So you’ve decided to elope and skip the performance and stress of a traditional wedding- go you! Spending your wedding day with just your partner is an amazing way to get married and will radically change your perspective on weddings forever. Many couples who elope find that they still want to celebrate with friends and family- and you can absolutely make this happen by planning your own elopement reception.
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Why Couples Elope
The reasons some couples choose to elope is as unique as their love story.
Large, traditional weddings are expensive.
For some couples the decision to elope is simply a matter of budget. Forward-thinking lovers these days would rather save for a house or epic globe trotting honeymoon than host 150+ friends and relatives for dinner, drinks, and the Cha Cha Slide on the dance floor. That doesn’t mean your elopement can’t be luxurious, in fact you can plan and enjoy a higher quality of experience for fewer people than a lower quality for more people.
The thought of being at the center of attention makes you cringe.
This was my biggest source of stress at my wedding! I put off writing my vows until the morning of my wedding simply because I did NOT want to say them in front of people! Your relationship is private- and it’s perfectly OK to keep it that way.
There may be stressful or painful family situations.
Many people have complicated experiences and feelings when it comes to the traditional expectations of the day. Engaged couples may not be accepted by their families, whether for cultural, religious, or sadly, just plain discriminatory reasons.
Planning a wedding sucks.
Everyone who has planned a wedding knows this- some couples start the process, realize it’s horrors, and bail. Who can blame them?
Everyone deserves a wedding day that is free of meaningless pressures and everyone deserves to get married in a way that makes them feel safe and valued. Eloping can be an incredible meaningful and intimate way to do things differently; to do the marriage thing in exactly the way that works for their personality and values.
You’re eloping- now what? Reasons to have an elopement reception.
You and your partner love the idea of exchanging your vows in the great outdoors but grandma isn’t going to make it on that 5 mile sunrise hike. Accessibility is a huge reason adventurous elopers choose to also have a reception.
You want to celebrate with friends and family.
There are plenty of people who elope have a community of people that they want to celebrate with, and for them, an elopement reception is the perfect option to have their private wedding day and not have to give up the chance to celebrate with friends.
You’re eloping internationally.
If you’re eloping internationally, it’s might not be an option to have guests come along for a destination elopement. Throwing the party at home will allow your friends and family to feel included.
An elopement reception is a lot less stressful than a wedding reception.
Even if you have an elopement reception that is identical to a traditional wedding reception, separating the reception from your actual wedding day will take a lot of pressure off both events and you’ll be able to enjoy yourself more.
Although couples who have made the decision to elope have already broken free of the heavy expectation laid on them to plan a traditional wedding, it’s common to slide back into the trap of “What are we supposed to do?” when thinking about an elopement reception.
Soon, you might be right back where you started- planning a large, stressful, expensive party- just what you were trying to avoid!
With that in mind, I’ve created a list of a few important considerations when planning your elopement reception. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that what works for you may not work for someone else and vice versa. Empower yourself to create an experience that is perfect for you, and you will plan the best elopement reception ever!
5 Tips for Planning Your Elopement Reception
Decide when you want to have your reception or celebration.
Elopements are about freedom, and you need not feel any pressure to have a same day celebration. Your friends and family will be just as happy to celebrate with you 3 months later as they would on the day you say your vows to your partner. Plus, if you are jet setting to a far off and exciting destination to say your vows, you’ll have new tales of adventure to share with your guests. Showing off your elopement day photos in a reception slideshow is a fantastic way to make everyone feel included in your private experience.
Decide where to host your elopement reception.
As an elopement photographer, I’ve seen it all. You can have a casual, laid back backyard BBQ, a potluck-style garden party, or rent a room in a local brewpub. Offer light tapas and two drink tickets per guest for a guaranteed good time!
Even the expense of renting a private room for a small group of friends and family will be less expensive than a sit down dinner at a traditional wedding, so you’ll still be living the thrifty life. Do what fits your lifestyle, and remember that guest lists can easily get out of hand. If you would be happier making a reservation at your favorite pizza joint with five of your closest friends, then that’s the reception you should have.
Should you send invitations to your elopement reception?
Well you do have to invite people somehow.
If you’ve already changed your Facebook relationship status to “Married” and your elopement is pretty much public knowledge, consider this: Formal invites are not expected for elopement receptions, and a (free!) Facebook event will surely get the job done. For those friends yet unyoked to our Facebook overlords, you’ll find the extra effort to give them a phone call or send an email to be worth the expense saved with formal invitations. My favorite part of this plan is that you don’t have to make a trip to the Post Office!
If you’ve waited to announce your elopement – you might consider how fun the surprise announcement of your elopement will be when delivered alongside the elopement reception invitation.
Pro Tip: To avoid hurt feelings, do tell close friends and family in person or by phone FIRST. (If anyone in your life struggles with your decision to elope, keep this phrase handy: “We are celebrating our marriage in a way that works for us, and we’d hate for you to take it personally. Eloping doesn’t mean that we don’t care for you.”)
To Register or not to Register?
There’s a prevailing fear among some couples that sharing a registry for an elopement is gauche, with or without a reception. To ease those fears I recommend a simple note along with your registry: “Gifts are not necessary, but for those who would like to contribute to our future, here’s how.” Simple, humble, and generally speaking, quite likely to bring in returns.
As an added bonus, you will not have to field questions about your registry later on. It will come up! You can easily include your registry link on your Facebook event, email, or formal invitations.
If you enjoy abundance in your life, a marriage celebration is a great excuse to rally around a cause. In lieu of gifts, many thoughtful couples have chosen to register in support of a charitable organization close to their hearts, like collecting donations to the local animal shelter.
Entertaining your guests- There’s a reason some traditions stick around.
Some couples might feel a little lost at the thought of entertaining guests at an elopement reception without the “main event” of a ceremony to organize around. Entertaining guests is always important to a good time, and if you have a larger crowd you might want to circle back to some of the traditional reception activities to keep the party going. Smaller crowds are more easily entertained with good conversation or simple table games.
Here are the most popular elopement reception activities that won’t break the bank.
Arrange for speeches and toasts.
Everyone loves a good speech! Personally, speeches and toasts are my favorite part of reception parties! Asking friends or family ahead of time to prepare a toast is the best bet to make sure you have some material in the wings. Assign a casual MC to a good friend and task them with opening up the floor to anyone who wants to chime in after the scheduled speeches results in some of the best dedications. Toast-giving is the most popular and FREE entertainment you can provide your elopement reception guests.
Show a slideshow of photos from your elopement.
This is a great way to make friends and family feel included in your elopement day, even if they weren’t present. It’s a spectacular conversation starter, and you’ll enjoy retelling your adventure. You’ve already paid for your photos and most photographer’s online gallery comes with an animated slideshow feature that makes it all too simple to share your day.
Create a “How well do you know the couple” game.
A simple 10-15 question worksheet printed and placed at each table is fun ice breaker for guests who might not know each other well or for sit down style receptions. When the answers are announced (typically right before or after toasts) it’s entertaining to bond with your guests.
Hire a DJ, local band, or create a dance party playlist.
You may not be thrilled at the idea of springing for a professional DJ- but if you are expecting a large group of people (40+) you will be grateful for a professional to keep the evening flowing. If you have a smaller group of folks, queue up a your favorite dance playlist for background music and see what happens! Think about the weddings you’ve attended as a guest- if you love the dance floor, why not end the night in a club crawl? Make sure you mention you’re newlyweds and you might get a drink on the house!
Reenact your ceremony or first dance.
Some couples have their heart set on a ceremony reenactment, or sometimes they feel obligated to do this for family. At other times, they may not have yet signed their official paperwork and want to do this in front of their guests. Either way, choosing to perform a second ceremony will be a nice focal point for the reception and may help reduce any lingering guilt (if you have it, which you shouldn’t!) about eloping.
Six creative ways include your family in your elopement reception.
Honor them with a special speech.
I will always remember a very touching speech from a groom who had lost his father young and wanted to honor his the adults in his life who stepped in as mentors. As the groom described what these relationships meant to him, his bride pass around shots of bourbon to the honored guests- his father’s favorite brand.
You don’t have to be walked down the aisle by your dad to have a person in your life who is worth a special thank you. Likewise, you don’t have to designate a list of your best friends as a bridal party to let them know how you’ve appreciated their friendship. Ask yourself who has been important in shaping your life choices and who has made you into the person you are today?
Have them plan the dang thing!
If your parents, in-laws, or close friends would LOVE to throw you an elopement reception, go ahead and let them! The worst case scenario is that you attend a party in your and your partner’s honor. A party thrown by someone else will take all the pressure off of you. All you have to do it show up!
My mother-in-law threw us a fantastic post-wedding party in another state for all of my husband’s older relatives who couldn’t travel. It was fun and casual and a great way to meet the extended family.
This is a perfect companion to a speech or toast but it can be done in a private moment. Gifts to your new in laws will be especially meaningful. If you’ve had a destination elopement, souvenirs are the best wedding gifts!
Ask family to sign as witnesses on your marriage license.
Signing a marriage license is a special honor and your family or best friends would love to be official witnesses to the completion of your marriage license.
Pre-record a video to your guests from your elopement day and play it at your ceremony.
This is a ton of fun and a sweet reminder that you were thinking of your friends and family on your wedding day.
Plan father- daughter dances and mother- son dances.
If this is one wedding tradition you’ve always dreamed of doing, your elopement reception is the perfect time for special family dances.
What do we even wear to our elopement reception? What should the dress code be?
Let’s remember there is no wrong way to get married, just like there is no wrong way to celebrate it!
If your party is leaning towards the fancier side, go ahead and bring out the wedding dress and wedding suit. You won’t have another chance to wear them! This is plus if you enjoy strangers calling out congratulations to you- it will happen!
If you are dressing down for your reception, you can find beautiful, inexpensive, and comfortable “white maxi dresses” in many online stores (I love Lulus, Forever21, and Asos for this!) modern and stunning white suits for women (Macy’s, Nordstrom), and dapper outfits for men (ASOS).
January 4, 2020
Wild Earth Weddings