We already know that, when it comes to COVID, outside is better! You can check out my whole post here on outdoor venues. 

2020 and 2021 will see more clients pivoting to backyard or at least outdoor weddings and receptions. I wanted to lay out some tips having done many backyard weddings and outdoor weddings over the past few months! 

Here’s some links to some private property/backyard weddings we’ve done before:
Maria and Jason
Tina and Joe 

1. Consider the weather!

Pittsburgh weather has been gorgeous this summer – but it typically rains a ton. So any plan you come up with – assume it will rain sideways. Get a tent (this is a good idea no matter the weather – people will want shade!) Also have available sides for the tent that can be installed/rolled down just in case. Have the tent installed several days in advance to make sure the ground under the tent stays dry (unless you are also doing flooring)

Do I really really need the tent? YES. Reserve it well in advance for popular dates – during COVID, tent rentals are flying off the shelves!

Because I’ve done lots of tent weddings, I would also give the advice to have the tent much much larger than you need due to weather – when it rains, people will naturally want to move their chairs away from the edge. The same goes for bright sun!

You’ll also need to rent heaters if your wedding is after mid-September. How late in the season can you have an outdoor wedding? It depends on the ability to heat the space, how late in the evening the wedding is, etc. The average high and low in Pittsburgh in November is 51 degrees for the high and 37 for the low. How early in the wedding season can you have an outdoor wedding? In April, the average daytime high is 61 and the average low is 41. Historically, I have said October 17th or so is the last safe outdoor weekend – but with COVID, I realize adjustments have to be made and with professionals, you can heat a space until mid-November. (Obviously still encourage good airflow)

When I was in Denmark in January, their outdoor heaters and big fluffy blankets for use in outdoor seating at restaurants was really cool to me – they had furs on the back of the chairs. It really made me stop and think about why we don’t do that here in the US – eat outside year round!

And speaking of good airflow, you will want fans. Air conditioning is also very welcome in the summer months – a quick Google search tells me a 40×60′ tent would cost $2400-3600 for air conditioning. This will be more important if there is no alternate source of A/C such as a cocktail hour space indoors.

Additionally, discuss with your tent rental company what may happen in high winds or lightning – I’ve seen a tent partially collapse before in some Florida winds!

In order to get guests to and from the areas on the property and possibly during an outdoor uncovered ceremony, you can buy umbrellas here on Amazon or here or at Ikea – Ikea in-store often has the best prices!

Also, decide how much indoor interaction you are comfortable with – do you want people going into your home if they’re hot/cold? Are you going to serve the buffet in there? Or for safety’s sake, do you want to keep everyone outside as much as possible?

2. Consider all your costs.

With a tented backyard wedding, you will need to rent everything from a dance floor to possibly a tent floor to linens, tables, chairs, glassware (some people say buying Ikea glassware is cheaper than renting!), silverware, plates, bartending/appetizer/buffet tables, and restroom trailers (yes, they are a thing – they are not port-a-johns – and they are awesome; it is recommended to have one stall per every 35 guests).

Can you run enough electric to the tent (safely) or are you going to need large generators?

Also, you may have costs to prepare the yard – to make it more attractive – freshening up the mulch beds, hanging string lights, prepping the fire pit. You need to think about lighting – it can get very dark on private property in the evening and you want to avoid anyone tripping and falling!

Another cost would be a day-of-coordinator and a set up team as well as staff to clean up and bus tables. When an event is outdoor, it cannot be as easily set up the night before – table cloths may blow away. Set up is done closer to the start of the reception in some cases and items can’t typically be left outside. So you will want to hire someone to do the set up. And if you have your heart set on detail shots, work with your photographer and consider adding a cocktail hour tent/area while roping off the main event tent to keep details pristine.

I have one more cost many don’t think of but could be necessary – you may need to have a pest company come out and spray for bugs! I once did a lovely sunset ceremony and as soon as the sun dipped just below the horizon in the field, you heard people slapping their arms and saw them jumping up from their chairs – the mosquitoes immediately came out and started biting! So provide bug spray and have the field bug bombed before the big day, especially if your home is on the water.

You also have to consider your catering – will they be able to set up a makeshift kitchen on the property? Will you have bartenders, who will bring the ice? (Note: It shouldn’t be you, your fiancee, any member of the wedding party, or your parents making ice runs that morning while trying to get ready!)

3. Consider your neighbors.

If you’re in a regular suburb, make sure to check in with them and let them know of your plans. Check in with the borough or township as well. Arrange parking (a nearby empty field? A church?) and get the necessary permits. Check on noise restrictions as well – what time does the music have to be off? Can we use the neighbors’ yards for photos if yours is full with the tent and wedding items?

Be realistic about how many people your yard can hold comfortably – I have a typical suburban backyard and I’d say here, 25 max if I wanted to allow good space for social distancing! Most tent rental companies will come out and guide you on what they can do for you – have them do a site visit consultation.

You might want to invite the neighbors over if you have the guest space!

4. Consider your personalities and those of your guests and close family!

Is your fiance(e) always roasting and sweating? Is your bride to be miserable when it gets cold? Are your guests huge air conditioning dwellers or do you guys love camping and hiking? Make sure you can roll with the punches and that this wedding lines up with your style! You might want to consider your fashion/beauty choices too – keep your dress light and your hair up if it’s going to be hot!

You can really lean into the outdoor wedding idea and serve barbecue or have a seafood boil as dinner!

Make sure your property is accessible for all guests, including those with mobility challenges. A tent at the bottom of a big hill that gets tons of runoff when it rains is going to be a tough situation for many guests! And also securely cover and separate any pools or water features if you have little ones that may wander during the wedding.

5. Bonus Tip: Save the dances for the twilight – have an evening summer wedding!

If your wedding is in the summer or on a sunny day and you’ve spent some money on lights and lighting, you may wish to wait on your dances and toasts until the sun is going down if you want the lights to really appear in the photos. Tent weddings can sometimes have challenges for photography – say the sun is shining in one stripe right along the middle of the dance floor, for example – you might want to wait until the light is more even and all guests can comfortably see the dance without squinting! Also, more guests tend to dance when it is dark outside versus broad daylight – they feel more comfortable getting down when they’re less visible!

What if your backyard doesn’t quite fit the bill? I know mine doesn’t, so I started looking at some big rental houses! Want to rent a big old house for a destination wedding, bachelorette party, shower, or a friends’ trip? I put together a list of rental homes in western PA that might work perfectly for events! If you book from the AirBnB link here, I get a few dollars, but it doesn’t cost you anything extra!

It’s important to always ask the home owner if they allow events such as weddings to be held (some list it right in their AirBnb description that they allow it for a small extra fee) and ask what their policy is on large gatherings! Also, check out nearby AirBnb’s and hotels for other guests if you all don’t want to share one big place all weekend!

Harris House in Randall Reserve – Stahlstown, PA (near Donegal) 

My Whole List of AirBnb’s for Events that I have found through Googling and seeing previous weddings there as well as a place we just stayed in last week (Tidoute log cabin with hot tub right on the river, about two hours from Pittsburgh!)

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