Top 11 Tips for Planning an Outdoor Wedding That Your Guests will Rave About!
Planning an outdoor wedding that your guests will rave about…it’s easier said than done! It’s tempting to get seduced by the rolling hills, ocean views and floral splendor of an outdoor venue. We get it. About 95% of our events here in Southern California have an outdoor component. We love ‘em! Can’t get enough of ‘em! But even here in Cali, with its mild climate year-round, it takes a lot more than blue skies and pretty scenery to pull off a comfortable, delightful, memorable outdoor event, so before you go running for the hills with the sound of music playing in the background, we’re going to break down some realities of the outdoor wedding scenario. Read on for our top tips for ensuring your outdoor wedding goes off without a hitch!
1. Be 1 Step Ahead of Mother Nature
Regardless of the time of year you are getting married, if you have planning an outdoor wedding, you need to account for the elements. Mother Nature can be unpredictable at times, so don’t get stuck out in the rain/snow/wind/heat wishing you had planned better. It is always important to have a contingency plan in place. Check with your venue about an alternative indoor space in the event of rain or colder than usual temperatures. If you’re at an all-outdoor venue, reserve a tent through your rental company. I promise you, guests will complain about your wedding experience FOREVER if you have not accounted for the elements and made sure they are comfortable. Plan ahead!
Paper goods and candles absolutely do not mix with wind. Add chimneys to your taper candles to ensure they stay lit. Make double sided tape your best friend and secure place cards to the tables. Create napkin pockets to keep your menus from blowing away. Use sturdy, heavy floral vessels to ensure your centerpieces don’t tip over. Oh, the stories we could tell about the our early days of planning and gusts of wind literally blowing away our wedding receptions.
2. Create a Comfortable Guest Experience
We want guests to feel as comfortable celebrating outside as they would at an indoor event. There are simple ways to provide a little extra comfort for your guests when they are spending an afternoon and evening outside. Stock their welcome bags with goodies like sunscreen, sunglasses and snacks for the bus ride to your location. Welcome them to the event with a refreshing beverage. At the ceremony, provide parasols to protect them from the blazing sun overhead. We love printing the ceremony program onto paper fans that pull double duty to provide information and a bit of a breeze for your guests. At cocktail hour, large umbrellas provide shade for mingling. Offering pashminas to guests who feel chilly and rolling in heaters after sunset is a great way to ensure your guests stay toasty during dinner and dancing. These are the elements and special touches that keep your guests focused on the important moments of the evening rather than distracted and upset because they are uncomfortable. Keep them happy and they will rave about your wedding for years to come!
3. Bring everything, including the Kitchen Sink
The beauty of an outdoor space is its simplicity. The downside is that, oftentimes, there is no infrastructure in place. Let’s talk about the basics: electricity. Yes, it’s the truly unglamorous side to planning a wedding, but these components are invaluable. Your outdoor venue may or may not be equipped with power, so look into renting generators (be sure to get the quiet ones!) for the musical entertainment, kitchen, lighting and restrooms.
Wait, what about restrooms? Oh yes, friends. I’m sure you never dreamed of using the words “wedding” and port-a-potty” in the same sentence, but nonetheless, it’s a problem we need to solve at a more minimal blank slate outdoor event location. But don’t worry, they make really fancy “luxury” trailers that are infinitely nicer than the plastic festival potties.
If you’ve dreamt of a canopy of twinkle lights over your dance floor or floral installations dripping down over your dinner tables, you’ll need to have structures built to accommodate these design elements. Metal truss is often used as a foundation for these decorative additions and can be softened by covering it in fabric or custom wooden facades. These structures help to define your event spaces and create height and dimension to an otherwise flat area.
And then there’s all the additional “stuff” needed to comfortably hold an event. Seating, dining tables and tabletop items, a functioning kitchen for preparing and serving your meal, garbage cans, heaters, etc. Plan to reserve a healthy portion of your wedding budget for rental items (approximately 25-35%), because you’re going to be renting EVERYTHING.
Honestly, blank outdoor spaces are what we live for because they offer the freedom to design the space however we want to achieve our clients’ vision, but getting there is a complex logistical web. It sounds like a complicated process…and, no doubt, it is…but with the right team, anything is possible!
4. Stand on Level Ground
Level ground is something we take for granted on the daily. Professional venues designed for events are likely to have level graded ground, but private residences and more rustic outdoor spaces and parks might not. Rather than lay out wobbly tables and chairs, your rental company might need to shim your table legs to make them even or you might consider installing temporary flooring under the entire event space. Flooring can be quite costly, but the results are beautiful and create a very comfortable experience for guests.
5. Follow the Sun
We schedule many of our outdoor events around the timing of sunset. Generally, the ceremony takes place in late afternoon with cocktail hour to follow. The sunset generally coincides with the end of cocktail hour, allowing our photographer to steal our couple away for those gorgeous golden hour photos before dinner. Guests sit for dinner at dusk and the natural light fades to twinkling lights and stars overhead for dancing. The lighting sequence is one of the most magical parts of outdoor events! So before you create your event day timeline, check in with sunset for the day and then work around that time.
6. Protect Those Manolos
Unless otherwise specified, you can expect that at least some of your guests will arrive in heels. The last thing anyone wants is muddy Manolos, so be sure to get the word out early-on through your wedding website that the events will take place on soft surfaces that you recommend wedges or thicker heels. But also provide heel protectors for those non conformists who wouldn’t dream of leaving their stillettos at home. Guests will be relieved that their heels will be spared and the venue will thank you for keeping the grounds intact.
7. Pause the Sprinklers
Check the watering schedule of the grounds and kindly ask your venue to forego the sprinklers at least one day before and after the event. The last thing you want is a soggy lawn to create muddy messes for partygoers. On the flip-side of the event, any rentals being left overnight will be spared a shower because you’ve paused the sprinkler schedule until the rentals have been picked up. You don’t want to learn the hard way how much that plush vintage couch costs to replace after it got an unexpected bath on the lawn overnight.
8. Don’t Scorch the Grass
Rental items left out too long in hotter, sunnier climates can damage pristine lawns. Many outdoor event venues are very specific about how long dance floors and metal lighting pole bases can be left on the ground because the heat generated underneath those items left in the sun all day can actually scorch the grass. It shouldn’t be a deal breaker for an outdoor event, but be sure you know the venue’s restrictions and plan for your rentals to be delivered on a schedule that accommodates these specific policies.
9. Disinvite the Bugs
Even if your venue appears to be bug-free, take extra precautions. We have seen our fair share of oceanfront weddings that are buzzing with mosquitos. Check with the venue to see if they can spray a day before the wedding to keep these little pests at bay and always include a couple cans of bug spray in your toiletry baskets or for your wedding planner to have on hand in case your guests are being eaten alive.
10. Don’t underestimate the power of the standby guy
The standby guy is the unsung hero of events everywhere. Who is he? Where does he come from? How do I get one? Let me tell you, he’ll be the best $400-1000 you spend on your wedding. He’s the person that the rental company leaves behind for the duration of the party to troubleshoot any technical issues with their equipment: lighting, kitchen appliances, heat lamps, chairs. You name it, he’s there to help with any issues. Because when you’re out in the middle of nowhere at an outdoor location, probably with a bad cell signal, and the stove in the makeshift kitchen is not working, you’ll be thrilled you sprung for the standby guy, now your best friend, who was able to fix the issue with no disruption to the event. Every outdoor event needs at least one. I cannot stress this enough. You will not be sorry!
11. Say goodbye to cell service
Why is every outdoor event venue a black hole for cell service? Without a doubt, on wedding day, when we have about 100 people to communicate with, we’re looking at 0 bars. Know this going into the day so you can be prepared. The entire vendor team should have everything they need sent to them well before event day with the event address and load-in instructions. Guests should receive everything they need to know on your wedding website. If your event is in a remote area, let guests know that their Uber service will be non-existent. Provide transportation for guests with a robust schedule of departures every 30 minutes or so to allows guests a departure on their terms rather than feeling trapped for the entire night.
After nearly a decade of planning and designing weddings, particularly outdoor ones, we think of ourselves as experts in the field (haha, field, get it?) and hopefully these real talk tips exposing the not so glamorous side of an outdoor event will help you make an informed decision about the best way to prepare for this type of celebration.
It’s always worth it, but you have to know what you’re doing, or have a strong planner on your team to ensure you and your guests are well cared for. Would you plan an outdoor wedding? Tell us below in the comments!