Photo by Tom The Photographer.
The moment has happened – you’re engaged, you’ve found your life-long partner, you’ve shared your exciting news with family, friends, colleagues and maybe even updated your social media profile. So, with bubbling excitement, you’re ready to make your next big decision – your venue!
You may already know it has to be an outdoor venue; you have a dream of your day being held beside water – a lakeside lawn or a hill side loch – in the shadows of a castle, with a breathtaking view, somewhere with sentimental value or you’re both not quite sure as your dreams differ. Whatever you choose, your day will be yours.
Bill Douetil the owner’s son at Busbridge Lakes, a hidden jewel outdoor venue in a magical valley in the beautiful Surrey Hills and the home to one of the largest collections of water birds in the country, shares with us his tips for when looking to view an outdoor venue.
Notes from Bill at Busbridge Lakes
Before you rush off and view lots of venues, it’s important to save your time and energy (after all, you’re only just starting your journey). Pause for a moment, create a shortlist and really prepare yourselves. Especially with outdoor venues, you may need to travel further and only be able to view on certain days, at more restricted times and certainly only in day-light hours.
To help with this some prior research is key. Where possible talk to others who have been to an outdoor occasion and start building a criteria of your requirements. Contact the venues for further information and narrow them down to a select few and only then arrange a viewing.
The most important thing is to know what you want, or at least to know where you are unsure.
Before you set up a viewing
Wherever you are, weather can be changeable and sometimes seasonally unpredictable. Look at historic forecasts for around the location, this should give you some idea of what might happen. You should always have a weather contingency – ask the venue what their options are.
Tip: Historic river levels are a great indicator of heavy rain periods in a year. One absolute must for an outdoor wedding in the UK, is a marquee tent or tipi.
Really think about this up front. Use an online route/distance planner – if you arrive at your viewing and think that it’s really too far for everybody, then hang your head in shame.
Tip: Think laterally as well – do some research on the area and see if there are any big events on around your date and nearby – you really do not want your guests to be competing with the traffic for a large festival or sporting event.
Number of guests
Likewise, try and form an idea of how many guests you wish to invite, how they may be travelling to the venue and how flexible you are on this. Check prior to viewing with the venue on their capacity and access restrictions. This element will also be critical in your budgeting.
Tip: With regards to capacity, the limitation may not be the actual venue size, but access restrictions – for example car parking or coach access.
Decide if you are set on a very firm date or if you are prepared to compromise. Try and approach this with a more open mind, but if your date is set in-stone, make sure you check availability before viewing.
Tip: Your preference of the type of outdoor venue may allow you an unlimited choice, but also could be more restrictive with the number of days and seasons available.
Numbers & Logistics
- Budget – check you can really afford what you are after. Choosing an outdoor venue, does not necessarily mean it will cost more than an indoor venue, but there are added components to be mindful of.
- Venue hire fee – most often there is a standalone fee for just the venue space.
- Marquee – sometimes this may be included in the venue hire fee, but most often this is a separate element (Check list: Tent, linings, catering tent, flooring, dance floor, tables, chairs, bar unit, lighting, heating/cooling, generator, loos, fire extinguishers + other accessories).
- Catering – this will be similar to an indoor venue, but with the add on of catering equipment hire and the option for them to clear up your empties (Check list: Food, serving staff, tableware, bar service, licence & clear up + catering equipment).
- Surcharges – for example to ‘go off’ a supplier list – check what/if any surcharges there are.
Don’t forget as with any type of venue in UK to check if VAT needs to be added (some may not have to charge VAT) and if the dreaded corkage will be charged.
Tip: Typically your charges will be based as follows:
- Venue hire = overall number attending or fixed fee
- Marquee hire = maximum numbers at any stage
- Catering = overall number dining
An outdoor ceremony is becoming a lot more popular and an article in itself. In quick summary, your marriage will only be legally binding in UK if the venue has a civil licence for a pre–determined area. In Scotland the rules are less restrictive. So, make sure you check what options are on offer.
Tip: Many outdoor venues do not hold a licence and a growing popular way to achieve your dream of an outdoor ceremony, is to ‘do the paper work’ (prior or after) at a registry office and then hold a Celebrant, Humanist ceremony or simply a blessing.
At the viewing
You may well be visiting the venue at a totally different time of year, to your planned day – ask how it will look, what flowers and foliage will be out, what the insect life will be like, how things would run with adverse weather (for example; in snow or on a very hot day) and better still, ask to see some photos.
Tip: Make sure you dress appropriately for your viewing! If it’s raining, take some wellies!
One of the major benefits of an outdoor location is you can really make it your own and there are countless ways you can achieve this. To gain inspiration ask what has been done before and to avoid disappointment check how the flow of your day will work and what restrictions are in place – the very nature of outdoor venues means there are likely to be some.
Tip: Areas to consider are: Style of marquees – tipi, stretch tent, pole tent & clear span; Interiors – flowers, foliage, bunting, ball bells, tableware & cloths, menus, seating plans, bars, chill out and children areas, drinks and sweet stations and other props and décor; Exterior – garden furniture, hay bales, food or drink vans, musicians, fair rides, fête stalls, outdoor activities and garden games.
Facilities & Team
Find out what facilities the venue offers de facto including accommodation, bridal room, on-site team, storage/utilities and what you will need to hire in or find elsewhere. Many outdoor venues will offer some or all, but others like a field venue may offer none at all.
Tip: Check what is available not just for the day, but also for the set up and take down periods. If no team is available on-site you should be able to engage a wedding planner who can simply help you on the day or for part or all of your whole journey.
Etiquette & Manners
Finally remember the adage ‘the more you give, the more you will get’. By all means negotiate with the venue, but be respectful, fair and realistic. Also, be on time for your viewing, or if you are running late or cannot make your viewing, always give as much notice as possible.
Tip: If you’re asking for a wedding viewing, it’s courteous you are actually engaged and in the midst of venue hunting. Also really consider the venue you’re about to view and if it suits. Busbridge Lakes is a bird sanctuary and you’d think someone with a bird phobia might not book a viewing – but it happened!
So there you have it, everything to consider for viewing an outdoor wedding venue! If you feel like you need more, then a good outdoor venue should have resources to help you with all of this – a great place to start is to ask to see their Frequently Asked Questions or Fact Sheet.