Tips on how to plan a Home or Back Yard Wedding

The advice below covers how to choose a caterer, how to avoid stress, how to avoid pitfalls, where to save money and where NOT to try and save money.

1. Should I have a home wedding?

There are some fantastic advantages to having a small wedding in your home. It's tremendously economical compared to an event in a venue. Not just because of the venue savings. Your food and alcohol, (the most expensive part) will be a fraction of the cost and the savings will amount to a sumptuous honeymoon or a hefty part of a new car. It's intimate. The hosts and the wedding party will probably be more relaxed in familiar surroundings. For many people, a pretty garden, around a swimming pool or under a favourite tree in the back yard is just exactly the right place. Depending on the home and the décor, it can be casual and comfortable or formal and spectacular.

Often the home carries memories and significance for someone in the bridal party. It's quick and easy to organise. While some people love the idea of spending twelve months planning a wedding event, others don't want to play the waiting game. It gives you a great deal of flexibility over who you invite. We're just having an intimate ceremony at home' gives you the ability to limit numbers without offending people.

2. What to tell people

Some people don't like the term 'back yard wedding'; 'home wedding' is the generally used description.

3. How many guests?

Less than 100 people; you're a small wedding. At this level you don't need an event organiser. More than 100, you should engage an wedding event manager. Consider the size of your home; is there enough space for everyone to gather for the ceremony? Rough guide for 100 people is 40 square metres. Don't forget you have the option of cramming furniture into one room to create space elsewhere. If necessary, get a bigger venue or less guests. The advice given below assumes you're in the less than 100 category.

4. How to save money on catering

Having a home wedding is probably going to save you a large amount of money. Home weddings often have more casual food service. Choosing to serve platters, finger food or buffet could halve your food bill as well as making food service much simpler. Top quality finger food is a much better idea than the cheapest quote for plated food. You''ll spend less money and your guests will enjoy better food.

Kind of obvious but cutting back on the guest list is going to save you money.

If you're having a full plated meal your food and alcohol bill may total 50% of your whole budget. If you do finger food you could bring it down to 30%. A detailed budget is a must, but as a guide, work out your food and alcohol bill and divide by 0.5 if it's plated and 0.3 if it's finger food to estimate the total wedding bill.

5. What will make the most difference in making the event a success?

Your attitude. Not the circumstances, not the weather, not whether everyone turns up; it's about your willingness to relax on the day and be joyful. The truth is, if you're tense and uptight about what will happen, you'll find something to be uptight about. So don't stress; let things move at a natural pace (it doesn't matter if the bride is late or Uncle Arthur's speech is too long), hire the most experienced, professional people you can find, listen to their advice, and trust them to handle whatever comes up. Don't forget to have fun! However much planning you do, things won't turn out exactly as you expect, so manage your expectations about that. If something goes wrong, let it be a part of your memories, not the end of life as we know it.

6. Advice on where to start

For this sized function an experienced caterer will be able to help you plan the whole wedding and troubleshoot pretty much anything that goes wrong on the day.

7. Tips on choosing a caterer

Ideally you'll have tasted their food at a function. Next best option is a recommendation from a trusted friend. Here are some questions you'll want to ask How long has the business been going in its current form? What style food do they mostly do? No point choosing a caterer because you loved their lasagne and telling them you want Asian style food. Most caterers will tell you they can do any style of food. Ask them what style they do most of the time. How many weddings do they do a week?

If your first contact is over the phone, tell them the fundamentals about your function (numbers, date and time etc) and if you like what you hear, arrange a meeting to discuss your function. This will give you a sense of how well organised they are and how flexible they are. If there is anything unusual about your home or back yard's configuration the meeting should be at your home. In any non-standard house a good caterer will want to check you've got enough space for the guests, that stairs are manageable, that access exists for food warming equipment etc.

It's a good idea to get the caterer to arrange equipment hire. The reason is that your caterer will know the capabilities of the hire company and there will be no surprises for the caterer when the equipment arrives. When they look around your premises they will be looking with a professional eye for marquis-related issues and logistics issues. It's also the case that the caterer is a regular customer for the equipment company, so if anything goes wrong, he has more influence than a one-off client.

Once you've answered the caterer's questions, here are some questions you might want to ask them


  • How much food preparation is out-sourced; what do you NOT do in house? If more than a small number of dishes are bought from elsewhere you're asking for trouble. (You want the caterer directly in control of as much of the process as possible).
  • Do you freshly prepare sauces?
  • Where do you cook the food? Do you have a commercial kitchen? Don't for goodness sake deal with anyone preparing food at home. Asking for trouble
  • How do you keep the food warm? (Steel trays are best for serving and hot food served cold is poor catering).
  • How many staff do you think you'll need (a small number is a warning sign. It means the staff will be under stress. You don't want that; it may have bad consequences).


8. Are there vegetarians or people with allergies?

As your RSVPs come in, make sure you tell the caterer if there are people with special dietary needs. It is your responsibility to brief thoroughly on this. If you have 3 vegetarians, how strict are they? When critical food allergies are involved the caterer may suggest that person is separately catered for.

9. Waiters and waitresses and sub-contracting

Some caterers allow you to employ staff yourself. It will save you money but think very carefully before going down this path. You are taking some responsibility away from the caterer sub-contracting increases risk. If something goes wrong, it will probably be a communication issue between the caterer and the staff. In terms of professional presentation, the caterer's own staff know the food and will be able to answer the guests' questions. Yes that has nuts in it. No, it's not vegetarian. It was cooked in a red wine jus.' This level of detail impresses guests and is worth something. Many guests will spend more time talking to staff than they will talking to the host and hostess. They need to be good.

10. Choosing a photographer

Second most important person after the caterer. Again, choose experience. Taking photos at a wedding is no job for an amateur. They might have taken some lovely shots of sunsets but the wedding photographer needs good people-management skills and must know how to art-direct people, particularly in group shots. This is not an area to try and save money on. A professional won't let you down. Use an amateur chauffeur by all means. You'll discuss with the photographer what style photos you want, but casual shots taken throughout the event are a good alternative to posed shots.

11. Managing the wedding timeline


  • Pre-wedding photos - You may want to do portraits before the formalities start
  • Guests arrive - Best not to serve drinks or food until the ceremony is over. Otherwise all your photos include alcoholic beverages.
  • Ceremony
  • Photographs if desired including 'pretend' cake-cutting if photographer is to leave
  • Pre-dinner drinks
  • Toasts, speeches
  • Cake-cutting
  • Bridal dance
  • Throwing of the bouquet or the garter
  • Bride and groom leave


12. Tips for nice touches

*Put objects around the buffet or in central places that have had significance for the couple or the families - a christening gown, a favourite teddy bear, a sporting trophy...* Lots of fabric and ribbon to dress up the tables * Candles!! * If you have a large enough back yard, consider creating a separate area for the ceremony. You can join this to the reception' area with lines of flowers in urns or ribbon in shepherd's hooks. Your florist/interior designer may lead this project or you can use a friend (just one) who is good at that sort of thing. They should be roped in at an early stage and a budget should be set. * Lots of hand-towels and perfumed soaps in the bathrooms * Programme books as souvenirs * A ribbon around the dog's neck * Natural greenery on food platters and the buffet table; talk to your caterer and your florist * Music in the background (not the foreground). Leave the heavy metal til after the formalities. *

13. Avoiding pitfalls


  • You should discuss with the caterer what will happen if it rains. Even if you're planning a January wedding.
  • Warn the neighbours; especially if it's an evening wedding. Be prepared if they offer to help. Have a request at the ready. Can they give you a hand with parking? On the parking front, if parking is limited, consider using a nearby parking lot/school and running a shuttle. You'll need permission of course from the school.
  • You'll need a bathroom strategy. No, really. What happens if your one toilet can't cope with the numbers? The rule of thumb is one bathroom for every twenty five guests. If you don't have enough, consider hiring a Portaloo or using a neighbour's toilet.
  • Anything breakable near the dance floor needs to go.
  • Anything valuable near the front door needs to be removed.
  • Decisions about who's in charge of music levels should be made before the event. Ideally, not a teenager.


14. More questions?

If you have further questions about catering for a wedding, contact Santino on (08) 9331 2874. You can get a catering quote from FingerFood Catering in about three clicks. Wishing you a joyful and memorable wedding!

  Just to let you know the food was magnificent and

      we will definitely use you again in the future.     

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