So you’re having a backyard wedding. Nothing to it, right? Like a barbecue, except with a chuppah? Not quite.
“There are so many details and moving pieces that go into a backyard wedding, more than a regular wedding,” said Rena Soclof, owner of Rena Soclof Events. “It may not be the wedding you were dreaming of but it can be extremely beautiful and emotional.”
Soclof, an event planner for the past five years, has done three backyard weddings in the last three weeks. The biggest challenge is starting from scratch to figure out all the logistics that traditional wedding venues already have under control, like indoor/outdoor facilities for all weather conditions. “Now you have to know the town ordinances about things like parking and sound,” cautioned Soclof. “And the legalities are changing on a daily basis.”
Sometimes, you have to take a hard look at your backyard to see if it will accommodate a chuppah and the couple, let alone even a small number of guests. Soclof helps clients pick a new venue if their home won’t work, or if they want an out-of-town wedding in an area that has re-opened with more options. Last weekend, she planned a wedding for a couple who rented a house in the Berkshires for their event.
“It was amazing!” Soclof said, noting the sunny, cloudless skies and picture-perfect country setting, with magnificent grounds.
A backyard wedding can range from casual to elegant, with the new hygiene requirements to prevent spread of the coronavirus always embedded in the planning. If you are revising plans from a wedding hall to a backyard, you may have to redo the menu with your caterer. “You can have a very elegant affair, where the dishes are brought out with silver covers on the plates. But you have to make sure nothing is getting on the food.”
With the regulations about permissible numbers of guests changing day by day, a good guest list with instant contact information, like email addresses and phone numbers, is essential. These days, no one will complain about being on the “B” list when they get an invite for a wedding a few weeks or even days away. “Most people who learn they can have more people, right up to the time of the occasion, will want them,” said Soclof. “If you can go from 25 to 100 people, most people will want the 100. But first check with the caterer about adding more meals, and ask the florist about additional centerpieces.”
The 10-piece orchestra you were planning on may be too much for a backyard, but musicians with less manpower and volume can deliver the same simcha. “There are lots of creative ways to have socially distant dancing,” said Soclof. “Jump ropes or linen napkins tied together can make everyone feel comfortable.’’
Soclof brings in vendors to handle the newest element of today’s weddings: livestreaming. It takes more than a well-placed laptop to really bring the wedding to those watching on Zoom. WiFi extenders are just the beginning, and screen placement is critical. In a too-bright area, Zoom guests may see washed-out faces, or nothing at all.
Soclof was a practicing attorney before taking time off to raise her children. She had a flair for planning events, and turned it into a new career. But her legal knowledge and negotiating skills are key assets as an event planner. Many contracts need to be arranged, and with the fluid state of regulations today, couples must protect themselves, and insist that vendors be flexible.
Soclof is also available to be an on-site coordinator for the day, accepting deliveries and working with vendors to ensure smooth, efficient timing. She can run emergency errands like retrieving a glass to be smashed in the chuppah or a plate to be broken by the mothers.
Engaged couples should research venues for their wedding but keep in mind that circumstances may force a change in plans. Having Soclof involved is helping with the challenge of making a wedding during these uncertain times, said Polly Bousbib of Englewood, whose daughter is getting married in August. The wedding is currently booked at a venue, but the hall management doesn’t know yet if it will open. The alternate location is the Bousbib backyard. All the vendors have contingency plans in their contracts. Soclof is the one working with the hall, florist, caterer and band to manage the plans, which will all have to be revised if the event is at home instead of the venue. Bousbib said her guests will receive an invitation with an enclosed card saying the wedding may have to be livestreamed. And Soclof is working with the photographer to manage the technology.
“Rena is very calm, has a wonderful demeanor and is very friendly,” said Bousbib. “She is very accommodating to what the customer wants. She gives you options and ideas but doesn’t insist on going overboard—she is very good at making something beautiful within your desired budget.”
Beth Stern couldn’t agree more. When she made an engagement party, aufruf and wedding for her son in 2018, Soclof handled all the arrangements. “She is very organized, accessible and lovely to work with,” said Stern. “She did all the legwork and follow-up so I could feel like a guest.”
Soclof charges by the event so she encourages anyone planning a backyard wedding—or any simcha—to contact her to discuss plans. “People tell me what they need, I tell them what I can do and we see if we click,” she said. “Thank God, most people enjoy working with me.”
Contact Rena Soclof by phone or text at 201-280-3145 or email [email protected] Follow her on Instagram @renasoclofevents.
By Bracha Schwartz