How to Plan an Outdoor Wedding

Was “the question” popped? How exciting, and our sincere congratulations to you!

Perhaps you have decided that you would like to hold your wedding outdoors. This is a very popular idea right now. The settings are usually just beautiful and picture-perfect; they are casual and fun and give you the ability to be extremely creative. There are some different things to keep in mind, though, but we will do our best to help you stay on track.

How to Plan an Outdoor Wedding?

We have broken the even down into manageable categories for you, along with shopping suggestions to keep things easy.

Make a Budget

Becoming engaged is a fun and exciting time. We know it’s no fun to dampen the enthusiasm with a budget. However, keep in mind that being married will require you and your spouse to work on budgets, periodically, so this is good practice. You will need to figure out what is affordable. At one time, the bride’s parents traditionally paid for the cost of a wedding. However, in this day and age, you don’t see that as often. Many couples have lived together for quite some time and are capable of paying for their own special day. At any rate, your budget is your logical starting place. Even if you are planning an outdoor wedding, there will still be many costs and you will need to decide how much you are able to spend.

Pick Your Location

Even before you pick a date, we suggest you get your location all set. If it is a public space, you may well need a permit or to book it with the authorities, so this is a good starting place. Not sure of where to hold your outdoor wedding? Look to wineries, orchards, farms, or ranches. Some larger AirBnb’s have the ability to host weddings. You may also have a friend or family member who has a large space. Remember, you will need room for people to park, too.

Accessibility can be a little more complicated for outdoor weddings. Your venue needs to have adequate parking. In addition, if there are older, less mobile family and friends invited, think about how they are going to get to your ceremony. If you are dealing with walkers and wheelchairs, this can be difficult. You might want to have the actual ceremony in a more accessible spot at the location and then take pictures in other areas of the location.

You also need to remember: you also may need to bring in portable bathrooms, if the location does not have them. You will want the type that have hand-washing stations and towels.

Additionally, you would be wise to come up with a “Plan B” location, should Mother Nature not cooperate. We have been to a beach wedding that did not happen, as a storm blew in. The wedding ended up taking place in a covered driveway. While it was still beautiful and a moving ceremony, it required a lot of last-minute shuffling and changes. It was still unforgettable, though! Being flexible is a good way to start off a successful marriage.

You can also rent tents, which are really nice because you can get out of the hot sun and into the shade. They are not inexpensive, but they are certainly nice to have.

While you may know someone with an amazing backyard, be careful about considering that option. They may have neighbors who do not appreciate the crowd of people.

If you have looked at many outdoor wedding pictures, you will notice that most of them have great lighting. This may be something you can rent, but if not, you can buy outdoor lighting that isn’t too expensive. Alternatively, dig out those Christmas lights!

Set the Date

Once you have a firm location set, it’s time to pick the date. This is best done with your sets of parents’ input, as well as anyone you want to have participate in your wedding. Of course, this needs to be done concurrently with setting up your location, so it can get a little bit tricky. You increase your odds of getting your location if you have a few dates that you can work with, not one certain one. Keep in mind that you cannot please everyone! If it becomes a source of stress, you just need to acknowledge that you tried your best and move on.

Book an Officiant

You will need someone to handle the ceremony. Perhaps this will be your own church’s pastor, minister, etc. If not, you will need to find someone to act as officiant. Include this in your budget; the fees for an officiant. As of this writing, the standard seems to be around $300. Some may advise you of their fee upfront. If it is a minister from the church, you should make an offering to cover the minister or pastor’s services.

How Many Attendees?

Just because you are having an outdoor wedding, it doesn’t mean you can invite everyone. You still need to factor in how much parking you have, how much your food and drink budget is, and you need to examine other costs such as music, favors, paying for the officiant, etc. Look at your total budget, first, and then make a list of everyone you would like to invite so that you have a rough idea. Factor in a few extra, in case of unexpected guests.

If you would like to offer “singles” the opportunity to bring a date, this is called a “Plus One.” This is a nice thing to do.

Save the Date Cards

Once you have the date, location, and officiant set up, we would advise that you send out “Save the Date” cards to prospective invitees. Particularly in the case of “destination” weddings, you will want to give people plenty of time to set aside both time and money. Destination weddings are a lot of fun, but they may require some savings of funds for many people. Even if it a local wedding, right in your town, these cards are handy so that people can hang them on their refrigerator and remember that they have a function to attend. What to put on your Save the Date cards? Have some engagement photos taken and then add details about the date, time, and location.

Invitations

Invitations are another area where you may find big savings for your wedding budget. If you are even mildly crafty, you can make your own. Or, how about using a template that you can download? Stamps add up; we have seen invitations done as postcards. If your attendees are e-mail savvy, you can do invitations in that manner (you may wish to set emailed invitations to show if received/opened).

Most people like to ask that invitees respond to an invitation, which is called “R.S.V.P.” This enables you to get a headcount for caterers. However, be warned that this can be frustrating. Many people simply don’t do it. If this information is vitally important due to your budget constraints, you may need to make phone calls or send emails to chase this information down. It can be hard not to take it personally if you don’t hear back, but not everyone loves to go to weddings.

Seating/Tables

Unless your ceremony is going to be extremely short, you will need seating for your guests. Some outdoor venues will have these available, but in some cases, you will need to rent chairs. It is a good idea to inspect the chairs before you rent, to make sure they are clean and sturdy. You will also need tables for people to sit, with their food; for the buffet, the gift table, the cake table, and the guest book. Draw out a diagram, once you have your location nailed down, to see where everything will go and to see how many chairs and tables that you need.

You will very likely want tablecloths on all of your tables. Most catering and/or rental companies will have ones that you can rent, along with tables. Professional venues may have their own. Even if they are only available in white, you can decorate your tables with your colors by putting colored runners over the tables. It’s also nice to add candles, photos, and other decorative items. Watch Craiglist or yard sales for boxes of leftover wedding decorating items. It is fairly common to find boxes of vases, ribbon, and other items you can use for very little cash.

Wedding Arch

To have a focal point in outdoor weddings, an arch of some type is usually used. Again, some venues may have them available. If not, you may want to build or purchase one of your own. Arches are so wonderful in photos and nice to decorate with flowers or flowing fabric. If your backdrop is an old barn, you can “fake” an arch by draping flowy fabric and/or flowers in an arch pattern on the barn, itself.

Galvanized steel, in just about any way shape, or form, looks great at an outdoor wedding filled with flowers. This is an expensive way to decorate. Fun, also, are old barrels, tractors, or hay bales. Use what you can find to keep the cost down. Check for mice or critters, first!

Music

Music is a fun way to express your mood on your special day. Outdoor wedding venues, especially popular/often-used ones, will likely be able to accommodate musicians, both live or via a DJ. If you are having your day in a neighbor’s field, you will want to take that into consideration. You may opt for live music during the ceremony with a band to follow or to hire a DJ who will play your favorite tunes and entertain. Live bands, unless you are in a more metropolitan area, can be difficult to find. This is an area where you may want to ask around to see if you can find someone.

If you plan to have dancing, you’ll need a dance floor. This is a pretty tough order unless your venue has one, already.

Many weddings also feature slide shows featuring the new couple, which are a lot of fun to put together and then to watch during dinner. These are challenging if you’re in a meadow, but if you are at a professional outdoor wedding venue, they can be done. Sometimes, you may need a generator. Keep in mind that if you really want one, they are smelly and noisy.

Attendants

How many attendants do you plan to have? There is of course no set number; it usually ranges. You may also want to ask someone to be your maid of honor and best man. Do you want to have a ring bearer and a flower girl? If so, this is something to keep in mind and ask about early on.

If you opt to use a flower girl and ring-bearer, keep in mind that they may have a plan of their own. That’s okay, though! They are so cute, that they may steal the show.

What to Wear

It’s your day, and the sky is the limit! One caveat: remember, you are at an outdoor wedding. It may be hot! It might be asking a lot of your groomsmen to wear tuxedos and your bridesmaids to wear long sleeves and long dresses. There are wonderful ideas out there on the internet and in magazines for outdoor weddings. Brides, be kind to your attendants! Remember that by participating in your special day, they also incur costs. If you want them in matching dresses, please be mindful of the cost. At one of our favorite outdoor weddings, at a park in San Francisco, the bride told her attendants to simply pick out whatever they liked in navy blue. That way, she reasoned, they would still be in a “theme” for pictures but be able to wear the wedding finery again. No matter what your taste is in bridesmaids’ dresses, it is not going to look good on everyone, and the likelihood of their ever wearing it again is practically nil. Think about it: don’t you have an old one or two in your closet?

For the groomsmen, again, think “outdoor” and keep it simple. Many outdoor weddings have the groomsmen in shirts and ties, or shirts, ties, and vests. To put on a jacket in the summer heat is pretty uncomfortable.

And most importantly, how about your wedding dress? Again, something overly formal is going to look odd at an outdoor wedding. Your best bet is to look at pictures to see what appeals to you. You want to be comfortable, too, not hot and sweating your makeup off. You may also want to be careful with high heels, lest you trip on the ground. Outdoor dresses tend to be light, flowing, and maybe sleeveless. They don’t have as much as the heavy ornamentation of traditional dresses and that may be just fine with you.

Flowers and Bouquets

Your outdoor wedding setting may be so perfect and idyllic that you can save money in the flowers department. This is also a good time to be creative and utilize natural items, arranged in a casual way. An outdoor wedding is not a place for formal, stiff bouquets. Also, go with what is in season, rather than buying unseasonal flowers, which will cost more. You may have a friend or family member who is creative and good at arranging flowers. Ask for help! In our experience, people love to help with weddings and they would probably enjoy the privilege of being asked. If you feel like you need inspiration, here is a helpful book with examples and instructions — plus gorgeous photos.

The Photographer

Hiring a good wedding photographer is so important! You will want to remember this day, forever. Take your time to view their work. Ask around. If you have friends who were recently married, reach out. It is tempting to skimp on this, because photographers are often quite expensive, but since you are going to all the trouble to put on a wedding, make sure it is properly memorialized. Check the internet, Yelp, and even the Better Business Bureau. Ask to see the photographer’s outdoor wedding portfolio. You want to make sure that they have experience in this type of photography.

Food

Food is always something that people look forward to at a wedding. It’s bound to be high-quality and delicious. Don’t disappoint! With an outdoor wedding, there are a few different ways to go. We have been to barbeques, to farm-to-table types, to potlucks on the beach, etc. If you plan to work with a caterer, let them know your food budget, and see what they suggest. You can certainly talk to several caterers to see what sounds good. Many offer tasting menus so that you can try out the food. What fun this is! If your budget is such that you cannot afford a caterer, scale down your food and serve chicken or sandwiches. Again, if you want to ask for help, do! We have enjoyed potluck weddings and think they are a lot of fun. Part of the joy of having an outdoor wedding is the casual, fun vibe, so don’t fight it with overly fancy foods.

Drinks

Be sure to include a variety of beverages, especially if it is hot out! Have iced water (float some lemon slices in it), and offer lemonade, too. Based on your budget, you will need to decide if you are serving alcoholic drinks. If you are at a winery, you may be able to serve their wine; you may also wish to offer beer and seltzers. You may also like to offer coffee, for parties that go into the late evening. It is also nice to have a tub with a variety of sodas on ice.

The Wedding Cake

Do you have any idea how expensive wedding cakes are? For 100 people, plan on about $5 to $6 per serving, or per guest. If you want to look at something less formal than a wedding cake for an outdoor wedding, consider cupcakes! You can order a tiered cupcake stand that will give the look of a tiered cake, but cupcakes will cost a lot less than a wedding cake. Another fun alternative: doughnuts, iced in your wedding colors. Who doesn’t love a doughnut? We loved a Hawaiian outdoor wedding where, instead of cake, individual malasadas were served (Portuguese traditional doughnut, much-loved in the islands). Even a tiered fancy cookie tree is fun if you have the cookies iced in your colors. Sheet cakes are another good option because they are much more affordable. You can even combine things and do a small cake, for photos, and then serve it plus the sheet cake. Whatever you choose, you’ll need to keep your cake (or whatever) safe from bugs until it’s time to pass it out.

Gifts for Bridesmaids and Groomsmen

We have accumulated quite a collection of gifts, after having participated in various weddings. Our men’s favorite: an engraved pocket knife, and an engraved flask. Our women’s favorite: an engraved, high-quality Christmas ornament, pretty earrings, and a bracelet. Bottles of good wine are nice, and you can add your own special label.

Wedding Favors

Commemorate the day with wedding favors so that your guests remember how much fun your wedding was. We love refrigerator magnets (so handy) with photos on them. For country weddings, tiny bottles of jelly, jam, or honey (with a fun label) are a hit. We also cannot resist small boxes of chocolates. Favors do not need to be excessive but rather a nice small souvenir of the day. Another favor we love for outdoor weddings are folding fans. Scatter them over the tables, or have your flower-girl hand them out. They help your guests to keep cool.

Beware of Bugs!

One issue with outdoor weddings: bugs. You may want to put out some sprays on your tables so that people can partake. Nothing ruins a party like having to swat mosquitos. Do ask about bugs, though, when setting your date and location.

Clean-Up

If you are using a professional outdoor wedding venue, the clean-up costs will likely be factored into your rental agreement. However, if a friend or neighbor has been kind enough to loan you the use of their property, enlist a clean-up professional or put together a team. You don’t want to leave trash or messes behind. You may also need to move things back to where they were.

Thank-you’s

Print up some fun thank-you cards with your pictures and make sure you get those thank-you’s sent out!

We hope your special day is fun and exciting. Congratulations!