In This Article
After you exchange vows and slip on your new wedding band, you probably want to celebrate your updated relationship status in a place that feels natural and comfortable. If you’re an outdoorsy couple hosting your nuptials in the spring or summer, a reception outside might be the perfect choice.
Instead of the traditional post-ceremony party with a sit-down dinner and formal floor plan, a picnic wedding reception is a fun and unique alternative that will make a big impression on your guests. “This type of reception invites guests to enjoy one of the couple’s favorite outdoor spaces and leans into natural light and textiles that honor nature elements surrounding the meal,” planner Jessica Shapiro says.
What comes to mind when you think of a picnic reception is most likely a laid-back gathering on the lawn complete with checkered blankets and wicker baskets, but this type of celebration takes on so many different forms. You can plan a more upscale soirée with champagne, gourmet catering, and plush furniture, or you can lean more casual with layered blankets for seating and a DIY sandwich bar. It’s also important to note that you don’t have to throw your affair in a park to stick with this theme. Virtually any outdoor venue will work, whether it’s a tropical bash on the beach, a rustic celebration at a vineyard, or a lush spring wedding at a botanical garden. Regardless of how you decorate your fête and where you decide to celebrate, picnic receptions produce an inviting atmosphere for guests to mix and mingle.
If you’re thinking about orchestrating a picnic reception, we tapped the experts to ask for their top tips and the key elements to keep in mind so that your party is an overwhelming success. Here's how to plan a picnic wedding reception.
Meet the Expert
- Jessica Shapiro is the senior lead planner and designer at Andria Leigh Events located in San Francisco. She’s been a wedding planner for five years.
- Sneh Diwan is the founder and creative director of Diwan by Design, an event planning and design firm in Jersey City, New Jersey. She has eight years of experience in the wedding space.
One of the first steps you’ll want to take when planning a picnic reception is nailing down the venue. As we previously stated, any outdoor setting will fit this type of celebration. While a local park is typically the go-to spot, you can also host your party at a beach, campground, forest, garden, orchard, vineyard, or even your own backyard.
Before booking the site, do some research to determine whether you’ll need to acquire a permit. If you’ve settled on your neighborhood park, Shapiro advises heading to the parks and recreation department’s website or visiting the office in person to apply for and obtain a license to host your private event. The good news is these permits are usually less expensive than a venue fee, so the planner notes that you can redistribute those finances toward decorations, activities, and more. Make sure to look into noise ordinances, alcohol restrictions, nighttime curfews, and any other rules and regulations that you’ll need to follow.
Whether it’s on your wedding website or invitations, make sure to specify the dress code, so your guests show up to your function in appropriate clothing. Shapiro recommends providing a detailed description, such as “colorful summertime cocktail attire with sensible footwear and sun hats,” so your loved ones know exactly what pieces to wear.
Since your friends and family will be spending all evening outside, planner Sneh Diwan encourages lightweight, comfortable attire that’s easy to move around in and fun patterns and colors to complement the theme. For instance, male guests can sport dress pants with a printed button-up and an optional sports coat, while female attendees can show up in jumpsuits, maxi skirts with a blouse, or tea-length dresses, according to Diwan.
Although blankets spread across the grass feels most on theme, you can provide a variety of seating options for optimal comfort. Diwan suggests plush lounge furniture for more elevated aesthetics, wooden benches for rustic events, or carpets and ottomans for low-key affairs. If you decide to forgo floor seating or simply want to supplement it with something more practical, picnic tables or another wooden variety with matching chairs will allow you and your guests to enjoy dinner and drinks without making a mess. Regardless of what type of seating you provide, “Be vocal about it on your website, so guests know what to expect,” Diwan says.
While the seating will help augment your overarching concept, you can use additional décor to bring your vision to life. To start, Diwan recommends drawing inspiration from the surrounding scenery. Decorations that mimic the natural colors and textures around you will help create the right atmosphere. For instance, rattan chargers, fringe napkins, and terracotta plates will coordinate with the sandy dunes at the beach. Throwing your event in the forest? Decorate your tables with ample greenery and wooden accents. However, since the picnic setting will be the focal point, you don’t need many decorations to make a statement.
Regardless of where you’re hosting your nuptials, if it’s a daytime affair, accent each set-up with umbrellas. “Depending on the time of year and if it is earlier in the evening since the sunset is much later, it would be nice to have shade for guests,” Diwan remarks. “You can also have fun with your umbrellas and pick fun colors or patterns to enhance your décor!”
Once the sun starts to set, you’ll want to illuminate the space with ample lighting for functionality and aesthetics. Twinkle lights and taper candles will cast a warm glow over your evening. Diwan also explains that creating a lit pathway to the nearest bathrooms will come in handy once it gets dark.
Food and Drink
With picnic receptions, you have the opportunity to ditch formal-style dining and provide fun and crowd-pleasing options. To kick off the event, Diwan suggests a charcuterie spread with cured meats, gourmet cheeses, assorted crackers, tangy olives, and fresh fruits as an appetizer. You could arrange these ingredients on a wooden board, but distributing these hors d'oeuvres in pre-portioned servings might be easier for loved ones to nosh on while mingling and conversing.
For the main meal, set up a sandwich station with various deli meats, cheeses, fresh vegetables, and condiments for guests to prepare themselves, which will provide an interactive and memorable experience. A mixed salad with fresh berries, toasted pecans, and goat cheese is another seasonally appropriate choice.
Since your guests will be spending a lot of time in the sunshine, you’ll want to hydrate them with refreshing beverages. Lavender lemonade or citrus-infused water are light options (and non-alcoholic) which will quench everyone’s thirst and reinforce the theme. For alcoholic beverages, champagne is on par with glamorous-inspired picnic receptions. If you want to serve a signature cocktail, Aperol spritzes or negroni sbagliato will work with the location, according to Diwan.
To top off your display, arrange a dessert bar stocked with mini cupcakes, key lime pie lemon bars, and colorful macarons. You can even have a make-your-own ice cream sundae station for a nostalgic setup that helps produce a warm and welcoming environment. Of course, you can never go wrong with a wedding cake. We love a confection adorned with pressed flowers and greenery to complement the garden settings or tiers embellished with monstera leaves for a seaside soirée. Pro tip: Chocolate ganache or Italian buttercream are both able to withstand the heat better than other frosting varieties.
The benefit of hosting a picnic-style party is that there are so many out-of-the-box activities to fit into the festivities. Provide a variety of lawn games, such as croquet, bocce ball, cornhole, life-sized Connect Four, badminton, or volleyball, for guests to play at their leisure. Or, you can organize an entire tournament, so everyone is involved. To get your creative juices flowing, a craft station or DIY bouquet bar will expand upon the theme, and loved ones can take their creations home as wedding favors. Since music is an essential part of any wedding reception, consider hiring a live band to bring the energy.
Details You Can’t Forget
Although the above guide provides a detailed list to help you plan your event, there are a few details that couples commonly overlook when they plan a picnic reception.
A Backup Plan for Inclement Weather
The beauty of picnic receptions is that they take place in nature. However, that also means rain or other inclement weather could put a damper on the festivities. To prepare for any possible situation, arrange a backup plan and loop your vendors and guests in on it. A transparent tent or a covered patio at a nearby restaurant will evoke a similar vibe, according to Diwan. “Keep an eye out for the weather the week of the wedding, and consult your wedding planner and/or venue manager for their opinions on the best course of action as well,” the planner notes.
Essentials to Prepare for the Elements
If you’re hosting a daytime reception, the last thing you want is for your guests to bake in the sun. Stock a nearby table with sunscreen, so no one leaves with a painful burn. By choosing an outdoor setting in warm weather, pesky bugs may cause annoyance. To ward off insects, provide bottles of bug spray for your guests’ convenience and comfort. Shapiro reveals another hack: Dryer sheets. “It might sound crazy, but tucking dryer sheets discreetly into your décor will help to keep the bees away,” she shares.
For an outdoor affair, bathrooms aren’t a given. If you’re hosting your reception in a park or by the beach, public restrooms will most likely be in close proximity. Take a look at the stalls ahead of your event to double-check that they’re sufficient. If your own backyard is the venue, you’ll want to rent additional bathrooms to accommodate your crew and avoid long lines.