Planning an outdoor wedding can be a daunting task, but it can be a beautiful experience with the proper guidance.
We can’t think of anything more illustrious, impressive, and awe-inspiring than an outdoor wedding underscored by perfect weather.
Whether you’ve imagined having a wedding outdoors for as long as you can remember or you’ve been stirred by all of the beautiful outdoor “I do” inspiration as of late, you’ll need to keep in mind that achieving an outdoor ambience isn’t as cut and dry as its indoor counterpart.
There are many moving parts to putting together an event with outdoor vibes, but at the same time, the options and opportunities are endless.
Whether you choose to have an outdoor wedding ceremony, an alfresco cocktail hour, a reception dinner under the stars, or an entire event outdoors, there are some things you may not consider when selecting an outdoor wedding venue.
How will it impact your guests? What weather elements should you be prepared for? Are you willing and able to pay for surprise costs?
Any couple can embrace an outdoor affair, but there can be some unique challenges to outdoor receptions, especially if you struggle to let go of control or don’t enjoy being outdoors for five-plus hours.
Moreover, even if you do love the outdoors, you’ll need to take the time of year you’ll be getting married into account.
East coast summers can be scorching and humid, so if gathering outside for several hours with little to no time indoors doesn’t sound appealing, it might not be the right set-up for you. Vines of the Yarra Valley is your perfect wedding venue in Melbourne delivering fairytale weddings for the bride and groom.
Leaning towards an outdoor ceremony to exchange vows or a free-range reception to gather with your guests, then keep reading for an all-inclusive guide to getting wed outside!
Table of Contents
- 1 Planning an Outdoor Wedding
- 1.1 Set up Camp
- 1.2 Think About the Extras—and Rent Them
- 1.3 Transform the Venue Into a Charming Space
- 1.4 Set the Mood With On-Point Lighting
- 1.5 Take Advantage of the Natural Scenery
- 1.6 Avoid Uninvited Guests
- 1.7 Be Prepared
- 1.8 Get Creative and On-Theme With the Menu
- 1.9 Let the Setting Guide Your Music Choices
- 1.10 Provide All the Necessities
- 2 Outdoor Wedding Planning Tips
- 3 Outdoor Wedding Etiquette
Planning an Outdoor Wedding
Including the things you probably haven’t thought of, here’s how to pull off a gorgeous, glamorous outdoor affair.
Set up Camp
When it comes to your outdoor wedding set-up, chances are, you will want some overhead cover. The good thing about tents is that they can be pitched just about anywhere.
Stake one in your favourite park or even outside a gorgeous mansion or estate, if that’s the venue you choose.
Whether you’re going for formal or casual, tents come in all shapes, sizes and materials. Work with your local rental company to determine what style fits your vision (and the venue’s spatial constraints).
And make sure you choose a tent that works on your surface—pavement, grass, sand and so on.
And don’t forget to weatherproof it.
Bring in fans and portable air conditioning units for a summer wedding, and keep guests warm in chillier months with tall patios or propane heaters.
You may also want to add floor surfaces (to correct uneven ground) and wall panels (to protect against wind or rain).
But here’s a pro tip: Even the sturdiest tents can’t withstand heavy rains and fierce winds.
Therefore, you need to have an indoor backup plan at a nearby reception space or restaurant.
And if your area is known for having unpredictable weather, make sure your wedding insurance package covers rain, which could help you recover at least a portion of the fees if your event has to be postponed.
Think About the Extras—and Rent Them
Since tents are virtually a blank canvas, you’ll more than likely need to bring in some extra touches to finish your outdoor wedding set-up look.
Luckily, there are many rental design options available—textured curtains and tiebacks, funky chandeliers and colourful cushions.
Decide what elements are most important to you, and then figure out how to fit the items at the top of your list and into your budget.
Remember to find out the return policy for each rental vendor you work with.
For example, companies sometimes require that votives and glassware be cleaned and boxed before being taken back (fines can be added if directions aren’t followed).
Make an organised plan with your wedding coordinator (a huge perk of having a planner!) or maid of honour to decide who will be responsible for taking care of this—then be sure to work it into the day’s schedule.
Also, reserve the site for your wedding day and the morning after. (Find out if the venue offers a package deal or how much each additional hour will cost.)
With a tent and rental set-up, not to mention flowers and décor, your team or pros will need extra time to set up—and tear down—the site.
(And one last thing: To keep bugs at bay during your wedding day, think about having your site sprayed by an exterminator two days beforehand and placing citronella candles throughout the space.)
Transform the Venue Into a Charming Space
Whether you’ve chosen a rustic spot in the woods, a small backyard or a grand, grassy lawn, make it more inviting and comfortable with lounge furniture and lots of pillows.
If you don’t have room to bring in couches and plush chairs, arrange your dining area with smaller 4-person reception tables instead of larger 8 or 10 person tables to create a more intimate look and feel.
And of course, have fun with the decorating. Drape fabric from the tent’s ceiling to soften the space or to create sectioned off “rooms.”
Hang pomanders from the frame’s cross-sections, and add other details to welcome guests and enhance your wedding’s unique design.
After all, the more you bring into your tent, the warmer and cozier it will feel. Coloured linens, vibrant up-lighting and quirky knick-knacks set a one-of-a-kind vibe.
Also, please don’t assume that your guests will find their way around.
If your reception site is also home to the ceremony and cocktail hour, make sure there’s a natural flow between the spaces.
You may need to add signs directing guests from the ceremony to the reception and pointing out the restrooms.
Set the Mood With On-Point Lighting
To set the mood (and help guests see each other), add things like paper lanterns, pinspot lighting, twinkling lights or stately chandeliers.
Light up surrounded walkways for easy access to the bathrooms. Think luminaries and small up-lights along the paths and mason jars or tea lights hanging from nearby tree branches.
Something you may not have thought of? You’ll want to have an electrician check out space before lighting up your tent. Not only will they be able to make sure you pass all the proper inspection laws, but they should also be able to make recommendations as to whether you’ll need to rent an extra generator and how to secure your lighting fixtures safely.
No one wants a blackout during their wedding reception.
You may even want to keep a lighting pro (who has wedding experience) on hand to ensure everything stays in place—and lit up—all evening.
Take Advantage of the Natural Scenery
Probably one of the significant reasons you’re choosing an outdoor wedding set-up is because the natural elements of your venue inspire you.
Maybe you’re setting up in a garden or an outdoor area with lots of green space. Incorporate the natural scenery into your decor.
Add comfortable seating in the garden and play with the greenery as a backdrop for photos. Hang decorations from tree branches or include clippings from the wildflowers on your table settings.
Avoid Uninvited Guests
The last thing you want is for your guests to sit on an anthill accidentally or to spend the evening swatting away mosquitos.
Depending on the venue, see if you can get an exterminator in beforehand to spray or clear the area.
If you’re hosting an outdoor evening ceremony, definitely add citronella candles or tiki lanterns to your outdoor wedding checklist to help ward off unwelcome pests.
While you can’t change the weather, you can still try to best prepare for it. When it comes to your outdoor wedding set-up, think about how the weather could impact you and your guests.
As mentioned above, tents can help shield your guests from the rain, but you may also want to provide umbrellas to keep your guests dry when moving from location to location.
If you think it may get chilly, set up heat fans and have cozy blankets on hand for your guests.
But if it’s the heat you’re worried about, rent some industrial fans and give out paper hand fans as party favours to keep your guests cool.
Get Creative and On-Theme With the Menu
Having an outdoor wedding gives you the flexibility to get creative with your menu. Under a tent, you might throw a New England clambake, a spicy Southern barbecue or even a Hawaiian pig roast.
But you probably wouldn’t even consider those options for a ballroom affair.
Regardless of what food appears on your menu, plan to have plenty of cold water and refreshing non-alcoholic drinks on hand—especially if the weather is hot and humid. Lemonade and iced tea are good staples.
It’s essential to schedule a site visit before your wedding day for your caterer to ensure they’re well-equipped to handle the space.
Also, keep in mind that in most cases, your caterer will need a separate prepping tent. And don’t forget about the need for electricity and running water.
You’ll probably have to work with your caterer to draw up a detailed floor plan.
Lastly, make sure your catering company has experience running tented events. They’ll not only provide all the right supplies (saving you the hassle of having to rent them) and set up and clean up, but they’ll also know to have enough waitstaff on hand to ensure that all of your guests are taken care of.
Let the Setting Guide Your Music Choices
If you’re on the beach, you can’t go wrong with steel drums.
For a backyard reception, you might go for a folk or bluegrass group. First, of course, you need to make sure your band or DJ has enough power to supply their equipment.
This may mean bringing in an extra generator, so you don’t lose the lights in the middle of the party.
They should be able to tell you what they’ll need to set up at your site. Also, figure out where the band or DJ and dance floor will be.
(Hint: Make sure it’s not in the path from the kitchen to the tables.)
And be prepared: Since most city ordinances don’t allow outdoor music late into the evening, do your research and then commit to a time when the band or DJ will unplug.
Provide All the Necessities
Even if there are natural, brick-and-mortar restrooms nearby, you might still want to consider renting them—and no, you don’t need to consider porta-potties (unless, of course, you prefer them).
These days, you can find luxury portable restrooms with amenities like in-room music, granite countertops and air conditioning or heaters, depending on the season.
You’ll want to include a few subtle extras like luxe soaps, fresh flowers and monogrammed towels.
And here’s a pro tip: The general rule of thumb is to have one bathroom or stall for every 35 guests.
This way, guests will spend less time standing in line and more time partying on the dance floor.
Outdoor Wedding Planning Tips
These helpful tips will guide you in your planning process, and some of the advice may surprise you!
Consider a Planner
There are many valid reasons to hire a planner, but making sure everything is sorted (well in advance!) for an outdoor wedding is one of their most incredible superpowers.
They’ll help you determine whether you should scope out an established wedding venue known for its lush outdoor intrigue or scout out a raw, untouched locale with room for personal touches.
When couples select a venue in which all event elements will be outdoor (i.e. ceremony, cocktails, dinner, and dancing) and unaffiliated with a traditional one-stop-shop platform, that likely means all infrastructure will need to be brought in—from décor to lighting, catering to restrooms. In these planning scenarios, we recommend 14-18 months of lead time in our market.
Ask Questions from the Start
You’ll want to be armed with detailed questions when you tour prospective venues.
We recommend discussing the outdoor options with venues while you’re embarking on your initial site visits or even when you’re reaching out and starting those preliminary conversations.
Some venues have outdoor options included in their boilerplate pricing, while others do not. If the venue does not have an outdoor opportunity included, they may not even allow for or be an appropriate host for an outdoor event, so be sure to ask the hard questions from the beginning before you fall in love with a space that may not work!
Book Your Venue Early
Since outdoor weddings have a more limited flight time (i.e. the warmer seasons), demand for the best locations will be high. To avoid scheduling conflicts and competition with other couples clamouring for these unique settings, you should book your venue as soon as possible or opt for something in your backyard.
Manage Your Overall Expense Expectations
All of our wedding planners acknowledge that planning an outdoor wedding can be an expensive and budget-escalating undertaking.
If your venue offers an outdoor option but does not include all of the elements in their site fee or per-person cost, know that adding these on your own can get costly quickly.
Not only do you need to think about all of the elements like a tent, flooring, lighting, tables, chairs, linens, power, etc., but you will also likely need to deal with permitting. We’ve seen these additional outdoor costs add upwards of $30,000 to a client’s bottom line.
If you are thinking outside the box all the more, with a ceremony or reception site that’s even more remote, you can’t forget to factor in the cost of transportation for guests, parking, and space for catering and other vendors to set up.
Be Clear on Your Invitation.
Having an outdoor wedding can impact your guests, so let them know what to expect by including information on the invitation.
For example, “Join us for dinner on the lawn under the stars” will let guests know that they may wish to wear wedges and bring a wrap.
Keep Guests Comfortable.
An outdoor winter wedding is possible! Hold guests inside until 10 minutes before the ceremony.
Serve something warm, like mugs filled with miniature hot chocolate or warm apple cider with cinnamon sticks, and be sure to have the heaters on.
This way, guests are in and out and don’t have time to be cold.
Choose Safe Lighting Techniques.
Make sure to consult with a lighting expert. When considering lighting too often, it’s just in terms of highlighting décor.
Having dark areas not only detracts from your décor, but it can be unsafe as well. Make sure that all pathways to kitchens, restrooms, and exits are adequately lit.
Have a Back-Up Plan.
It doesn’t matter what month it is or where you are in the United States or the world; you always need a backup plan.
Sometimes it’s costly, but it’s essential always to be prepared and never say never.
Whether you’re hosting an indoor or outdoor wedding, it’s helpful to have a wedding planner to guide you along the way.
They will not only know how to turn your vision into reality, but they will have years of knowledge regarding the logistics of planning an event. Visit our Directory to find a wedding planner (and other event professionals) in your area!
Outdoor Wedding Etiquette
When it comes to planning an outdoor wedding, you’ll want to treat the guest experience with premiere importance and prioritisation. So here are some frequently asked etiquette questions and answers. Check out our Top List of Wedding Caterers here.
Should We Have a Weather Contingency Plan?
Inclement weather is always a preeminent concern for couples planning outdoor events.
If you’re going with a tent already, you’ll want to reserve one with sidewalls even if you don’t think it’ll be necessary.
Since tents are such a priority item right now, you are better off reserving the tent in advance and cancelling it in the days leading up to your event.
While you’ll likely take a hit on your deposit, it’s much better than being stuck stressing the week of your wedding trying to find a tent if the weather forecast calls for rain.
The same goes for side walls: Sure, they may not be critical for light rain, but if it’s pouring, you will want your guests to be protected.
How Can We Prepare Our Guests for an Outdoor Wedding?
Ideally, you’ll want to make mention of your outdoor setting in your invitation and wedding website.
Prompting your friends and family with the outdoor format will help them decide on their attire and what (if any) substitutions, accessories, or extra layers they’ll want to bring, just in case.
If your wedding is taking place on grass, you should tell your guests in advance to dress accordingly.
You don’t want everyone in stilettos to be sinking in the ground all night, so an excellent option is to have the heel stoppers on hand for guests who may need them.”
How Should We Approach Our Vendor Team for an Outdoor Event?
For the most part, finding vendors for your day will be essentially the same as if you were planning an indoor feté.
That said, it is undoubtedly advantageous to research bands or DJs, floral designers, photographers, officiants, catering companies, etc., with experience in outdoor events under their belts already.
You’ll want to have a clear understanding of what each of your vendors will need (Do they require amps? Can they be on a shared circuit?) to operate successfully on the day of your wedding.
Then, partner with a reputable rental company that can provide generator power and miscellaneous odds and ends to meet their needs.
Similarly, a trustworthy rental company will come in and assess the space and help with measuring and making recommendations.
Several all-inclusive rental companies, too, can supply everything from tents, tables, chairs, lighting, bars, generators and even help with any necessary permitting. Check out our Top Wedding Planners here to help make your special day as smooth as possible.
Knowing that all of these logistics are being taken care of by true professionals can alleviate so much pre-wedding worry and pressure!