11 Important Things to Know About Hosting an Outdoor Wedding

Hosting a problem-free alfresco fete requires much more than a rain plan.
By: Beth Kaufman

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Get Hitched Without a Hitch

An outdoor wedding is trickier to plan than an indoor affair — and the weather isn't the only factor you'll need to keep in mind. Celebrating outside will significantly affect logistics, the day's timeline and (most importantly!) your catering. Remember these important considerations to help things go as smoothly as possible.

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Your Caterer Is Not Your Wedding Planner

Sure, your caterer will be crucial to planning logistics, ordering rentals and much more, but even the most-organized caterer won’t completely step into the role of wedding planner. “Many couples think the caterer does it all, and that’s not usually the case,” says Michael Prete of Portsmouth Catering in New Hampshire.

While some caterers might take a lead role in planning your day, they might not help with tasks like handling non-food vendors, coordinating the day’s timeline, decorating the tables — or (a biggie for outdoor weddings!) creating a full-scale plan B if rain forces you inside. Outdoor events come with extra considerations and complications, and a dedicated wedding planner can help ensure that everything goes well.


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The Season Will Dictate Your Menu

“We wouldn’t want to serve a hot soup or a bunch of heavy items in the middle of summer,” says Kelly Mahanes of Harvest Moon Catering in Charlottesville, Va. She’s right — just think about how uncomfortable everyone would get eating that outside. Mahanes also doesn’t recommend doing an outdoor cheese display in the middle of July, for understandable sun- and heat-related reasons. Work with your caterer to plan a seasonal menu, she advises: “If you choose items that you might find in a backyard garden that time of year, you can't go wrong!”

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A Rustic, Woodsy Wedding Could Cost You

You know those gorgeous, rustic weddings you see on Pinterest? The ones that seem to be in the middle of a field or forest? And boast long, barn-style tables under a canopy of twinkle lights? While beautiful, a setup like that is not always practical — after all, access to electricity (at the very least) is really helpful for prepping food for a crowd. “Depending on how remote the venue is, it might not provide any cooking equipment, plates, tents, lights, etc.,” says Danielle Staunton, of A Spice of Life Catering in Boulder. “This can double the budget for the catering portion of the wedding expenses.”

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Family-Style Dinner Might Bump Up Your Budget, Too

If you’re hoping to escape the burden of serving a formal sit-down dinner outside, realize that alternatives might be just as challenging and pricey. “Family-style food is not the most-economical approach,” says Staunton. “We have to provide large portions on each platter for every four guests. This also requires more staff to serve, which can increase the budget.” Even so, many caterers and brides love the intimacy of a family-style meal — just be prepared to pay up for it.

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Consider How the Food Will Get to Your Guests

Obviously, a covered kitchen and reception area will be necessary if it rains. But additionally, you’ll have to make sure the pathway between the two areas is also covered — otherwise your guests could be dealing with a lot of rain-soaked chicken, warns Mahanes. And even without rain in the forecast, consider the distance between the kitchen and the reception: If they’re far apart, hot dishes could be cold by the time they reach the tables.

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You’ll Need Plenty of Nonalcoholic Beverages

“Refreshing drinks can be vital to guest comfort on a hot day,” says Rochelle Myers, a caterer in the Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., area. Have nonalcoholic beverages — like fruit-infused water, lavender lemonade or mint iced tea — on offer before and after the ceremony so guests don’t overheat (or overindulge in the booze). And think about something for later in the evening: “If your outdoor wedding is in the fall, it can get crisp at night, so we like to offer a hot apple cider station with cinnamon stir sticks,” Myers adds.


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Last-Minute Menu Changes Might Be Necessary

If there’s a lot of rain on your big day and the ground is especially wet, skip the passed appetizers or action stations, Lindsey Chance of Loveless Events in Nashville recommends. Instead, consider having guests seated for a plated meal, to minimize the slips, trips and falls. Your caterer can help you make a game-time decision that considers the weather.

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A Casual Menu Can Still Be Memorable

Grills aren’t just for backyard cookouts, says Colbért Callen from Footers Catering in Denver: “We love grilling on-site, because guests can smell it (especially something like beef tenderloin) and can appreciate how fresh their meal is.” An outdoor setting is perfect for a more casual vibe like this — but because a grilled dish is unexpected (and perhaps a bit more elevated than burgers and hot dogs), guests will still be wowed. If grilling isn’t your thing, ask your caterer about other laid-back menu ideas, like a pig roast for a Hawaiian-style wedding or freshly fried chicken for a Southern-themed reception.

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A Site Visit Is a Must

In fact, chances are good that multiple visits will be necessary. “We like to have one site visit four to six months prior to the event, with managers from each of our departments to go over logistics including water sources, electrical, load-in routes, terrains and more,” says Callen. Then, they’ll do a final walk-through with the other vendors four to six weeks before the event. Site visits aren’t always necessary for indoor weddings, but they are crucial for outdoor ones.

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Local Noise Ordinances Could Affect Your Party

“The county might have a noise ordinance that will impact the type of music you can play and when the party must be over,” points out Staunton. That will affect the day’s schedule and when you’ll want to have dinner begin.

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Don’t Mess with Heat and Cake

Buttercream-frosted cakes can start to melt or droop if they’re left outside too long, and moving them from inside to outside is risky. “Fondant can help ensure the cake stays together on a hot day,” says Myers. She also suggests getting a small show cake, which is easier to bring outside for ceremonial cutting, and giving guests a plate of something else. “Another possibility is to skip the cake entirely,” she adds. Consider something like pies, s’mores or beignets instead.

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