Outdoor weddings have become even more popular in the last few years. Not only do they offer a COVID-safe option for those wanting to host a big gathering, but they provide gorgeous possibilities. Gardens, arboretums, parks, farms and stables are all beautifully breath-taking locations for hosting a wedding. But what are the often overlooked elements of outdoor wedding planning that you’ll need to know? We spoke with Central Pennsylvania wedding planner and owner of That’s It Wedding Concepts, Susan Moran, for insight on planning the perfect outdoor wedding without any unexpected surprises.
From day one, plan for rain.
She says that when planning an outdoor wedding, whether the entire event will be outside or it will be a hybrid of indoor and outdoor moments, the first thing she discusses with clients is a weather-contingent Plan B. “Three years ago, I had six weddings that all had an outdoor component and all of them had to be moved inside. So Plan B has to incorporate enough specialness that if we have to move it indoors you’re still going to be happy with it.”
When you begin your outdoor wedding planning, also plan your indoor alternative that is as special as the outdoor option will be. This way, even if there’s downpours on your wedding day, you won’t be feeling like you had to settle for an event you didn’t want.
Consider all of the variables of the season.
“Clearly if it’s February, most of us aren’t considering an outdoor wedding unless it’s going to be in Cabo, right?” Moran says the time of year you choose will influence many of the elements in your planning process, particularly timing of events. “If it’s the height of summer for instance, you want your wedding to be in the middle of July. Then we’re going to opt for either a morning wedding, with an early ceremony and a brunch reception. Or we’ll have a cocktail hour first in the late afternoon and then your ceremony at sundown.” Her advice is to always proritze the comfort of your guests.
Think about topography.
Whether it’s grass or cobblestone, brick or gravel, the outdoors can create terrain challenges, particularly for guests all dressed up in elegant footwear. Recent rain can make the ground soggy, leaves can make it slippery. These are all factors that you’ll need to consider to keep all of your guests safe. Moran says this is a variable couples often overlook at the start of planning. She sometimes uses matting or outdoor rugs, which can add an elegant touch. “But you have to be careful because sometimes these can cause more of a tripping hazard than they can help. She suggests adding ground condition information to your wedding website. Suggest wedge heels or flats over stiletto footwear.
Prioritize restroom rentals.
When you begin planning, one of the first questions to answer about your outdoor space is: are there restrooms available? If not, you’ll need to secure a rental service. This process includes a site visit by the restroom vendor to ensure they are capable of servicing your location.
Understand the logistics.
If you’re hosting an outdoor wedding, It can be helpful to have a wedding planner who is experienced in outdoor events. Why? Because an outdoor wedding essentially needs to temporarily recreate all the comforts and amenities of an indoor venue. But the event also needs to adjust to any external variables that may be present. What are those? Moran suggests asking the following questions just for starters:
- Do we have access to running water?
- Do we have access to a supply of electricity?
- How many generators are needed?
- Are there underground gas lines to know about?
- Where is it safe to post a tent?
- Are we on a flight path or near a train route? Will there be noise at certain times of day?
- What are the noise restrictions (if any)?
- What parking is available? Is it well lit? Will you need golf carts to safely transport guests to and from their car?
- Do we need to hire security? What is required by the property’s insurance carrier?
Factor unexpected costs into your budget.
There’s a common misconception that outdoor weddings are simpler and more budget-friendly than indoor venue weddings. However, since they often require bringing on-site many of the items indoor venues already have, budgets can get stretched. Moran says it’s helpful to understand that unlike indoor venues, where the cost is typically determined by the number of guests, trimming the guestlist often doesn’t have the same cost-savings for outdoor affairs. “Everything you have to do for a large area, those considerations have to also be considered and addressed for a smaller area. And with a smaller group, everything is under a microscope. All the details on every table, how the napkin folds and how the menu card features a sprig of sage. Everything has to be perfect. Everything always needs to be perfect, but it’s especially important with a smaller group of people.”
Customize outdoor essentials.
Outdoor weddings will need certain items to keep guests happy and comfortable. These are great opportunities to personalize the event. “We had a couple where part of the family was Vietnamese. To honor that side of the family, we sourced these beautiful big parasols from Vietnam for guests to use in the sun.” Moran also suggests having a special cold beverage for hot temperatures or custom pashminas for chilly evenings.
Be mindful of those grand exit sparklers.
Sparklers are gorgeous, but cocktails and intensely hot sticks in the dark can be a recipe for trouble. Moran suggests using caution and having a controlled environment set up when you want to use them. She likes to have either vendors, assistants or the wedding party light and distribute the wedding sparklers. That ensures no one grabs a handful or kids don’t get their hands on them. It’s also important to make sure you use the sparklers on ground that is safe for sparks., like hardscaping surfaces. One more reminder from Moran, unwrap the sparklers before the wedding day so you don’t find your bridal party struggling to unwrap hundreds in a few minutes during the party.
Plan for your furry attendants.
Outdoor weddings give the opportunity to include your furry family members. Dogs have become VIP guests in the last few years and while the photos of them walking down the aisle decked out in their formal attire are adorable, you’ll need to plan for their care throughout the wedding day. Moran suggests using a special dog attendant service that takes care of all of your fur baby’s needs for the duration. Some even get them dressed and prepped for the party with special treats. If you’d rather keep things in the family, delegate one person to mind your pets, making sure they get walked and always have water and are well-fed.
Keep games and activities easily accessible.
Games like giant Jenga, cornhole and horseshoes are great ways to keep your guests entertained and mingling. Outdoor weddings offer plenty of opportunities for fun. But don’t let these party games go to waste. Make sure they’re set up in an area of traffic flow and guests feel welcome to play. This may mean having an attendant there to help get them going. Also, make certain that there is ample lighting in these areas once the sun goes down.
Maximize the fun in your outdoor space.
The great outdoors offers limitless possibilities for fun and special touches. Outdoor events truly allow you to think out of the box. Popcorn and cotton candy machines, food trucks, photobooth vans and roaming musicians are just a few of the options. Moran says to narrow down your list of add-ons to the elements that will be most special to you as a couple and fit your space. “Every outdoor wedding is just like indoor weddings in that the main components that make guests happy will be good food and plenty of good music. Begin with those things and you can’t go wrong.”
Feature photo courtesy: Leslie Gilbert Photography.