Outdoor weddings can offer an exciting alternative to an indoor celebration. But that perfect summer evening under the stars may require more preparation than an indoor event. Here are 6 pointers to consider when planning an outdoor wedding.
1. Plan for Weather Extremes... Just in Case
Summertime in Central New York typically offers high temperatures in the upper 70s and overnight lows in the 50s. Not too shabby, but our weather doesn't always go by the book. All-time records range from the 30s (yes, in the summer!) to the 100s. A sunny day with light breezes would be perfect, but it's wise to prepare for rain and/or wind, just in case.
Outdoor weddings often feature an open-air ceremony, but you and your guests will want cover for the reception, rain or shine. Tent companies often handle tables and chairs too, so once you tell them how many guests you expect, they can help you pick an appropriately-sized tent. Remember to include room for the bar, the DJ booth, the dance floor and any displays (cake table, gift table, etc.). Side walls (like on the tents pictured here) may be included or they might cost extra. They'll be worth every penny if it's rainy and/or windy, but can usually be rolled up or pushed aside if they aren't needed.
Here's where things can get tricky: If extreme heat or a chilly night make guests uncomfortable, they might leave early -- rather than enjoying the open bar, the cake, DJ and all the other things you've paid for. But when you're booking your tent 8, 12, 16 months in advance, it's impossible to know what kind of weather you'll have. Should you invest in climate control? Large fans can help keep people cool if it's hot and humid. Gas-powered heating towers can keep them warm if it turns out to be a chilly night. If you wait until the date is close enough for an accurate forecast, rental companies might already be out of stock. If your budget allows, you could book fans and heaters when you book your tent -- especially if the rental company will let you cancel the one (or both) you don't need, once you know the forecast. If the budget is tight, you might just roll the dice on one or the other, or wait to see what's available when the forecast arrives.
2. On-Site Catering
Many indoor venues include foodservice, but most outdoor venues don't -- you'll need to book your own catering. Every caterer handles on-location events differently. Confirm that your venue can accommodate your caterer's needs before you sign anything. If your caterer has worked at your venue before, this part should be easy. Otherwise, prepare to ask plenty of questions.
First, how much space will the caterer need? Some catering trucks are quite large. They'll need to park as close as possible to the food prep/staging area. How many staff vehicles? (If parking is scarce, can they carpool?) Is the catering crew completely self-contained, or will they need power and/or water hook-ups? Who's responsible for stocking and tending bar? Is the liquor license the responsibility of the caterer, or the venue, or yourself?
Compare contracts between your caterer and venue. If there's anything you're not sure about, ask... especially if your venue is a private residence that's never hosted a wedding before. If you can get the caterer and venue together for a real-time discussion, that could get questions answered much faster. If the caterer isn't confident the venue can provide the appropriate power, water or other needs, be prepared to find another caterer (or venue, if food outranks location for you).
3. Enough Electricity for All Your Wedding Pros
Nobody will be happy if circuit breakers or fuses keep going off every 5 minutes. But outdoor venues (especially private residences) don't always have the same robust electrical service found at indoor venues.
As usual, communication is key. Most vendors (like me!) include electrical requirements in their contracts. If any vendors don't, ask them to provide their electrical requirements in writing. To be safe, ask all your vendors, not just the DJ and the caterer.
Then, compare everyone's electrical needs with the venue. What if the venue falls short of those needs? Can any vendors scale back? Can the venue have an electrician add more circuits? Who would pay for that? Is the cost worth it, or would you be better off finding a new venue?
I once had a couple who originally planned to get married on the sprawling lawn of a friend's home. A gracious offer, but the home wasn't wired to handle the electrical requirements. Rather than paying for upgrades that would only be used once, the couple booked a nearby hotel ballroom instead.
4. Guest parking
If you're getting married at a public park, they likely have ample parking lots. Private residence? Different story. The lawn is usually your go-to. That is, if there's enough lawn left after plotting out space for the tent, the catering vehicles, your ceremony area and anything else you're planning. (Make sure you leave a clear path for the catering vehicles and other vendors to get in and out, too.) And try to avoid making people park in an area that's prone to get soft and muddy if it rains... you don't want spinning tires ruining the lawn, or people getting stuck.
I once had a wedding at a private residence in a rural area, with plenty of out-of-town guests. The couple funneled most guests to one or two hotels in the nearest city, then had buses shuttle guests to and from venue. It was a win-win: guests unfamiliar with the area didn't have to risk getting lost, and it greatly reduced the number of people competing for limited parking.
Nature calls, sooner or later! When there's an open bar, it's usually sooner--and often! You'll need adequate facilities for everyone.
Public parks and commercial venues often have permanent facilities available. But are they within reasonable walking distance? Accessible for elderly or handicapped guests? Enough stalls to handle the demand of a large gathering?
Private residences obviously have at least one bathroom, but it's an unwritten rule that the house is "off-limits" to wedding guests. No homeowner wants the aftermath of 200 people parading in and out to use the bathroom all day. And having guests wait in line for one restroom would not be pleasant.
If the existing facilities aren't sufficient, budget for port-a-potties. They don't necessarily have to be the basic, all-plastic booths often spotted at street festivals or carnivals. Many port-a-potty companies offer upscale options for classier events like weddings. Bathroom trailers (like the one pictured here) often come equipped with a real toilet, a real sink (sometimes with hot water), paper towel dispensers and lights. And they're often roomier than their all-plastic cousins.
6. Everything Turns Back to Pumpkins at Midnight (or Earlier)
OK, that only happens in Cinderella. But many localities do have noise ordinances which take effect promptly at 10:00pm or 11:00pm. If the partying continues just one minute past, you risk having cranky neighbor(s) calling the police.
If your local noise ordinance takes effect at 10pm, the reception needs to end by 10. Or maybe 9:30, to give people ample time to say their goodbyes and leave. Or, if you think the vendors might exceed the noise limit while packing up to leave, you might need to end the reception at 9, so they have a full hour to pack up before the ordinance takes effect.
When you map out the timeline for the day, start there and work backwards, all the way to determining what time you need to wake up and start getting yourself ready for the day.
I'm sure there's more advice to be shared for planning outdoor weddings. If you've done it yourself, or you're planning one now, comment with your own pointers below!