Kathleen & Jon’s Backyard Wedding And Restaurant Reception In Atlanta

* Kathleen, Pre/Postnatal Fitness Expert & Jon *


Invited: 200 / Actually Attended: 150

Planned Budget: 


Actual Budget:


The ceremony was the hardest part to plan, but was easily the best part of our wedding. We chose to essentially “marry ourselves”—we did not have an officiant. We stood together and shared our beliefs about marriage, and about why we were choosing to marry each other (and why we were doing it in front of all of them). We then said our vows privately. In order to make it legal, we asked any guests that were interested to be ordained online before the wedding. We then put all their names in a bowl and pulled one out “live” during the ceremony and had them come join us up front (to the music from The Price is Right).

We wrote our own ceremony (the whole ceremony—we chose to not have any readings) after lots and lots and lots of conversation with each other. And lots of thinking. And more talking. And a Google Doc that we passed back and forth, often without talking about it. A few days before the wedding we printed it off and made big sweeping edits, and then on the morning of the wedding we printed it on cardstock (Lord knows I wasn’t going to try to memorize my wedding ceremony) and then practiced a few times. I will say, my husband was crazy nervous about having to do a whole load of public speaking on his wedding day. However, it was not just fine, it was perfect—the best part of the day.

My husband said if we had a wedding (vs. eloping, which we also discussed) he wanted it in the backyard (our backyard), so that’s what we did. We also ended up hosting the rehearsal dinner (taco truck and a bounce house!) at our home the night before the wedding. We both tend towards introversion, and I was pretty nervous about hosting our own wedding, but it ended up being really wonderful. Because it was at our home, I felt like we got away with a bunch of crazy non-wedding choices that might have looked out of place in other contexts. In terms of logistics, we paid for housekeepers the day before the wedding, and stocked up on lots of toilet paper, and it worked out just fine. We also just had our guests park on the street, which we were nervous about with 150 guests, but again, it was not a problem at all.

Food was also a huge priority for us. We hosted the reception at a restaurant near us. By having a morning wedding, we were able to use them during hours they would normally be closed. This worked very well—the food was incredible, and we didn’t have to pay any of the normal “extra” reception fees (no space rental, linens, etc.), just the tab. We got to create our dream menu that our guests loved (and we got a private chef tasting in the back of the restaurant while guests arrived and we got to be alone for thirty minutes). I highly, highly recommended the restaurant reception for logistical ease. Also, rather than wedding cake we had homemade ding dongs and boozy root beer floats, so, restaurant=awesome.

It was important to me that our families be honored, but that was tricky as my husband and I have pretty different relationships with our families. Because I wasn’t having anyone walk me down the aisle, I asked my dad to do an opening toast for the ceremony (we had donuts and champagne for folks to eat and drink at the wedding site). We chose not to have a bridal party, but instead asked all of our nieces and nephews to be our “yay parade” and walk down the aisle before us. I also had a sister-in-law gather wedding pictures from all of our married guests that we had on display—this served to both honor all the incredible marriages in our family, as well as acknowledge our guests whose marriages aren’t yet legally recognized. These things helped me feel like my family was being included, even if it wasn’t in any of the traditional ways.

While our wedding was different and original, it really wasn’t super DIY. I had two friends help with our invitations, I had a friend offer to make a piñata, but there were no late-night crafting sessions. Instead, my friends took all their wedding love/energy/help and threw me a series of amazing lady parties. This was one of the secrets of getting married that I didn’t know about—I felt loved and celebrated and (cheesy and true) showered in girlfriend love in the months before the wedding in a way that made my heart burst. This was big emotional help, something I found I needed and wanted more than help with crafts or “wedding projects.”

We did get a big discount on our amazing photographer (who is a dear friend of mine), and my auntie hosted a park brunch the morning after the wedding. We hired a day-of-coordinator who also managed to help us plan an eighty-person rehearsal dinner the week before our wedding, and who helped plan the day-after brunch. While she was incredibly helpful on the day of the wedding, she was also helpful in that she never batted an eye at any of our silly ideas.

Because we were lucky enough to have little budget stress and little family stress, I feel like we had the brain space and emotional energy to use wedding planning to tackle big meaning questions, and the then take our answers and create a ceremony that shared them. It wasn’t easy, but it was important. And looking around my backyard in the ten seconds after I officially married the man I love, to see all the other people I love cheering and jumping and crying and popping party poppers, transformed me in a way no other moment has.

This was the secret that I didn’t know about weddings and marriage—it is lucky thing upon lucky thing upon lucky thing. I feel lucky to have found a person I’m excited to spend my life with. I feel lucky he feels the same. I feel lucky to be legally able to marry the person I love. I feel lucky to have the means to throw a party to celebrate that love. And then on top of all that impossibly lucky stuff, I feel like I was given this perfect gift of a perfectly silly, wild, wonderful wedding. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

Where we allocated the most funds: The reception tab at the restaurant, the ceremony site fix-up, and the dress.

Where we allocated the least funds:  Invitations, flowers, decorations, favors, and centerpieces. (We spent about $100 total on all of those things combined.)

What was totally worth it: Writing our own ceremony, and hosting everyone at one of our favorite restaurants for the reception

What was totally not: Worrying about being worried or stressed on the wedding day. I didn’t stress at all, I just, well, joy-ed.

A few things that helped us along the way: Wine, friends, and everyone already expecting that our wedding would look and feel different.

My best practical advice to my planning-self: The “What Does it Mean” list is real. Spend time on these big questions, and less time on the minutia of the to-do list.

Favorite thing about the wedding: The super non-wedding-ish ceremony in our own backyard, with champagne, donuts, and all our favorite people cheering.

The Info—Photographer: Stacey Bode / Location: Atlanta, Georgia / Ceremony Venue: Kathleen and Jon’s Backyard / Reception Venue: The Shed at GlenwoodKathleen’s Dress: Jenny Packham, Allegra from Kelly’s Closet

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    2. This is probably creepy of me, but is the second to last photo is that Joe’s Coffee in EAV?? Because if it is I LOVE THAT PLACE and I live like 10 minutes away from there. So obviously we must become friends now.

    • kathleenicanrah

      Lucy- it is Joes! We live a block away and walk up every morning — including on our wedding day. We love them too! Hi, neighbor!

      • Hidey ho, neighbors! My husband and I live pretty close to there too.

  • THIS IS MY FAVORITE, maybe ever. One of the most beautiful dresses I have ever seen, and wonderful words to boot. Love love love all your little touches, YAY parade is amazing, green shoes are stunning, private tasting is brilliant and marrying yourselves is brave and lovely.


  • This was a gorgeous wedding. I love the joy, the Yay Parade, and I’m considering stealing your idea of collecting others’ wedding pictures (Hope you don’t mind!). However, I am embarrassed to say that my favorite part of the post was the size of the guest list! Our list just hit 154, and is still climbing as my fiance’s mother hasn’t given me her list of family friends she’d like to invite. Since smaller weddings seem to be the norm, I’ve been terrified of the size of the list! How did you handle finding a reception space for that many people? We just started looking (We’re in Raleigh, NC if anyone has any suggestions) and I hadn’t thought to look at a restaurant yet. Was it very difficult to set up?

    Once again, gorgeous wedding! Congrats! and thanks for sharing!

    • kathleenicanrah

      Please do steal the wedding photo idea! It was easy, and meaningful for both us and our guests. (and so sweet to have photos of the guests that couldn’t make it in person too!)
      I can’t emphasize how EASY the restaurant was– so so easy. We booked them for a time they weren’t normally open (Saturday daytime), but the owner said they will close for the night for parties of our size if asked. We too were SO freaked out by the big guest list, but on the day of it felt perfect, and not at all overwhelming. Good luck! Let me know if I can be of help with any other ‘big guest lists’ questions!

      • Ooh! I have one! Did you feel like you got to spend at least a minute or two with each guest? My guest list is at 180 right now (and climbing) and I feel like A) there is no way to personally greet and spend even two minutes of quality time with 180 people and B) I don’t even like 180 people so how has this happened?

        • kathleenicanrah

          I felt like I got to spend…maybe one minute with each guest. I didn’t feel satisfied with the amount of time with each person though- and I kept wishing that instead it was a series of 10 or 15 dinner parties and I kept wanting to introduce people to each other!
          I will say I felt better once I did some basic math: we allowed all of our guests to bring a +1, so our 150 people was actually more like 75 people. Which meant my husband I each got to invite 38 people. Fewer since we had a few kinds. AND I HAVE WAY MORE THAN 38 PEOPLE I LOVE A LOT. This made me feel better about (even with our big guest count) not being able to invite everyone I wanted too.
          It really didn’t feel huge or like a zoo or impersonal at all. Promise promise.

        • MDBethann

          We invited nearly 160 people to our wedding and had about 140 come to our wedding in May 2012. At least 20 of the guests were under age 20. We held it in a restaurant (it had a hall, so we didn’t have to shut the place down, which was nice) that was also a microbrewery, so double yay!

          I made some of the “rounds” during the cocktail hour, some people I just hung out with on the dance floor, and then I made a point to stop at the tables of older folks who weren’t up dancing around. The kids were mostly on the dance floor and the little girls kind of just followed “the pretty princess” (aka me) everywhere.

          We had a brunch the next morning for our out-of-town guests who staid at the nearby hotel with us, so that gave me a chance to chat with folks I didn’t get to talk to much at the reception.

          In short, we ate (!!!), we had cake (I made SURE we ate – so many brides & grooms don’t get to eat at their reception, which is just wrong), we danced, we socialized, and we had a blast. Did I spend more time with some guests than others? Probably, but I did greet everyone at some point in the day, which to me was the most important thing – they knew I knew they came and was glad to see them celebrate with us.

  • Breck

    This is just… amazing. Thanks for sharing and CONGRATS!

  • Amy Hawkins

    GREEN SHOES! Love them!

  • I’ve been really thinking about having a wedding without an officiant and ‘marry-ing ourselves’ so this was very inspirational!

  • Hannah

    Ohmygosh that picture of you in the green sunglasses with the green shoes? AMAZING.

    I love this wedding. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous! And I appreciate your advice about writing your own ceremony. I have wanted to do this, but my partner (and a part of me too) is skeptical because it seems like it will be so difficult. But hearing about how amazing it was for you makes it an even bigger priority, especially since we aren’t planning on having an officiant either.

    • We’re writing our own version of a traditional ceremony in structure (readings + vows + ring exchange) with a few other things thrown in there for good measure. The thing that’s nice is that there is *so much* out there on the internet, that you can cobble together a general outline and then go back and flush it out. The hard part is that the options are limitless, that at first it can feel hard to even figure out how to fill the space (at least, that was my experience at first).

      I do think it’s helpful to have a really good “big picture” brainstorming session first; I think we got down to the detail level too soon, and I wish we spent more time answering the broader questions.

      I’d love to hear more about how people go about crafting their ceremony. As I said, there’s so much out there in terms of examples, but there isn’t a lot of conversation about what the writing process can look like and what kind of questions to ask, etc.

      • I was so excited to write our ceremony, but then when I sat down to do it, I was totally paralyzed. It was the one area where I really bought into the This is your ONLY chance! mentality. And the options being so limitless made me completely unable to start. I bought a book titled The Wedding Ceremony Planner to at least give me some basic structure to work from and had some conversations with my guy about what marriage means to us and what we wanted our ceremony to convey. What finally got the ball rolling was when we chose the poems we’d have read. I’d picked two (The Master Speed by Robert Frost and selections from Song of the Open Road by Walt Whitman) and then he found a third (The Ivy Crown by William Carlos Williams) and together, they really set the tone for the rest of the ceremony.

    • kathleenicanrah

      do it! do it!! the work is well worth the reward of a special, personal, thoughtful ceremony that truly reflects what you two believe marriage to be. I can’t tell you how glad we are that we did it.

  • Claire

    Love this wedding. Gorgeous, personal and fun-looking.

  • I couldn’t be more in love with this wedding.

  • Sexy Lady

    “And looking around my backyard in the ten seconds after I officially married the man I love, to see all the other people I love cheering and jumping and crying and popping party poppers, transformed me in a way no other moment has.”

    I just….oh. So lovely. This, this, this.

  • DKTX

    I love everything about this wedding. Especially the photos of your guests’ weddings. I LOVE looking at other people’s wedding pictures, and this is a fabulous way to honor them into your wedding. And the bright colors. And the yay parade. And especially the idea of taking over a restaurant for the reception. I wish knew of a place local to Austin that would let me do that.

    Congrats to you both!

    • Oh, I bet you could find a place in or near Austin that would let you do that! I mean, probably not a touristy place like Salt Lick or anything like that, but I bet others would be willing to close for a private event.

  • kathleenicanrah

    thanks for all the sweet words and congratulations. Seeing photos of our wedding on the internet feels surprisingly personal and intimate, and y’alls kind responses have made my day. thank you!

  • Alicia

    Congratulations! What an awesome wedding! My husband and I also used a restaurant for the reception and it was the perfect choice. Things were so easy and we only had to pay the tab.

  • Oh my gosh, beautiful! Congrats!

  • danielle

    i cannot emphasize how joyful i felt reading about your wedding day and your relationship with both family, girlfriends and of course, your husband.
    it’s not often that a stranger’s wedding strikes a chord, but truly this is a magnificent way to celebrate your love of one another and your wedding has made me smile.
    my vote is in for the best wedding i’ve ever seen or read online. congratulations!

  • anon

    Love the Price Is Right officiant entrance. lol.

  • Victwa

    This was truly lovely.

  • Rosie

    This is lovely to read about, and with my wedding behind me I can see how useful this will be to people planning! This is completely sensible advice to reduce stress.

  • This looks like a very festive and fun wedding !

  • Champagne and donuts! What could possibly be better than that? Especially when you get to have them while watching two people in love marry each other. Here’s hoping this becomes widespread wedding tradition.

  • also, since you are in Atlanta, if you’re on Facebook you should consider joining the APW-Atlanta Facebook group. Find it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/191388717626946/

    We would love to meet you and anyone else in Atlanta at some of our events. Trying to get a monthly thing going right now.

    • kathleenicanrah

      done! thanks for the invite.

  • Toni1835

    The is a such a great, original wedding. Love all the little personal touches and who doesn’t want to start their day with champagne & donuts? And the guests are obviously having a great time.

    The “lucky” paragraph is perfect. I felt the same way about my wedding. There is nothing better than being surrounded by your favorite friends and family in the world!

  • Megan

    Since getting married almost 3 years ago, and now having a baby, I’ve been reading APW less and less as it doesn’t seem as relevant to my life…BUT I migrated here tonight while unwinding from an epic baby bedtime struggle with a glass of wine and found this awesome post! Everything about your wedding sounds perfect. I so admire your emphasis on the true meaning of the event rather than the minutia, THAT is what it’s all about. The meaning, your articulation of your commitment to one another, the support of your community, and the glow of that transformative moment are things you will lighten your load when/if you are ever a new parent…believe me!

    I loved this line “And looking around my backyard in the ten seconds after I officially married the man I love, to see all the other people I love cheering and jumping and crying and popping party poppers, transformed me in a way no other moment has.” Also, your acknowledgement of the “luckiness” of it all is right on. And, I rarely regret anything about my own wedding (which I loved) but the missed opportunity to display photos of all the “married” couples at our wedding gave me a pang of regret. Great job!

    • kathleenicanrah

      Thanks so much Megan. We are tiptoeing towards parenthood and I’m feeling…nervous/scared/worried about how our love and relationship will bear the stress. Your kind words could not have come at a better time. Good luck to you and yours as you navigate it all as well!

  • Sarah

    Kathleen – I loved this post. What a wonderful wedding! My fiance and I are marrying ourselves too (in 3 weeks). Although I know there is a ton of information out there, my googling skills have proved inadequate because I haven’t found many examples of the text of self-officiating weddings. Would you be willing to share the text of your ceremony? I would love some inspiration! Although I understand if you’d rather keep it private.

    Thanks! (I can be reached at watersdavies at gmail dot com)

    • jon

      Took a while to get there, but there were essentially three speakers: Father of the Bride spoke about the Past (a wedding is a tradition we have all seen before, today is one iteration of that old tradition), Bride spoke about the Present (why we made the decisions we did, comments about the community we had gathered), and the Groom spoke about the Future (what our goals and hopes for marriage and a life together are). I don’t think the words “past”, “present”, or “future” were explicitly stated, but those were the themes we organized the script around. Once we had these three “buckets” to organize the ceremony, it came together pretty easily.

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  • I can’t believe that the budget is $17000 and the result is a very gorgeous, lovely ceremony! They changed the venue into a very colorful place with party spirit all around! Like a fiesta! The bride’s dress is absolutely stunning! It seems like there are stars falling from the gown! Lovely!

  • you want your wedding reception to be just as beautiful as the ones you see in bridal magazines. Unfortunately, your budget may not allow for a professional company to decorate the venue, supply a three-course meal and book a live band.

  • This is an amazing story of a beautiful wedding. It was an honor to help you host one of the most important days of your life. I loved the casual elegance and light hearted air you created with color and style. Hopefully, we will share many more important occasions in the future! You’ll have a 50th anniversary coming up before you know it!