Get our expert advice on how to plan an outdoor wedding.
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Ah, to celebrate outside! The bright blue skies, the au naturel décor, the romantic breezes ... at least, that’s how you envision it. The reality? A lot can happen when partying en plein air. Here, the best tips for planning an outdoor wedding—from devising a rain strategy to keeping guests comfortable—from beginning to sweet end.
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Consider Your Locale's Pros and Cons: A Beach
PROS: Close your eyes and hear the sound of gently lapping waves. Feel the warm sun on your back. Need we say more?
CONS: A steady sea breeze means taking precautions to secure décor, keep candles lit, and, let’s be honest, prevent your hair from becoming a bird’s nest. You can expect to be billed for everything but the view—from tables, chairs, and tents to catering equipment. Also take time of year into account—you’ll want to avoid hurricane season, of course, but if yours is a lakeside affair, find out when the area experiences particularly high winds or attracts a lot of bugs.
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Consider Your Locale's Pros and Cons: A Winery
PROS: The vino! The rolling hills! Plus, wineries often have lovely private spaces (think charming courtyards or sun-splashed patios), and with vineyards popping up in nearly every state, finding one has never been easier.
CONS: In the summer, vineyards can be hot and dry, so you’ll need to provide ample shade and refreshments. And though California’s Napa Valley is known as wine country, most wineries there actually don’t allow weddings (the irony!). Nationwide, many are in residential areas, where a noise ordinance may force your party to end at 9 or 10. Another note: If you’re hoping for a full bar, you may be out of luck. At a winery, vino is the name of the game.
Photography: Kathryn Barnard4 of 17
Consider Your Locale's Pros and Cons: A Backyard
PROS: Securing an all-inclusive reception venue can eat up to 50 percent of your budget, a nonissue if you’re considering a loved one’s yard or your own. And the sentimental value can be priceless.
CONS: You will save on site fees, but you still have to shell out for rentals, including portable restrooms, a dance floor, and, potentially, a tent (if inside the house isn’t a viable rain plan). And if the home’s kitchen doesn’t suit your caterer’s needs, add cooking equipment to that list. Pests can present problems, too, so spend time in the yard to determine where they like to swarm (the last thing you want is the neighbor’s bug zapper going haywire). Then suss out parking, permits, and liability insurance, which covers personal injury and property damage.
Photography: Aaron Delesie5 of 17
Keep Extra Costs in Mind
Just because an outdoor area like a beach, campsite, or park is open to the public doesn’t mean it’s free for use as a wedding venue. To stay on budget, ask these questions, suggests contributing editor and event designer Claudia Hanlin, founder of The Wedding Library, in New York City:
-Is there a site fee or a “suggested” donation? Find out ahead of time to avoid any after-the-fact surprises.
-Is your location remote? You may incur extra delivery fees if the site is a long way from the nearest road or parking lot.
-Are you expected to pay for sanitation services? This is almost always the case at parks, where you’re required to return the site in the condition you found it.
-Will you need valet parking? If the nearest public lot is blocks away, it may be your only option.
-Should you hire security? It might be required, especially if you have a large guest list.
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Photography: Matt Edge6 of 17
The scenery comes courtesy Mother Nature, but the lighting, sound, and temperature control? That’s all you. If your site doesn’t have electricity, you’ll need generators for your caterer’s kitchen appliances, and amps and speakers for your band or DJ. There’s also the issue of lighting (because after sunset, then what?). And no matter the time of year, fans, air-conditioning, or portable heaters are almost always necessary. Your best bet: Have an electrician survey your setup so you’ll know exactly how much power you need.
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Have a Good Plan B
We get it—the last thing you want to do while planning your wedding is...plan another wedding. But worst-case scenarios happen, and you’ll want to be organized. “You have to move fast to set a rain plan in motion,” says Hanlin. Don’t tempt fate (and major day-of meltdowns): If there’s no indoor option, put a deposit on a tent, just in case. Tentexperts.org can provide a crystal-clear breakdown of your options (there are more than you think!).
And should you wake up to drizzle and a bummer forecast on the big day, don’t wait until right before guests start arriving to make the call. The more time you have to prepare, the better. One tool that can help in the planning is the brand-new, user-friendly AccuWeather app, providing a minute-by-minute forecast that zeros in on what’s happening at your exact address.
Photography: Corbin Gurkin8 of 17
Sprinkles or an afternoon shower may not be enough to move everything indoors, but people will still get wet. Have a stash of umbrellas to offer shelter. In case of a downpour, place a stack of fluffy towels in each restroom.
Photography: Gemma Hart Ingalls9 of 17
Cool Guests Down
In hot months, “shade is key,” says contributing editor Peter Callahan, owner of Peter Callahan Events, in New York City. “Offer plenty of it, whether you set out fans and big floppy hats for the ceremony, or place huge outdoor umbrellas over tables at the reception.” And provide hydration with a help-yourself lemonade or iced tea stand, says Sean Ryan, co-owner of Shindig Events, in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Photography: Weddings by Sasha Gulish10 of 17
Warm Guests Up
Even if it’s pleasant during your vows, “temperatures can dip as much as 20 degrees after sunset,” says Hanlin. Your solution: space heaters inside tents—a must in the fall—and, for an elegant touch, pashminas for the ladies (bonus: the scarves can double as favors).
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Sit Guests Down
There’s nothing worse than standing stock-still in stilettos while craning your neck to see the action. If your ceremony will last more than 10 minutes, provide chairs or benches. But even if it’s five minutes, don’t make Grandma and eight-months pregnant Aunt Judy stand—at all. Have some chairs on hand for people who really need them.
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“The best way to get from Point A to Point B is usually the shortest,” says Hanlin. But there are other things to note when directing foot traffic from altar to bar to dinner tables and dance floor. For starters, designate a wide route that’s easy to walk on, which might mean putting down stepping stones or carpet on grass. Don’t lead partygoers past restrooms or trash bins. Instead, make the journey pretty and fun: Construct cute “right this way” signs, use luminarias to light up paths, or have bubbly-bearing waiters point the way—guests are sure to follow when there are corks popping.
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Bug and Wind-Proof Your Venue
When picking flowers, remember that hardy blooms like roses, zinnias, and dahlias stand up to gusts and rain better than delicate blossoms, says floral designer Sierra Steifman, owner of Poppies & Posies, in New York City. Keep in mind, too, that baby’s breath, scabiosa, and peonies are particularly attractive to pests. To deter insects, incorporate natural pesticides, like sprigs of rosemary, lavender, mint, and thyme. If your wedding is near mosquito-attracting water, you’ll need something more powerful, like citronella torches or candles. (Or, if you’re marrying on your property and go the exterminator route, have the site sprayed 48 hours beforehand so the chemical smell dissipates; learn about alternative green treatments at ecosmart.com.) Avoid lightweight vases or centerpieces that can tip over in the breeze, or opt for wilt-proof beauties like potted plants or fruits and vegetables that will help weigh down arrangements. And unless you want someone to spend the night striking matches, keep lit candles in tall, breeze-blocking vessels.
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Master the Seasonal Menu
“In warmer weather, steer clear of rich, heavy foods, like risotto and gratins, and showcase refreshing produce, such as tomatoes and watermelon,” says Callahan. Cheese is always a crowd-pleaser, but it can melt and attract pests during a steamy afternoon; he suggests serving it with dessert, after the sun goes down.
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Photography: Meg Perotti16 of 17
Put It on Ice
If you’re serving shellfish, trust us, you don’t want to leave it out in the sun. For a twist on the ever-popular raw bar, “have waiters pass ‘mini’ raw bars—trays of bite-size seafood on ice,” says Callahan. Other chilled choices that are surefire hits include boozy ice pops, snow cones, ice cream, or a frothy cocktail like Callahan’s signature Sgroppino: prosecco, ice-cold vodka, and lemon sorbet.
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Keep Dessert Delectable
Beware: Fluffy buttercream frosting can turn gooey and runny in the heat. “Go with smooth fondant for your cake, and ask your caterer to bring it out right before you slice it,” says contributing editor Wendy Kromer, of Wendy Kromer Confections, in Sandusky, Ohio. She doesn’t recommend displaying your cake if temps are above 75 degrees, but if you simply must show it off, protect it from bugs and the scorching sun by enclosing it in a screened-in area.