Come rain or shine
From pristine beaches to the bush, we have some of the world’s most beautiful wedding destinations on our doorstep. But there’s much more to planning an outdoor celebration than hoping for the best: you have to prepare for the worst.
You’ve always dreamed of saying your vows in the dappled shade of a giant baobab and dancing the night away under a starlit sky. As fate would have it, your big day dawns with heavy rain warnings. After a few unnerving moments, plan B is seamlessly put into place and your wedding celebrations go off without a hitch. You’re so happy you’ve long forgotten about the baobab and the open-air dance floor. But let’s say, apart from keeping your fingers crossed for luck, that there isn’t a solid plan B. Well Bridey, let’s not dwell on the negative but get down to the nitty gritty as the real key to outdoor wedding success is step-by-step preparation.
Weigh up the location’s pros and cons.
In the bush
The pros: Getting married in the dappled shade of a giant baobab; a romantic dance floor lit up by lanterns and candles; less stress as most game lodges are equipped to host weddings and know what they’re doing; no extra hiring costs as everything’s included in the overall package (except the photographer and DJ).
The cons: Hot and sticky summer days with a good chance of thunderstorms in the afternoons; cold winter nights; mosquitoes and creepy-crawlies (avoid malaria areas, especially in summer); travel and accommodation costs.
At a wine farm
The pros: The choice of wine farms that offer all-inclusive wedding packages and experienced coordinators; the views; the vino at cellar price.
The cons: Wine farms can be extremely hot and dry in the summer months; in the winter months the prices might be low (yes, that’s a pro), but you’ll have to allow for rain and cold weather; travel and accommodation costs.
In a garden
The pros: Getting married at your family home is a sentimental option; there’s no venue hire; more space and fewer guest list constraints.
The cons: Hiring everything from the podium to the portable loos; noise restrictions in a residential area; the cost of a good marquee (it can be more than a venue); dealing with the clean-up afterwards.
On the beach
The pros: Saying your vows in the sand with gentle waves lapping at your feet; minimal decor required; breathtaking photographs.
The cons: High chances of wind and/or rain mean extra hiring costs of tables, chairs and a canopy; hair messed up by the wind; pesky seagulls and sandflies; beach permit hassles; travel and accommodation costs.
Have a Plan B
Check that your venue has an indoor alternative and how it will affect your budget to have both good and bad weather options available on the day. Ask about two-in-one packages; and include a canopy or tent for the ceremony in your budget. If you have your heart set on a venue that has no indoors, put a deposit down on a marquee that’s strong enough to handle wind and rain (beware of dodgy bargains!).
Download a reliable weather app so you can monitor the weather closely, but if you wake up and it’s drizzling, don’t wait until your guests start arriving to implement plan B. Be decisive and trust your wedding planner to make the right decision by a certain time and that plan B actually works and can accommodate all your guests, for example.
Keep your guests happy
Your guests are the people you’ve chosen to celebrate this momentous occasion with and they must be well looked after throughout the day.
Lack of seating is a common mistake, usually at casual or cocktail party weddings. Ensure there’s more than enough seating at the ceremony and reception, and inform guests beforehand if you think they’ll be more comfortable in flat shoes than heels.
Shade is essential. Do a site check with your photographer at the same time your ceremony will take place to see where the sun lies. You don’t want guests squinting or your first photos as husband and wife to be unflattering because of harsh light. Ask your photographer to suggest alternative locations in case of inclement weather.
If you’re planning an outdoor summer wedding, give your guests bottled water, parasols or fans, hats and sunscreen when they arrive. If there’s a hint of rain, keep a stash of umbrellas nearby. Our spring and autumn days can be mild, but temperatures plummet at night, so ensure heaters are set up inside the marquee or venue. Warn guests to bring warm jackets if you think it’s going to be cold and put out blankets or pashminas for them. Coffee and whisky stations warm guests up; cocktail and juice bars cool them down.
A beautiful view is one thing, but expecting your grandmother to climb hundreds of steps to get there, is another. Work on the flow from point A (ceremony) to point B (reception) and choose an easy route that doesn’t go past the venue’s bathrooms and kitchens. Hire transport for guests if the distance is too far, use pretty signs and lanterns to light up the paths and have waiters serve Canapés and bubbly along the way.
Think about yourself too: can you walk down the aisle in your (preferably) heel-protected shoes or do you need a carpet on the grass?
Avoid power struggles
Relying on a borrowed portable music system at any outdoor occasion is waaay too risky! Hire a reputable band or DJ with a top-notch sound system (cut back on your budget elsewhere if you need to).
Get your wedding planner or DJ to check the acoustics so everyone will be able to hear you. Crashing waves will drown out ceremony music and mics; so will the noisy tractor in the next-door vineyard.
Hire a generator in case there’s a power outage or if there’s no electricity at your venue. Your caterer will need one for a prep tent or mobile kitchen too.
Then there’s the issue of lighting: are there enough lanterns to light up the way to the bathrooms once the sun has set?
Ask your wedding coordinator for suggestions on how to combat the creepy-crawlies or chat to someone who knows the venue as the area may well have been sprayed with insecticide.
If you know there are going to be bugs about, try and limit them: give your guests insect repellents; line walkways with citronella candles and lanterns, and dot them around the reception (not on the tables as the smell tends to bother people). If you have electricity, put mosquito machines into all the closest plug points, install air-con in the kitchen area and keep doors open for air flow.
Ask your florist to incorporate natural pesticides such as lavender, mint, rosemary and thyme into your flower arrangements and bouquets. Or use potted herbs at each place setting and double them up as favours.
It’s advisable not to have a wedding in a malaria area (even a low-risk one). However, if your heart is set on it, you must suggest your guests take the necessary precautions.
Get the menu right
Johannesburg caterer Sandy Wood is renowned for her al fresco menus. In summer, she suggests avoiding dishes made with mayonnaise and leafy salads that wilt in the heat. “It’s better to serve cold dishes that can be whipped out at the last minute, so that they don’t end up looking and tasting like a soggy mess,” says Sandy. “Things like ice cream sound like a clever option to cool everyone down, but keeping it from melting is a nightmare,” she adds.
“If you’re getting married during the day, serve the cheeses and desserts later on so that they don’t sit outside in the heat all afternoon. Be careful of seafood: keep it in the fridge or on ice until your guests are ready to eat, or serve seafood canapés at the beginning of the reception and be done with it. The same goes for your wedding cake – it must be kept in a temperature-controlled spot until it’s ready to be sliced”. sandyskitchensa.com; @sandyskitchensa