During the warmer months, many people like to take advantage of the venue an outdoor backdrop provides. Without careful planning, the differences can be difficult to navigate. Penny Rabinowitz, a seasoned event planner, has extensive experience in all types of events, including entertaining outdoors, and spoke to The Jewish Link with her advice on how to make any outdoor event successful. Rabinowitz is well-equipped to guide in this department. Many families who live in the United States ask her to plan their smachot in Israel from a distance, and the majority choose an outdoor venue in some of the most incredible settings. But as magnificent as those settings are, it takes quite a bit of forethought in order to be assured a successful outdoor event. Below Rabinowitz provides tips in some of the areas that will help make any “outdoor soireé” as stress-free as possible.
“Music is an important element in setting the mood for outdoor entertaining,” said Rabinowitz. She explained that informal entertaining such as a barbecue or backyard party will have different music needs than a wedding or other formal event will require. For a backyard party, no host wants to be stuck monitoring the music. “Choose a decade, like the ‘60s or ‘70s, and create a playlist that you can simply leave and forget about,” she suggested, thereby eliminating the need for the host to double as a DJ.
When it comes to weddings and outdoor chupah ceremonies, be sure to seat your musicians in the shade. Not only for the comfort of each musician, which is important for the music quality, but because of the fact that heat and sun can damage their instruments. Rabinowitz recounted a story of an outdoor chupah where the musicians sounded off key due to the amount of moisture that penetrated their instruments.
When selecting musicians, Rabinowitz said it is vital that they be seasoned and experienced in performing outdoors as sound will not carry as far outside as it does in an enclosed hall. Additional microphones will be needed, as well as strategic placement of sound equipment. For any-size event, “it is crucial to make sure the location has an electrical source,” she said. This is a detail that may often be overlooked in the planning, but can cause unnecessary stress at the time of the event.
Many people think lighting is only important for indoor parties. Rabinowitz explained that lighting not only sets the tone by creating ambiance, it also defines the space. For informal parties you can line the perimeter of your outdoor space with Tiki torches, lanterns or even sandbags with candles so guests know where the party is and they don’t wander off to different areas.
Regarding lighting for a day-into-night outdoor chupah ceremony, there are many things to consider.
A big part of the reason Rabinowitz’s clients prefer the outdoors is for pretty photos. Natural light is a photographer’s dream, and if your wedding will take place throughout the day, you’ll get the full spectrum of afternoon sun followed by sunset and nighttime. The trick isn’t just finding a beautiful location, but also about coordinating a time of the day for the best possible lighting.
If the chupah ceremony will occur around noon in the summer, it should take place in open shade (i.e., behind a building or under a large tree). If there are no areas with open shade, individual parasols should be distributed to the guests or the ceremony should be moved to a later time when the sun isn’t directly overhead. If your ceremony is in open shade or around sunset time, it is bound to be gorgeous.
Location, location, location is just as important to hosting an outdoor event as it is to where one buys real estate! As an event planner in Israel, the climate is fairly predictable from around March through October and therefore conducive to hosting outdoor smachot. Outdoor events in much of California can also be al fresco most of the year. The East Coast, however, is a different story, where the weather is often unpredictable. Wherever the venue, Rabinowitz encourages her clients to “always prepare a backup plan in case of bad weather. Even if the weather does not call for rain, sunny weather combined with extreme heat can lead to cranky guests.” The backup plan “should be worked out in advance so you aren’t in a panic last minute.” Rabinowitz recounted the story of an outdoor chupah ceremony that got rained out, and years later the guests still refer to it as the “chupah in the rain.” Rabinowitz always tells brides who insist on an outdoor chupah that the guests’ comfort is the most important consideration because people will always remember their discomfort and not the beauty of the wedding they attended.
In order to make the great outdoors as comfortable a setting as possible, Rabinowitz suggested small details that can help ease everyone’s discomfort so they remember how beautiful the simcha is rather than how uncomfortable.
On sweltering afternoons, a great idea is to greet guests with cool drinks and handheld fans (which can double as favors). If the option exists, put up huge beach umbrellas to provide shade. Floral arrangements should be put out at the last possible moment, and a staging area should be set up by the caterer or florist (a garage or tent with climate control) to protect flowers from the heat.
Food at an outdoor simcha requires special attention when planning a menu. A common mistake is planning a too-complicated selection. Food can melt and spoil in the heat. So what is a recommended recipe for menu success? “Believe it or not, serving as much hot food from carving and cooking stations as possible not only makes preparation easier, but you won’t have to worry about spoilage,” advised Rabinowitz.
While bugs are hopefully not part of a menu, their presence can certainly impact how guests enjoy their meal. It is recommended to hire an exterminator to spray for insects two days in advance and use citronella candles or rechargeable portable bug zappers during the event. As Rabinowitz said, “The last thing you want is for flies and bees to attack—not just guests, but the food on the tables.”
Weddings and bar or bat mitzvahs often have “comfort stations” with well-stocked baskets of items for incidentals, whether it’s a nail file, spare stockings, pain medicine or other necessities. For an outdoor event this is just as important, though the contents of the basket may differ. “Provide the essentials,” said Rabinowitz. “Don’t expect your guests to remember to bring sunglasses, sunscreen and mosquito repellent.” She recommends that hosts keep a supply of these items in comfort stations, as well as having a cold water or drink station accessible.
To maximize guests’ ability to mingle, lounge seating with groupings of couches and cocktail tables have become a popular addition to placement options today. She also advised that people set up multiple seating areas.
Power Supply and Illumination/Lighting
Rabinowitz reminds everyone that outdoor events require extra budget for power generators, special lighting, air conditioning or heating and tent flooring. This is an important planning detail to keep in mind when considering whether to hold an event indoors or outdoors.
Outdoor events come equipped with stunning views and great ambiance. When the weather is nice, most guests enjoy being outdoors. The natural beauty and scenery allow you to lighten up on the overall décor and take advantage of the natural surrounding as a beautiful backdrop. “Some outdoor venues, however, are like starting with a blank canvas,” Rabinowitz said, which means additional rental costs such as chairs, tables, tents and other details that can add up quickly.
Rabinowitz pointed out that many outdoor venues often don’t have proper parking areas close to the actual reception or ceremony site. “Valet services are crucial in these cases and ensure that guests won’t have to traipse for miles to get to your ceremony,” she said. She also added that this alleviates the problem of driving around residential areas looking for the unattainable parking space. If valet parking is not a feasible option, an alternative is to arrange for large vans to pick up guests from nearby parking lots and shuttle them to the venue.
Some outdoor areas people may choose for their simcha (a public park or beach, for instance) may not have an actual street address. In these cases Rabinowitz recommends hosts include detailed, accurate directions, and possibly even inserting a map into the invitations. “Find out if the venue allows posting signs that announce the event ‘Josh and Yaffa’s Wedding 100 feet ahead’ on trees and posts,” she said.
By Jenny Gans