How Do You Pull Off A Backyard Wedding Successfully?
There are two basic types of backyard weddings. There's the wedding in the gardens of the family cottage on Long Island, with 250 guests, a tent, and a 5-piece orchestra. Or there's the wedding in your backyard with maybe 50 guests, some CDs, and a buffet. One of these is much easier to plan than the other.
Planning a large, formal wedding in a backyard is somewhat more complicated than planning the same event at, say, a hotel ballroom. Unless your backyard is attached to a mansion, you probably don't have the bathroom or parking facilities for a crowd. You also will almost certainly have to rent items that usually come with a wedding site, like tables, chairs, and eating utensils. And then there's the question of rain or hot weather, which is usually answered by renting a tent. A large, formal backyard wedding is not for couples who want to avoid stress, unless they have a lot of help.

A small, informal backyard wedding, on the other hand, is manageable by almost any couple that is willing to think things through thoroughly. Let's take some of the planning issues one-by-one.

Guest List

Write out a preliminary guest list, including the people that the parents will want to invite, before making a firm decision on a backyard wedding. Now look at the size of the house and backyard. If it rained, could you fit the whole guest list into your living room or family room? If it doesn't rain, can you fit the whole guest list into the yard?

One thing to think about, in estimating space, is where guests are going to sit. Many people are not comfortable standing for long periods, so you definitely want enough chairs to allow a minimum of half the guests to be seated at any time. If you have to rent folding chairs, ask the party rental company how much space each seat should be allowed, including leg room for the person sitting in it. Compare this figure to the size of your backyard.

Food and Drink

A backyard wedding makes it easier to do your own catering, if you have a big refrigerator, a big kitchen (as a staging and preparation area), and plans for a very simple buffet that doesn't require keeping food hot or cold. It's also useful to have some helpful friends or relatives, as the bride probably does not want to try to refill the punch bowl while wearing her wedding gown. If you self-cater the wedding, it's probably simplest to treat it almost like a picnic, using sturdy paper plates and disposable utensils.

You can also hire a caterer. Make sure you discuss, before signing the contract, what kind of space and resources the caterer will need, as well as whether plates and utensils are included in the cost. You may want to look into whether any small restaurants locally cater parties, as their menus often work very well with a casual mood.

Music

If you go the "toss some CDs in the CD player" route, make sure you have a responsible friend who will keep the music going. If, instead, you hire musicians or a DJ, again, ask about how much space they need. And if they will need electricity for amplifiers or other equipment, definitely ask how much power is required and whether any sort of special outlet is needed. You don't want your house to blow a fuse as soon as the music starts, and with older houses, that's a real possibility. (You also don't want miles of extension cord all over your yard, as people will trip over it.)

However you handle music, think about the effect on your neighbors. The one day a year that you decide to play loud music will be the day that one of your neighbors is trying to nap off a migraine. If a pretty lively atmosphere is important to you, you'd be much better off with a reception site that has walls. You might also check your local noise ordinance laws.

Parking

Another cause of neighborly feuds is wedding guests who park in, or in front of, other peoples' driveways. Look for a school, church, or business that will allow you to borrow their parking lot for the day. Do get permission, as some church staff are quick to call the tow trucks.

Attire

If the celebration is relatively informal, it's most traditional and accepted for the wedding party to dress more simply than they would for a formal wedding.

The bride wears a fairly plain gown with no train or a very short train, or even a knee-length dress. Her veil is also relatively short and plain, or she can choose to wear a hat, flowers, or simply a pretty hairstyle instead. Her attendants wear dresses no longer than the current fashion for daytime wear. (The rule used to be "knee length," but where I live, ordinary daytime skirts now skim the ankles, and it's no kindness to make the bridesmaids feel clunky and unfashionable.)

The men in the wedding party where suits, or blazers and khakis, rather than the "formal" options of a morning suit (daytime) or a tuxedo (evening).

Of course, you can choose to have an even less formal wedding. But if you do, make sure that your invitations are not very traditional and formal, as it's awkward for everyone when guests show up more elaborately dressed than the bride. For a very casual wedding, it is customary to invite people by writing a letter or by phoning them.

Ceremony Logistics

The more work you're doing yourselves, the more merit there is to dropping the tradition of keeping the bride and groom separate before the wedding. . . unless the house is huge, there's no practical way to avoid seeing each other.

There are also practical things that must be done somewhere, though not necessarily in the house. These include:

Where will the bride and groom dress?

Where will the attendants dress?

If the bride and her attendants have hair or make-up appointments, where will this work be done?

Where will the bride be immediately before the ceremony? (If she's not greeting guests, she needs somewhere to hide.)

Where can you station someone to make sure that people who get corsages, boutonnieres, and bouquets all pick up their floral tributes?

Where will the wedding party assemble for their grand entrance at the beginning of the ceremony? (Or do you prefer to just have everyone gather around when the time comes, with no processional?)

How will the musicians or DJ know when it's time to play the processional or other music?

Where will the wedding party stand for the ceremony?

How long before the reception will you have to set out the food?

How will you handle photos before the ceremony, if any, if you're also setting up for the wedding?

All of these questions must be answered no matter where you have your wedding, but when you go a site that does lots of weddings, there is often someone to help you with the answers. When you hold a wedding at home, you have to work it out for yourself. As you hire vendors (if you do), take advantage of their expertise by asking lots of questions about how their work will happen in your space. If you do most things yourself, do some research on each task (for instance, find out how to "condition" flowers so they last before getting started on making bouquets, so you know you'll have the space, equipment, and time).