Sophi & Travis’ Outdoor Potluck Wedding

* Sophi, Architectural Graduate (looking for work) & Travis, Marine Electrician’s Apprentice *


Invited: 120 / Actually Attended: 100 guests (we were pretty casual with all the counting, of course, as we were casual with everything) but we borrowed approximately 100 chairs and they were mostly full, and there were some folks standing on the hill.

Planned Budget:

$1,000 (A gift from Travis’ mom when we got engaged.)

Actual Budget:

About $1,000—but I have no idea what was spent. So many things were crowd-sourced and donated to us that the hard numbers were never calculated!

Where we were married: My parents’ house on Peaks Island, Maine was the perfect venue for our laid-back, outdoor, garden wedding. The chairs and tables were borrowed from the local elementary school for free. My mom paid $50 for wide muslin at JoAnn Fabrics and we covered all the tables with it. Flowers were donated by my then-boss and arranged by my mom in vases and bowls that were leftover from a friend’s wedding the summer before. The rest of the “decorations” were photos that we had printed online and strung up around the garden. I think this cost us about $50, and the pictures were fun to look at as people milled about. The wedding was outdoors, which meant I was freaking out about not having a tent. I eventually decided that since the cheapest I could find was $1800, and that more than doubled our budget, I was going to risk it. We lucked out!

Where we allocated the most funds: The live band. It was so important to me that we have a band play at the wedding. Going to see live music has been something that Travis and I have always enjoyed together. Who doesn’t enjoy a good concert? So rather than spend any money on a DJ set up or renting speakers to play iPod music, we paid a friend of mine $400 to play music with a bunch of his buddies for three to four hours. (Not a super close friend or anything, just a local musician that I knew well enough to ask what he would charge.) They played in the grass, with a carpet for the drum set, and we told them they could drink our beer and eat our food. They seemed happy and they sounded great! My best friend plays viola, she offered to do our ceremony music for us, and she ended up jamming with the band for a bunch of tunes. Just the best money we ever spent! (Fun fact—I actually forgot to go to the ATM to get cash to pay the band, but luckily our wedding gifts and cards had enough cash in them to cover it!)

Where we allocated the least funds: Everything else. We bought some pretty paper invitations (with pressed roses in them) for $50. We then needed more invites, so I just printed them on fancy-ish cardstock paper. Our wonderful friend and fellow sailboat-enthusiast offered to do our wedding photography as a wedding gift as soon as he heard we were getting hitched. So awesome. My dress was $125 at a vintage shop, and I sold it for $125 a few months after the wedding on Travis’ tux rental cost us $200-ish at Men’s Wearhouse and his uncle paid for it. (We still paid for the best man’s tux so it evened out. We thought he would look so nice in it and knew he couldn’t afford to pay.) I debated buying new shoes and ultimately am glad I didn’t, since it was so hot out we all walked barefoot. I used my great-grandmother’s brooch as a necklace and one of my “bridesmaids” made hairpieces for everyone. I made my reception dress from $40 worth of fabric and a $3 pattern, and I love it and can still wear it all summer long. The flower girls wore matching dresses that their mother got them at TJ Maxx. They also had matching sweater capes, which were so super cute, but it was eighty degrees so they didn’t need them!

Our officiant was a close family friend. We didn’t buy her anything or pay her anything (we are poor folk!) and I felt bad about that, but she still seems to love us just the same. Food was all “free,” since it was a potluck. I did have one guest complain that it was “asking a lot to bring food to the wedding.” He still came but I didn’t notice if he brought food or not, and I didn’t care. Travis spent maybe $180 on two mini kegs of beer (one was hard cider) and lots of people brought other liquor to drink. A friend who is a caterer brought some of those food-warmers (chafing dishes?) and we had some sterno things to keep food warm. My mom donated all the paper plates and napkins and cups. There were plenty! And my sister baked us a carrot cake so we’d have one to cut. Someone had even given us a fancy cake-cutter set, but we forgot to cut the cake and just ate it at midnight with our closest family and friends as we went through the pile of wedding gifts. It was delicious!

For the favors, I bought a big pile of cool-looking air plants online for about $60 total and printed out little sheets of info on how to care for them. We had a big basket and some shells already, so we didn’t spend anything on the display. On that display table I also put some birdcages I got for $20 on craigslist for people to put their cards in. The “guest book” was our staysail from our boat (the smallest sail), which we hung from the second floor window so it was stretched out and people could sign it.

The Info—Photographer: Brian Peterson / Location: Peaks Island, Maine / Venue: Sophi’s parents’ house

What was totally worth it: Pretty much everything was worth it (super small budget!). The free tables and chairs were an awesome investment (took about an hour of heavy lifting to get them into the truck and set up at the house, and about an hour to get them back to the school). I think people were glad to have a place to sit down during the ceremony (even though it was pretty quick) and we just moved the chairs to around the tables when it was time to eat. Also our fancy clothes made the wedding feel a lot more like a wedding rather than a fun garden party.

What was totally not: Those air plants as wedding favors. I had bought 100 of them, and at the end of the night I think I had ninety-five left. Perhaps that was because we didn’t explain to people they were supposed to take them home, but it looked pretty obvious to me. I know that one of my friends took a few, and there are a few arrangements of them at my parents’ house still, but most of them had to be distributed between the remaining guests the next day.

A few things that helped us along the way: Friends, family, and amazingly unseasonal (hot!) fall weather. We were so lucky! I can’t even imagine how much we would have gone over budget if we had to pay for all the things that were so lovingly donated to us to make the wedding fantastic. And if it had rained? How would all those people have fit into the house?!

My best practical advice to my planning-self: Picking out pumpkins and fall-themed décor is a waste of time. The garden is beautiful, and little pumpkins in glass vases look really silly and staged. Enjoy all the time you can with your out of town family and friends while they are there; it will be years before you get them all together again. Also ask your officiant to call out by name “the folks we are thinking of, who aren’t with us today.” She did that on her own (I would have never thought of it) but it made such a huge impression on the people who were there who were missing their mother/husband/brother, etc. Last best advice: make that list of photographs you want your photographer to take. I didn’t, I kept telling him I didn’t care—that photos of the crowd would be good, and now I don’t have one good photograph of me with my mother on my wedding day. Sad!

Favorite things about the wedding: Everyone was so happy! It was gorgeous weather and we had lots of good food and good people all together for a big party—with a simple wedding to kick it off. We are both very laid-back people and the potluck outdoor wedding vibe was perfect for us.

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  • Claire

    I think this feature is really helpful, but what I really need to get out is, your reception dress is hot and I’m so impressed that you made that.

    • Thanks! I am not really good at sewing things well enough to make them look “finished” but I tried really hard on that one. And now I’m pregnant and it’s not at all stretchy and I won’t be able to wear it til *next* summer! Sad. But I’m so glad I went with doing that instead of buying a dress, I love it and can’t wait to be able to wear it again.

  • What a wonderful wedding!! I love potluck weddings, personally. Also, your reception dress is super pretty! Yay for sewing!!

    Oh, and the best man is REALLY cute. ;)

    • Thanks! Haha yeah they are both super cute, and in their matching tuxes people kept asking me (and Travis’s mother!) if we “ever got them mixed up at all.” Um, what!? But yes, aren’t they the handsomest?

    • Susan Sarel

      I absolutely HATE potluck weddings. I am living in Vermont for awhile but am from Boston and no one does this in Boston.

      If you go to a potluck wedding, you must make a dish, buy a gift, and sometimes even bring your own bottle. Classless, tasteless and not something I will ever do again. If I ever get invited again to a potluck wedding, I will not attend. Decline for sure.

  • This! This is a good day.

  • Kira

    Looks like a wonderful day! Congratulations! And yes, that reception dress is amazing.

  • Miriam

    Your WEDDING DRESS is GORGEOUS. I cannot get over how much I love it. The back! The cap sleeves! The neckline! The lace! $125 at a vintage shop? Well done.

    • Lauren

      I am at a loss for words for how beautiful that dress is.

    • I came here to say just that!

    • Jennifer

      I agree! So lovely! All the vintage dresses I’ve seen have been $300 and up and not in good shape.

  • Your ceremony dress is gorgeous. And then you have to go top it with that reception dress!

    If you hadn’t broken it down here I’d have trouble believing the budget you guys managed this wedding on. Way to show that with the right help and some determination anything is possible.

    • Thank youuu! I feel like it was a huge success. We’re coming up on our 2-year anniversary this fall and will have our new baby by then.. hopefully we will also have another garden party to celebrate him and our anniversary with friends! Woot!

      • Another Meg

        That sounds like the most excellent idea…

  • Addie

    I just want to put this whole wedding in my pocket and carry it around with me. It’s so dang happy! AHH, everything is so wonderfully wonderful.

    Both dresses are to die for lovely btw.

  • grace b

    This might be the first time I have teared up reading over a wedding recap on this site. This wedding is really similar to how I envision my own future wedding (pre-engaged). I love, love the laidback and relexad vibe. Plus those dresses are gorgeous!

  • Hannah

    Your wedding looks so gorgeous and full of love and happiness! Very inspiring! You are so brave for risking the weather! My fiance really wants to have an outdoor wedding, but it is just too scary for me. I wish I could get over it. Stupid brain.

  • Karen

    Okay, I have a logistics question: how exactly do you throw a potluck wedding? Do you put wording in the invite that says “bring food”? How does this work?

    • Yes, pretty much! I think we used the words “potluck wedding” in the invitation, wish I had a copy so I could check.. it was pretty hard for some people to get their mind’s around. Everyone wanted me to tell them what to bring. I just kept saying “bring your favorite food!” and eventually my mom and mom-in-law got together and coordinated their efforts so that they wouldn’t worry that something important was missing. Nothing important was missing. :-)

    • I attended a wedding with potluck lunch reception for 250 people last year that I was honestly dreading before I arrived. I am a cook and private events chef by trade and was totally convinced that potluck for anything over 20 people would be a total shitshow, and they would definitely run out of food. While I was partially correct (the buffet was pretty much decimated and they ran out of food to the point where it was very slim pickings for the last 20-30 people), NO ONE CARED because everyone was having such a great time dancing to the live klezmer band and goofing around, myself included.

      Organizationally speaking, they made a Google Doc Spreadsheet for the potluck, where people could enter who they were, what they were bringing, and if it was vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free/meaty/etc., so every spectrum of food was covered. They also asked their in-town guests, who were a majority of the guests, to bring enough food for 8 portions, since it was inconvenient for the out-of-town guests (such as myself, flying across the country and driving 3 hours to the wedding) to arrange food in addition to their travel and accommodations. A few weeks before the wedding, the brother of the groom emailed myself and about 30 other out-of-town guests with a request to pitch in money toward buying some ready-made dishes from a catering company. I think the bride and groom noticed that not as many people were adding onto the Google Doc as they wanted, and the brother of the groom wrote the email to help them out. While this was an unusual (and slightly off-putting, to be honest) request, I complied because I knew they would be out of food otherwise.

      Ultimately though, at the end of the weekend I didn’t care that they ran out of food or that I was out $20 in addition to the hundreds I spent on getting there. It was such an incredible weekend, with an amazing ceremony and fun reception, and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. I was really surprised by how well the potluck actually went, and ultimately how good of a time I had.

      While I would never in a million years ask a party of over 20 or 30 to provide food for a potluck, that’s just my personal qualm and I think it’s totally doable, as long as you have contingency plans for the inevitable fact that your guests don’t know what 8 portions really means, and that some will not provide food at all. My advice would be to budget for a small buffer of additional food to add on top of the potluck. It will allow for people to bring a majority of the food, but you won’t worry about running out.

  • Pingback: $1000 Potluck Wedding? | Minimalist Bride()

  • Toni1835

    What a great job on this wedding. That budget is impressive and it looks like everyone is having such a good time.

    And those dresses are beautiful!

  • L

    What a lovely wedding. Potluck garden/backyard wedding is my shadow wedding (the one we didn’t have) and it is so cool to see how well your worked out! Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • Potlucks are the best! Everyone always brings their best thing, so you get a lot of varied and amazing food. We couldn’t have done a potluck wedding since all but four of our guests were coming in from out of town, but I do think potlucks are among the best perks of being a teacher. This looks like it was such a lovely wedding.

  • Yay potluck weddings! We came very close to doing the same, but so many people were traveling from far away that we ultimately decided against it. I love hearing about it, though! And your dress is stunning (and everything else from your wedding day!)


  • This is one of my favorite APW weddings ever. It looks so classy and warm and personal and I am seriously envying your budget and the way everyone seemed to have come together to help. We are doing a larger potluck reception at a park the day after our small wedding in order to involve more guests and several people are voicing opinions against it because they think its tacky. But this gives me some more courage to push forward with it and ideas about how to make it feel more like a wedding event so those invited to the second event and not the first don’t feel like they got short shrift.

  • Elise

    Hi Sophi,

    I am thinking about having a potluck wedding as well. Did you coordinate any of the food that needed to be brought so that everyone didn’t bring brownies and booze? I was maybe just thinking of having family do the food since they will make up half of the guests. Any suggestions? Thank you! And congratulations on your pregnancy!


  • Elsie

    I want to give a fist bump to a fellow architectural graduate looking for work. (Oh, the difficulties of trying to explain to the rest of the world that no, you can’t call yourself an architect.)

    Love the dress and so impressed with your budget!

  • Great website. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some pals ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly, thank you on your effort!

  • Kaity

    Your wedding sounds fantastic! This is exactly what I’d like to have. Thank you so much for posting.

  • Pingback: I Cater, You Cater, We All Cater: Feeding Your Wedding | The Yes Girls()

  • LouAnn

    This is so embarrassing

  • Hello kitty

    This is insane. I mean a potlucj wedding. If you cant afford to be adults and get married then dont. Its not everyone elses responsibility to provide food, tables and chairs for your wedding. When you have a kid should they provide the food, bedding and clothes? This is ridiculous.

    • Molly

      And you think going into massive debt to spend money unnecessarily on chairs and food for a ONE-TIME event is a wise investment or an adult thing to do? Before you make such comments, maybe think about the wisdom that this couple had in putting together a beautiful, meaningful wedding that did not set them up for financial failure. Also, I also plan to do a potluck wedding because it is more personal that way. You are honoring your guests’ tastes and culinary talents, and they get to share their special family recipes if they wish. It’s also a great conversation starter for the guests who may not know each other. I think this is a smart, creative wedding. Who wants a boring chicken dinner made by strangers anyway?

      • Hello kitty

        Nope nope nope. I’m embarassed for you. While you think it’s personal and creates conversation between guest your actual guests think your cheap. People want a boring chicken dinner because they don’t want to have to spend the time and money creating a dish to go to your wedding on top of all the other things you have to do to go to a wedding. Also FYI boring chicken is not the only thing out there. I am getting married and there will be no boring chicken. You can try to talk yourself into this but not others. It’s sad and tacky and embarassing. Grow up and get adult jobs and financially plan and you can have a wedding that’s not a burden on guest.

    • Kristin

      I’m planning a potluck wedding, we were planning our wedding for 2 years from now when I finish school and become an “adult”. However 3 weeks ago we found out my daddy has terminal cancer so now we are throwing together a potluck wedding for June 7. No need for you to feel embarrassed for me, we are very excited & our friends (the true ones not the 300 you think you have) & family are all more then happy to help us out to make our special day happen. Because that’s what friends and family do. And at the end of the day it’s my wedding :)

      • Hello kitty

        First off I’m terribly sorry your father is battling cancer as I just lost my grandpa and know how hard that can be. Obviously you are in a unique circumstance and want to have your wedding a lot quicker so you father can be with you to celebrate. This type of situation is not really what I was referring to when I said it’s a lot to ask of a guest to cook for a wedding when you factor in travel time/expenses. I do however think your comment is very petty in that it’s insinuating that your smaller wedding has “true friends” and that my larger wedding which FYI isn’t 300 is filled with people whom “I think are my friends.” Maybe people who have larger weddings have lots of friends and family and your comment just makes you appear jealous and small.

  • Frustrated wedding guest

    I just found out that my niece plans to have a pot luck wedding reception (she’s 41 years old). This is purely due to poor planning on he part .I am glad it worked for you, but I have never heard of such a thing, and am afraid the party will run out of food for the guests ( she plans on 75-100 people to attend). I do not think you should asks your guests to furnish the food, I think you should plan a smaller wedding and pay for the party yourself, or else have cake and punch. I got married when I was 22 and just out of school, and my husband and I paid for the entire small wedding because we were adults and didn’t expect our parents to do so. Congratulations to you, but IMHO, a pot luck is taboo for a wedding reception.

  • audrey brown

    I think this was a lovely wedding and very adult. Potlucks go way back in history and to me they make sense. I would never have a problem paying for the ingredients to bring a dish to a wedding. The last wedding I went to I had to pay a ridiculous amount for a few glasses of wine, a gift, and of course my clothing; but the food was inedible; I would have rather eaten everyone’s home cooking. There was a fancy photographer, and venue at the wedding i mentioned but it felt cold, boring, and did I say the food was inedible. I would have preferred to bring two dishes to share, the gift, my clothing expense, and have wine provided; or at least the option of bringing my own wine. That said I think the bride and groom tried, it is just that many people shame others into doing what is expected, they may very well thought of a potluck or a different venue, etc. but people tend to think all weddings should be catered affairs at wedding venues, and that is that! I don’t think doing your wedding your way is anything to be ashamed about!