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Wedding experts share 5 tips for throwing a small wedding

Small weddings can still be special. Here's what wedding experts want you to know.
Planning a small wedding? Here are five tips from the pros.
Planning a small wedding? Here are five tips from the pros.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

If the mere thought of a big wedding with a massive guest list gives you anxiety, you're not alone. Some couples dream of a huge celebration with several hundred family members, friends and acquaintances, but others prefer to keep things intimate.

Small weddings can range in size, but typically include around 20-80 people and are just as special — and potentially a lot less expensive — than a large celebration.

Wondering how to pull off the perfect small wedding? TMRW sought out the pros to get a few tips. With their help, you'll be checking off your to-do list in no time and will be one step closer to wedded bliss.

1. Choose your guest list carefully

Narrowing down your guest list to the bare essentials for a small wedding isn't easy, but there are a few ways to make the process feel a bit less painful. "Start with your absolute must-invites — your parents, siblings, close relatives, members of your wedding party and their significant others," WeddingWire associate editor Samantha Iacia told TMRW.

When you're hosting a small celebration, family members and friends are sometimes quick to pressure you to make exceptions and add a few more people to your guest list, but it's important to stick to your guns.

"Sit down with your parents or immediate family and be clear about how many people will be invited and how as a couple you will go about selecting who will be invited," said Maggie Lord, David's Bridal VP, head of partnerships and founder of the popular wedding blog, “Rustic Wedding Chic.” "One historical piece of wedding advice that works well for a small wedding guest list is to only invite people who you would host at your house for dinner."

If you're feeling guilty about not inviting friends of your parents, neighbors or co-workers, you can always live-stream your ceremony to make everyone feel included.

"Mailing physical invitations for a virtual wedding is one way to make the ceremony feel special. You can include written instructions on how to join the event or add a QR code that guests scan with their phones," Iacia suggested.

2. Find a meaningful venue

Small weddings are all about intimate, meaningful moments, and your venue can set the tone for the whole celebration. The options are pretty much endless, but here are a few small wedding venues wedding pros recommend:

  • Local and national parks: "It’s hard to beat the epic views of Rocky Mountain National Park or the dense forests of Smoky Mountain National Park for your magical day," Janessa White, co-founder of Simply Eloped, said. "Just don't forget to contact the park to see if a permit is required."
  • Barns, gardens and historic estates: "These are perfect venues for a small wedding as you can keep some of the glamour you want for the day but still not have to invest in a large space," Lord said.
  • Backyards: "Backyard weddings are a blast! You have the freedom to create the ambience and feel of your ceremony any way you choose. If you’re not afraid of putting in the legwork to DIY your ceremony, we are in huge support of backyard weddings," White said.
  • Make it personal: "I love when couples choose to perform their ceremonies at a spot that is meaningful — like the site where they got engaged or first fell in love. Sometimes places like this don’t have space for a large group. But, when the group size is smaller, much more venue options are realistic," White said.

3. Make the decor special

When you're working with a smaller guest list, you have more money to dedicate to details like decor, and that can make the experience even more special and personalized.

"Weddings are all about magic, so no matter the size of the event the decor should always represent the couple's personality and vision for the day," Lord told TMRW.

Going all out and using bold colors and big floral arrangements can make your small wedding feel a lot more grand and give you the best of both worlds.

"The easiest way to make a big impact, no matter the location of a wedding, is adding great lighting such as string lights, lanterns and tons of candlelight along with large floral statements. Flowers scream wedding so large centerpieces, floral garland and beautiful bouquets all help to make the day to come to life," Lord said.

4. Make your reception sweet

A big, elaborate wedding cake may seem a bit out of place at a smaller wedding, but there really are no rules when it comes to your preferred dessert. That being said, small wedding cakes are practical for a more intimate celebration and still give you the opportunity to get that coveted "cutting the cake" photo opportunity.

If you want a small wedding cake for you and your spouse, you can still get creative and serve your guests some out-of-the-box dessert options.

"I love the idea of dessert trucks, such as ice cream trucks or cupcake trucks, and they are perfect for a small wedding since long lines can happen with a large event making for unhappy guests," Lord said.

Small weddings are generally less expensive than larger celebrations, so you'll most likely have some wiggle room in your budget if you want to offer guests a few desserts to choose from.

"You can serve cake along with other desserts that speak to your personal taste, like cupcakes, pie or doughnuts. Guests enjoy having a few different dessert options, especially if there’s a personalization aspect; for example, an ice cream bar with do-it-yourself toppings or bite-sized petit fours in a variety of flavors," Iacia said.

5. Remember how special a small wedding can be

Whether you've always dreamed of having a small wedding or are planning one as a result of budgetary constraints or COVID-19 regulations, remember that a small wedding can be just as signficiant.

"For many couples, having a small wedding is ideal since it allows them to fully engage with each of their guests and allows them to select set a more intimate vibe for the day," Lord said.

A smaller celebration usually takes a lot of pressure off the happy couple, too, so they can just enjoy their big day.

"Inviting only your closest friends and relatives to the wedding is a solution for to-be-weds who may feel overwhelmed by the thought of spending an entire day in the spotlight or impressing hundreds of people with a grand celebration," Iacia said.