I love a big, beautiful wedding. I really do. Maybe it stems from my dance background or my love for musical theater, but the whole production of a wedding, the “show” of it all, is something that fuels me. All the details, all the moving pieces, all the planning that comes together for one perfectly orchestrated moment in time. And the more vendors to manage and complicated logistics to figure out, the better. Bring it on gigantic guest list with assigned seating, transportation shuttles running from point A to point B to point C and back to point A, and Aunt Sally with her gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free meal! (FYI, catering team… she’s sitting at Table 12 in the sage green dress). Weddings, and more specifically large weddings, are my jam!
Pre-Covid, almost all of our weddings had guest lists of at least 200. My largest wedding production, up to the point that Covid hit, was well over 600 guests. Even our “small” weddings typically had at least 100 guests. While comparing stories of how Covid has affected our businesses with two of my industry friends – Sara, who owns Bella Notte in Washington, DC, and Kelly, who owns Kelly McWilliams Celebrations, Weddings & Parties in Florida – they both agreed that small weddings were “magical.” Texas tends to live up to the saying, “everything is bigger in Texas,” and this includes our weddings. So while both of my friends have planned many weddings with guest lists under 100, I can probably count on one hand the number of weddings of that size in my portfolio since starting Hitched Events more than nine years ago.
When Covid began, many of our clients opted to postpone their weddings to 2021. One couple canceled their wedding altogether with the goal to start planning again once the pandemic was in the rearview mirror. But we had one couple, Carly and Daniel, who opted for a hybrid celebration. They decided to postpone their big reception until 2021, but still wanted to get married on their original wedding date, September 26th of this year. Instead of 150 guests at Nasher Sculpture Center as we originally planned, the wedding would be an intimate affair at the mother of the bride’s home – a ceremony in the backyard followed by dinner for a total of 11 people, including the bride and groom.
During one of our final planning calls, Carly’s mom asked me if this was the smallest wedding I had ever planned. Indeed it was! I had planned a 24-person wedding several years ago (shout out to Kitty and Oliver who celebrated five years of marriage this year and now have two adorable kids!), but a wedding for bride, groom, and nine guests was certainly the smallest wedding I have been a part of. And to be quite honest, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it! While there were lots of details for this intimate wedding – catering, photography, videography, music, rentals, florals, lighting, A/V, hair and makeup, and stationery – the complicated logistics that I love to figure out were certainly scaled back. Plus, at my larger weddings, I am typically in the background. Sure… if you’re a guest and you need to find someone in charge, you can usually spot me or someone on my team fairly easily, but there is enough action in the room that I’m not front and center. Ever. Instead, I’m working behind the scenes to make the guest experience run as smoothly as possible. With a total of 11 people, where was I really going to go? As my dance background taught me, it’s hard to fade into the background when there are less than a dozen people on the stage.
Although I was unsure how I would feel orchestrating a wedding for 11, it didn’t take long for me to text my friend Sara during the event and tell her that she was absolutely right. A wedding for 11 people was indeed magical! Here’s why:
The entire day was super relaxed. With the bride getting ready in her mother’s home and only her sister (the Maid of Honor) and one bridesmaid in attendance, the day was as relaxed and laid back as it possibly could have been. While I put out the ceremony chairs and steamed the two table linens (yep… just two tables for dinner seating!), and Kate Foley designed a beautiful floral backdrop on the fence that was the ceremony focal point, the bride and her mom occasionally popped into the backyard to see the progress. Normally, when the wedding party gets ready at the same location as the reception, this surprise check-in is not always my favorite. (Wait until it’s all put together! It’s not done yet…. you’re not getting the full effect!) But this felt different. It was like we were putting together something special for a dear friend and it was an honor to be included. C’mon over and take a look! Isn’t this tablecloth even more beautiful in person than it was in the photo? And remember those napkins that you weren’t sure about… don’t you LOVE them in person now that you see them?! The overall feel for the day was simply lovely.
The people in attendance were the most important people. There were no courtesy invites. No random plus-one of the week. No you-invited-me-to-yours-so-I-guess-I-have-to-invite-you-to-mine. Nope. Every single person in attendance was not just the A-list, they were the A+ list. We’re talking parents, siblings, a couple of very close friends, and an aunt and an uncle. While not all of the invited guests were able to attend, it was still planned as a very intimate celebration with the larger guest list invited to participate in the ceremony via Zoom. When you’re one of 11 people in attendance vs. one of 400, it certainly feels special to be included.
You can splurge on the details. An exquisite tablecloth is much more doable for two tables than it is for 20. And napkins that rent for $4 apiece are much easier to swallow for 11 guests than it is for 150 or 200. Even doing hand calligraphy for place cards or nicer flatware is more manageable from a cost perspective with a smaller guest list. If you love the details but don’t have an unlimited budget, a smaller guest list allows you to do it up without breaking the bank.
The toasts were interactive. Here’s one thing that I wasn’t expecting – when your guest list is small, the toasts become a conversation piece. When the Best Man gave a toast during dinner, telling a story about the groom, the Father of the Groom was able to follow it up with a comical, related story to offer even more color and context. And while the Best Man and Maid of Honor had prepared remarks, the aunt and uncle’s impromptu remarks were equally as lovely and heartfelt. It was the quintessential dinner party full of great conversation and genuine love and excitement for the newly-married couple.
The wedding was truly about the marriage. This one goes without saying, but the whole production aspect of the wedding was gone. It wasn’t about the size of the florals, the intricate place settings, bold lighting or entertainment. Don’t get me wrong… I love doing that! If you want to plan a big-budget soiree, I am your girl. But this evening was different – it was about Carly and Daniel getting married. Nothing else. And for someone who thrives in the world of big weddings and the “show” of it all, it was a refreshing change and a nice reminder about what the wedding day is truly all about. Thanks, Covid!
While most of my day-to-day work involves a computer and maybe a phone – contracting vendors, creating floor plans and design plans, making event timelines, and not to mention the actual running of the business (payroll, and website, and social media, oh my!) – that behind the scenes work isn’t what feeds my soul. All that work is just a means to an end. The real reward is seeing everything I’ve imagined in my head from a design perspective come together and all the logistics falling into place. Or, I should say, that has been the reward.
Now, in 2020, the reward is a little bit different. The reward is seeing people actually get married and starting their lives together. And whether I’m there facilitating a big production for 300 or an intimate wedding for 30 (or 11!), it’s truly an honor to be a part of it. Before Covid, I honestly took that for granted because… you know… weddings were happening in abundance! But with a 6-month hiatus from events (our last pre-Covid event was the end of February, and we picked back up again with a 50-person wedding in August), I’ve gotten a new perspective on what it is that I actually do. I create beautiful weddings. And beautiful weddings aren’t always a big production. But they definitely are magical.