How to Plan an Outdoor Wedding

Everything you’ll want to know before going al fresco.

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Photo by Valerie Darling

Truth be told, we can’t think of anything more illustrious, impressive, and awe-inspiring than an outdoor wedding underscored by immaculate 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 ambiance isn’t as cut and dry as its indoor counterpart. There are a lot of moving parts to putting together an event with outdoor vibes, but at the same time, the options and opportunities are endless.

So, if you’re open to navigating all of the ups and downs of this type of wedding, we’re right there with you—and we’ve caught up with industry experts Yodit Gebreyes Endale, Alyssa Gloriosa, Skylar Caitlin, and Kristen Ligas for even more support and know-how.

Meet the Expert

  • Yodit Gebreyes Endale is the owner and principal of Favored by Yodit Events & Design, a wedding planning firm in Washington, D.C.
  • Alyssa Glorioso and Skylar Caitlin are wedding industry veterans and MVP planners at Chancey Charm Wedding Planning & Design.
  • Kristen Ligas is an event planner at Well-Dressed Events and has over ten years of experience designing events for iconic brands.

“Any couple can embrace an outdoor affair, but there can be some unique challenges to outdoor receptions, specifically if you struggle letting go of control or don’t actually enjoy being outdoors for five-plus hours,” cautions Caitlin. “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 extraordinarily hot 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.”

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! 

5 Tips for Planning an Outdoor Wedding

Michela Buttignol/Brides

Outdoor Wedding Etiquette 

When it comes to planning an outdoor wedding, you’ll want to treat the guest experience with premiere importance and prioritization. Here are some frequently asked etiquette questions and answers. 

How should we approach our vendor team for an outdoor event? 

For the most part, finding vendors for your day will be largely the same as if you were planning an indoor feté. That said, it is certainly 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,” offers Caitlin. “Then, partner with a reputable rental company that can provide generator power and miscellaneous odds and ends to meet their needs.” 

Similarly, Ligas shares that “a trustworthy rental company will come in and assess the space and help with measuring and making recommendations. There are a number of all-inclusive rental companies, too, that can supply everything from tents, tables, chairs, lighting, bars, generators, and even help with any necessary permitting.” Knowing that all of these logistics are being taken care of by true professionals can alleviate so much pre-wedding worry and pressure! 

Tents and rental furniture are in premium demand right now, not to mention they’ll be the most expensive line item in your budget spreadsheet (next to catering), so getting that squared away off the top and continuing planning thereafter is pivotal. 

How should catering be handled for dining outside? 

Finding a catering team that’s familiar with working outdoor weddings (in the absence of the luxuries that accompany an indoor setting) is hugely important. You should be prepared with questions such as “How many outdoor weddings have you done,” “Are you comfortable working in a catering tent,” “Will you be able to make recommendations for catering rental needs like kitchen equipment, plateware, glassware, cutlery, etc.” Aligning with a crew that also has a liquor license and can manage your alcohol order is a major win.

What food should we serve?

The best part about being outdoors is that you can get super inventive with your fare. Want a wood-fired pizza oven? Do it! Think a pig roast could be cool for a more tropical-styled soirée? We think so, too! There are so many fun options you can serve up for your day. Endale typically tells her clients to “opt for passed appetizers for cocktail hour and plated meals for dinner to avoid pests buzzing around a buffet or hovering over family-style dishes.”  

The food service team should always have an interior space (even an enclosed tent) for the catering prep and either plated food service or food stations that are in an enclosed area.

How should we decorate our outdoor setting?

Every outdoor setting, be it a backyard, a beach, or a floral-filled field, has its own natural beauty and aesthetic, so when you move forward with your nuptials, you’re in a unique position to use the natural landscape to your decorating advantage. And the choices you make with décor can help make your event more or less formal.

“You can make your outdoor wedding as formal or informal as you want,” encourages Ligas. “For more formal weddings, we prefer to tent the space: We love sail top tents for an elegant, whimsical vibe, or pole tents with tulle draping on the ceiling. Here, we tend to install chandeliers or weave in bespoke bistro lighting. And adding hardwood flooring to your tent floor will also make the space feel super formal, as will elegant Chiavari chairs versus garden chairs and premium linens to dress your tables like velvet, brocade, satin, or shantung.”  

Caitlin recalls planning plenty of black-tie outdoor weddings with massive tent build-outs including hardwood flooring and air conditioning! “Natural textures like wood, linen, and natural silks can work together to create a show-stopping outdoor visage,” she says. 

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 side walls 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 then canceling 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,” assures Ligas. “Same goes for side walls: Sure, they may not be critical for a light rain, but if it’s really pouring, you will want your guests to be protected.”  

While you’re in negotiations with your rental company, see if they can build a protective caveat into your contract. Something like, “If you release your tent inventory and they rent it to another client, you can get your deposit back.” 

If the weather reports predict colossal rains, then you should be proactive about your setup. Caitlin urges brides and grooms to “see if the venue will allow your tenting company to set up the structure a few days before the wedding, so it can protect the ground a bit and avoid an overly soggy ground day-of.” 

How do we protect our guests against bugs?

Apart from getting your grounds professionally treated three or four days prior to your wedding, Endale reveals that “placing citronella candles around the pathway or near your tent entrance can deter bugs, as will choosing flowers that mosquitoes don’t like. Lavender, marigolds, and peppermint in your personal florals and around the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception décor serve as a serious secret weapon!” 

Can we make portable potties pretty? 

It’s truly one of the most-asked questions when outdoor weddings are concerned. According to all of our experts, it’s all about renting restroom trailers with hired bathroom attendants and tasteful touches (like pretty florals, toiletries, and candles).

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/or 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,” poses Ligas. “You don’t want everyone in stilettos to be sinking in the ground all night, so a nice option is to have the heel stoppers on hand for guests who may need them.” 

Outdoor Wedding Planning Tips 

Consider a Planner 

There are so many valid reasons to hire a planner, but making sure everything is sorted (well in advance!) for an outdoor wedding is one of their greatest 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 venue, that likely means all infrastructure will need to be brought in—from décor to lighting, catering to restrooms,” notes Glorioso. “In these planning scenarios, I recommend 14-18 months of lead time in our market.” 

Ask Questions From the Start

You’ll want to be armed with exhaustive 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,” explains Ligas. “Some venues have outdoor options included in their boilerplate pricing, while others do not. If the venue does not have an outdoor option 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," says Endale. "To avoid scheduling conflicts and competition with other couples clamoring for these special settings, you should book your venue as soon as possible or opt for something in your own 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 does offer an outdoor option, but they do not include all of the elements in their site fee or per-person cost, just know that adding these on your own can get costly very quickly,” alleges Ligas. “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’ll be 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,” adds Endale. 

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