Portable restrooms are just the beginning.

By Helen Sondag
May 29, 2020
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Cadence & Eli Photography

There are obvious pros to getting married in a nontraditional spot: The settings often offer stunning views or built-in design elements—and your wedding will be truly one-of-a-kind. But there are also a lot of logistics to planning a celebration in a unique venue. Here's what you need to know, whether you're saying "I do" in an restored warehouse, a rustic barn, or on top of a mountain.

Available Amenities

Unlike traditional hotel ballrooms or wineries, an alternative site likely isn't set up to host events. That industrial antique store you've been eyeing probably doesn't have a full-service kitchen, and that secluded valley you always drive by and admire definitely doesn't have a bathroom. "Some venues provide the space only," says Jenna Miller, creative director of Here Comes the Guide. "We're talking four walls, a ceiling, and the floor. This means you'll have to essentially build your event from the ground up, bringing in everything from tables and chairs to generators, heaters, kitchen equipment, and even portable restrooms. This could lead to extra expenses that may not have been included in your original budget."

Décor

This can end up being a pro or con, depending on your selection. A botanical garden or waterfall wedding benefits from beautiful visuals—meaning fewer decorative items you need to buy and bring in. "One of the main reasons for hosting a wedding at an unconventional location is the coolness factor," says Miller. "Whether you choose a tree house, a mountaintop, or a dinosaur museum, you're pretty much guaranteed a uniquely sensational backdrop for your wedding photos." Of course, the spot you selected may also have restrictions as to what kinds of décor you can incorporate.

Power and Water

Here's a pretty important one. You can't have your first dance under twinkling lights if there's no power for music or lighting. Your caterer needs clean water on hand, otherwise they will need to bring it in. You'll also need to bring in restrooms, trash and food waste removal, and hot and cold hand wash sinks—all of these details add up.

As for power, if the location is remote, you'll likely need to bring in generators. These will run everything from the catering team's satellite kitchen to your band's speakers, the receptions overhead lighting, and the photo booth. Don't forget that, for safety, you'll also need to light paths to the different areas, including parking, bathrooms, and the kitchen, which Brown says can get quite expensive.

Permits and Insurance

Since you won't be dealing with a destination designed for hosting events, you will have to do a bit of research to make sure you're not breaking the law. You might need to request permits for everything from the gathering size and food and alcohol service to the tent you plan to have put up. And, depending on the locale, you might even need to have a local fire inspector come and approve your setup before the event starts. You should also plant to look into liability insurance to cover yourself in case anything unexpected happens.

Parking and Accessibility

That goes for guests and for vendors: Is there a place to park, and is the site handicap-accessible? Remember that delivery trucks and limos will likely need to come to the space, and there should be enough room for them to pull in, turn around, and get out. If the nearest accessible parking area means that rentals need to be carried in, you mind find yourself paying unanticipated long carry charges.

Noise Restrictions

"If your location of choice doesn't typically host weddings, there may be a few extra restrictions like noise ordinances or an earlier-than-desirable curfew," Miller explains. "Know your venue's noise ordinance and adhere to it, including what the end time and decibel levels are for amplified music."

Heat and Air Conditioning

Structures such as barns and warehouses often have no heat or air conditioning, Miller says. "Make sure to do your site visit during not only the time of day your wedding will take place, but also around the same time of year, if possible," she advises. "You'll want to gauge what the lighting and temperature will be like so you can plan accordingly by bringing in your own special event lighting, heating lamps, or AC units."

Setup and Cleanup

Though nontraditional venues are likely less restrictive when it comes to things like setup time, it's important to inquire about any regulations. "Is it possible to set up your wedding décor the day before?" Miller says. "Will your vendors have access to the event space prior to the start of your ceremony? Is there a loading zone nearby?" These are all important questions you need to get clarity on before officially booking your venue.

You should also think about cleanup, including post-event waste removal. If garbage pickup happens at an unusual hour, you'll need to be prepared to have the space cleaned before an agreed upon time.

Overall Cost

Once you've collected quotes and priced everything out, decide if your off-the-beaten path wedding will fit into your budget. "With so many wedding venue choices and price points out there, you're sure to find one that fits both your style and your budget," Miller says.

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