This Is Exactly What You Need to Do to Plan a Successful Outdoor Wedding

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chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated May 08, 2023

There's something indescribable about an outdoor wedding: The unparalleled beauty of a rocky ocean shore, a romantic botanical garden, and the warm familiarity of your own backyard makes for an unforgettable day. But as gorgeous as these sites are, there's also a significant amount of legwork and orchestration that goes into planning an alfresco celebration. It's totally worth it since The Knot Real Weddings Study, which surveyed nearly 12,000 married couples, revealed that 58% of couples had their ceremony outdoors and 17% had their reception in the elements.

To guide you during your planning process, we asked Claudia Hoste, owner and designer of Hoste Events based in California, to give us expert tips on how you can make your day special. From the lighting to the catering, here's how to pull off a flawless ceremony and reception with our outdoor wedding checklist to ensure you don't miss a thing while creating your oasis.

In this article:

Outdoor Wedding Weather Considerations

Having an outside wedding is a priority for many couples. Our study found that 25% of couples said holding some or all of the reception outdoors was the most important when deciding which venue to contact. But you need to think realistically about whether an outdoor wedding is the best idea for you. The season your wedding is in is a big part of that decision. Our rule of thumb is if you would be uncomfortable in the elements then your guests will be too. But if you wondering how cold is too cold and how hot is too hot for an outdoor wedding, we suggest you don't have an outdoor affair if extreme weather usually occurs during that time of year. So if there is high humidity and temperatures, strong winds, freezing temperatures or more than one inch of snow, have your wedding indoors.

And even if you feel like your wedding is during a temperate time of year, you should still have a backup plan. "Always have a backup plan for all three phases of the wedding. Talk with your planner in advance about what that will look like on the day if it rains and more. And as you get closer to the day, you should rent a tent, especially if you are fully outdoors. If you wait too late to rent, everyone's going to want tents, and rental companies often sell out," Hoste explains.

Outdoor Wedding Attire Considerations

You want to be as comfortable as possible on your special day, so you must consider how the weather will impact your outfit choices. For weddings happening in warmer months, we suggest wearing breathable fabrics, flowy shirts or dresses and backless numbers. For weddings during colder months, we think shawls, pantsuits and thick fabrics are best. Talk with your wedding stylist about the best ways to stay cool or warm in the most fashionable way possible.

Outdoor Wedding Food & Drink Considerations

To keep flies away, food hot and drinks cold at your outdoor wedding reception, we suggest oscillating fans, chafing fuel if the kitchen isn't indoors and plenty of ice and coolers for the drinks. But there are other specific requirements for outside catering, Hoste breaks down what those are. "In general, caterers need to be as close to the dinner service as possible for the hottest food and for the service to be on point. They have to have good access to electricity and water. Plus, the area they work in must be spacious and covered to safely prepare the food for the guests," says the wedding expert.

If your wedding venue has no indoor facilities or kitchen, you'll need a generator. "Having a generator is definitely an initial venue question. Some venues are built to be wedding venues because they have electrical in specific areas. However, I have done weddings, where we just rented an open field. So in those cases, you do have to hire an electrical company that can bring in the generator and set up all the lighting," Hoste says.

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How to Plan an Outdoor Wedding

Now it's time to get into the specifics of planning an outdoor wedding. Read these helpful eight steps to making your event thrive.

1. Be prepared for anything.

    While you can't change the weather, you can still try to best prepare for it. When it comes to your outdoor wedding setup, think about how the weather could impact you and your guests. As mentioned above, tents can help shield your guests from the rain, but you may also want to provide umbrellas to keep your guests dry when moving from location to location. If you think it may get chilly, set up heat fans and have cozy blankets on hand for your guests. But if it's the heat you're worried about, rent some industrial fans and give out paper hand fans as party favors to keep your guests cool.

    2. Think about extras and rent them.

      Since tents are virtually a blank canvas, you'll likely need to bring in some extra touches to finish your outdoor wedding look. Luckily, there are tons of rental design options available—textured curtains and tiebacks, funky chandeliers and colorful cushions. Curious about if you need a dance floor or aisle runner for an outdoor wedding? The answer is yes. You will need those rentals as well, depending on what amenities your venue offers. Decide what elements are most important to you, and then figure out how to fit the items at the top of your list and into your budget.

      Remember to find out the return policy for each rental vendor you work with. For example, companies sometimes require that votives and glassware be cleaned and boxed before being taken back––fines can are added if directions aren't followed. Make an organized plan with your wedding coordinator or honor attendant to decide who will be responsible for taking care of this—then be sure to work it into the wedding schedule.

      Also, reserve the site for your wedding day and the morning after. (Find out if the venue offers a package deal or how much each additional hour will cost.) With tent and rental setup, not to mention flowers and décor, your team or pros will need extra time to set up—and tear down—the site.

      3. Tell your guests that you're having an outdoor wedding.

        Inform your guests of your outdoor wedding on your invitations and wedding website so they can know what environment they will be in and what attire to wear. "I always say, 'Communicate, communicate, communicate!' Whether that's on the website or by word of mouth. I think on the website, it's important to not only let them know things like temperature but also if the ceremony and dinner are on a grassy hill. Are they going to have to walk on gravel? Is it at the beach? Communicate those things on the website and what the guests can experience, in case they need to wear flats, for example. Let them know what to expect when they arrive at the venue," Hoste says.

        4. Make your outdoor celebration inviting.

          If you're unsure where to have your outside wedding, use The Knot Marketplace to help aid your search. But if you're already booked (and busy) and have chosen a rustic spot in the woods, a small backyard or a grand, grassy lawn for your outdoor venue, make it more inviting and comfortable with lounge furniture and lots of pillows. If you don't have room to bring in couches and plush chairs, arrange your dining area with smaller four-person reception tables instead of larger eight or 10-person tables to create a more intimate look and feel.

          And, of course, have fun with the decorating. Drape fabric from the tent's ceiling to soften the space or to create sectioned-off "rooms." Hang pomanders from the frame's cross sections and add other details to welcome guests and enhance your wedding's unique design. After all, the more you bring into your tent, the warmer and cozier it will feel. Colored linens, vibrant up-lighting and quirky knickknacks set a one-of-a-kind vibe.

          Also, don't assume that your guests will find their way around. If your reception site is home to the ceremony and cocktail hour, ensure there's a natural flow between the spaces. You may need to add signs directing guests from the ceremony to the reception and pointing out the restrooms.

          5. Keep pesky bugs away.

            "I would always talk to your venue about what bugs are active in the area and what time of day so you know how to mitigate them. There are also online sites that say by region what bug issues happen at what time of the year. You really have to dig a bit because not all bugs are an issue at all times of the year, and not all bugs are at the same times during the day," Hoste suggests. So once you figure out what the bug or issue might be, have a basket of bug wipes, but Hoste advises couples to avoid sprays since they're a little messy. To keep bugs at bay during your wedding day, think about having your site sprayed by an exterminator two days beforehand and invest in citronella candles. "They can be placed in lanterns or torches, which make them functional and pretty right––your guests won't even realize," Hoste says.

            6. Rent nice restrooms for your outdoor space.

              Even if there are brick-and-mortar restrooms nearby, you might still want to consider renting them—and no, you don't need to consider porta-potties (unless you prefer them). You can find luxury portable restrooms with amenities like in-room music, granite countertops and air conditioning or heaters, depending on the season. You'll want to include subtle extras like luxe soaps, fresh flowers and monogrammed towels. The general rule of thumb is to have one bathroom or stall for every 35 guests. This way, guests will spend less time standing in line and more time partying on the dance floor.

              "Please don't cut corners here. It seems funny to say this, but you should splurge on bathrooms because it really affects your guests' perception of the overall day. This is one of the points where guests feel like they were thought of in this instance," Hoste says.

              7. Take advantage of the natural scenery.

                One of the major reasons you're probably choosing to do an outdoor wedding ceremony or reception is because you're inspired by the natural elements of your venue, so don't take away from it. "My design approach is to remain true to the space. So if you have sweeping views, don't block them. Don't create walls that block the gorgeous view since you booked it for that reason. Don't try to make it something it's not," Hoste advises.

                Stay simple when possible. Maybe you're setting up in a garden or an outdoor area with lots of green space. Incorporate the natural scenery into your decor. Add comfortable seating in the garden and play with the greenery as a backdrop for photos. Hang decorations from tree branches or include clippings from the wildflowers on your table settings.

                8. Have multiple spaces to entertain your guests.

                  One of the most important thing Hoste wants to-be-weds to put on their outdoor wedding checklist is booking outdoor and indoor areas for guests to see and relax in. "Outdoor weddings can have the most beautiful backdrops for the ceremony and reception, but I always have couples remember that once the sun goes down, you lose the view. So if you have an indoor space available, I suggest moving the party inside so you can enjoy all the benefits of being inside. Plus, I think it's always fun to have people see different spaces throughout the night." If there isn't an indoor option, Hoste says you should ensure you have great lighting for safety and showcasing some of the views.

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