How to make your wedding feel small and intimate without cutting the guest list

October 7 2014 | offbeatbride
SETTLE DOWN THERE, GUESTS
Photo by Aaron Young

For a long time, I had this idea in my head that more people at your wedding was "better." Like it meant more people cared about you, or maybe it was a sign of social status, I guess. So why would anyone have a small wedding?

After attending a wedding with under 100 people, all of whom truly loved and cared about that bride and groom, and attending a wedding with 200 people that were sort of friends with the bride and groom… I've started cutting my guest list like it's my job.

The problem: There's no way my future husband and I can cut our guest list to under 100 people. We probably can't even get it below 175, if we're gonna be honest. He has a fracking large family, and he's from a small town where it's a personal dig to not be invited to everyone's weddings and other shenanigans.

So how do we make our wedding feel small and intimate without being able to cut the guest list? I think we discovered the answer…

My friends' small wedding was so full of love, and they really made all of their guests feel like each one was a critical piece of who they were as a couple. As we left the wedding, my future husband said to me that he really felt honored to be there.

I realize that our larger wedding can also have the same feeling as long as we give off a feel that says "We are glad that YOU, specifically YOU, are here."

So we've thought about writing each person (or couple/family/whatever) a hand-written message inside of their seating card for the reception, thanking them for taking the time to be there with us.

We're also doing a "community vow" thing in our ceremony, where the officiant asks everyone there if they will support us through this journey, etc., and they respond.

Do y'all have any more tips on making a large wedding feel smaller and more intimate?

  1. If you are able, make your wedding a multi-day event. It doesn't have to be fancy: just a meet-and-greet at a picnic ahead of the wedding can make a big difference. A huge wedding can feel awfully lonely if you're surrounded by strangers. But conversely, if you met Uncle Joe the other day and got to know his personality, you will totally get why his table is laughing hysterically throughout the reception. And you'll be delighted when Aunt Kitty joins you on the dance floor, and touched when the groom's stoic father sheds a tear. You feel much more included in the larger group.

    • My oldest sister did the big church show for her first wedding, and for her second an outdoor ceremony and a barbecue reception in a barn. I'm not 100% certain to a one, but I'm pretty sure that in terms of actual numbers, the latter had the larger guest list. But the more casual, fun atmosphere went a long way, as did making it a three-day sort of thing. There was a dinner the night before for the wedding party, close friends, and immediate(ish) family, the wedding and reception the next day, and a brunch the next day for out-of-town guests.

      Think about going to a party with five strangers vs. twenty old friends. Intimacy is in the relationship more than the numbers.

  2. A friend of mine found that adding personal letters to invitations and thank you cards were a great way to start meaningful conversations with each of her guests and tell them how much she cares about them. I know that's awfully time-intensive with 175 people, but if you really enjoy writing letters and corresponding with guests you may not see often, sometimes having those thoughtful additions to the invitation means that, when you see them at the wedding, you're picking up the conversation where you both last left it in your letter, not trying to start a new one.

  3. We're inviting 180 but also want a small wedding feel. One way we're trying to make it more intimate is by having everyone actually stand pretty close together for the (short) ceremony and do a ring warming ceremony to include all of their love. I'm also having a pre-ceremony cocktail hour so FH and I can greet everyone as they come in and then get to just hang and have fun during the reception. Plus a party at a bowling alley the night before. Just little small efforts to get to spend time with each guest.

  4. I am in the same boat and this was a helpful post to read on a Monday during my break! We cut our original list from 700 people (I know, I know..) to 360. It feels like a dramatic decrease but it is still sooo many, twice as many as I would like! Our family members alone are 188 people, so the extra 180 are friends (who we consider family!) and dates of those who we love. I also am looking for a way to cut back the numbers.. Also, some people who I thought would be really invested in the idea of our marriage, are not really while others are coming out of the wood work expressing their ability to help and really make it a "community wedding" I was thinking about writing a personal letter BEFORE the wedding to folks, maybe as part of the invitation, or a follow-up after the RSVP to express our honor that they will attend.

    I just went o my cousins wedding last month where they wrote thank you cards hardwritten as part of the seating chart. It was thoughtful indeed and clearly a lot of work, but something about it felt like it lacked depth, because prior to this they had thought our wedding gift was a bridal shower gift, and we could not afford to give a second gift (we had splurged on a lot of items for the gift from their lists but it seemed that the gifts arrived before the shower, which I was not able to attend.

    Just some thoughts and I agree that an intimiate wedding is so meaningful!
    Good luck =)

  5. I love the idea of handwritten notes; that's so charming if you (and your writing hand) are up for it. To really make it personal for everyone, you're going to need to spend some actual face-time with guests, which means you need to work the room like it's your job. Things like taking your couple's and family photos before the ceremony free up a lot more time for socializing. Also, you have to eat, so do it with your guests. Sweetheart tables just segregate you from everyone who came to see you. Also also, I've had clients do things like serve dessert, which gives them a second to greet everyone but is much more satisfying than a receiving line since you get cake at the end. Because cake.

  6. We made our larger-than-I-would-have-liked wedding feel smaller by cramming everyone into a smaller room than is ideal for that many people (not recommending that one–haha). We had our ceremony on the beach in the early afternoon and the reception several hours later. We invited less than half of the total guest list to the ceremony, made it quick and informal, and didn't provide chairs. Everyone stood close so they could hear (no amplification, either) and all of that made it feel more relaxed and informal and intimate. I'm an introvert, so not having the whole gang involved in the whole day made it all less overwhelming for me. No one seems to have been offended about missing the ceremony–at least nothing has gotten back to me. We were able to say it was to avoid having to get permits. The non-family folks who lived in town didn't seem to mind coming to just the reception. It may have even been a relief to some of them. 🙂 There are things I'd do differently if I had it to do over again, but that isn't one of them.

  7. We had about 120/130 at our wedding – not huge, but larger than I might have chosen if we weren't so lucky as to have so many family and friends who we wanted there.
    We tried to make sure that we interacted with everyone at least a few times.
    We kept formal photos short (and didn't plan on doing any 'couples' shots during the day at all, although we actually ended up doing some because the the two of us and the photographer got to the reception venue about fifteen minutes before everyone else), but the list of formals included a few small family groupings and then several groupings that were supposed to catch everyone there at least once ('uni friends' 'work friends' 'his family friends' etc). The whole formal photos thing took about twenty mins/half an hour whilst people mingled outside the church and we had a chance to say hi to most people whilst the groupings were moving around.
    We hadn't planned on doing a receiving line, but because we got to the venue first my husband and I greeted everyone as they arrived. It was more hugs all round than handshakes. We kept interactions short as there was a queue, but we at least spoke to everyone. Some of my favourite photos from the day are of us hugging all the people.
    During dinner, apart from when we were actually eating we didn't sit at 'our' tables at all (we had two head tables as we were split across two rooms – we did starter and main in one and dessert and speeches in the other. That also meant we could have all the wedding party + partners as well as parents + grandparents at a top table. We deliberately tried to split people evenly and not A + B room it – the only consideration we gave was that the less mobile individuals should be in the room where speeches were happening so they definitely had a chair). We went round together and spoke to each of the tables for a few minutes each.
    Apart from those systematic attempts to make sure we had said hello to everyone we just generally circulated during tea and cake and after dinner. We had a ceilidh rather than a disco, which is a great way of getting people circulating on the dancefloor!

  8. We're doing handwritten thank you notes in the out of town guest bags, but not at the wedding itself. I'm also considering doing one of the photo thank you cards as a post-wedding thank you to everyone who came, mailed after the wedding. But we haven't completely decided yet.
    We are planning on doing photos early so we can spent the cocktail time with guests, and circulating during dinner. We opted for more tables with less people at each one so we could sit and visit with guests. For the far away tables (away from our table), we scattered the wedding party and our siblings, so even the "worst" table far away from us has one of the groomwomen – who loves to dance – and the adjacent table has my brother.

  9. It's probably a bit late now, but try to have the reception go on for as long as possible. If talking to your 200 guests for just five minutes each will add up to about 16 hours then of course you won't be able to talk to them all; but the longer your reception the more of them you'll be able to talk to (and some you'll talk to in groups thus acknowledging even more). It's understandable but not much fun for a guest to go to a wedding and have the bride and groom barely say more than "hello" to them because there are so many others to greet.

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