Having an outdoor event, particularly in the summer, is automatically romantic and exciting. Indoor space simply cannot mimic the beauty of natural light, vegetation, and the promising whisper of evening breezes.

But the reality of outdoor space also poses challenges, and the bubble may burst if you are not prepared. Bugs, rain, uncomfortable temperatures, inconvenient or dirty venues, darkness, and area noise can quickly render your expensive affair unforgettable, but not in a good way.

Everyone’s Biggest Concern: Weather

Rain (or snow) and hot or cold weather have the most potential to ruin your fun, even if all the other details are tied up. If you cannot adequately prepare for Mother Nature, scrap your plan for an outdoor event entirely.

You should absolutely plan for a tent for any party that includes food or is longer than 45 minutes. It is tacky to ask your guests to sit in the heat or a drizzle for longer than a quick ceremony or presentation. Whether the tent has sides is optional, as it can take away from the outdoor experience, but can also save you from a muddy mess. My favorite solution to this is a climate controlled tent with sides for half of the outdoor space, and durable and attractive arrangements outside of the tent as well.

I once attended a wedding on a very cold February evening that featured a heated tent with plush vinyl couches under the arms of sweeping oak trees as an outdoor seating area. Couples snuggled up together in front of an array of candles, and retreated to the tent when they needed to warm their

Chairs for outdoor events can be wastefully expensive if you end up with rain, so skip the rented cushions and go for attractive plastic folding chairs, which can easily be wiped free of water and dirt. The same goes for tablecloths and caterer’s options; choose something that is weather-friendly and let the setting deliver the fancy aesthetics.

Venue Can Make or Breaks the Outdoor Setting

A venue that is accustomed to handling outdoor events will have many of these problems solved for you in advance, but that does not mean that you cannot start from the ground up. The most important thing to consider when choosing the venue is convenience for guests and caterers to the restrooms, kitchen, and other amenities.

If the layout works, then start to think about the more detailed logistics. Is there an existing seating area? Spend the money you budgeted for chairs and tables on a pressure wash for outdoor seating. Check on the local wildlife, and have the venue treated for pests. No one wants a spider up their skirt! Make a list of everything under your tent that will require electricity, and determine how you will deliver the juice. Be sure your caterer and bartenders know they are setting up for an outdoor job. If it is within your budget, many caterers offer a portable version of a traditional bar that will still allow guests to linger and talk while they wait for drinks rather than standing in line. Erect signage that helps guests know where to go. And finally, consider renting a floor to protect everyone’s shoes, especially if there will be dancing.

Let There Be Light

If your special day is actually an evening, add spotlights and fairy lights to an outdoor affair to create drama, romance, and to light the way for guests as they walk from their cars or the restroom. To save on outlets, you can purchase lanterns from an online party store with candles in them, and use extra wide ribbon to string them from trees and fixtures. Candelabras are also romantic and off the grid, and torches are great for lighting walkways. Just be sure you do not burn anything to the ground! You can also purchase battery-powered lights, but be aware that these often have a blue cast as opposed to the familiar romantic yellow of candlelight.

Make Sure All They Hear Is You

It should go without saying, but if your venue is adjacent to a shooting range or dog kennel, you should probably plan to be indoors. Other noise, like a nearby highway or another party, can be worked around. Insulate your event with music, live or recorded. Find ways to bring your music to the far reaches of your space by ordering extra-long speaker wire and placing speakers in the hedges. If you are setting up in a field or other space where you get to decide the layout, have guests park closest to the offending noise and set up the festivities across the lot.

Always Have A Plan B

Absolutely always have a Plan B. If your tent does not arrive, or the rain is torrential, or the heat is just unavoidable, give up forcing your guests
to suffer through it and move indoors. Even ceremonies that must be partially outdoors, like an unveiling, can be moved indoors for the food and dedications. Your backup location should be on site or incredibly close so that no one becomes confused. Make everyone on staff aware of how the décor, food, and other amenities are to be transferred as you move indoors so that it can be done quickly and easily. If guests are present during this transition, have your bartender set up a small cocktail hour in a side room or yard to pass the time.

Outdoor events are well worth the work, but be sure you have sewn up the details so that the evening is flawless and enjoyable for everyone, including you!


Sarah Harbin has been planning and promoting non-profit fundraisers, art and cultural events for over ten years, and recently began planning personal events.
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