Planning a wedding in a barn or at other alternative venues isn’t as easy as you might think. I’ve had many brides come to me with dreams of their rustic chic barn wedding day, and zero idea how to do it or what the cost would be. You might know the basics and you might even know that these types of weddings are more expensive than those banquet hall ones. There’s so much more to understand, which is why I’m sharing my 10 wedding planner secrets for an amazing barn wedding that you need to know before you plan.

This wedding blog isn’t just about barn weddings though. I mentioned the phrase “alternative venues” and that includes pretty much everything outside your standard wedding hall. A lot of the same wedding planning ideas apply whether your wedding is inside a barn, at a winery, on the farm or at a beach. Those backyard wedding receptions also follow similar rules, whether it’s your house or someone else’s.

Basically, if you’re thinking about hosting your wedding day in any setting that wasn’t built for weddings and events, this blog is for you.


 

As a wedding planner, I’ve been planning and designing weddings in all sorts of out of the box wedding venues for years now. The trend isn’t going anywhere, but damn there is a ton of misinformation out there! While wedding planner secrets are certainly no substitute for hiring a professional wedding planner (*cough cough*) anymore than Cliff’s Notes is the same as reading the actual book, these 10 tips will get you off on the right foot.

Am I dating myself with the “Cliff’s Notes” thing? 

Anyway, read this blog before you even start the wedding venue search. You’ll be glad you did! I should also mention that this is a pretty detailed list of secrets, so I’ve broken it up into two separate blogs. Don’t worry, you can jump to the next one right at the bottom of this blog, or use this link.

Don’t forget to grab my list of everything you’ll need to know when searching for your non-traditional wedding venue right here. More on that below, so let’s get started with the first 5 secrets for an amazing barn wedding now!

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*Please note that most of the links of this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on a link and purchase, you will receive the same price, but I will receive a referral fee. This helps keep my blog free and allows me to share wedding planning tips with you. Thanks for your support!*

How To Plan A Barn Wedding

If you’ve made it this far, I’m glad I haven’t scared the bejeezus out of you…yet. Truth be told, I find that a lot of engaged couples hire wedding planners because they’re scared. Maybe they don’t realize it, but they’re terrified to put together this huge event all by themselves.

And honestly, they should be.

Wedding planning isn’t this glamorous job filled with flowers and fun every single day. When I meet people and they find out I’m a wedding planner, everyone pretty much has the same reaction. It’s all positive and filled with statements about how cool that is and how much I must love my job. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do love my job. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t a wedding planner. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or that everyone can just wake up one morning and do it. There are plenty of wanna-be pop up planners that learn really fast just how difficult the work is, then crash and burn within 6 months of creating their website.

wedding gown hanging in doorframe
Alicia King Photography

It’s not always their fault though…after all, being a wedding planner is not that old of a career and you don’t need any degrees to do it. Just like most people don’t quite understand what I do (including my mom…hi mom!), most engaged couples have no idea how complicated wedding planning really is. Well, it wasn’t always this complicated and that’s why wedding planners weren’t always a thing.

Amazing barn weddings weren’t always a thing either. Backyard weddings were reserved for movies like Father of the Bride and farm weddings didn’t start showing up in wedding magazines until about 8 years ago. Parents of couples getting married today likely got married in a religious house and then had their cocktail hour and reception in a building that was created solely for weddings and events. 

Those places still exist today and in abundance. You show up, they’ve got everything, and you’re pretty much set. The choices are few and everything is supplied by the wedding venue. If you take all of that away though, and place the ceremony and reception in an alternative wedding space, then what? This brings me to my first wedding planner secret…

1. Figure Out What’s Missing

Let’s say you’re taking the ceremony and the reception to the barn, farm, beach, winery…whatever. If you were to host your wedding ceremony at a religious house like a church or synagogue, what do you lose by hosting at the venue instead?

I’m talking basics. Think: chairs.

groom walking down the wedding aisle with both parents outside
Mary + Roy

The biggest mistake I see couples make when planning a barn wedding is not considering the basic necessities. They take everything that the traditional wedding venue would’ve given them for total granted. This includes the seats the guests will sit on during the ceremony. If you jump right to worrying about flowers, you’ve already dug yourself into a hole.

When you plan a wedding in a creative space, you are, quite literally, building your wedding day. I don’t mean break out the ply-boards and hammers, but you don’t want to get to the wedding day and have an OMG moment because you didn’t consider things like electricity. Put together a list of everything you will need once you take your wedding ceremony to your alternative venue. 

Once the ceremony basics are figured out, create another list for cocktail hour and reception items you’ll be responsible for. Every venue is different in regard to what they provide, so it’s important to find out what is available at each venue before you start creating this list…which, yes, that means you will create a list for every single space you are interested in.

Related: How To Find The Perfect Wedding Venue

How are you supposed to know what you would need when you’ve never done this before? You can grab my comprehensive list of everything you need for your wedding ceremony, cocktail hour and reception in a non-traditional space and all the questions to ask on tours right here. Use that list on venue tours as a checklist for each place.

2. Figure Out What’s Not Missing

Everything that is included with the venue is just as important as everything that you’ll have to bring in on your own. Odds are, the location is either totally outside, or the ceremony is at the very least. You would always ask a wedding hall what their rain plan is, and you need to ask the alternative venues the same question. 

barn wedding with pink lighting
Images by Berit

In a reception hall, one of the common ways to deal with inclement weather is to use a space more than once. For instance, the ceremony gets rained out and is then pushed inside to where the reception will take place later. During the cocktail hour, the room is “flipped” and the ceremony set-up is broken down while the reception space is put together.

It’s soooooooo important to find out what this plan is in general, but especially at a non-traditional wedding venue. Do they have a tent on-site and available at the last minute? Are there multiple locations to choose from? Does each location have a different maximum guest count? I expand on that more in this guide to help you get all the details for each location and every set-up so there are no surprises on the day of.

Some basic things that might not be missing are water and electricity. I told you…we’re going really basic here. Not basic like unicorn frappaccinos from Starbucks basic; actual basic. 

You’ll need to know where the water source is and how to access it. This will be necessary for your caterers, trailer bathrooms, and your florist, just to name a few vendors. Get the electricity information you need for each space including how much power is available, the amount of separate outlets, and the location of all of them. 

Figuring out the basics of what you have and what you don’t have is essential to planning an amazing barn wedding.

bride and groom sparkler exit
Jessica Janae Photography

3. Barn Wedding Venues

How do you even find a barn wedding venue, or anything other than a traditional wedding location? By now, the trend to get married outside of a cookie-cutter place has a strong hold on the wedding planning world. I am constantly searching for new locations I can show to my couples that want something creative and original.

Yes, that was another passive way for me to mention how essential a wedding planner is…my bad.

Let’s say you’re not hiring a wedding planner because YOLO or something. Finding an alternative wedding venue is a challenge that I think most couples are aware of. The big and even the small wedding websites all have ways of searching for wedding venues. The problem is that those search results only include venues that are advertising to be on those sites…and generally, that’s limited to the banquet halls.

While I’m not going to go into the whole step by step process of how to find every single type of creative wedding venue out there, there are a few ways to make your search a little easier. 


 

First things first, certain types of out of the box venues are easier to search for than others. Wineries have been hosting weddings since long before this non-traditional wedding venue trend started, so a fair amount of them will advertise. If you can’t find them by searching wedding websites, a simple Google search of the wineries in your area will turn up plenty of options. Then, it’s the good old fashion way of calling to get more information.

Yes, call, not email or use the contact form on the website. Why? Because these are non-traditional wedding venues and you’ll get better answers in a shorter amount of time by picking up the phone. 

Scared yet?

For other spaces like farms and beaches, Instagram is a great way to supplement your Google search. Break out the hashtag lists to narrow down the type of wedding venue you want, and use Google to get location details and more. Will you have heartbreak once you find out certain venues you love are on the other side of the world? Yeah, but you didn’t hire a planner so you have to take the pain…

OK, OK, I’m done with the passive sales pitch, I swear!

bride in ballgown spinning outside sunflower field
Justin Tinapay Photography

4. The One Thing Alternative Venues Have In Common

Something couples hear about but rarely consider is how important their guest count is. Many couples have come to me to plan their amazing barn wedding and told me their guest count was 200 or more people.

Guess what?

Those barns hosting weddings weren’t built to host weddings. That charm you’re so in love with is the same charm that will restrict your guest list count. Farm weddings and all the rest of them are ideal for counts of 150 or less.

Is that every non-traditional wedding venue? No (so don’t light up my comments section with location examples please). There are exceptions to the rule, but they are just that: exceptions. Most barns will fit about 150 guests in addition to the music set-up and a dance floor.

My general wedding planner rule of thumb is to take whatever maximum guest count the venue gives you and take away 20. If you don’t, you’re looking at a cramped space.

Related: Destination Wedding Tips We Shared With Martha Stewart Weddings

You also need to plan for the amount of guests you actually invite. None of this guessing who will and won’t show up, because you will be wrong every single time. When you invite 200 people, don’t just assume that 50 won’t come in order to mentally allow yourself to book the barn with the 150 guest count maximum.

What happens when every venue you come across requires a smaller guest count than you will have? How are so many couples doing these amazing barn weddings? They can’t all possibly have less than 150 people coming to the wedding, right? 

Absolutely right.

flowers on bridge leading to rustic door
Justin Tinapay Photography

When you’re searching for wedding venues, it’s important to find out their maximum guest count number and the details that go along with it. It’s never just 150 period, end of story. Maybe it’s 150 people for a seated dinner, but 175 for a buffet. Perhaps there is a tent you can add onto the outside of the barn to create a larger wedding reception space.

Before you start filleting your guest list, discuss all of the available options with the venues. Get more ideas and suggestions for making your high guest count work right here.

5. Get Your Paperwork In Order

One of the frustrating things about planning a wedding is finding out all the stuff you didn’t know to ask about until it was too late. I have been called at the 11th hour by couples that were in over their heads with a wedding date right around the corner. They didn’t know they needed to know this before they did that

Wedding details all affect one another. You may not realize how something in the venue contract can change what your photographer puts in theirs, but it happens all the time. The venue and vendors have to work together as a team. If everyone is reading a different playbook, that team isn’t going to be terribly successful. Make sense?

bride and groom outside by barn
Gabelli Studio

If you’re searching for farm wedding venues or other types of non-traditional venue spaces, along with using this guide, it’s important to have a handle on the logistics. Vendors will have their own set of rules, but, make no mistake, the wedding venue is in charge. I talked earlier about finding out what is and isn’t provided at each venue, but this is about understanding the requirements they all have.

While many wedding venues, even non-traditional ones, will have similar requirements, it’s very important you read every last word of those contracts and proposals they give you. The venues will tell you exactly what you need from each of your vendors. However, if you’ve already signed with the venue, turn to the vendors and ask them what they need to know from the venue before they give you a proposal.

Trust me, if you tell a florist they have 90 minutes to set up instead of several hours, that might impact whether or not they can even do your wedding, let alone how much they’ll charge you.

Without a wedding planner, it is your job to get the venue information to the vendors and it’s important to discuss that information before you sign any contracts. It’s a huge advantage to know those questions, the answers, and how they impact your wedding day and wedding budget. 

Farm Wedding Ideas and More

I talk more about what to look for in those non-traditional venue contracts and the questions to ask all right here. It’s kind of like having a wedding planner in your pocket…and believe me, for these types of weddings, everyone needs one!

Overwhelmed yet or want to dive right in to the next 5 wedding planner secrets for an amazing barn wedding? When you’re ready follow this link to get more barn wedding tips and even more stuff you need to know about planning a non-traditional wedding day!

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