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Planning an Outdoor Wedding

Are you and your fiancé beach lovers? Is your idea of a great time sampling wine at a local vineyard? Do you enjoy strolling through parks and nature preserves in your area?  If so, you and your groom-to-be may be perfectly paired to host an outdoor wedding!

But before you begin to seriously contemplate this as an option, ask yourselves the following question: Are either of you perfectionists? 

This is super important, because if even one of you is mildly obsessive about putting together a flawless wedding, rethink the outdoors as your venue. 

That’s because Mother Nature is extremely impulsive. And an outdoor affair requires one hundred percent cooperation from the elements. But as we all know, the weather can be so unpredictable that it can often throw even the most seasoned wedding planners for a loop.

Tips to Plan an Outdoor Wedding

Outdoor wedding to you might mean the whole shebang – the ceremony and the reception held under the sun or stars. “Outdoor wedding” to your fiancé might mean a ceremony conducted outside, followed by the reception indoors. Before you do anything else, decide together if you wish to have both the ceremony and the reception outdoors, or if you prefer to split it up. 

Either way, you’re going to have to do quite a bit of homework to make an outdoor event happen.

The first task on your hands: research the legalities in your area.  

Whether you’re determined to have the entire wedding or a portion of it at a park or a beach, you will likely have to contact your town, village or city hall and inquire about permits and fees. Permits are typically required for all outdoor activities, so ask if you will need them for guest parking, for the consumption of food and alcohol and for entertainment. 

Organizing an outdoor wedding can be quite a complex undertaking, so think about retaining a wedding planner who can bring your vision to life.

If the whole wedding will be held outside at a beach or park and you’ll be organizing it on your own, contact a qualified catering company with outdoor wedding experience. They can sometimes obtain permits for you and advise you on other important matters pertaining to the planning.

Create a practical contingency plan in case the forecast calls for inclement weather on your wedding day.

This could range from erecting a large tent on the premises to setting up a telephone or text chain to alert guests of an alternate location. It all depends on where the wedding will be taking place

If you’re open to the notion of having both an indoor and outdoor wedding (the vows outdoors, the party indoors), you’re in luck. Wherever you live, in all likelihood there are a number of catering halls, estates, hotels, restaurants or inns that offer outdoor as well as indoor spaces all in one location. These are ideal for couples who wish to recite their vows outdoors (lakeside, in a gazebo, on a terrace or great lawn) because guests can be whisked indoors quickly and efficiently in case of poor weather conditions. 

However, if the wedding of your dreams entails both exchanging vows and dancing the night away under the skies at an out-of-the-box location such as a beach, vineyard or a park, you will be responsible for making sure that every single necessity is in place at the chosen location.

But don’t worry -- with advance planning, solid organization and a can-do attitude, your outdoor wedding can go off without a hitch. 

Outdoor Wedding Planning Checklist

Even on the sunniest of days, you and your guests will want respite from the natural elements, so be sure that you have ample room to set up a tent that can accommodate everyone attending.  

Make certain there are restrooms within a short distance of the ceremony and reception area. When obtaining permits, inquire about facility cleaning. But don’t rely solely on public services. Have someone you trust ascertain that all restrooms are immaculate on the day of the wedding. 

Seek out a space that offers plenty of parking for your guests. If you can pre-pay parking fees, do so. Guests will appreciate it. 

Inquire about electrical supply, and what the usage costs might be.

Consider handicapped and/or elderly guests walking to and from the parking area. (It may be a good idea to arrange for special helpers to accompany those in need.) 

Find out if you are responsible for the pre- and post-celebration clean-up.

Do retain a photographer and videographer with plenty of experience shooting outdoors. 

Keep your wedding day hair simple. A complicated hairstyle can be wrecked in seconds by a gust of wind. Also, weather-proof your makeup by hiring an experienced professional. An outdoor wedding requires a natural color palette.

Make the natural surroundings your color scheme and wedding theme. Use lots of seashells as decorative accessories for a beach wedding, for instance, or sunflowers at a springtime garden wedding.  

The outdoors goes hand-in-hand with informality, so your attire, and that of the bridal party, should be light and breezy. If the day will entail walking on grass or sand, wear flats (or go barefoot!). 

Make a list of every essential rental you will need: a tent, fans (or heaters), lighting, chairs, tables, linen, china, stemware, perhaps Porta-Potties.

If the temperature is unusually warm on your wedding day, keep the ceremony brief. Have plenty of cold water or lemonade on hand for guests and offer them paper fans or parasols for oppressively hot summer ceremonies.

Take seasonal bugs into account – place plenty of citronella candles throughout the ceremony and reception sites. 

Decorate with festive flowers that won’t wilt under the hot sun. Roses, orchids and tiger lilies are good choices, but an experienced florist will be able to make recommendations on which varieties will last the longest under extreme conditions.

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Meet our Writer
Jennifer Geddes
Celebrations Writer

Jennifer Kelly Geddes has hosted Christmas cookie swaps, New Year's open houses, Thanksgiving for 22, and all manner of dinner parties in her Manhattan and Ghent, NY homes.

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