On 15 March the Government has announced that outdoors weddings at licensed venues in England and Wales will be legalised. This change was introduced as a temporary measure during the pandemic; the fact that it has now been made permanent has received overwhelming support from the public and the wedding industry. Gone are the days when weddings were only allowed outdoors if they took place in an outdoor structure, such as a bandstand, or even a boat. Now any approved premises can hold the entire ceremony outdoors.
For anyone who is planning an outdoors ceremony this summer, there will be a number of pros and cons.
Al Fresco Advantages
•You can choose a beautiful and picturesque venue, which will provide a memorable backdrop for your wedding pictures, and will be a talking point for your guests.
•If you’re on a tight budget, you can allow Mother Nature to carry the brunt of the costs. A stunning setting, well-stocked flowerbeds, stately trees, or views of open countryside or coastline will all mean that you need minimal decoration.
•Numbers will be much more flexible – the great outdoors will mean that you are not subjected to irksome restrictions, except on the grounds of costs.
•Outdoors weddings are excellent for children and families. Kids can play freely without interfering too much with the adult proceedings (even avoiding the ceremony itself, as long as they’re supervised), meaning that your guests will be much more relaxed. Guests might even be able to bring their dogs.
•Logistics are minimised by holding the ceremony and reception in the same place. Once guests have arrived for the ceremony they’ll be there for the long haul, and you won’t have to organise complex transport arrangements.
Al Fresco Disadvantages
•Weather is obviously the primary consideration. The main risk is rain, and you will have to make provision for this in all your planning (see below). You should also be aware that your wedding day might be unseasonably cool, and guests might not have come fully provisioned with coats, wraps etc.
•Wind can be a real pest, especially during the ceremony. No bride wants her carefully styled hair or wedding outfit to be blown into disarray by a sudden gust of wind, and the celebrant will be irritated if the wedding register goes flying. You will need to think about windbreaks and protective shelters for the wedding party.
•At a large outdoors venue you will run the risk of the wedding party becoming dispersed and non-focused. You will need to work hard to create dedicated spaces (for sitting, chatting, eating, listening to music or speeches), otherwise you will spend most of your day marshalling the disorientated crowds.
•If your dream wedding is a super sophisticated occasion, where everyone looks sleek and well-groomed and the table settings are impeccable, think carefully about an outdoors venue. You will have to accept that the weather is completely outside your control, and can easily wreak havoc, and therefore outdoors weddings are better suited to couples who prefer a more relaxed, bucolic and improvisational mood.
•You will need to investigate the world of marquees, pagodas, pavilions and gazebos to ensure that there is always shelter provided for guests and the wedding party. When planning an outdoors wedding, flexibility is key. If it is a beautiful sunny day your guests won’t want to be cooped up in a marquee for the wedding ceremony, although they might appreciate it during a sit-down lunch, or in the late afternoon and evening, when the weather cools down. It is best to plan two or three different scenarios, which you can review and adapt 48 hours before the wedding, when weather forecasts are accurate and you know what to expect.
•Even if the weather is clement, consider some sort of open-sided structure for the wedding party and the celebrant during the actual ceremony. You might be lucky enough to find a venue that offers a permanent structure, such as a bandstand or pergola. If not, investigate open-sided gazebos, which will protect the main players from the rain, wind and sun, and can be decorated with draped fabrics to make a stunning visual focus.
•With the wedding taking place outside, you will need to create an eye-catching ceremonial space for the main event. Try and choose a sheltered spot with a beautiful backdrop. Use a decorated gazebo as the main focal point, arrange the guests’ chairs accordingly, ensuring all eyes are drawn to centre-stage. You might want to create an ‘aisle’ for the bride’s entrance; you can use a carpet, or you can demarcate the walkway with plant stands or light fixtures. Try and choose a complementary theme for your gazebo and chairs – drape them in matching fabric, or use coordinated flower arrangements. The main aim is to create a special space, which is an appropriate stage for the ritual that will take place there.
•It might be wise to consider dotting temporary gazebos around your venue. They will serve as useful spots where guests can retreat to escape boiling sun or driving rain, or just provide a quiet space where they can sit down away from the social maelstrom – this is particularly useful for older guests.
•Use a profusion of inexpensive fairy lights and solar lights to transform your daytime outdoors venue into a magical night-time venue. Ensure that paths leading to the main facilities (bars, toilets, the marquee) are well-lit.
•Think about providing cosy sheepskins or woollen blankets to guests who are shivering as the night draws in. Being able to wrap up warm will ensure that the reception does not falter because of the drop in temperature.
•Tell guests what to expect. You should send out an information sheet with your wedding invitations. As well as the usual advice – directions, parking facilities, local hotels and so on – try and give your guests as much guidance about your open air venue as possible. Explain exactly where/what it is (you don’t want people turning up expecting a secluded and sheltered garden and finding themselves on a windblown cliff top). If you think that your venue requires them to wear special clothes or footwear, just say – stiletto-wearing guests, for example, would be understandably annoyed if they found they had to navigate a rocky and precipitous path to get to the ceremony venue. Explain that you will have facilities in case of inclement weather. You can even tell them to bring warm clothing so that they’re comfortable when night falls. Forewarned is forearmed and guests will appreciate the lowdown.
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