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Love on Wheels: How to Plan a Drive-In Wedding

Published Tuesday, Dec. 1st, 2020

Illustrations by Jessica Levey

Drive-in weddings bring cinematic energy to your wedding ceremony! 



For a big wedding feel without the big risks, drive-in weddings offer couples a vintage-inspired alternative to microweddings and livestreamed ceremonies. 


Couples who spent months dreaming about a large-scale wedding blowout before COVID-19 struck, might find the reality of a small ceremony a big letdown. For some, bigger is just better.


These couples want shouts of excitement, noisy clapping, joyful reunions between old friends and distant relatives, and the bustling kinetic energy of preparation and celebration… things that are more difficult (but not impossible!) to capture in small or virtual gatherings.


But as everyone now knows, big weddings come with big risks and restrictions this winter. To avoid both, couples around the world are rediscovering drive-in theaters and embracing drive-in weddings. From small weddings of a dozen or more in South Africa, to large Hindu weddings with 250 guests in the UK, it’s a trend that’s here to stay. 


So pile some blankets into the car, grab your most comfortable party pants or your favorite vintage 50s drive-in attire, and get planning! 


(Wedding officiants, we have some useful information for you, too, if you'll be officiating one of these ceremonies. Read on!)




  • Find a location that’s big enough


You’ll need a space big enough for all your guests to park, and spread out, during your ceremony. Think open field or spacious parking lot. Some couples have asked local drive in movie theaters to host them, which is a natural fit. In fact, drive-in theaters have been hosting weddings for years, long before the need for social distancing. 


If you have a friend or family member with a large piece of land, this can work well as an improvised venue. Open-air wedding venues or event spaces used for music concerts or outdoor theater are great options, too. 


If you’re in a suburb or a city, check for local events centers that might be able to accommodate you, or ask a favorite local business if you can rent their parking area after business hours. Some couples have used the parking lots of religious and community facilities, too, and many of these have their own equipment. 


Remember that you’ll need to check on any necessary event permits or rules in your area if you want to use a public space instead.




Illustration, how to plan a drive-in wedding for couples and officiants, cars surrounding a couple having a drive in ceremony outdoors


These ceremonies are exciting, unconventional, and guaranteed to be rated four stars for FUN. 



  • Set the stage


Can you already feel the adoring crowd watching your vows in rapt silence? There might not be a literal spotlight at your ceremony, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel like a star. And to make sure everyone can see your first kiss as a married couple, a stage isn’t just for show, it’s a necessity


A few lucky couples might have a handy relative to help them create a custom setup, but most couples will need to rent a stage or choose a venue that already has the needed equipment. If you decide to rent your own, a quick internet search for stage and event rentals in your area can help get you pointed toward the right equipment.


As an added tip, don’t forget you’ll need to get up on the stage, too. Double check that any rental equipment includes stairs, or you might find yourself being hoisted up by your elbows at the last minute.



  • Roll out the red carpet


Speaking of spotlights, plan to make a grand entrance. You can still walk down the aisle at a drive-in wedding, or lean into that vintage Hollywood movie energy by strolling down a red carpet. 


Work with your wedding officiant on the details of the processional, and discuss from which direction you’ll enter the stage. If you choose to enter center-stage like you might at a traditional wedding, mark the aisle ahead of time to leave enough space to walk between parked cars. 


(Officiants, read The Procession Explained and learn about other parts of the wedding ceremony using our wedding officiant training tools, especially if you're performing a marriage for friends or family for the first time.)


Rent a red carpet for a memorable entrance, or mark the aisle with something beautiful, like flower planters or velvet ropes, or decorate pumpkins or gourds for a DIY wedding look



  • Park at an angle and avoid traffic jams


Encourage guests to park in staggered rows or at an angle, so that everyone has an unobstructed view of the stage. This will take forethought and coordination to avoid a horn-honking free-for-all... 


If you’re using an open field, use place holders to show people where to park, just like you would when helping guests find their seats at a traditional reception. Make things feel more traditional, with a twist, by repurposing traffic cones into decorative flower stands, or by using colorful garland or strands of lights to divide rows. 


And don’t forget to ask friends to help direct traffic as people arrive and again as they exit. This will help limit traffic jams and ceremony delays. 



  • Set out row of seats for hard-of-hearing guests and close family 


Most guests will be content to watch your vows perched on the hood of their cars or from a pile of blankets in the bed of a truck, but hard-of-hearing guests will need a front row seat. Arrange a row or two of well-spaced folding chairs closer to the stage for friends and family who need or want a better view. 



  • Audio is essential 


Venues that have experience with drive-up and outdoor events will likely have their own audio equipment, radio and platform set ups, which can save couples much stress and expense. 


If you’re planning something casual or private, remember you’ll need to use microphones during your ceremony so that everyone can hear. It’s likely that several different microphones will be necessary for a spread out, outdoor event.


Because microphones are a big topic all on their own, we recommend reading Microphone Tips for Officiants and Couples for a rundown on whether or not to hire a professional, the types of microphones you can rent or buy, what microphones work best for officiants, how many mics to use, and where to find them. 



  • Don’t skip the rehearsal


There are several reasons stage actors familiarize themselves with the stage before opening night. Learn from their wisdom. 

One big reason is that you’ll want to make sure your audience has a good view of the action, no matter where they’re seated. A second is that spatial awareness helps reduce your chances of falling off the platform… even after a few glasses of champagne. 


Plan a rehearsal with your wedding officiant to avoid needless mistakes and accidents, and (don’t) break a leg! 


(First time officiants, need help deciding when to hold a rehearsal... and when to do everything else, too? Read The Officiant Timeline.) 



Find drive-in theaters charming?


We do, too. Check out this list that someone compiled of The 30 Best Drive-in Movie Theaters in the Country.



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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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