Does a Small Wedding Need a Wedding Planner?
One of the most common questions I hear in regards to weddings is… “does a small wedding need ___?”
This question reveals some interesting ideas about weddings.
We’re used to thinking of weddings as large, detailed events for all your loved ones. It “should” be a perfect representation of the couple. It "should" accommodate and wow your guests as well. It requires lots of resources, planning, and professionals to pull it off. The bigger the wedding the more difficult it is to do. For many, this idea is either inaccessible or undesirable.
Having a smaller wedding usually arises from a desire to get away from some traditional wedding expectations. For many it’s about simplicity and ease. It’s about getting away from the pomp and circumstance to create a cozy environment. A large part of it is also about keeping things cost efficient. It’s about making the wedding fit you, and not the other way around.
A wedding planner often produces a certain image. You may picture a polished professional who manages luxury gatherings. You may imagine someone showing different linen swatches or recommending champagne tower vendors . There may be 10-page checklists and 5-figure bills. She's measuring the distance between the wine glass and the champagne glass. He's showing you how to hold a fork.
So… how does a wedding planner fit into a gathering that’s meant to be easier and less expensive? To answer this question, I’ll need to explain what really goes into planning a small wedding and what a wedding planner really does. From there, you’ll be able to understand why couples having small weddings still love having a wedding planner in their corner.
The Most Common Misconception About Small Weddings
Here’s one huge misconception about wedding planning:
Couples assume the size of the wedding correlates to the amount of effort it takes to plan it.
Couples hope that cutting their guest list will make their wedding easy and cheap. They assume it will be less stressful to plan. Unfortunately, they usually find that wedding planning remains exhausting and challenging.
Here’s the truth: the size of your wedding has little to do with its complexity. How difficult your wedding is to plan boils down to these key factors:
Location (destination or local, indoor or outdoor)
Timeline of activities
The amount of customization/personalization
The quality of your support
The most complex weddings involve creating something from scratch. Tented backyard weddings on private properties are super complicated. Weddings at venues with built in bathrooms and temperature control are much easier. DIY catering is a huge headache (don't do that). Hiring a company with their own commercial kitchen, staff, and serving items is simple.
Size doesn't factor into the equation much. Why not? Most of the planning and organizing for a wedding duplicates. The headache of a bigger wedding plays out on the wedding day, and less in the planning process. You write and order the invitation once, then send it to the amount of people who need it. The headache is in calling missing RSVP's and missed communication. You select a menu and serving style once. The headache is in working 200 people going through a buffet into the timeline.
What Goes Into Planning a Small Wedding
Cutting your guest list from 40 to 400 will make a huge difference in your planning experience. It might not make as big of a difference as you're expecting, however. Let's explore how.
First, let’s break down the basics of what goes into planning a wedding in general. Picture it as chill or elaborate as you’d like, with anywhere from 5 to 500 guests. Even better, see if these details apply to the day you’re thinking of having:
A place to do it. You’ve got to find it, get permission to use it, and get it ready to use. Bonus if it includes basics like lighting, parking, sound, an inclement weather plan, and bathrooms.
Accommodations for you and/or your guests. Food, drinks, chairs, tables, dishes, transportation, lodging, something to look at, something to do.
Some sort of general plan for the day. A timeline, entertainment, music, words, communication, and rituals.
Some people and stuff to make it happen. Typically at minimum photography, an officiant, catering, invites, and hair and makeup/attire. Standard also includes music, dessert, decor, transportation, and flowers.
Thoughtful details that make it meaningful and make it you. Perhaps your favorite colors, favorite music or foods, special attire, heirloom items, or private vows.
I hope you’re noticing something, friend. The fundamentals of most celebrations are the same, no matter the guest count. Even with chillest of intentions, coordinating the above details can get overwhelming. It can be especially problematic for smaller weddings, which much of the wedding scene tends to ignore.
Let’s Break it Down
So, the fundamentals of your wedding are very similar. Coordinating the details does get a little tricky, though. Let’s explore some common ways couples get frustrated with small weddings plans. At the top of that list is finding a space to do the whole thing. This is where large weddings have it easy- most venues are set up for them!
When you try to get a small wedding into a large venue, it can be awkward to make it work. As far as design issues go, it can be difficult to make it look like 200 people didn’t show up. Large, cavernous halls and ballrooms don’t fit the vibe. You’re also stuck paying for way more space than you need. That’s because regardless of how many people you have, a venue’s operating costs are the same. Sometimes you can find a venue that will allow you to rent out a smaller room on their property. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee the venue won’t also try to book a larger wedding next to yours.
Many (if not most) couples opt to skip the big venue and find something more unique. Good news for us: intimate wedding venues are abundant when you think outside the box! Vacation rentals, bed and breakfasts’, and gardens all make excellent options, for example. The hard part about venues that aren’t set up for weddings is that you’re doing a lot more of the ground work yourself. They might not have the accommodations you need. Take, for example, a space to get ready, tables and chairs, regular staffing, or ample parking. They might have odd hours, strict policies around noise, or not like the idea of hosting a wedding. Nontraditional "venues" might not want to bother with the extra tours and logistics.
Another common pitfall when planning a small wedding is finding small wedding vendors. Caterers, florists, and stationers often have minimums, for example. Other vendors may also reserve their calendar for larger events with a bigger price tag. They may assume things about your celebration that aren't accurate or relevant. When you don’t have the right people in your corner, it feels like you're forced into a big wedding mold. It’s exhausting, and pushes small wedding seekers into wedding planning burnout fast.
What makes planning smaller weddings difficult is that the industry isn’t set up for them. This leaves couples new to the industry frustrated and overwhelmed. It often leads to stressful planning experiences and lackluster wedding days.
Alright, small wedding seeker. I’ve called out the wedding industry, now it’s your turn (don’t worry, I’ll be professional about it). I notice some common mindset mistakes with folks having smaller weddings. It leads to couples shooting themselves in the foot. It leads to them fighting against the industry more than necessary. It leads to two syndrome’s I’ll call “we’re just gonna wing it” and “that doesn’t apply to me”.
If you’re in the “just winging it” category, you’re likely thinking of your wedding less like a wedding... and more like a happy gathering with a ceremony. It may be casual, or chill, or relaxed, but neglecting to plan leads to a chaotic day. Just winging it means you’re taking away from getting lost in the moment and enjoying yourself.
The “just winging it couple” wants to enjoy their day without coordinating or hosting it. Problem is, your celebration still needs a host. It still needs some sort of game plan.
Not doing a seating chart means your guests are asking you if it’s okay if they sit there (x10). They're breaking up parties because of partially full tables. Not doing a shot list means your photographer missed important moments. It means your wedding party got a little too tipsy because they didn't know group photos were at 6. Not setting up a solid communication plan means you’ll be fielding way more questions. It means you'll deal with more drama from confused/equally chill guests. Not confirming details means a late ceremony and cold food to look for lost items. Quite frankly- things fall apart.
Couples also assume that because they have a smaller guest count, they don’t need to do certain things. This is the "that doesn't apply to me" crowd. They assume that their guest count makes it easier to cut corners.
Couples may assume a self-made playlist will work fine, no DJ necessary. Next, they realize they need someone to make announcements, provide equipment, and aid the flow of the reception. They may assume a small wedding only needs 3 hours of photos. Then they're frustrated the photographer is heading home before their first dance. They may assume a transportation plan is frivolous. Then all their guests spend hours trying to catch a cab back to their hotel.
Allow me to get real here for a second. People assume small weddings are less special than big weddings because we plan them that way. More expenses and vendors don't make a wedding more special. Treating it like something special does. Make plans, prepare, think through logistics, be intentional. I want small weddings to be just as meaningful, and beautiful, and worthwhile as the big ones. Choosing to cut corners only means you're taking away from your own experience.
What Wedding Planners Do
Alright, now for the real meat of the content. What does a wedding planner actually do for a small wedding?
Wedding planners help you navigate new territory with thoughtful suggestions and experienced advice. They specialize in different types of weddings. The vibe of your wedding should match the vibe of your planner.
There are planners out there who are way more accustomed to pouring ice over beer in canoes than setting up champagne glass towers. That's because those are the types of weddings they love!
The process usually begins with an in depth meeting about who you are and what you want. From there, they’ll lay out a concrete plan for the logistics of your day, what you do and don’t need, and how to make it happen.
During the planning process, planners advocate for you. They curate a thoughtful team of professionals and support them so they can do their best work. They know of some awesome photographers who know how to shoot in that low lighting you want for your sunset ceremony. They make sure to create a timeline that captures that lighting well. They know of some awesome private chefs who cater smaller events at the same per person price point a traditional caterer might. They make sure they know who’s bringing what.
For couples wanting a chill, stress-free wedding, a wedding planner is essential. They act as the host to manage all the details they don’t want to be bothered with. They’ll give it to you straight about why text message invites are a bad idea. They'll tell you where to find an alternative if the local printer won’t accept your order of 11.
On the day of the wedding, your planner is in the driver’s seat of the production while you enjoy the moment. Your guests aren’t stuck working a wedding on the fly, but creating memories with you. Planners coordinate vendor arrivals, accept deliveries, hand out mics, and put out fires so you don’t even have to hear about them.
Now, one final difficulty with wedding planners and small weddings. Small wedding seekers are often looking to cut costs, and wedding planners are not cheap. They're too often first vendor on the chopping block. The reality is- wedding planners not only save you money, they protect your investment.
That amazing photographer can do their job a lot better when someone is there to support the day. They’ll be taking photos of relaxed, happy people in a beautiful and organized environment. You won’t waste money on a nightmare officiant who mispronounces your name and loses your wedding license. You won’t get kicked out of the AirBnb because no one read the fine print about noise and extra cars after 10 PM.
You can rest assured that whatever amount of money you’re investing into your day, you’re getting the experience you’re hoping for. They make sure you get what you pay for, and all this work is worth it. They protect your money, your time, and your memories.
Still not convinced? Planners save you money. Wedding planners will create your budget and find solutions within that budget. They’ll help you find alternatives and give you a reality check if necessary . They’ll help you find cost effective but elegant solutions that are fun, look good, and work well. Wedding planners provide their own insurance and often even come with discounts.
A wedding planner is not only a great asset for a small wedding, but an essential member of your team.
Does a small wedding *need* a wedding planner? Well, no. But no less than any other type of wedding.
A small wedding is no less important than any other wedding, and deserves no less intention. It requires as much time, care, and attention to coordinate. Small weddings come with their own hardships that make it challenging to plan.
At the end of the day, I want your small wedding to be awesome. I don't want you to end up frustrated because the industry isn't set up for your values and celebration. I don't want you to have a lackluster day with less than stellar services. I want you to walk away from the experience filled with joy, beauty, and optimism for a happy marriage. To pull that off, friend- you're gonna need a plan. If you need help with that plan, a wedding planner is an excellent asset.