A wedding day is all about celebrating the love between partners, so naturally the ceremony and reception should highlight their shared passions and what’s important to them — whether it’s a nod to cultural heritage or a love for taking long hikes together. More and more couples are opting for nontraditional wedding receptions that are personalized and creative.

Planning a wedding is often a daunting task, especially if the couple wants their special day to have a unique twist but they are nervous about pulling it off without a hitch. These ideas from two experts who have years of experience helping couples create the wedding of their dreams offer a solid start.

Backyard weddings

Victoria Haberman, event planner at Lisa Dupar Catering, says smaller weddings held in the backyards or a childhood home is emerging as a trend. “It makes it a lot more personal,” Haberman says. For example, she coordinated a wedding last summer that was held at the bride’s childhood home. “She had this tree that she had always imagined getting married under,” Haberman recalls. “It was really beautiful.”

The bride’s neighbor was more than happy to let the reception take over his yard as well — and, as luck would have it, he happened to be an electrician and handled the lighting for the entire reception.

Of course, holding a wedding reception at a private residence rather than a traditional venue does come with some challenges. That’s why Lisa Dupar, owner of Lisa Dupar Catering, recommends using what she refers to as a “not-so-glamorous checklist.” For couples planning a backyard wedding, there are some important things to take into account:

  • The number of bathrooms and ease of accessibility.
  • Shade or protection from heat (particularly for the elderly guests).
  • A plan for the dog, if applicable — our canine friends have been known to beat the couple to the wedding cake.
  • Where to set up the power, heat, and light sources for the catering team. Dupar notes that sometimes the garage is the best place to set up the “kitchen or scullery” for flexible work space and power sources.
  • Safety for guests and event staff. Dangerous driveways, steep stairs and sharp dropoffs to water or a pool should all be considered. “Make a safety plan for small kids, the elderly, and the possible tipsy wedding guest,” Dupar advises.
  • Make sure the caterer is licensed to serve liquor. If this aspect isn’t in order, homeowners providing the space share liability along with the caterer or bar service for alcohol-related accidents.

Integrate shared passions into the ceremony and reception

A shared passion or history can spark a beautiful wedding theme. Whether it’s a love of hiking or a passion for theater, there’s always a way to incorporate it into the big day. For example, Dupar recently worked with a couple who loves hiking and mountain climbing — and their dream was to exchange vows on the top of a mountain. Accompanied by their officiant, the couple hiked up, got married at the top of the mountain, and then headed back down for their reception, which was held in a space that didn’t require guests to hike.

In another nontraditional reception, two actors tied the knot and incorporated their passion for theater. “They took a script from a scene of their favorite play and cut it up into little pieces of paper and numbered them,” Dupar says. “Then they had the guests pull the papers from a bowl so everybody had one. When it got to [a guest’s] number, they read that line from the play.”

This was done in lieu of a toast, and Dupar describes it as fun and entertaining — especially because many of the guests were also actors, singers, or performers. “The singer sang her line,” she says.

Many people are passionate about their cultural heritage and want to ensure it’s recognized on their wedding day. Dupar recently worked with a bride who’s from northern Mexico and wanted a “Day of the Dead” themed wedding.

“She was just inspired by her culture and how colorful and bright and happy it was, even though it’s the Day of the Dead. It honored her legacy and relatives,” Dupar says. Her company created a gorgeous Day of the Dead wedding cake with a sugar skull as the cake topper.

How to communicate with caterers and event planners

When a wedding is nontraditional, clear communication between the couple and their event planners is crucial. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I like people to tell me everything they want. What are your hopes and dreams and vision for the day? If I can get all of those things, then I can make it a reality,” Haberman says.

She says that talking with couples about their daily lives helps her bring their vision to life. She recommends telling your event planners and caterers if you’re a health nut (weddings with no alcohol are becoming increasingly popular), if you love to dance, and how important music is to you. “With that information, you can figure out what type of person you’re working with,” Haberman says. “The last thing you want is for a person to feel uncomfortable on their wedding day.”

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Dupar recommends that couples do a vision exercise. She invites couples to imagine it’s the day after the wedding and they are sitting there saying, “that was just perfect.” Then they should think about what exactly made it perfect, whether it was a ceremony on a beach in Mexico followed by delicious churros, or a low-key, small celebration at a childhood home.

Haberman also says that creating vision boards or sharing Pinterest ideas helps her get a visual of what the bride and groom envision as their perfect wedding day.

It’s also important to have reasonable and realistic expectations. For example, Dupar notes that couples who choose to have their wedding in a location that’s off-the-beaten path will want to keep it simple because caterers won’t be able to whip up a cheese souffle if they’re in a location that’s “in the middle of nowhere.” It’s important to keep an open line of communication with the event planners and caterers to ensure everyone’s on the same page and expectations are realistic. This team effort to tailor nontraditional twists to each couple will make the day even more special and memorable.

Lisa Dupar Catering is known for creating true culinary experiences. We are a chef-owned, woman-led company built on Lisa’s Southern roots, classic training and modern techniques. With 35 years of experience catering in Seattle, we bring your vision to life.