How to Organize a Small Wedding or Elopement on the Fly

With all the uncertainty around when life can get “back to normal” these days, I continue to feel for ALL of the couples out there who are trying to make sense of when they can have the wedding they’ve been planning for. While states have been slowly lifting stay-at-home orders, the idea of having a wedding with guests wearing masks and social distancing is most likely not what you had pictured when you planned (and paid for) your wedding. And that reality sadly seems like it might be here for the next few months (at least). So what choices do you have now?

We still feel strongly that you should work with your wedding venue (and vendors) to pick a realistic date that works for everybody involved so you can minimize any financial loss. If your wedding venue is still saying your August wedding is a go and they are not willing to reschedule you at this point, I would refer back to your contract as well as a lawyer and/or your state regulations to see what your options might be. Many wedding venues and vendors are being great with their clients and rescheduling them to later this year or 2021 if need be, so I would try to appeal to everyone involved to pick the best option that will not involve you paying any more money that you don’t have to.

We’ve also gotten several questions from couples who are readjusting their plans and want to go forward with a smaller wedding or elopement–either to honor their original date or just as a safer, less expensive alternative–so, we wanted to do a podcast episode to answer them. (Hit ‘Play’ to listen to it, below). We’ve also included our show notes below in case you can’t listen right now.

Here’s a couple examples of the questions we’ve received:

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Question: I’m interested in knowing logistics for an “intimate elopement” – 10 people or less – and the timing of things. (Do we have just cake after? Cake and appetizers? What do we do the rest of the day – especially if we can’t still eat at a restaurant? etc.) And then, what do we do next year for our reception? Everything we had planned on but skip the ceremony? So many logistical questions!

Also Read: Our 10 Favorite wedding planner books to buy right now

Question: It would be so awesome if you could do an episode on how to plan a small ceremony for brides who never thought they would have a small wedding! For example, getting ready day of, permitting for a beach or outdoor ceremony (Do we even need a permit if it is 5 people/no chairs etc?), should I get a bouquet, wear a veil, should we tell people we legally got married even if we are still planning a ceremony & reception next year, etc.!

Here’s our advice on how to plan an intimate elopement or small wedding given the current situation.

Also Read: The 16 Best Macy’s Dresses for Mom

First, think of the guest list

At this point I can’t recommend having even 10 members of your family/friends over, unless you’re able to social distance. This is especially important to keep in mind if you have elderly guests or those with underlying health conditions. Having your elopement is not worth endangering the health of those you love.

However, as cities begin to open up over the next few weeks things may change, so we’ll go by that assumption. If you do want to make it just the two of you, you can keep these same plans but just invite everyone virtually.

Pick a location

Some cities are opening up parks and beaches, but not all as of now. If beaches and parks are open in your city, you’ll want to check out your local government website to see which public spaces require a permit. Some do not require a permit if you have a small guest list. However many do, so you’ll want to check and make sure you submit the permit on time and that you have any fees covered.

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If you have the space at home, it’s the best option. Your backyard and even your living room can be transformed into a magical space with the right lighting and music.

How to Throw the BEST Backyard Wedding Ever

Find an officiant

You can decide whether you want to make this a symbolic ceremony or a legal one. Again, cities are opening up over the next few weeks, but as of now it’s difficult to get a marriage license most places as most courthouses are still closed if you don’t already have yours. However, NYC just started their virtual marriage license program: The new system will allow couples to securely upload required documents for the marriage license to the City Clerk’s office, and upload the signed license for submission to the City Clerk once the ceremony is complete.

You can also find a wedding officiant online in your area.

Enlist the help of a photographer

You’ll want to document your elopement/small ceremony, so ask your original wedding photographer if they can arrange to come to your intimate wedding for a fee, or look for an elopement photographer in your area. If you want to keep it simple, you can ask a talented friend or family member who is good with a camera to be on duty. Once they take photos from your day, have them upload them to a Google Drive or Dropbox folder. You can even consider doing the editing yourself. You’d be surprised what a good filter can do! I like using Adobe Lightroom. I bought these presets called The Light & Airy Lifestyle Mobile Presets and they make my photos look way better.

Decide what to wear

If you’re planning a larger reception at a later date, you can choose to hold off wearing your original wedding dress until then, or you can break it out of the closet and give it a go. I don’t think I would…I would buy a white dress on sale online if I could and wear that. You can also re-wear that to any wedding parties you might have after.

Looking for something inexpensive? These dresses are all available on Amazon for under $200.

Your dress will also influence your veil. If wearing a, say, shorter off-the-rack dress, consider buying a fun birdcage veil to go with it.


When it comes to flowers and decor, go simple and sweet. This isn’t the time to spend a ton of money on decorations…think candles and inexpensive flower arrangements that you can get from the grocery store. If you want to do something a bit more elevated, check out this site,

This is a new company co-founded by one of our fave wedding planners, Laurel & Rose. It’s not-for-profit, and brings together local and national vendors, like florists, photographers, DJs, and more who are in the wedding space who can offer fun packages for you to enjoy, or to send to someone, to enjoy at home. You can purchase a floral arrangement, a private DJ performance for up to 100 guests on Zoom for $100,  a virtual makeup tutorial for you and your besties, or even virtual wedding planning consultation.

Create a timeline

  • Getting ready photos
  • First look
  • Ceremony and vows 
  • Champagne toast
  • Celebration dessert. You could also get a larger food delivery, such as BBQ or Italian or maybe from the restaurant where you went on your first date
  • First dance
  • Maybe you and your guests could all sit outside and go around asking people to share details about when they first met their partner. Or if a guest isn’t married or dating, have them share the worst date they ever went on…something funny!

If it’s just the two of you…

If it’s just the two of you and maybe you’re not doing anything official, but want to honor your wedding that you had to postpone, there are definitely a few meaningful ways to do this.

  • Take how many years you’ve been together, and write down that many things you love about the other person
  • Take a drive, either to a beautiful destination or around to your friends and family houses and have them come outside and say hi at a distance.
  • Get fun food delivered or takeout
  • Open a fun bottle of champagne or wine
  • Do a family or friends Zoom date
  • Make a dance playlist with songs you want to play at your reception and have a dance party for two

Speaking of the two of you, on this week’s podcast episode we also talk about our favorite cocktails that we’ve been making (and drinking) a lot of lately. I’ve included the recipes below. Note that these are already measured out for two people. For all of these recipes we pour the ingredients into a chilled cocktail shaker filled with ice, and shake for 20-30 seconds. Once shaken we pour into two coupes and add a garnish if noted.

Manhattan for Two

4 ounces rye
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry vermouth
6 good shakes of bitters (don’t be shy)
1 half spoon of Luxardo cherry juice
Garnish: 2 Luxardo cherries per glass

Dirty Martini for Two

5 ounces gin or vodka
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce olive brine
Garnish: 2 olives per glass

Vesper for Two

4.5 oz Gin
1.5 oz Vodka
3/4 oz Lillet blanc apéritif
Garnish: Lemon twist

Skinny Margarita for Two

4 ounces tequila
3 ounces fresh lime juice
2 ounces fresh orange juice
2 tsp agave or honey (optional)
Garnish: Lime wedge

Negroni for Two

2 ounces gin
2 ounces Campari
2 ounces sweet vermouth
Garnish: Orange slice
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