Outdoor Wedding 101: The Essentials for an optimal experience

Posted October 20, 2015
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Whether it be oceanside, in a field, or in your mom’s backyard, outdoor weddings can be incredibly beautiful and romantic (like those of our summer style shoot pictured above, or the weddings of Charlotte & Josh, Ashely & Wes—or Lauren & Phil—among many more from the I Do Archives!). It’s almost as if Mother Nature herself personally lends her splendor to your wedding day. Can’t you just see it? A gorgeous, blue-sky day like something out of a movie: perfectly manicured greenery, guests in chic outfits mingling happily in the soft breeze, laughing and clinking their wine glasses with one another, remarking how this is the most beautiful wedding they’ve ever attended.

What you’re probably not envisioning is those same guests slumped in their chairs, overheated and fanning themselves with their programs, grumbling about being thirsty, while sweat’s pouring down the back of your dress and the fondant melts right off the cake; or each guest looking every bit the part of a drowned rat, frantically searching for cover as a downpour rolls in and sits over the entire day. The scenery—rain or shine—comes courtesy Mother Nature, but the lighting, sound, and temperature and precipitation management? That’s up to you and your planner.

Ultimately, your main objective for your wedding (indoor or out) is to make sure your guests enjoy the day you have invested so much time and money and effort into. You are not paying thousands of dollars for them, or you and your fiancee for that matter, to have a miserable time. So the absolute number one necessity for hosting a fabulous outdoor wedding?

YOU MUST BE PREPARED WITH A BACKUP PLAN.

We get it; the last thing you want to do while planning your wedding is… imagine something other than your dream day setup. But worst-case scenarios have and do happen, and you’ll want to be prepared. Below are our top tips for navigating the potential issues of an outdoor wedding.

After you pick your dream outdoor location, you need to prepare your Rain Plan
Weather can change at a moment’s notice, causing your guests, musicians and vendors to scramble as they attempt to salvage what is left of your carefully planned wedding. Make sure your backup plan is easily workable if adjustments need to be made. Tents need to be put on reserve at the very latest 2 weeks in advance. A tent cannot be rented and erected within hours of your wedding. It takes an entire team to pull it off properly: positioning it, setting it up, and accounting for mishaps that could happen, and is typically delivered the day before. As your day draws near, if the forecast is looking like a major bummer, don’t wait until right before guests start arriving to make the call. The more time you and everyone else has to prepare, the better your wedding’s outlook will be.

Investigate an indoor-outdoor combined options
A great option is a venue that offers  both inside facilities and outdoor spaces. You can either hold your wedding completely outdoors on the grounds, or inside a fabulous enclosed space if the weather doesn’t cooperate accordingly. Another great alternative is to hold your party in both! Some venues offer spaces that combine an indoor area with an expansive outdoor space adjoining (such as a large outdoor terrace or patio). That way, guests have their pick of enjoying the beauty of the outdoors or the comfort of the temperature controlled building.

Not interested in the indoor/outdoor combo platter? Check what’s around in the nearby vicinity of your outdoor location. Is there an indoor option close by where your layout can be duplicated or adjusted to fit easily? If there’s no good indoor alternative close by, don’t tempt fate. Put a deposit down on a tent, just in case.

Outdoor Logistics Considerations
Beyond being prepared with a great backup plan, there are several other things to keep in mind when scouting the perfect outdoor location. Try to see your location at or around the time you are planning to have your wedding: will you have potential issues with lighting, weather, insects, tides, winds, etc? Getting one step ahead of these factors will help you create realistic contingency plans.

• Electricity: Your vendors (catering staff, DJ/band, lighting for the event, etc) will need access to electricity. If your site doesn’t have sufficient electricity, be sure to check into the logistics of bringing in generators. Consider what you will need for lighting: romantic string lights, lanterns, candles, or dramatic professional uplighting or chandeliers? If those options are not provided by the venue, you will need to check accessibility options for bringing them in.

• Pick a space with an easily accessible area that can serve as a main focal point. Some lovely outdoor locations can leave guests feeling lost in the woods, so to speak. Incorporate fun signage so that guests don’t get lost and are easily able to locate important areas, like restrooms. Signage, or natural indicators such as flat paths or walkways should provide an easy way in and an easy way out. No one wants to feel responsible for Grandma June falling and breaking her hip in her quest to be part of the festivities. Pick a space that offers a set up which is conducive to a natural flow of events. Ideally, there should be an area near to the ceremony for your cocktail hour, which can segue into your reception, and then into your send off at the end of the evening.

• Ensure that your food areas have protection from wind and insects, and ample lighting. If your venue is in an area with mosquitos, gnats, etc., see if your location can be sprayed by an exterminator prior to your event, or bring in fans to disperse them.

• Avoid lightweight decor such as vases that can tip over in the breeze. Ask your florist for options that will help weigh down arrangements, and which blooms are most wilt-proof when exposed to the elements (direct sun can be brutal on blooms set early on prior to the reception). And unless you want to hire someone to spend the night striking matches, keep lit candles in tall, breeze-blocking vases or votives.

Temperature & Precipitation Control
Let’s say you are in the camp of, “A little rain never melted anyone!” We’ve seen that this sentiment can certainly ring true! We have worked many rainy weddings that were as lovely as could be. However, even a light drizzle or fickle summer rainstorm that goes as quickly as it comes can still leave your guests unprepared—and both wet and grumpy.

• Consider placing a cute urn with a stash of umbrellas nearby if rain threatens to join your party. In anticipated cases of heavier rain, have towels on hand to wipe down ceremony chairs, and in bathrooms for guests to dry off with.

• In hot months, we have one word for you: SHADE. Offer plenty of it. Locate your events strategically to take advantage of shade. Other thoughtful ways to help guests beat the heat is to set out fans (we’ve seen several summer weddings where the program also worked double duty as a fan). Theme-appropriate containers can be used as decor and serve double duty by holding travel sized spray bottles of sunscreen, or tiny hand held battery operated fans. Provide plenty of refreshing help-yourself beverages, such as bottled water, lemonade, or even a custom cocktail. And who says even your water can’t coordinate with your wedding colors? Add slices of colorful fruit like limes, strawberries or oranges for a splash of color-coordinated flavor in large dispensers.

• Finally, even if you have beautiful weather during your ceremony, keep in mind that especially in the fall, temperatures dip after the sun sets. Your solution: space heaters inside tents, and (where allowed) bonfire pits or fireplaces in action. Or, for a fun touch, scarves, throws or pashminas for the ladies that can double as favors!

Don’t stress
We saved the best for last. Remember: no matter what the weather threatens for your wedding day, it’s nothing to stress about! If you have to make changes before your wedding, your guests will never know you had something different planned. They will just attend a beautiful wedding, and celebrate the beginning of a fabulous lifetime for you and your spouse. Ultimately, you will be married, and you will have a fantastic time knowing that you will be Mr. and Mrs.—regardless of the weather forecast.