer Porter, event planner and owner of Satsuma Designs, “If (rather, when!) weather strikes, backyard wedding planners need a solid backup plan. With just a little additional spend, secure a tent, church hall, or community center to host the ceremony and party if rain hits or worse.”

Another option is to move the ceremony indoors and remove seating. “If weather looks dicey, move all catering and entertainment prep to the outdoors under $100 pop-up tents. Use all rooms where furniture has been moved to the garage to make room for guests. If a sit-down dinner was planned, simply switch to a buffet style,” says Jennifer.

Mistake #3: The couple doesn’t specify attire or dress code.

A common misconception with backyard weddings is assuming they’re all casual. “Backyard casual for some implies [an] apathetic, unconcerned, or nonchalant air. And when that translates into a dress code for the wedding guests, some might think of shorts and denim as casual attire, others khakis and dress slacks,” says Greg Jenkins, an event and wedding planner with more than 25 years of experience and partner at Bravo Productions. The level of casual should be defined by the wedding couple and made very clear to guests in the Save the Date or wedding invitation.

Mistake #4: The couple doesn’t plan for parking.

When parking is overlooked, guests can become irritated and show up to the ceremony later than expected. Have a defined parking plan and ensure that there’s enough space on the street for guests to park. If there isn’t, consider hiring a parking attendant (this can be a neighborhood kid) or valet to park cars in a nearby lot. If your neighborhood has a community swimming pool, it might be wise to ask your neighborhood HOA if you could reserve it for your wedding. Have a shuttle or van on standby to transport guests to and from the lot.

Mistake #5: The couple invites too many people.

According to Sarah White, owner and lead consultant at The I Do List, a virtual wedding planning firm, “You’ll want to be aware of how many people can fit comfortably in the backyard once you have table and chairs set up. Unless you have an open field behind your house, you’ll want to keep the guest list intimate.” Jennifer agrees and says, “No bride has ever regretted her small, intimate wedding.”

What to consider when planning a backyard wedding

To make your day go as smooth as possible, keep these 10 factors in mind.

1. Size and space of your backyard

When planning your backyard wedding, one of the first things to consider is the layout of your backyard. Not only will this affect how many guests you can comfortably fit in your backyard, it will determine whether a backyard wedding is actually realistic.

You’ll want a fairly open backyard to allow guests to have a good view of the ceremony and space to mingle afterward. If there are multiple trees and bushes in the space, it might be difficult for guests to view the ceremony or have space to mingle during the reception.

2. Season

According to Christina of CKT Signature Events, “If it’s going to be hot, [you] will probably need air conditioners or industrial fans. If it’s going to get chilly, [you’ll] need heaters.” Christina also recommends renting bug zappers if you hold your backyard wedding during a warmer month. Note: don’t forget about allergies. Hosting a spring or fall backyard wedding may not be the best choice since pollen can wreak havoc on guests and members of the bridal party.

3. Weather

Before setting a wedding date, review historical weather patterns (through the Weather app or other online weather sites) on the day you plan on having your wedding. Greg at Bravo Productions recommends researching the average temperature, rainfall, humidity, and wind conditions. “As the wedding couple ask: ‘How can I keep my guests comfortable in whatever type of weather condition?’” says Greg.

4. Neighbors

Couples often forget to let their neighbors know when they’re having their wedding. Not only can this cause tension over street parking and noise disturbances, it could also turn into an awkward situation if your next-door neighbor is hosting a rowdy cookout during the vows. Remind your neighbors months before the actual date and let them know that street parking may be crowded that day.

Additionally, according to Greg, “There are some gated communities where a couple might be required to get signatures of most of the residents in that community in order to host their function. It may have to be approved by the neighborhood association.”

5. Parking

A backyard wedding may not be a great fit if there isn’t enough parking for guests. If there isn’t enough street parking, consider hiring a valet to park cars in a nearby lot. Have a van or shuttle to transport guests to and from the lot if you choose this option. Check local ordinances to make sure street parking is allowed. If you have guests staying in a hotel, offer shuttles to and from the hotel.

6. Equipment rentals

Couples often think that backyard weddings are cheaper than traditional wedding venues, but forget to factor in equipment rental costs. According to Sarah from The I Do List, “While you won’t pay anything to reserve the backyard, you will have to pay to reserve tables, chair, linens, and everything else that you need. You may also have to pay for a tent if it rains. These costs can add up and sometimes make a backyard wedding more expensive than a venue which would include all of those items.”

Even if couples don’t want a tent, it’s a great back-up plan in the event of rain. “You can always cancel the tent a few days before [the wedding] if the weather looks perfect for only a small loss of money,” says Christina. “Tents come in all sizes and styles. Clients need to research what they want. Once decided, they need to price out the size and style they want.” If you’re going for a super casual vibe, this cost may not affect you.

7. Food and drink

According to Christina, “Caterers will really help guide you on what can and cannot be served outside your reception. If you’re not hiring a caterer, you’ll need to consider renting all your china, silverware, and glassware. Likewise, with drinks, you’ll need a licensed bartender to serve your guests. Some towns will require you to get a day liquor license as well.” Note that not all weddings will be this formal. If you’re planning on having a super casual wedding, simply buy plasticware for the occasion.

Be prepared to serve cold water, lemonade, or iced tea on really hot days and warm beverages on cooler ones. And remember: “Anything sitting out for more than two hours probably should be removed or refrigerated,” says Greg.

8. Decorations

This is one of the main areas where you can save for your wedding. If you have a beautiful backyard with moss-covered trees and flowering plants, you may not need that much décor (if any) for your wedding. However, if you host your backyard wedding or reception at night, consider borrowing string lights and candles for ambience and lighting. For your table centerpieces, pick flowers from your garden and put them in small vases.

9. Entertainment

Since you’re saving on other aspects of your backyard wedding, you may have the budget to hire a band or DJ. If you don’t want to splurge on this expense, create a wedding playlist and hook up your own iPhone to a speaker during the reception.

10. Other logistics

Determine if your house bathrooms can accommodate the number of guests you invite. A recommended ratio is one bathroom for 25 guests. If your house can’t accommodate this many people, consider hiring a bathroom attendant to help with the flow in and out of bathrooms.

According to Kristin Griffin, a full-time wedding photographer, “It’s definitely helpful to hire a ‘day-of’ wedding coordinator if you want to relax and really enjoy the event. The best thing about a coordinator is that they will manage all the moving parts of the wedding from set up to break down. You get to enjoy your guests and the event itself, instead of spending the morning on the phone or setting tables.”

Backyard wedding ideas to cut costs

According to Sarah, the number-one way to save money on a backyard wedding is to invite fewer guests. Here are other ways to keep your backyard wedding budget from spiraling out of control.

  • Serve a buffet, host a potluck, or rent a food truck for the reception. “Ask your local culinary school director to pull a menu and prep team together to cater,” advises Jennifer.
  • A DJ is more affordable than a band, but if you don’t want to rent either, plug your iPhone into a rented speaker for music.
  • Bake your own wedding cake instead of buying one. You could also substitute the cake for homemade cupcakes.
  • Instead of buying décor, spend time making most of it. Hang paper lanterns and string lights from tree branches or pick flowers from your garden and place them in mason jars for your table centerpieces.
  • To save on equipment rentals, Jennifer recommends borrowing linens from a church or local restaurant.

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