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Most recent posting below. See other articles in the column to the right.

The Inside Track on Outside Events

Congratulations! You got the ring. You decided to "take the plunge." Now what happens?

One of the first issues to be determined is "where?" Where will the wedding ceremony take place? Where will the reception be held?

For some, a long-standing involvement with a religious institution, country club, catering establishment or fire company banquet hall may determine the answer. But for a growing number of brides and grooms, the prospect of creating an event that is unique to them, coupled with the allure of less traditional venues has great appeal. Backyards, usually considered first, are taking a back seat to favorite locations such as wineries, bed & breakfasts, arboretums, museums, aquariums, and zoos. Offbeat locations for weddings and receptions have been health clubs, nightclubs, tennis courts, horse farms, bowling alleys, and even junk yards.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors driving these non-traditional choices. First is diversity. With so many interfaith wedding ceremonies it can be difficult to find a location that will allow his rabbi to conduct a ceremony with her minister, or her priest with his mullah. Rather than choose between his church and her temple, it may be easier to avoid a building altogether and choose a neutral spot.

Second, couples are getting married later. They are more independent and better established, more willing to experiment. The result is greater freedom to plan an event that reflects their personality and interests, and a greater likelihood that the event may be held outside of traditional venues and just plain "outside."

Should your event be held outside? There are four elements to consider.

  1. Importance of place. If a part of your back yard evokes wonderful memories of childhood, if a garden, back-to-the-earth site feels like magic to you, or if you don’t want to be confined by a traditional four-walled banquet room, you’re a good candidate for an outside event.
  2. Cost conscious. If your intent is to spend the least, an outside event is not for you. Think of it this way. Virtually all the equipment you need: Chairs, tables, cooking and serving equipment, food, beverages and staff, must be transported to and from most sites. That process is labor intensive and presents many logistical challenges. A banquet hall has the same equipment and staff, but no transportation costs.
  3. Flexibility. Most wedding facilities require that you fit into their schedule and budget limitations. If you want to be in charge of the timing and schedule of your event, and want greater flexibility in menu and décor selections, you will likely prefer an outside event.
  4. Creativity. If decision-making is difficult, or if you’re easily overwhelmed by a variety of choices, you are better off in a facility that offers two or three "packages" with relatively few decisions to make. If, on the other hand, you are inquisitive, creative, and "want what you want," an outside event is the perfect opportunity for you to participate in a wonderful process to share a bit of yourself with your guests.

Event/Wedding Planner vs. Do-It-Yourself

OK, you’ve decided to create an outside event, one that draws from your experience, your judgments, and your taste. With available resources as diverse as your future mother-in-law, Martha Stewart, reality TV shows, and the entire Internet, why should you need help from an experienced event planner? The primary answers are time and knowledge.

Over the years, in working with dozens of couples that handled all the details of their outside wedding, it’s been observed they have one thing in common. When asked about their experience, they all say that being their own event planner was a mistake. The amount of time and effort, both mental and physical, left them exhausted and emotionally drained. In some cases, it interfered with their ability to enjoy their special day or the honeymoon that followed.

The good news is there are numerous resources in our area that can help create an event consistent with your vision. Even better news is that because of their experience and knowledge an event planner may save you money as well as time. Whether they call themselves party planners, event coordinators, bridal consultants, site decorators, caterers, or rental specialists, there are a large number of talented, energetic people who are motivated to help make your event special.

There are several ways to find qualified people to help plan and stage your event:

Three professional industry organizations have directories to help find member listings in your area:

There are also numerous associations representing bridal and wedding consultants. They tend to be focused on the ceremony and may be less familiar with the requirements for outside events.

Yellow page listings to check are:

Party & Event Planning Service
Rental Service Stores
Tents or Tents-Renting

The most important resource is "word of mouth." Ask your friends, your parents, your friends’ parents, co-workers, and other vendors. The odds are, you will get names of reputable companies, and you may also get some great ideas from some who have "been there, done that."

The most important factor is to select someone you like. Obviously you want to work with someone who has a good reputation, a solid track record, insurance coverage, and a referral list, but picking someone you like to spend time with will save you considerable stress when you get to the trauma of "crunch time."

Weather or Not?

Are you a gambler? On average, we have great weather in our region from May through October. The challenge is that there are about one or two days per month when the weather we experience gets far outside the range of "average."

The following chart shows Weather Mean Normals for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Note that while we get about 20 sunny days each month, we get some rainfall nearly 10 days each month, with severe rain and severe wind approximately one day each month. Note also the frequency of thunderstorms, which can be brief, but devastating in their severity.

Weather Mean Normals for Philadelphia, PA
    Precipitation   Sunshine Temperature Wind
Month > 0.01" > 1.00" Thunderstorms % Possible > 90 degrees 5-second Max
May 11.7 0.8 4.1 56 1.3 59
June 10.0 0.8 5.2 62 4.6 71
July 9.4 1.3 5.4 61 10.5 46
Aug 8.4 1.2 5.0 62 7.3 52
Sep 9.1 1.1 2.5 59 1.6 46
Oct 8.0 0.7 0.8 59 0.0 55

If weather is your motivation for having a tent, you may be missing an important point. A tent does much more than provide protection from the weather.

What does a tent do?

It provides your party or event a place, an environment.
It provides a backdrop for your artistic design. After all it’s a big white canvas.
It brings people together.
It evokes romantic images many of us have from our youth, a circus big top, a setting from the Arabian nights, a King Arthur round table, or dare we say, a wedding.
It provides for the temporary infrastructure required by major events, such as flooring, lighting, décor, heat, air conditioning, audio visual, and security.
And, once in a while, it provides protection from inclement weather.

That’s asking a lot of a temporary structure made primarily out of thin fabric. Tents are a bit like automobiles in that there are many different styles and price ranges available.

To select an appropriate tent, you should request the help of an experienced professional. After conducting a survey of your needs and the available site potential, he or she can advise you of the various options available. Make sure you have considered the aesthetic and safety aspects. Review options that may be available. Question the "what if’s" concerning the possibility of severe weather.

The most important advice?

Above all else, on the day of your wedding, have fun and don’t sweat the details. Your guests won’t notice the 1001 details and decisions that have gone into making your event unique and special. If one or two of those details go wrong, just smile and know that if you don’t tell your guests, they will never know. What they will know and appreciate is that you have chosen to share yourself and your special day with them.

David R. VanDenburgh
Adams Party Rental

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