Outdoor weddings can offer an exciting 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. 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. That’s pretty decent for an outdoor event, but our weather doesn’t always go by the book. All-time records have ranged from the 30s to the 100s. And as much as everyone loves a sunny day with light breezes, you should always be ready for the possibility of rain and/or wind.
Outdoor weddings often begin with an open-air ceremony. But for the reception, you’ll want cover from the hot sun or the rain. Unless your venue has an existing structure like a pavilion, you’ll need to rent a party tent. You’ll need ample room for guest seating, bar service, any display tables (cake, cards, etc.) and of course, the DJ and the dance floor. Side walls are a worthwhile add-on, if not included by default. And yes, a dance floor — because nobody in heels or bare feet will want to dance on the ground, especially if it’s rocky/uneven or muddy.
Here’s where things get tricky: Giant fans and space heaters could come in handy if your wedding day brings extreme heat or cold–you don’t want guests leaving early due to discomfort. But by the time your wedding day is close enough to have a reliable weather forecast, it may be too late to rent these items. If you want complete piece of mind, you might decide to reserve both fans and heaters at the same time you reserve your tent — and then cancel one type (or both) once the forecast is more concrete. You might lose out on a deposit, but you could avoid paying the full cost for the fans and/or heaters if it turns out you won’t need them.
2. You’ll Need a Caterer
Most outdoor venues lack their own catering, so you’ll need to book catering separately. Every catering company handles on-site events differently. You must confirm that your venue can accommodate your caterer’s needs before you sign anything. If your caterer has worked at your venue before, or if your venue has a pre-determined list of “eligible caterers” then this part will be easy. Otherwise, be ready to ask plenty of questions.
First and foremost, how much space will the caterer need? Most have at least one large trailer, sometimes two. Will all their staff be riding together, or will you need space for additional staff parking? Is the catering crew completely self-contained, or will they need power and/or water hook-ups? 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 before. A three-way conference allows the venue and caterer to discuss details directly, relieving you of the “go-between” role.
3. You’ll Need Electricity
Most indoor venues are equipped to support full-service commercial kitchens and DJ equipment. But that’s not always the case for outdoor venues — especially private residences. There won’t be much to enjoy if the circuit breakers or fuses keep going off every 5 minutes.
As usual, communication is key. Most vendors (myself included!) provide electrical requirements in their contracts. If any vendors don’t, ask for their electrical requirements in writing. To be safe, ask all your vendors, not just the DJ and the caterer.
Compare everyone’s electrical needs with your venue contract, or ask the venue manager/owner for guidance. If the venue can’t meet everyone’s electrical needs, additional discussions will be needed. Should an electrician be hired to upgrade the service? Or will you need to reconsider your vendor selections?
A few years back, I had a couple who said a family friend offered to host the wedding at their home. But when the couple realized they’d need to ask permission and pay for electrical upgrades, they wound up declining the friend’s offer and booked a nearby ballroom instead.
4. Where will everyone park?
Most outdoor venues are away from the city center, so guests will likely be driving there. That means they’ll all need to park somewhere. After marking off enough land for your ceremony site, your reception tent and whatever space the caterers will need, is there enough room left for parking?
If there isn’t a dedicated parking lot, is it safe to park on the lawn? If the ground is soft and prone to getting muddy in the rain, you don’t want cars getting stuck.
If there isn’t enough space for people to park, you might consider having everyone gather at a more convenient location with plenty of parking, and then charter a bus (or two) to shuttle people back and forth.
5. You’ll Need Bathrooms
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 often have permanent restroom facilities available. But are they within reasonable walking distance? How about 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.
If the existing facilities aren’t sufficient, budget for port-a-potties. But they don’t necessarily have to be the 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 (like the one pictured here) 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 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.) 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!