Simple pleasures: How to have a small Charlottesville wedding

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Danielle and Ryan were married at Raven's Roost Outlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway with less than 10 people present. Photo: Eze Amos Danielle and Ryan were married at Raven’s Roost Outlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway with less than 10 people present. Photo: Eze Amos

What’s that you say? You actually don’t want the big ol’ wedding involving three days of catered meals, bagpipers on parade, engraved nameplates to mark which boutonniere goes on which groomsman? You’re not alone.

Plenty of folks opt for a smaller, simpler wedding. There are many reasons why—and cost is only the most obvious. Fewer details mean less stress. Not everyone has the time or desire to plan an elaborate affair. And some might feel that focusing on people—the one you’re marrying and a small number of beloved witnesses—makes for a sweeter experience.

“There are lots of simpler ways to do it,” says local wedding planner Barb Lundgren. Her company, Barb Wired Events, has planned low-key receptions for couples who are getting married for the second time as well as for couples who have eloped.

The low-key ceremony

Everybody knows you can get married at City Hall—and in Charlottesville, that costs $50 (plus $30 for the marriage license). Not everybody realizes, though, that the city’s officiant can also travel to nearby Justice Park or even an entirely different location. Captain William Marshall, who officiates weddings for the Sheriff’s Office, says that if you give him a heads-up a week or two in advance, he’ll venture to the spot of your choice and will charge only a small travel fee based on mileage.

That includes evenings and weekends—and the ceremony might be more personal than you’d imagine. Marshall says he loves marrying couples. “It is their moment, and I want to be a part of it,” he says.

Whoever your officiant, having fewer guests makes you more nimble when choosing a ceremony site. Get creat ive: An overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway? A moving trolley? One of UVA’s Pavilion gardens?

The small reception

A smaller crowd means you can keep your reception costs down, too. Even a shelter at a city or county park, though it’s not glamorous, can be perfectly pleasant and very affordable ($50-80 for a city shelter, $60 for one at an Albemarle County park). Just be sure to reserve in advance so you don’t have to fight the softball team for your spot.

Lundgren says lots of couples assume that if they hold their wedding at home, they’ll save money—but it isn’t always so. “It can be just as expensive” as renting a venue, she says, “if you have to put up tents, tables, chairs, generators.”

One way to simplify is to choose the type of venue that provides food and drink, so you’re not making a second choice about a caterer. For a dinner of fewer than 50 people, Lundgren says C&O Restaurant is a popular choice. “They have great value,” she says—and the place is, of course, a pillar of the local food scene. Two different event spaces can seat up to 30 or 40 guests, respectively. Each costs $250 to rent, and prix-fixe menus usually cost around $80-90 per person, including alcohol, tax and gratuity.

The Space is a newer Downtown venue where longtime local restaurateurs Tim Burgess and Vincent Derquenne create custom menus for private parties. While The Space can seat up to 150, Burgess says they’ve hosted groups well below 50, and charge roughly $100 per guest, all-inclusive, for a dinner reception. “The shape of The Space allows for us to keep intimacy for these smaller groups,” he says. Make planning simple: Keep your decorating to a minimum, and let the exposed brick walls and artful food speak for themselves.

The slightly bigger reception

Inviting more than 50 people? Blue Mountain Brewery, in Afton, can seat up to 64 in its private event space. Meals start at $20 per person (tax, tip and beverages are separate), and there’s a venue fee that ranges from $200 to $2,500 depending on when you’re celebrating. Note that the brewery isn’t available on Saturdays.

Lundgren likes the atmosphere at Michie Tavern, where period-costumed servers help set the mood for 50 to 100 dinner guests. “What a memorable experience that is,” she says. The cost of a Michie meal starts at $27 per person (not including tax, tip or alcohol), and there is no venue fee.

If your budget is bigger, but you want to streamline the planning, here’s a final suggestion: Old Metropolitan Hall ranges in cost from $1,950 to $3,950. You have options for catering, but can simplify by using the in-house caterer, Brasserie Saison.

OMH’s Sarah Beasley says that the space works well for ceremonies, too—perhaps even with guests seated right at their dinner tables—and needs little to no enhancement if you’re not inclined to decorate. “It’s pretty beautiful as it is,” she says. Now that sounds easy.

Danielle and Ryan were married at Raven’s Roost Outlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway with less than 10 people present.

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