The idea of an outdoor wedding is irresistibly appealing – a sun dappled woodland glade, a palm fringed beach with waves gently lapping the sand, a lush meadow on a remote ranch or a lakeside location amidst jaw-dropping mountains. The reality, however, is that an al fresco ceremony and celebration takes rather more effort and forethought than an indoor one. In this post we flag up some of the main things you need to bear in mind.
Check the legalities
The regulations on where and how you can get married vary from country to country, state to state – you can’t just head off to the ocean, hills or back of beyond and tie the knot wherever you’d like! So do your due diligence.
What is provided in the way of amenities?
An outdoor wedding is much easier to plan if you go to a venue with all the appropriate infrastructure already in place – a winery, a resort, a ranch, a country club or a venue in a national or state park.
If you are lucky enough to have friends or relatives who have a sufficiently large property to host your ceremony and celebrations (or your own back yard is an option) then the task is also made somewhat easier – you’ll have some of the resources, like a kitchen, power, water and a restroom or two, nearby.
However, if you plan on tying the knot in some totally out of the way spot that’s not affiliated to a venue or close to someone’s house then you have a lot more challenges to overcome!
Undercover or not?
Are you planning to have every part of your big day, from the ceremony to the dinner, under the open sky? This decision will partly be dictated by the location and the season. If you can absolutely depend on the weather then it may be safe to do this. But if there’s a risk it may rain, get too hot in the midday sun, or too cool by late afternoon then you should plan accordingly. A good compromise is to have the ceremony outdoors but the meal and evening party either indoors or under a big tent or marquee. If you choose a venue that specialises in outdoor weddings they’ll definitely have indoor spaces available for the purpose. If you’re planning to tie the knot in a backyard or somewhere more remote and truly open then you’ll probably need that tent or marquee.
If you are planning to spend part of the day in a tent get the rental company to advise out what style will work best given the location, number of guests and your vision. Think about what will be underfoot – grass, sand, matting, hardwood flooring? Also consider temperature control – will you need fans to keep guests cool, heaters to keep them warm or wall panels to protect from wind and/or rain?
Will you need to hire essentials?
If you are not hiring a regular wedding venue you’ll have to source everything from chairs, tables and table linen to crockery, glassware and cutlery. You may need to hire all this independently but if you are using a caterer they will probably provide some of these items.
Setting the scene
A beautiful outdoor location will be picturesque – but you need to turn this little corner of Mother Nature’s space into your own. Likewise, the interior of a tent can be very bare and functional – you need to dress it up. For both these reasons you need to give a lot of thought and effort to decorations and furnishings.
Exactly how you approach this will be influenced by the environment and theme – whatever you do in the way of décor has to be in keeping with the surroundings and your vision. For the tent you might like to add textured curtains and tiebacks, funky chandeliers, couches, easy chairs and colorful cushions . Drape fabric from the roof to soften the space or to create sectioned off "rooms." The more you bring into your tent, the warmer and cosier it will feel. Another clever way to create a more intimate look and feel is to arrange your dining area with 4-person reception tables instead of larger 8 or 10 person tables – the effect is more casual and less regimented.
Let there be light
You should give a lot of thought to illuminations. On a practical note guests need to be able to see each other and you don’t want guests stumbling around in the dark trying to find a restroom! Lighting also sets the mood so add things like paper lanterns, pinspot lighting, grand chandeliers, luminaries and small up-lights along the paths, mason jars or tea lights hanging from nearby tree branches – get as creative as you like. Just make sure that there’s a supply of electricity if you are planning your nuptials half-way up a mountain or far out in the desert!
If you plan to feed everyone under a blue sky or a white canopy check that your catering team have done plenty of similar events.
We suggest you provide the food service team with an interior space (even if it’s just a tent) for preparing plated dishes or serving guest from food stations – this works much better when they have their own enclosed area.
The outdoors has a less formal vibe and your food can reflect this. Be as creative as you like with wood fired pizza ovens, a New England clambake, a spicy Southern barbecue, a Hawaiian pig roast or a super-traditional afternoon tea. One very valuable tip is to opt for passed appetizers during cocktail hour and plated meals for dinner. Why? Buffets, salad bars, charcuterie boards, dessert trolleys and a big spread of family-style dishes may sound like a great idea but they are less appetising if it gets really hot and there are bugs buzzing about.
Tying the knot in a backyard is a great way to keep costs down. Hiring a venue that specialises in hosting outdoor weddings is likely to be pricier than opting for an indoor event. The third route, staging your big day in the back of beyond and trucking everything in will be most expensive by far.
Last but not least
Whatever kind of outdoor wedding you have in mind there’s a lot to think about. Our final tip is to invest in a Complete Wedding Planner and Organizer. We would say that - but we think you’ll end up agreeing with us one you’ve got your hands on one!