Open-air Affair

By Chandra Orr

April 18, 2008 5 min read


Outdoor weddings may have a number of ins and outs

By Chandra Orr

Copley News Service

Scuba divers do it in the water. Skydivers do it in the air. Rock climbers do it on mountains.

Granted, most modern brides don't dream of saying, "I do," at 10,000 feet, but plenty have their sights set on an outdoor affair. From a grand black-tie ceremony under the gazebo at the local park to seaside nuptials at sunset, an outdoor wedding sets the stage for romance.

If an offbeat outdoor locale is what you crave, there are a few things to consider before committing to a location.

"At the heart of this is the issue of graciousness. It's important to consider the needs of your guests and make people feel comfortable - or at least not extremely uncomfortable - at a wedding," said Elise Mac Adam, columnist for and author of "Something New: Wedding Etiquette for Rule Breakers, Traditionalists, and Everyone in Between," (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $15).

Consider, for example, the needs of older or disabled guests who may have difficulty standing during a long ceremony or making the trek from the parking lot to the ceremony. Even the spriest members of the wedding party might take issue with using port-a-potties in their elaborate gowns, high heels and tuxes. "If you are having a lot of guests, you may find you have to compromise your vision if the picturesque location you've selected is very remote, hard to access, is hard to make reasonably temperate or is otherwise very complicated," Mac Adam said.

"If you choose an outdoor wedding, the biggest thing to think about is weather, weather, weather," said wedding planner Harriette Rose Katz, author of "Where to Seat Aunt Edna? And 500 Other Great Wedding Tips" (Hundreds of Heads Books, $14).

"Are you prepared for downpours and whipping winds if your special day turns stormy? No guest wants to be at a reception with their skirts blowing, getting drenched," Katz said.

To prepare for less-than-perfect weather, you will need to plan ahead - and you'll need a big budget.

Large tents with room to accommodate all of your guests comfortably are a must. In the event of rain or blazing sun, your guests will have refuge from the elements. It wouldn't hurt to rent flooring as well.

"When you do a tent reception you need to put floors down over the grass," Katz said. "Tents are expensive and so is flooring, but if women are wearing beautiful heels, they don't want them digging into the grass and getting ruined."

You'll also need safeguards against extreme temperatures and wind. You might consider portable heaters or air conditioning units, depending on the time of year, which brings the added challenge of securing electrical hookups or generators.

While it is possible to plan for the worst weather and keep guests in the customary creature comforts, the bigger question is, will the venue allow it? In addition to state and local zoning laws, individual parks, nature centers and beaches place restrictions on everything from parking to music. There may be occupancy limits on outdoor pavilions, rules against throwing rice or rose petals, and restrictions on receptions.

Before booking the venue, Mac Adam and Katz suggest making a few inquiries:

- Do you need permits from the city, state or township to use the venue?

- Do you need to provide security or pay the venue to provide it?

- Do you and your guests have to sign a waiver absolving the venue from responsibility in the event that someone gets injured?

- Does the venue have a limit on the number of guests you can have?

- Will your guests have access to plenty of parking? If so, do you need to arrange for parking permits?

- Will there be ample restrooms available to your guests, or will you need to provide portable restrooms?

- Is there ample seating at the venue, or will you need to rent chairs?

- Will you be permitted to play music? If so, are there any restrictions on the volume or time of day?

- Will your bridal party have a private place to get dressed and dolled-up before the ceremony?

- Are receptions allowed? If so, what are the policies pertaining to food service, alcohol and music?

"While it is possible to work out a lot of issues like vehicle parking and securing permits for events in public parks, an outdoor wedding may turn out to be a lot of additional trouble and expense," Mac Adam said.

But when you pull it off, you'll have a party guests will never forget.

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