Wedding Ideas

12 Mistakes to Avoid When Planning Your Backyard Wedding in NJ

Posted on September 08, 2023 by New Jersey Bride

An NJ backyard wedding
Photo by Bri Johnson Photography

Choosing to have a backyard wedding can be an opportunity to make your big day intimate and personalized. But, planning a backyard wedding in New Jersey can become complicated and expensive. For tips and tricks, we turned to event planner Danielle Rothweiler of Rothweiler Event Design. Below, she provides everything from decor inspiration to budget advice. Read on to learn more about affordable ways to turn your backyard into a romantic setting for your wedding day.

Photo by Bri Johnson Photography

First, let’s talk about why backyard weddings have become a trend. When Covid-19 hit, weddings everywhere got cancelled and postponed. Some couples changed their date many times and still have yet to walk down the aisle. Back in 2020, there was a strong push towards the microwedding trend. Couples were looking to have an intimate wedding, instead of inviting 300 guests.

As things are back in full swing, some couples are opting to change their standing wedding plans. The most popular choice is to host a smaller wedding either at their home or a relative’s home. There is a lot that goes into planning a wedding off-site and outside of a banquet hall that does this every weekend. There are things that couples don’t think of because they’ve never done this before and it’s outside the norm. Here are 12 mistakes I’ve seen couples make when planning a backyard wedding.

Claire Loves Lace
Claire Loves Lace

Mistake 1: Skipping a Site Visit with Vendors

You might be surprised at the amount of couples that have contacted me to plan a backyard wedding when they barely had much of a backyard to begin with. A lack of space, an uneven ground and more issues can make it pretty difficult to host a wedding at home. In fact, before I even take on the task of planning a private wedding like this, I will always ask the couple for more information, such as how much land do you have? Is the ground flat?

When you host a backyard wedding, there needs to be room for tenting. Tenting includes the reception area, but you also need options for other parts of the wedding day, as well as for the catering staff that will likely request a ‘cooking tent.’

In order to figure out how much tent you actually need, a site visit with a professional company is necessary. They’ll look at the area or areas that need to be tented in order to put together a proposal. Before that site visit however, you should find out what your caterer will need. An entire tent proposal can go out the window if you go back to them with catering needs after they’ve already done the site visit and put together the quote. Because of that, you should also have potential caterers come out for a site visit. They will be able to scout out locations to make and prep food.

Once you have these major vendors figured out, you can use the proposal your tent company put together to figure out your floor plan. Start with deciding where the dance floor will be in order to design where the guest tables and everything else will end up.

A backyard wedding.
Photo by David Todd McCarty on Unsplash

Mistake 2: Forgetting That This is a Wedding, Not a BBQ.

One thing that tends to happen with backyard weddings, is that they are treated like they are less special than a formal or traditional wedding. Just because you’re hosting at your home, doesn’t mean the formalities need to disappear. I suggest that you still send out proper invitations that reflect your style and wedding vibe.

I love these classic white invitations from Minted because they are formal enough for a wedding while still being budget-friendly. The bottom line is, you still need RSVP details from your guests no matter where you get married.

If you’re really looking to save on wedding invitations, Minted has beautiful all-in-one invitation options.

Wedding invitations give guests a sneak peek into what they should expect at the wedding.

Before you select wedding invitations though, decide what the dress code will be. Another common mistake backyard wedding couples make is making the dress code super upscale. No, it’s not a BBQ and jeans and sneakers aren’t acceptable, but don’t think you need to request floor-length gowns and tuxedos.

The driving force behind any wedding dress code is the wardrobe of the couple. For any brides feeling pressured to wear a super traditional wedding gown, trust me, you do not have to do that.

This tea-length wedding gown is perfect for a backyard wedding. There is a bridal vibe going on, so that the bride won’t be mistaken for a wedding guest. If you’re looking for something a touch more formal, or if the short wedding dress option isn’t for you, a high-low wedding dress is what you need!

Guests want to be told what the dress code to your wedding. Help them out by writing clues like “black-tie optional” or “casual clothing” or whatever it is that you want people to wear.

Parking sign
Courtesy of Etsy

Mistake 3: Letting Parking Be an After-Thought

One of the biggest mistakes couples make when planning their backyard wedding, is totally forgetting about parking. Where will your guests park their cars?

Even with a small guest count, there likely isn’t enough room on your street for guests to leave their cars. Figuring out where parking will be should be part of the initial wedding planning conversations.

Adding these details in with your wedding website or invitations is a great idea, but don’t forget about adding signage on the actual wedding day.

If you’re going for the rustic wedding vibe, then a wooden wedding parking sign is the perfect choice! Be sure to locate an area where you can get the sign well into the ground so it will stand up straight.

As important as parking is when it comes to backyard weddings, it’s just as important to let guests know where they should not park. You’d be surprised where guests try leaving their cars, so it’s a good idea to make it very clear what areas are off limits with a “no parking” sign.

A backyard wedding.
Photo by David Todd McCarty on Unsplash

Mistake 4: Letting Your Guests Get Bored

In addition to dancing, you’ll also want plenty of fun things to incorporate into your backyard wedding.

All you need is one tree for this fun ring toss and hook backyard wedding game! You’ve probably seen this before at a bar or maybe in someone else’s backyard, but what I love the most about this is the customization. Just add your joint last name and the year, and you’ll always remember this day for years to come!

Lawn games have been popular for outdoor weddings for years now, but no game has been more popular than cornhole. You can personalize these corn hole boards, and keep them out the whole night for your wedding guests.

Of course, who doesn’t love Jenga? Even with the smallest backyard, there is plenty of room for a giant Jenga set on your wedding day. Break out a few Sharpies and let guests leave their well wishes on the blocks they pull out, and it doubles as a guest book!

Courtesy of Justin Tinapay Photography

Mistake 5: Leaving Your Guests in the Dark…the Literal Dark

Backyard lighting is a must for two reasons…The first reason is because it looks pretty cool and it’s an inexpensive way to level up the whole backyard look. The second reason is so that you can see where you’re going. Not sure if that’s more important than the first reason, so let’s just call it a tie.

String lights will take your backyard from basic to beautiful, and they are super affordable too! You can hang them from existing trees or other structures and essentially create any look you want.

If you really want to illuminate your backyard wedding, here’s another cheap way to do it. Add uplighting like we did at this wedding. Turn the inside of your tent purple, or canvas your backyard in shades of amber and gold.

A backyard wedding.
Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

Mistake 6: Allowing Your Guests to Play Musical Chairs

Look, even if you’re hosting a backyard micro-wedding for 20 people, you should always direct where your guests are sitting. Believe me, they want that guidance and every single one will ask you where they should sit if you don’t map this out ahead of time.

If you’re hosting a backyard wedding with multiple tables, then go with a simple seating chart. I recommend listing the seating arrangements alphabetically instead of by table, but if your guest count is low enough you can really do either. If you’d prefer to go with escort cards instead of a seating chart, keep the display simple.

For backyard weddings with smaller guest counts, it’s entirely possible to just use one table. Since all of your guests will be sitting together, they only need to know which chair to sit in. In that case, you can direct them to their spots with beautiful place cards like these, placed at each table setting.

A backyard wedding.
Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

7: Overdoing the Backyard Decor

There are countless different ways to setup for a backyard wedding. But whether you’re having a backyard wedding for 200 guests or 20, it’s the space you’re using and your style that should inspire the design and decorations.

Looking for real backyard wedding ceremony ideas? I am obsessing over this gorgeous personalized backdrop. You might not want to spend a ton of money on ceremony flowers, or maybe you just don’t have the space for a big arbor. With this backdrop, you have something simple and affordable. Just add your names and the wedding date and check “ceremony decorations” off your to-do list.

As your guests arrive, show them the way to go with a custom directional sign. Many people love signs like these, and it’s a really simple piece of decor that makes a huge impact.

Take your backyard wedding to the next level by adding floral hoops to your tent ceiling. Super easy to assemble, this is a great way to make your backyard wedding special for a really low cost.

A backyard wedding.
Photo by micheile henderson on Unsplash

8: Forgetting to Coordinate Special Moments or Simple Gestures

The worst part of being outdoors (at least for me) are the bug bites. I have so much citronella stockpiled in my garage because I love being outside, but I hate getting bitten up. Even if you cake the air in your yard with bug fogger, it’s a great idea to offer your guests their own personal bug spray. Odds are they won’t think to put it on before coming to your wedding, and it’s a super sweet gesture to make.

Dreaming of that sparkler exit you’ve seen done a few times before? Did you know that many private venues don’t allow sparklers like these? Luckily for you, it’s your backyard, so you get to make the rules! It’s important to have enough sparklers for the people who will be in the picture, plus a few extra. If your guest count is under 20, feel free to give everyone attending their own stick of pretty fire. Set up the sparklers in advance as part of your backyard wedding decor. Then add this adorable sign to let your guests know what time the sparklers will be starting. Oh, and professional tip…keep two buckets of sand nearby to extinguish the sparkles when they’re all done. No one wants to see their backyard wedding go up in smoke at the end of the day!

You’ve got the hashtag and you may have included it on your save-the-dates, wedding website, and every Instagram post that’s wedding related. Here’s the thing though…no one but you and your fiance are going to remember it on the wedding day. Give your guests plenty of guidance with a custom wooden sign that reminds everyone to share pictures with your hashtag.

A backyard wedding.
Photo by Photos by Lanty on Unsplash

9: Letting Guests Play Bartender

Just because it’s your house, your rules, doesn’t mean you should allow your friends and family to grab their own drinks. Things can spiral out of control pretty fast when guests start playing bartender. Let licensed bartenders handle all of the drink orders, and take advantage of these affordable ways to add in your wedding style.

Little details can make a big impact when it comes to wedding design, which is why I love these custom cocktail napkins. Give your guests plenty to talk about with fun facts about the two of you and your love story. Your guests will be too busy reading to even think about jumping behind the bar.

These customized cups are perfect for the times when you actually can allow your guests to handle their own drinks. For instance, during your outdoor wedding ceremony, set up a table for guests to grab non-alcoholic options like water and lemonade.

A backyard wedding.
Photo by Photos by Lanty on Unsplash

10: Ignoring The Inevitable Foot Problems

With a backyard wedding, you’re basically asking guests to walk through grass, dirt, and whatever else you’ve got going on back there. Most guests realize this, but also realize this isn’t an appropriate occasion to wear sneakers or boots. On the other hand, you really don’t want guests to make the choice between their shoes or no shoes. From stepping on a piece of glass to the fact that it just looks awful, guests should never have bare feet at a wedding.

You can grab flip flops and add your personal wedding details to them. It’s an easy and cheap way for you to provide this alternative footwear option to all of your guests.

Another great way to save the heels of your female guests is with heel protectors. You may have seen these at multiple weddings, and maybe even put them on the ends of your heels. The clear protectors go right on to the end of the heels and will keep guests from sinking into the grass for the whole wedding day. Since guests usually wait to change into flip flops until later in the evening, make sure these are available as everyone arrives so they can be used immediately.

A backyard wedding.
Photo by Zhouxing Lu on Unsplash

11: Underestimating How Many Chairs You Need

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen backyard wedding couples make is trying to cut corners by only having one set of chairs. Somehow, many couples think that they can use the ceremony chairs for their reception. That is never a good idea. First and foremost, chairs need to be set up in any location where guests will be sitting. If you don’t provide a second set of chairs, then there are only two ways to get those ceremony chairs to the reception space. You can either ask your wedding guests to move their chairs from the ceremony to the reception, or you can hire a staffing company to take care of it. Both options are terrible, in my opinion.

No one wants to pick up their own chair and bring it to the places they need to sit down. You don’t ask your guests to work on your wedding day, and lifting chairs would be work. While you can hire staffing to take care of the chairs, that’ll cost more than you think. The reason it will get expensive is because there will be a limited amount of time to move these chairs, and that staff probably will be setting other stuff up for your wedding. All that means is your wedding day falls way behind.

The answer is to simply rent two sets of chairs: one set for the ceremony, and one set for the reception. If you’re having a cocktail hour of any type, be sure to offer some alternative style seating. You can easily create a lounge area in your backyard that will double as seating and wedding day decor. Save the chairs for the ceremony and reception, and let your guests relax in between. Don’t forget to take your own pictures lounging together, too!

A backyard wedding.
Claire Loves Love

12: Forgetting to Consider The “Boring” Stuff

Many couples think hosting a backyard wedding will be simpler and cheaper than hosting it anywhere else. I cannot tell you how wrong that is.

It’s not simple because of the things you wouldn’t think of. For instance, do you have the proper amount of electricity needed? Obviously, I always advocate using a wedding planner, but it’s flat out essential for a backyard wedding. It’s not your job to know the boring stuff, but it is the job of your wedding planner.

Here are a few boring things you’ll want to keep in mind for your backyard wedding:

  • You’ll need enough electricity for anyone using power. This includes your music vendor, your caterer, and any other vendor that will need to plug stuff in. The best way to figure this out is by asking every vendor what their electrical needs are and going from there. It could result in you needing a generator, so don’t leave this until the last minute.
  • Where your water source is will matter to your caterer and your bathroom trailer vendor if you are using one. And, you probably should use one if your guest count is over 15 people. After all, your vendors will need to use the restrooms throughout the night too, and do you really want people going through your house searching for the bathroom?
  • You need to also figure out if you need any permits for the wedding day. Where will your guests park and is that allowed on your street? What is the noise ordinance rule and what time does the music need to go off? If you’re putting up a tent, find out what permits are needed for that as well.

These are some of the biggest backyard wedding mistakes I’ve seen made as a wedding planner. There are a lot of details that go into planning an at-home wedding, but hopefully you now know what mistakes to avoid.

Danielle Rothweiler is the owner and lead planner of Rothweiler Event Design. Danielle has been working as a wedding and event planner for more than 10 years and her work has been featured in media outlets including MTV, E! News, People, New Jersey Bride and more!

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