Outdoor weddings can offer a nice alternative to an indoor celebration. But that perfect summer evening under the stars may require more preparation. Here are 6 important things to consider when planning an outdoor wedding.
1. Prepare for the Weather
Central New Yorkers know our weather can be a bit crazy. Summer high temperatures average in the upper 70s, while overnight lows dip into the 50s. Not too bad, but it’s wise to prepare for extremes, just in case. All-time records during the summer months for Syracuse include near-freezing lows in the 30s and scorching highs in the low 100s. High humidity levels can make a hot day feel oppressive, while wind can add a cutting chill, especially after sunset.
Outdoor weddings often begin with an open-air ceremony. But for the reception, many guests expect cover from the hot sun or the rain. Unless your reception site has an existing structure like a pavilion, you may need to rent a party tent or two. Collapsible sides are a worthwhile add-on, if not included by default. They normally stay rolled-up, out of sight. But if it’s windy or rainy, you and your guests will be glad they’re available.
Giant fans and space heaters can also be rented, but could be a gamble. It’s impossible to predict exactly how hot or cold it’ll be during your reception when you’re booking the rest of your rentals. If you have to commit months in advance, it could be a waste of money if you wind up not needing the extra equipment. But if you hold-out until accurate weather forecasts are available (usually about 7-10 days out), all the rentals could already be sold out.
2. You’ll Need a Caterer
For most outdoor weddings/receptions, you usually need to BYOC: Bring Your Own Catering. But it’s not as simple as booking a company because you liked their work at another wedding you attended last year. On-location catering setups range from simple to complex, often depending on your guest count and your menu choices.
Before you book, you make sure your caterer and venue are compatible. Is there space for the caterer’s vehicles to park? If the caterer will need hook-ups for power and/or water, is the venue properly equipped? Who’s responsible for stocking and tending the 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 with outside vendors before. A three-way conference with the venue and caterer allows them to discuss details directly, relieving you of the “go-between” role. If the caterer is unfamiliar with the venue, a site visit might be worthwhile. They might even bring up some key items that you wouldn’t have brought up yourself.
Hopefully all will go well, but what if your venue can’t meet the needs of your caterer? You might need to find a different caterer or a different venue. That’s why you need to start this process early and ask these questions before you sign any catering contracts.
3. You’ll Need Electricity
Most indoor banquet/reception halls are designed and wired specifically to support full-service commercial kitchens and professional-grade audio equipment. But that’s not always the case for outdoor venues — especially if you’re celebrating at a private residence. You don’t want your meticulously planned wedding day ruined because the venue’s wiring couldn’t keep up with the electrical needs of your vendors.
As usual, communication is key. Most vendors (myself included!) will communicate electrical requirements within their contract. If any vendors didn’t mention electrical in their contract, ask them to send their electrical requirements in writing. To be safe, ask all your vendors, not just the DJ and the caterer.
Compile everyone’s electrical needs into a list and then compare it against your venue contract, or ask the venue manager/owner for guidance. Is the venue is capable of handling everyone’s needs? If not, you might have to pay to have an electrician upgrade the service. That is, assuming the venue owner allows it in the first place. A few years back, I had a couple who accepted a family friend’s offer to host the wedding on the sprawling grounds of their home. When the couple realized they’d need to ask permission and pay for electrical upgrades, they reconsidered. They politely declined the friend’s offer and booked the ballroom of a nearby hotel instead.
4. Where will everyone park?
Before you commit to a specific venue, consider the need for guest parking. Does the venue have parking on-site? Is there enough space for everyone? Is it located conveniently?
Many of the public parks that host outdoor weddings across Central New York are able to do so because they offer plenty of parking. But just remember, public is the key word — you usually can’t “reserve” a block of parking for your wedding. Avoid holiday weekends or any dates the park is hosting special events (like concerts or 5K running races). These dates tend to attract more people to the park, meaning more traffic and more competition for parking spots.
As for private residences, it depends on the location and its surroundings. If you’re in a typical suburban neighborhood, neighbors might be upset to see their normally empty streets lined with dozens of cars in either direction. A nearby park, school or shopping plaza lot could work. Just get permission first, so your guests don’t get ticketed or towed. If the walk is too long or dangerous, your guests might appreciate shuttle buses.
At one wedding I played in the summer of 2016, the wedding took place at the bride’s parents house, on a huge lot of land in rural Madison County. They had plenty of room for parking right on the property’s sprawling lawn. They also had a great idea I hadn’t seen at other outdoor weddings: they rented several portable lighting towers so guests could find their cars at the end of the night.
5. You’ll Need Bathrooms
Everyone has to go, sooner or later. When there’s an open bar, it’s usually sooner — and more often! You’ll need to make sure adequate facilities are available for your guests.
Public parks often have permanent restroom facilities available. But are they within reasonable walking distance? Even for elderly or handicapped guests? Are there enough stalls to handle the ongoing demand typical 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 guests would probably get very antsy having to wait in line for that one ground-floor bathroom.
If the existing facilities aren’t sufficient, you’ll need to rent port-a-potties. But they don’t necessarily have to be the perpetually hot, smelly, all-plastic booths seen at street festivals or carnivals. Many port-a-potty companies offer upscale options for classier events like weddings. Bathroom trailers often come equipped with a real toilet, a real sink (sometimes with hot water!), paper towel dispensers and lights. They look much more like “real” bathrooms than the standard all-plastic variety. But they obviously cost more, and in many cases, because they are technically a trailer, there may be a few stairs to climb.
6. Everything Turns Back to Pumpkins at Midnight (or Earlier)
OK, that really only happens in Cinderella. But many localities do have strict noise ordinances which take effect promptly at 10:00pm or 11:00pm. If the music and partying continue just one minute past, you risk having cranky neighbor(s) calling the police.
So, before you get into any kind of serious timeline planning, check with the local authorities. If your local noise ordinance takes effect at 10pm, the reception needs to end by 10. Start there and work backwards — all the way back to what time you need to start prepping yourself for the big 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!