MJ + Jon got married at the father of the bride’s ranch in August 2018. They exchanged vows and partied the night away just north of the Washington-Oregon border on beautiful farmland abundant in acreage and horses. Their backyard wedding was as detailed and organized as any venue-based wedding, but without the support of a venue manager. We were elated to make this sentimental setting into a seamless soiree for this joyful couple. Here are the careful considerations we took as their planner and coordinator to make it happen!
Vet your vendors. Not every vendor is adaptable to an unconventional space. In fact, some vendors may only work with preferred venues because they know and can rely on the support they get from the venue owner. Fair enough! Planners with expertise in this kind of event will know or have a list of vendors that are inspired by non-traditional spaces. These vendors are knowledgeable about their creative boundaries and will be able to ask for what they require to make your event work from the planner. If you have specific vendors that you like, that’s great! Your planner can work closely with them to ensure they feel confident on the day of your unique wedding. If not, ask your planner for the best fit and let them do the legwork of vendor vetting—that’s what you pay them for (and we not-so-secretly love it).
Schedule early and often. Your planner will work with you to create a detailed timeline of events a couple of months prior to your wedding. They will also help you cultivate a contact list of vendors so they can effectively communicate with everyone on the day of your wedding. We recommend having your planner reach out to vendors a month in advance of the event with a draft timeline to review. This allows key players—like your photographer or caterer—to give input on the timeline and ensure that the event runs in a cohesive fashion, as well as make special requests for equipment or assistance. From there, your planner can finalize the timeline a few weeks out and provide a final copy to vendors, the wedding party, and immediate family so everyone is aligned. Humans instinctively look for direction, especially when it comes to a big collection of people or a large event, so sharing the timeline with your wedding party, family, and close friends creates a sense of ease and intention about the day’s activities and their place in them.
Make a map (#MischiefManaged). With non-traditional venues it is not always clear where decorations or rental items should be placed, which areas are in- or out-of-bounds, and where you can find sources of energy or water. Create a map with your planner that clearly identifies where rentals and decorations go so they can work efficiently with your set-up team to execute your vision on the day of your wedding. We recommend making a running list (in Excel or Word document form) of each of the decorations you purchase, where they should be placed, and how many should go there; these are small pieces of guidance that go a long way! Detail which areas are out-of-bounds and prepare signage, especially if you are hosting the event at someone’s private property. For vendors coming on-site, also point to where they can hook up to power outlets, extension cords, or water sources so they can roll in and set up quickly and quietly.
Rally the troops! Supplying your own venue—whether it’s a backyard setting or a public park—means that you will not have built-in staff to clean the venue prior, set up, move furniture, cue the staff, or help tear down. We recommend connecting with your family and friends, specifically non-wedding party members, a month prior to the wedding to ask for volunteers in each of these categories: decorations, ceremony arch, ceremony chairs, table settings, bartender (if not provided by catering staff), chair transition from ceremony to reception, Emcee (if not provided by DJ), officiant, garbage removal, and end-of-night clean-up. The primary function of your planner on the day of the wedding is to ensure that vendors are fulfilling on their contracted services in the approved timeline and, in the case of backyard weddings, also act as venue coordinator to ensure everyone is playing by the house rules. There is very little time focus on decorations the day of the wedding unless you hire extra hands through your planner (which we HIGHLY recommend—you often get a huge bang for your buck by hiring a planner’s assistant). Your planner can work with you to create a contact list of who has which role AND give loving reminders to fulfill on their duty the day of the wedding. Having your to-do’s ready to rock also creates an opportunity for your loving friends and family members to contribute to the wedding in a meaningful, productive way that has an impact on everyone’s experience of the day.
Walk it out. Rehearsal events are essential for non-traditional venue weddings. Your planner will explain, often more than once, where your wedding party lines up, how they walk, where and how to stand and smile, what the mechanics of the processional and recessional look like, and what comes next. The rehearsal is essential to building the confidence of you and your wedding party before the feelings, nerves, and excitement come in to play on the wedding day. Think of your planner as the conductor to your orchestra; for everyone to play in harmony, it requires practice, practice, practice.
Plan to adapt. Nothing ever goes perfectly to plan which is why it is important to have trusting and open communication between you and your planner. Ask questions, stay as involved as you want in the small details, and be ready to hand off the process to a person you trust in the weeks leading up to your big day. We know your vision and have your back. We understand what your priorities are and will make sure they happen. We are your #1 fan and will create the experience you seek for your friends and family. You can have it all…and in your own backyard.