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In the iconic Steve Martin movie Father of the Bride, Annie and Brian want to have an at-home wedding, which turns the Banks’ home into pure chaos with parking issues, furniture removed, a tulip bed planted, and electrical issues.
Weddings held at home do begin with such tactical issues, but they’re also among the most memorable, most sentimental, and most unique. If you’re thinking about holding your wedding—or a bridal shower or any wedding-weekend event such as the rehearsal dinner—at your house, you enter a world of extra steps to be taken, but perhaps the most delightful payoff at the end of the process. The wedding experience, and the photos from the day, will be glorious.
Here’s a guide to hosting an at-home wedding event. And if you’re planning on making a call to an event planner to handle all of the details for you (this may be the most cost-effective and hassle-free way of handling an at-home party), you still need to be aware of all the variables.
First, take a realistic look at your home and decide if it’s viable for a big party. Are there spacious rooms like a living room and den where people can gather? Will there be enough room for tables and chairs? Will you have to remove furniture to fit the rentals, and if so, do you have a storage space available? Where would a buffet table go? A bar? Map out your home to see where everything would fit, allowing for plenty of walking space for guests. Or if you’re envisioning an outdoor tented wedding, be sure your backyard is spacious enough for the tent with its tables and dance floor. Then there’s the question of restrooms. The two or three in your house would not be able to handle 150 guests, so renting porta-johns is inevitable.
And what about room privacy? Are there some rooms, such as a home office, that you wouldn’t want guests to enter? You can lock doors and put “No Entry” signs on private rooms, but aside from these spaces, you have to be ready for guests to be everywhere in your home and on your property. That includes finished basements, backyard patios, and all bedrooms.
And finally, the kitchen. Would your caterer be able to work in there? Caterers’ trays are often oversized, so they need to have access to ovens and refrigerators that will accommodate them. A hired caterer will want to tour your kitchen ahead of time to be sure he can work well there and that there’s plenty of counter space for staging and plating, or he may require you to rent a separate tent in the yard where they will work their magic.
What other challenges does your home present? Can elderly or handicapped guests climb your stairs into the house? Where would child guests safely play? If you have a pool in the backyard, is it fenced for child protection? You need to look at your home from a standpoint of safety, free movement, and function, not just beauty. Too many hosts focus on the lawn and their wall colors, and forget to consider these less glamorous details.
You’re going to rely heavily on two different experts for your at-home wedding. The first is your caterer, who can handle almost every detail for you, from the food to tent rentals, to bartenders and wait staff. He or she will be in charge the night of your event, ensuring that everything happens according to plan. And don’t skimp on the number of bartenders: You don’t want long lines at the bar.
The second most important expert is your event planner, who can handle the entire event from start to finish, or can be hired to work just on the day of the wedding to keep track of the event itinerary, come to the rescue when some items are forgotten, supervise setup and delivery, keep the party events flowing, handle guests’ requests, and even call in backups if one of your vendors fails to show. These experts will ensure that you and your family will enjoy the wedding, shower, or rehearsal dinner you’ve planned so carefully. You shouldn’t be slaving over the stove or the grill. You shouldn’t be working the bar. You should be out on the dance floor—formerly your backyard—enjoying a magical wedding experience that adds to the rich history of your home.
An at-home wedding almost always requires a big rental order, unless you have a guest list of eight people. And the list of what you’ll need goes far beyond tables and chairs. There are tents, portable restrooms, fans or heating units for outdoor events, linens, a cake table, a dance floor, booster chairs for child guests, serving utensils and platters, an ice maker, extra lighting for the evening hours, and more. Your caterer or wedding planner can usually arrange this for you. Be sure to invite the rental company to visit your home for an assessment, rent the good chairs so that they don’t collapse, and over-supply yourself with wineglasses and other barware, plates, and utensils. Guests use more than one. Your caterer or wedding planner will advise you on how much you’ll need.
If you can use your outdoor space, this will be your chance to show off the lawn and gardens, your pool area, the landscaping, your new deck or terrace, your rose trellis, or koi pond. So this means spending time fixing the grounds to your liking, perhaps bringing in experts to trim down tree limbs or spruce up the lawn. Some at-home party hosts say they love to spend $5,000 on improving their yard or deck area, rather than spending that money on a reception-hall wedding, since the improvements stay with the home for many years. And some brides and grooms have even given their parents the gift of landscaping as a thank-you in advance of the wedding.
Create a plan for rain or mud that remains days after the rain. You might be able to lay out an all-weather carpet strip in front of the house entrance to catch some of the debris. When rain forces your party indoors, simple plastic mats inside the sliding glass doors can also be a carpet-saver. Don’t set up a hose by the back door for guests to wash off their bare feet, as we’ve heard about at some casual cookout parties. This just creates more mud, and you don’t want lively guests turning the hose on your party—something we’ve also heard about!
Another outdoor concern is mosquitoes. Those bug-zapper lanterns can only do so much. Supply a bottle of natural mosquito repellant on each guest table, and consider citronella candles for tables and tiki torches for your lawn. Don’t spray your yard for bugs the day before the wedding, since some guests may have a strong reaction to residuals from insect sprays. You’re better to go all-natural with prevention plans.
Ask at your town hall or police department if you need a permit for your guests to park on the street—you don’t want to risk parking tickets, getting fined, or, even worse, having your wedding shut down early. Inquire about parking guests’ cars in nearby lots in town, and having a shuttle escort them back and forth.
And be sure to hire valets. A professional valet service can create a plan, take care of permits, staff you with trained valets, and handle any parking situation that arises. Skipping this step could cause you to face the same situation as in Father of the Bride: You’ll miss the wedding because you’re parking cars on your lawn.
HOME CLEAN UP:
It’s essential to arrange for professional cleanup after the wedding, and many hosts also arrange for a professional cleaning before the wedding so that everything is in perfect order: the bathrooms will shine, the carpets look like new, and the photo frames on the walls will be dust-free. You may also consider a professional carpet-cleaning service. In the end, all of these details will add up to a beautiful event, with memories to last a lifetime.
It’s every girl’s dream to get married under the big white tent in the backyard, and even celebrities have created this exact same wedding fantasy. But before you create your spreadsheet and map out the dance floor placement in the yard, consider a few key realities about this type of celebration.
“It’s a common misconception that having a backyard tented wedding is always going to be cheaper than having your wedding at a hall, because you have to rent a lot of things,” says Megan Jones, a certified event rental professional, who is accredited through the American Rental Association and is the president of Celebration Party Rentals in Flemington (www.celebrationpartyrental.com). “And brides and grooms get very surprised when they learn their rental list goes beyond the things they look at—like linens, china, tables, and chairs—to the things that are needed for the logistics of the day. For instance, you need to create a cooking facility for the caterer, depending on your menu. That would mean a separate tent for the caterer, ovens, grills, a warming cabinet, and more. It’s vitally important that your tent rental agent work together with your caterer to figure out what is needed.”
Jones also mentions the fact that most houses do not have adequate electrical power for an outdoor wedding, so a generator will have to be rented. “And if your house has a septic system, your 200 to 300 guests would over-use your septic system’s capacity, so you’d need to bring in restroom facilities, too,” Jones says.
When it comes to tents, you may be surprised that prices are not as high as you might expect. It all depends on the size of tent you need and what stylistic choices you make. Today’s grand wedding tents come in several different fabrics: some with clear ceilings that allow you to see the stars above, some with pretty windows, some with netting, with flooring, without flooring, with heat, without heat, with accents to hide the tent poles and ceiling bracings. So assess your options well, and don’t try to save too much money by getting a super-cheap tent. Go newer, sturdier, and more modern since it’s the tent’s functioning that matters most. It needs to protect your guests from the elements and be a pretty backdrop for all of your wedding décor and moments.
Finally, check out permits with your town. See if you’ll need parking permits and if your neighborhood has a noise curfew. You wouldn’t want your wedding shut down by the police at 9 p.m. if the neighbors complain.
The fantasy backyard tented wedding can be your reality if you look at all the extra details needed and ask your wedding experts what they need from you to be able to do their jobs well.
BBQ WEDDINGS AND REHEARSAL DINNERS
When you and your groom look to the future, do your imaginations run to summers filled with great backyard get-togethers, gathering family and friends around the grill as long as the weather holds? Well, why wait? Whether set in your own backyard, on the family farm, or in your favorite Shore town, a casual evening centered around the barbecue can be the perfect starting point for your new life together. (Any of these ideas would also work perfectly as a rehearsal dinner or shower.)
As with a more formal wedding, options abound. For an intimate reception, why not gather your family and friends in your backyard or at a favorite park and fire up the grill? Keep it simple with hamburgers, hotdogs, and all the trimmings, or upgrade a little to steaks or ribs. And when your guests leave, send them home with a jar of barbecue sauce so they can be reminded of your special day at their next cookout.
If you’ve always dreamed of a Shore wedding, try a clam bake on the beach (permits and restrictions vary by town—be sure to check before you start planning).Guests can enjoy everything from clams and lobster to sausage, corn-on-the-cob, and potatoes. Shell-covered photo frames or large conch shells filled with saltwater taffy will send guests home with a smile on their faces.
Or for something more exotic, try a luau. Companies throughout the state, like DRJ Catering Services in Monmouth (800-664-0096; drjcatering.com), can take care of everything, from roasting a whole pig to handling equipment rentals. Try decorating your space with potted orchids, and let each guest choose one at the end of the night as a lasting memento of your wedding.
In the end, whether it’s hot dogs or a whole hog, your bbq wedding will be something you and your guests will never forget.
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