How to Host an Experiential Wedding

The Stars Inside is all about immersive, magical, experiential weddings – but of course this focus on experience signifies different things to different people.

For me, ‘immersive’ means creating experiences that help us reconnect with our inner child – awakening the part of us that enjoyed exploring, curiosity, and imagination. It means crafting augmented versions of day-to-day realities, while weaving all the threads that make you YOU into a tapestry of celebration. It’s the magic of translating who you are into a choreography of meaningful styling, and in doing so telling a wedding story in which every element echoes, contrasts, or enriches one another – whether loudly or quietly – to convey emotions. It’s walking into a room and feeling the details, without even realising you’re noticing them.

In London, you may have come across Secret Cinema, Punchdrunk, Gingerline, Les Enfants Terribles, Dot Dot Dot, Restaurant Story, and many more, spearheading the trend for immersive film, theatre, and dining events – and I adore how this is bringing the concept of ‘play’ into mainstream society. By this I mean releasing inhibitions and preconceptions, and allowing a ‘make believe’ spell to deepen and magnify an experience beyond what it is. The Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) revolution is unfolding all around us as well, and it’s opening doors to experiences we never imagined possible.

Being part of the action is something that can easily be translated to weddings, where the narrative and guest journey can be filled with otherworldly, extraordinary, individual experiences. One side-effect of this trend is that more and more we’re seeing smaller guest lists, as couples choose to spend more in taking care of each guest in a bespoke, unique way. This paves the road for the definition of “non-traditional” to be rewritten and widened way beyond the barriers that existed before. To one couple, breaking tradition might mean avant-garde floral design, to another it might mean a non-sitdown grazing feast of charcuterie, while to another yet it might mean hiring a full troupe of theatre actors to play out scenes of Hamlet in between courses.

If you love the idea of creating immersive wedding experiences, you’re in luck – the choices are widening beyond belief, and the sky really is the limit. Here are some ideas you might enjoy brainstorming:

  • Eating and drinking as an experience. Sit down meals are only one of the many options available when it comes to feeding your guests, with many caterers now offering cocktail-style food stations, afternoon tea, BBQs and hog roasts, buffets, sharing platters, picnics, doughnut walls, DIY stations, and of course food trucks for all the sweet and savoury favourites (I recently tasted Mac Street Kitchen and went to truffle mac’n’cheese heaven!). Don’t be afraid to discuss experimental menus with your chef, particularly when it comes to quirky bite-size canapés or unique recipes inspired by your experiences or your history (like courses inspired by places you’ve lived, for example). When working with your caterer, wedding planner, or decor company to design your tablescape, think about curating the shapes, colours, and styles of crockery and cutlery to emphasise the food. Play with negative space, unexpected delights, and things that aren’t what they seem. A number of companies now offer truly remarkable food installations and experiences – like the fantastical contraptions by Lick Me I’m Delicious, or the edible alcoholic indulgences by Smith and Sinclair.  The range of available drinks trucks and mobile bars is now endless, so if you have a favourite drink – there’s probably a drinks truck for that; I recently had the pleasure of sampling the wonders by the Chocolate Cocktail Club and, yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds! There are also myriad options now for crafting bespoke drinks, like the delicacies you can create together at the London Ginstitute. Venues with their own brewery will often offer you the option of creating your own flavours, and many drinks companies will jump at the opportunity of inventing a new cocktail recipe to fit your brief. I recently had the pleasure of working with the fantastic team at The Cocktail Service, who designed some absolutely divine and completely bespoke cocktails for our Sleeping Beauty photoshoot.
  • Multiple day weddings. Many couples are now hunting for venues or venue complexes that are large and varied enough that they can host their guests for several days before and/or after the wedding day itself. Large estates with multiple types of buildings and spaces are perfect for this, like the stunning Wilderness Reserve in Suffolk. It’s not hard to see why hosting a mini-holiday centered around their wedding, and having the chance to spend so much more time with their loved ones, is a very exciting prospect for couples – think welcome dinners, pool parties, rehearsal galas, champagne brunches, yoga, massages, archery, beach days, wine or food tasting, cycling trips, boat rides, visits to nearby cities, team games – whatever resonates most with YOUR personalities. Make sure your guests are given a clear outline of what is happening when and where, with detailed transport info, and an indication of which parts of your ‘wedstival’ are optional and which you’d like everyone to attend. Get them excited to keep the party going by including the schedule in their invitation suite or in a welcome pack for example, alongside other bespoke gifts that set the tone for your celebrations. Some other tips to keep in mind for multiple day events are: consider logistics needed for any children or elderly guests; have a solid bad weather plan in case the whole week turns out different to what you hoped; send save-the-dates as early as you can to give your guests as much notice as possible; set expectations for guest costs (if you’re not covering everything yourself); give clear guidelines for dress codes for each event or activity, so your guests know what to pack; create a wedding website so guests have somewhere to refer to; and remember to allow for enough downtime so that guests can explore and relax.
  • Interaction and engagement. Food stations, novel guestbooks, and edible favours are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wedding guest interactivity. You can break the “fourth wall” however you want to – like for example having all your guests join you as you walk down the aisle, or greeting them with personalised welcome goodie bags through a special entryway. You could even ask each guest what their favourite drink is in their RSVP card, and have one waiting for them as they arrive! Optional ice-breaking features that encourage mingling are great options for elevating the guest journey during those quieter sections of the wedding day or wedding weekend. His & hers liqueur shots, roaming musicians, a song request station, dance lessons, glitter bars, DIY cocktail stations, interactive photobooths and GIF booths, silent cinemas and silent discos, DIY flower stations for crowns and buttonholes, games rooms, petting zoos, wedding dares, magicians, caricaturists, messages in jars/bottles/boxes, acrobats/aerialists/fire performers, cigar bars, marryokes – these are just some of the myriad possibilities. You could even hire an actor and create an elaborate mystery of plot twists and clues for your guests to solve, at the end of which is a secret bar they can access! The key is to make sure that whatever you choose doesn’t feel overwhelming, mandatory, or disruptive, but rather something guests can choose to do together. Make sure the journey is easy to navigate by incorporating decor that serves as signage, and think of ways to make their participation rewarding for them (drinks tokens, a hashtag to contribute to, a keepsake, etc). If you and your partner are leaving the venue at a set time, interactive send-offs can be a wonderful way of saying goodbye and thank you to all your guests at once – like sparkler tunnels, fireworks, champagne towers, or a live cake assembly. Instead of favours that may be difficult to hold onto throughout the evening, why not think of some thoughtful gifts to hand out at the exit or at the end of the night – like a gift for sleeping well, a late night treat to enjoy on their way home, a little something to help nurse the possible hangover – or an exclusive invitation to your late night after-party!
  • Awake all five senses. Breathtaking floral installations and intricate menus are feasts for the eyes and taste buds, that’s for sure – but don’t forget to create experiences that indulge all 5 senses in a “passive” way too. Curate all your details, no matter how small and no matter how many people you think will notice them, to make your guests instinctively feel like they’ve stepped into another world. Think about whether you can add different textures to your tablescape, like three-dimensional elements, juxtapositions of crisp and rough, embossed and debossed paper, geometric acrylic shapes, and much more. For example, you could select tactile table cloths in linen, velvet, or raw silk to offer a sensory experience even while guests are seated. Similarly, your floral design can have levels, asymmetries, and unexpected contrasting textures. Curate your music and menu to be extensions of your decor, and use scent as a powerful guide – start by scenting your invitations, and then use perfumed candles throughout your venue to set the scene. You can even instruct your venue staff or wedding coordinator to change the lights and music if the courses of your meal differ in style. Elevate your wedding to a sensory wonderland by harmonising your flowers (discuss scents when meeting your florist), calming candles or diffusers (mix scented and unscented in order not to overpower), and the scents of the food and drinks you’ve chosen for your menus (think about ‘smell’ and ‘feel’ when tasting your menu with the catering company).

Whichever way you choose to interpret the “immersion” element of your wedding, try to always keep in mind the comfort of your guests. Keep instructions easy, timings plausible (i.e. don’t rush them from one room to another), and interactivity optional – it’s all about making it feel effortlessly captivating. As you add new elements to the wedding, keep running through the “flow” of the day, and ask yourself whether it feels natural and organic. Do keep in mind the extra staff that may be needed to make sure that any surprises or interactive stations run smoothly, and that your guests needs are anticipated; if you’re thinking of having a particularly complicated schedule or layout, do consider hiring a wedding planner or an on-the-day wedding coordinator that can support you in making sure everything is executed seamlessly.

Remember that it’s all about making the experience the most wonderful it can be, for yourself and your loved ones, and that will mean different things to different people. Keep a finger on the pulse of your WHY: don’t choose things for the sake of it, but really think about what means the most to you – as that will be the secret of making the day feel like an extension of your own personalities.

I hope these ideas have helped you brainstorm how to design an experiential wedding as fun to host as it is to attend. If you’d like to have a chat, or would like some help with planning your wedding, don’t hesitate to get in touch!