Small weddings were the norm for 2020, and they’ll likely continue to be the norm well into 2021—but with that, some couples are finding an unexpected silver lining. “At a smaller wedding, you have more room for authenticity and heartfelt connection,” says wedding planner Ashley Mason. “It’s a great opportunity to revisit what matters most.”
Meet the Expert
Ashley Mason is the founder of Dallas-based event planning and design firm Saunter Weddings and Design.
While those upsides will become clear almost as soon as you start planning, going down in guest count will look different for everyone. Read on for an expert take on what “small” really means when it comes to wedding size—plus tips for how to whittle down your list and make the soiree still feel meaningful.
What Is Considered a Small Wedding?
There’s no “one size fits all” scale when it comes to a wedding guest list—different amounts of attendees will feel right to different people based on family makeup, friend groups, culture, religion, etc. Mason considers 75 to 150 guests to be an “average” size wedding, and anything over 150 to be a “large” wedding. For weddings under 75, she breaks them down into three categories:
- Intimate wedding: Between 50 and 75 guests.
- Small wedding: Less than 50 guests. “That number can fit comfortably in a backyard with 6 or so tables,” she says.
- Tiny wedding: 15 people or less. (You might also see “minimony” or “micro wedding” used to describe a wedding of this size.)
How to Determine Your Wedding Size
Deciding who will be present when you say “I do” isn’t about hitting a number; it’s about ensuring that the people you surround yourself with on this day are the ones who have been important in your past, and will continue to be important in your future. “When you have a major moment, who are the first people you call or text? The people you want to celebrate those moments with are the ones you put on the list first,” says Mason.
Another way to approach a guest list for a small wedding: think of who you’d invite to a restaurant. “If you wouldn’t take 200 people out to dinner one-on-one, rethink the pressure of feeling like you have to invite 200 people to your wedding,” says Mason. “Because you essentially are taking everyone out to dinner—and dessert, drinks, and appetizers. So if you wouldn’t spend that time with them at a restaurant individually, then maybe reconsider where you’d place them on the importance scale when it comes to inviting them to your wedding.”
Tips for Sticking to a Small Guest List
Ahead, our expert advice for creating (and actually sticking to!) a small guest list.
Know your venue will come with its own limits.
Mason is steering clients towards private villas, quaint B&Bs, and boutique hotels. “They’re smaller and more intimate, and likely already have great, well-manicured grounds, so you don’t have to over-decorate,” says Mason.
Smaller venues come with smaller capacities, so there will be a built-in cap on your guest list if you go this route. A backyard wedding takes things one step further—not only will the ceremony and reception areas likely be smaller, but you’ll also want to be extra-conscientious of not bringing too many outsiders into a loved one’s personal space.
Be strategic with your date.
Weekday weddings are increasing in popularity and can be a good excuse to keep the celebration on the smaller side. (If you’re concerned that work will keep VIPs from attending, Mason assures this likely won’t be the case: “People take vacation all the time. If they really want to be there, they’re going to be there.”)
Though not ideal for large-scale celebrations, holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving can also make sense if you’re limiting the guest list to close family. Just be sure to account for everyone that would typically be around the table, because it’s only fair that anyone regularly included in holiday—even that one aunt that always gets on your nerves—would also be included in a wedding scheduled for that holiday.
Offer a thoughtful explanation.
With the pandemic, people are more understanding than ever when couples want to keep celebrations small—and it’s more than fine to mention COVID when breaking the news to someone that you won’t be able to invite them. If anyone asks outright, break the news gently. Say: Unfortunately, we aren’t able to invite as many people as we’d like. We really care about you, we want you to be safe, and we want to stay safe as well.
Don’t forget about Zoom.
Even when virtual weddings are no longer a necessity, you may want to consider live streaming the ceremony and allocating 20 minutes of computer time to share in the well-wishes from loved ones you weren’t able to accommodate IRL. Another idea: ask your videographer (or a friend that’s especially handy with a camera phone) to create and share a same-day edit of the ceremony that others can watch on their own time.
How to Make a Small Wedding Feel Special
Worried your small wedding won’t feel as meaningful as a large celebration? Don’t be! A small wedding presents many opportunities to wow guests and creates one-of-a-kind memories that wouldn’t necessarily be possible otherwise. Some ideas:
Show your gratitude with personalized notes.
Whether they’re placed at each guest’s dinner seat or added to a welcome bag, a hand-written card expressing your gratitude to each guest for their attendance will go a long way in reminding them just how big of a deal this day really is—and how big of a deal they are in your life.
Make time for guests ahead of the main celebration.
A small wedding means more opportunities for quality time. In lieu of one big welcome party, aim to schedule outings or activities with specific subsets of guests. (Drinks with your college besties, mani/pedis with your siblings and cousins, etc.) You’ll both appreciate the bonding time, and it’ll give you the chance to catch up on what’s going on in their lives—something that’s harder to do when your wedding day arrives.
Take the plunge on writing your own vows.
“A lot of people can’t imagine writing their own vows in front of hundreds of people, so they revert to traditional vows,” says Mason. A small wedding relieves the pressure to impress a large swath of people, so be as quirky, funny, or vulnerable as you’d like.
Reallocate your budget.
With a smaller wedding often comes a smaller budget—and more flexibility in how you spend. “The details don’t have to be over the top,” says Mason. “Hone in on what you’ve always wanted. Now that you have more freedom to do it, do it!” Some suggestions:
- Entertainment: Book the band or DJ you loved, but felt out of reach financially when your guest count was in the triple digits.
- Décor: If your perfect destination wedding in Mexico is now happening in your parents’ backyard, spring for a beautiful bougainvillea-covered ceremony arch. That way, your original locale will still be part of the memories.
- Food & Drink: “If you enjoy going to wineries together as a couple, offer a wine tasting at the wedding,” suggests Mason. Love sweets, and disappointed by the thought of guests eating sheet cake? Get the dessert bar of your dreams. With fewer mouths to feed, it’s easier to elevate your offerings.