Big or Small—Planning a Wedding is a Full-Time Job

Brides and grooms must trust their instincts as much as they trust their wedding planner on their big day.

Dover natives Sarah and Brian Richards gave themselves a year and a half to plan their grand wedding at the beach.

When they were dating, New Yorkers Lauren and Paul Lee were initially drawn to Lewes because they both loved Dogfish Head beer. “Dogfish Head Brewery brought us to the area the first time, but it was the scenery and the good vibes in small-town Lewes that kept bringing us back,” Lauren Lee says. 

When they got engaged, they decided to wed in Lewes. “We wanted to share this special place with family and friends,” she says. On Oct. 19, 2013, 42 guests watched the Lees marry at Blockhouse Pond, a public park tucked behind Beebe Medical Center. Afterward, the group gathered in a rented home for an informal reception. 

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They purposefully kept the event small. “During the ceremony, we wanted to look around and know everyone,” Lee says. “We also wanted to spend quality time with everyone at our reception.”

Kira and Joel Cohen of Wilmington took a different approach. The couple invited 182 guests to their wedding on Aug. 31, 2013, at Brandywine Manor House in Honey Brook, Pa. “It seemed as though every time we looked at the list, it was growing,” Kira Cohen says of deciding whom to invite.

There are many reasons to go big or go small, including timing, guest list and the couple’s personal preferences. But no matter the size of the wedding, success is still in the details. 

continue to page 2, “The Case for a Small Wedding”…


The Case for a Small Wedding

The Lees planned their wedding in four months. Mary Alice and David St. Clair, who wed on Nov. 11, 2013, took just three weeks.

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Couples with such a brief planning period often have more options if they go small, says Cindy Bene, wedding specialist at Harry’s Savoy Ballroom in north Wilmington. Many of her late bookings have fewer than 100 guests. 

Milford residents Lisa and Timothy Cantwell, who married on Dec. 12, 2012, took a year to plan their wedding, which had 60 guests. However, they opted for an intimate event because they both have small families. Both the ceremony and reception were held at the Causey Mansion Bed & Breakfast in Milford.

The Cantwells’ wedding party included a best man, maid of honor and flower girl (Lisa’s daughter and granddaughter). The St. Clairs had only their two dogs, which wore flowers on their collars.

But Bene has seen a small wedding with the same amount of attendants as those in large weddings, particularly if the couple is young. “They’ve been in so many weddings and they feel they should reciprocate,” she explains.

Budget can certainly present a case for a small wedding. Yet that doesn’t mean couples need to skimp on what’s important to them. Because the banquet room at Eden in Rehoboth Beach only could fit 50 people, the St. Clairs could offer guests multiple menu choices including four entrées. With such a small group, each guest could order on the spot.

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Nage provided the Cantwells with a vegetarian menu, which included local items, such as apples from Fifer Orchards. The Causey Mansion lacked room for a sit-down dinner, so servers passed heavy hors d’oeuvres and finger foods, also available at help-yourself food stations. A friend who is a bartender prepared the drinks.

Indeed, friends and family can easily help out at a small wedding. Two friends decorated the room in the private home where the St. Clairs wed. Another found the home. “I depended on people to help me; I couldn’t do it without them,” Mary Alice St. Clair says.

A good friend was the celebrant at the Lees’ wedding ceremony, followed by a Korean ceremony that Paul’s mother organized. His aunt did the flowers. Her stepfather and father cooked the breakfast the day after the wedding. Her mother did the decorations. “I feel like we all bonded working on the various things together,” Lauren Lee says.

The small wedding drawback: Couples need to sharpen their pencils when creating the invitation list, and some people might be disappointed if they’re not invited. 

Relying on family and friends for services can backfire, especially if they’re interacting with experienced vendors to create the perfect event. “Professionals work well together in orchestrating the entire day,” says photographer Maria DeForrest. “They’re used to handling situations that a non-professional isn’t familiar with.”

continue to page 3, “The Case for a Large Wedding”…


The Case for a Large Wedding

Large weddings typically take more time to plan, and that can be a good thing if you’re detail-oriented. 

Sarah and Brian Richards—Dover natives who live in Cambridge, Mass.—gave themselves a year and a half to plan their wedding in Rehoboth Beach. They wanted to wed in September, a beautiful time of year at the beach. Yet it’s still a popular time for weddings.

Planning in advance let them land the venues they wanted: St. Edmond Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach and the Indian River Life-Saving Station, where guests dined under a tent. Blue Moon Restaurant handled the sit-down dinner.

As the Cohens can attest, larger weddings accommodate big families. Parents feel free to invite friends and business associates, which was important to the Cohen family, who are retail jewelers. “We needed to invite coworkers,” Kira Cohen says.

Big weddings also accommodate extensive wedding parties. The Cohens each had eight attendants, and there were three flower girls. The Richards had seven bridesmaids, seven groomsmen and three flower girls. 

While in most cases a small wedding will cost less than a large one, big weddings can present cost-saving advantages. “Most places offer package deals to parties of 150 guests or more,” Bene says. “It’s easier for us at Harry’s to prepare a meal for one party of 150 than to have two parties of 75 at once.”

And couples booking hotel rooms for out-of-town guests can often get a room rate that drops as more rooms are booked. Many properties will throw in a complimentary honeymoon suite. Of course, more guests means more gifts, which is great if you’re setting up a home.

The drawback: Even with room discounts, a large wedding could top a down payment on a house. And because the guests will include more than close friends and immediate family, you might be doing the Electric Slide next to your dad’s boss or Uncle Jim from Guam, whom you’ve only met once. It’s challenging to interact with guests, and the photographer must be experienced enough to know how to tackle the group and all the dynamics.

In our area, it can also be difficult to find a property for very large weddings—think 200 to 300 guests. “We looked in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and even New Jersey,” Cohen says. “The places that could easily accommodate us were country clubs, and I didn’t want a country club wedding.”

The Brandywine Manor House, built in 1730, is distinctive, but it doesn’t have an onsite catering vendor. Everything had to be brought in. Consequently, the Cohens opted for food stations. 

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A Common Denominator 

Weddings of any size are guided by how the couple wants to structure the day, and what’s important to them. The Cohens, for instance, wanted a live band over a DJ, and they were willing to cut from some areas to pay for it.

When DeForrest and her husband got married, they had an intimate affair in Cape Henlopen State Park but they spent about 70 percent of their budget on the photographer—perhaps a telling expense given that she became a professional photographer.

All weddings start with a budget. Cantwell downloaded a free worksheet from the Internet. (Real Simple offers a downloadable budget worksheet and The Knot has a budget calculator.) 

With any wedding, the details can definitely cause stress. Cohen, who didn’t have a planner, says she tried to do too much herself. She was a perfectionist. In retrospect, someone else could have addressed the invitations and mailed them—as long as she didn’t see their handwriting.

She also says a one-stop venue has its perks. St. Clair would agree. She liked that she could depend on advice from Eden’s staff; she met once to pick out the courses and the rest was taken care of. She just showed up with her guests.

Lee says the desire to “make it our own” wedding took more work than she imagined. Although her mom handled decorations, she wanted to hang photographs of family members, past and present, at the reception. She reached out to both families for photos, had them scanned and printed, and then she and her mother determined where to hang them.

The Lees also created personalized gift bags for each guest that included specialty items and handwritten notes. “I didn’t delegate enough,” Lee admits. “I was the point person for a lot of aspects of the wedding, even up to a few hours before the ceremony. It was stressful.”

Whether you have a big or small wedding, remember to enjoy the day. “This is one of the times that everyone you love will be together,” Lee says. “It’s important to be present rather than wasting precious time worrying that something is behind schedule or that the playlist is out of order.”

Try, she says, to maintain your perspective.  


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