I realize I can get a bit annoying when it comes to the topic of outdoor weddings. Some brides (and grooms!) do not want to consider alternatives and refuse to accept there are simply some things beyond their control. That is rather naive and a sure way to set themselves up for some crushing disappointment. As I've said before, any couple without a flexible attitude regarding the details of their wedding should just plan on having everything indoors right from the start.
I do think outdoor weddings are quite lovely and very romantic in the right setting. I have officiated oodles of successful beach, garden, and park weddings that went off without a hitch. I have also officiated too many that resulted in some unfortunate incidents and a few with somewhat dire consequences.
I have nothing inherently against outdoor weddings as such. I do have serious concerns about outdoor weddings with no back up plan or that persist in the original location when conditions are dangerous or even just decidedly uncomfortable. My contract requires outdoor ceremonies specify the inclement weather alternative.
Most couples obsessively checking the weather forecast focus on the possibility of rain. They forget that temperature is also a huge factor in determining whether the ceremony will be enjoyable or miserable. They rejoice when presented with zero cloud cover not realizing this wreaks havoc on photos and intensifies already painfully hot conditions. If the ceremony or reception site does not provide adequate shade and breeze, when the heat exceeds 80-85 degrees with moderate to high humidity or 85-90 with low humidity, you should proceed immediately to Plan B, no questions asked.
Left: Jeff Carr Photography
Right: Unknown photographer, gift from the couple.
Add alcohol to the mix and hot, sunny, humid weather conditions are a perfect recipe for disaster. I have seen members of the wedding party vomit after imbibing in high temps...during the ceremony. I have witnessed guests faint from the heat and little kids cry uncontrollably when hot sand scorches their toes. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but those little keepsake fans you've distributed to your guests just don't cut it.
When planning an outdoor wedding during the summer months you absolutely must provide your wedding guests, wedding professionals, and the wedding party with the following:
On a personal front, do you really think sweat causing the ladies' makeup to run, everyone's eyes to burn, hair to frizz or stick to the head and neck like glue, and staining dresses, shirts, and suits results in fantastic wedding photos? That's before you consider the squinting in the direct sunlight. Now you have a photographic situation no amount of expertise with Photoshop can resolve.
I no longer officiate weddings during the summer months that are held outside in direct sunlight at any other time than sunrise or sunset. I refer those inquiries to my younger and sturdier colleagues. Yes, it is that bad!
When I am officiating a wedding ceremony, I am usually functioning as an agent of the state solemnizing a civil contract. As intoxicants have long been associated with the celebratory atmosphere of weddings, it's prudent to have the following clause in my contract:
“Among other things, marriage is a legally binding civil contract. If either party appears to be overly intoxicated or not of sound mind prior to the ceremony, Rev. Fuller may, at her discretion, decline to officiate and the couple remains responsible for all officiating fees.”
I have never had to invoke this clause. I can only recall one bride and groom who generated any serious degree of suspicion, but there can be a very fine line between high as a kite and massively stressed. I honestly could not tell if the two were under the influence of something stronger than a few drinks or if their behavior was due to nerves. I didn’t smell anything, so if they were intoxicated it was definitely through pharmacological means rather than fermented or distilled. I discretely asked a few questions to determine they knew full well what they were doing and once satisfied, pressed on.
I am far more likely to see alcohol impact the ceremony by way of drunk family members or tipsy bridesmaids and groomsmen than I am an inebriated bride or groom. Still, I highly recommend you wait until the reception before seriously imbibing and encourage any and all associated with your festivities to do so as well. I can recall I had one bride wound up so tight I thought she would implode. She was obsessing over every little detail and even threatened to leave the wedding venue to calm down by going for a drive. Ten minutes before the wedding! I begged the caterer to uncork a champagne bottle and handed the bride a glass myself. I’m not sure if it was to relax her or to occupy her mouth so she wouldn’t express concern about one more detail over which she no longer had any control. Either way, it did the trick.
While celebrations in our culture are seemingly inextricably linked with alcohol, you are under no obligation to serve alcoholic beverages at your wedding. If you do make it available, just keep in mind the potential for abuse. Unfortunately, due to the nature of weddings as festive and social occasions, problem drinkers in your circle of family and friends are more likely to show up at a wedding already tipsy than make a concerted effort to remain sober for the big event. Yes, even if they are a member of the wedding party and the ceremony begins before noon.
I have seen a bride steady her thoroughly inebriated escort down the aisle, a wasted groomsmen sneak off to relieve himself in the bushes when the bridesmaids began walking down the aisle, and a sheriff's deputy haul away a plastered guest making a spectacle of herself. Lest you believe these to be "redneck" weddings, think again. All three were formal affairs at elegant venues. A word of advice - stiletto heels and a tipsy bridesmaid do not a good combination make. If you have an attendant inclined to drink, either hide the hard stuff before the ceremony or put her in flat shoes.
I completely understand reluctance to do so, but I always appreciate it when a bride and groom warn me of a known drinker who will be in attendance. I have become incredibly skilled at spotting and heading off pending trouble in this area, but a little advance notice always helps. If a bar is readily available at your ceremony site, you want to do everything in your power to make sure your wedding begins on time. Any delays and your guests will be testing out the bartender's skills. As for the reception, if you anticipate the possibility of a problem and are serving alcohol, definitely let your bartenders and servers know who the usual suspects are. They can water down an individual's drinks, serve smaller pours and cut him or her off without you having to be the bad guy.
Due to the hustle and bustle, as well as the normal stress and anxiety associated with weddings, your day is already going to feel like something of a blur. Pace yourself with the alcohol and stay hydrated by alternating with non-alcoholic caffeine-free drinks as well. This is a day you want to remember with fondness, not embarrassment or regret.
Rev. Ann Fuller
The commentary on this blog is my own opinion developed over years of officiating a wide range of wedding sizes and styles. I am always happy to answer any questions you may have.