Wedding Venues

The (Un)Wedding: A 12-Step Plan

Have a modern celebration that keeps the standard wedding hoopla to a minimum

Maybe an elaborate affair isn’t your thing. Or you’re short on the time—or bucks—needed for a formal wedding. Good news: It’s easy to achieve a stress-free celebration that’s loaded with style. Start by rethinking the traditions. A few (the vows, food, drink, some kind of music) are nonnegotiable. Others (like a parade of bridesmaids) are yours to dispense with. Here are a dozen tips to get started.

1. Keep it Short: You can pack a lot of celebrating into three hours, especially if you’re not having a seated meal and dancing. Plan the party for a slightly off-hour—say, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Bonus: You’ll save money because you won’t be expected to serve a full meal.) You might want to choose a less popular day, too, like Friday or Sunday.

2. Rethink the Numbers: When’s the last time you wanted to spend the evening with 200 “friends”? Never? Thought so. To edit the invitees, pretend you’re making a guest list for your birthday party. Chances are, any friends who wouldn’t be at that event wouldn’t take offense if they don’t receive an invite to your intimate wedding.

3. Pare Down the Ceremony: You won’t have to decide who will walk you down the aisle or what role to give your older sister—but you will still need to appoint an officiant and exchange vows. Two ideas: Have a private ceremony with a justice of the peace, then celebrate later in the day with loved ones. Or have a friend ordained to do the honors at a cozy party. (Either way, nix the rehearsal.

4. Don’t Channel Eva Longoria: Just because celebrities have million-dollar, weeklong events doesn’t mean you have to. Instead, go into planning mode with a vision of a fabulous cocktail party or an elegant luncheon. Either can work for a wedding, and will be more fun and meaningful to you and your guests than a big, impersonal blowout. Bonus: no paparazzi!

5. Book a Restaurant: Your favorite Italian trattoria or that trendy new tapas place can make the ideal unwedding environment—and it probably has many of the assets that a ballroom or country club has, like a bar, a full kitchen and furnishings (table, chairs, dishes). And thanks to the venue’s focus on food, rituals like the receiving line and father-daughter dance won’t be missed. A restaurant also comes decorated so embellishments can be as simple as one or two floral arrangements and some well-placed votives.

6. Play with Tradition: Opt out of details like a big bridal party, programs and favors or keep them understated. For your honor attendant, order a cocktail dress instead of a long gown and a simple clutch of flowers; for the program, make a printout of your personalized vows; for favors, give guests something they’ll use, like a bottle of wine or a tin of mints.

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