Few event settings are as appealing as the great outdoors. But the fresh air, beautiful surroundings, relaxed ambience and sheer joy of being outside aren't enough to ensure that attendees will have a safe, comfortable and memorable experience.
The advice detailed on the following pages comes from these noted experts:
• Kelly Blakely, senior catering operations director for Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.;
• Greg Jenkins, owner of Long Beach, Calif.-based Bravo Productions;
• Lisa Mercer, director of catering and conference services at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa in Phoenix; and
• Mona Meretsky, CSEP, president of Fort Lauderdale-based COMCOR Event and Meeting Production Inc.
(Note: Sample prices are provided in some instances, but costs will vary by region, vendor and other variables.)
Don't Get Beat by Weather
Event venues typically have spaces and infrastructure to handle gatherings that need to be moved inside in case of inclement weather. (Be sure to hammer out the details during contract negotiations, so last-minute maneuvering doesn't bust your budget.) But ballrooms, meeting rooms and the like aren't the only foul-weather options. Consider the following:
1. Seek cover. Greg Jenkins of Bravo Productions looks for outdoor venues with built-in shelter, such as a large covered veranda or pavilion. These facilities work best when showers threaten the festivities. (Planners can get up-to-the-minute weather reports and forecasts via apps like those offered at weather.com).
2. Rent a tent. To counter the threat of rain, consider tents, which can be as casual or sophisticated as the occasion calls for and are available in many sizes, styles and price points. Since they can be cooled or heated, they can serve as back-up settings nearly year-round. Jenkins recommends using systems that allow the heating or air-conditioning units to be mounted on the outside. "In addition to better aesthetics, it also allows for more space to accommodate your guests," he notes. He also recommends having a heating/air-conditioning technician on hand during the event in case of any problems. Be sure to test all heating and cooling units several hours before the event is scheduled to start.
Ask your event consultant or convention services manager for recommendations. Among major firms that supply such items are Nationwide Tents 'N' Events (nationwidetents.com) and Classic Party Rentals (classictentrentals.com).
3. Go for a greenhouse. When less-than-ideal weather was in the forecast for a recent event at Walt Disney Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the setting was shifted from open-air to an on-site greenhouse. The glass structure, plants and flowers gave the gathering an outdoorsy vibe while providing guests with the comfort and weather protection of an enclosed setting. Consult with your property or venue to see if a similar option is available.
4. Create shade. Sometimes, sunny days can be too much of good thing. Greg Jenkins always provides some type of shade for attendees who prefer to stay out of the sun. His pick: wide, festive market umbrellas, which can protect an entire table from strong rays. The umbrellas and stands can be rented at local firms throughout the U.S.
5. Get all misty. When the temperature soars, consider renting misting systems to gently spritz and cool the event area. For upscale events in South Florida, Mona Meretsky depends on mists to keep guests comfortable. Among companies that offer this service is Koolfog (koolfog.com). Rental fees for these systems typically run between $350 to $500 per day.
6. Be low-cost cool. If misting systems aren't in your budget, a few inexpensive, low-tech options can offer hot guests some relief. Hand fans, either the traditional paper type or individual battery-powered plastic models, are a favorite choice for Mona Meretsky. (Both options, including customization, are available from suppliers such as PrintGlobe at printglobe.com.)
To combat the Phoenix desert heat at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, servers hand out chilled, scented towels during events.
7. Turn up the heat. Unseasonably cool weather also can put a damper on events. If heated tents aren't on order, consider using heat lamps to warm up an outdoor area. Bravo Production's Greg Jenkins says such lamps work best when temperatures are in the low-50s to mid-60s range. Classic Party Rentals (classicpartyrentals.com), an event firm with branches across the U.S., is one vendor that can provide heat lamps. Approximate rental fee is $100 per unit.
8. Snuggle up. Consider having a stack of fleece blankets and throws on hand to ward off chills. The venue might already have a supply. Alternatively, planners can order customized coverings from vendors such as 4 Imprint (4imprint.com).
Enhance the Setting
Of course, beaches, mountains, lakes, lawns and parks provide built-in scenery and ambience. But these settings can be even further enhanced with some clever décor. Consider the following tips.
9. Sit pretty. Too often, the seating at outdoor events is limited to picnic benches or blah white folding chairs. Instead, consider renting padded wooden folding chairs in crayon-bright shades of purple, orange, blue or red. They do double-duty as an easy, playful décor element. Among firms that carry such items are Town & Country (townandcountryeventrentals.com). Rental costs are about $5 per chair.
10. Bring the inside out. One of the growing trends our panel of experts noted was the use of traditional living room furniture outdoors. Disney's Kelly Blakely recommends using leather couches for seating and traditional table lamps on end tables to create a unique, comfortable and delightfully unexpected environment outdoors.
11. Lighten up. Another way to give outdoor evening events a kick of color is by using "glow" couches, seats and tables lit by LED technology. One large national supplier of all types of rental furniture, including light-up pieces, is AFR Event Furnishings (afrevents.com).
12. Add cabanas. Even if your event is miles from a coast, give it a chic, beachy vibe by adding cabanas decked out with cushioned furniture or serpentine benches. Sheer drapery adds to the airy, cool feeling. These elegant structures also serve as shelter for guests who want to stay out of the sun. Among firms that rent cabanas are NY Lounge Décor (nyloungedecor.com); check with your contacts for recommendations in your locale.
13. Go flame-free. At many parks and public venues, fire of any type (cooking, candles, torches) might not be allowed. In such settings, decorate with batteryoperated candles, which give the same illumination effect as traditional wax. Greg Jenkins likes the touch of adding LED floating candles (widely available; one national supplier is Party City at partycity.com), which glow once they are placed in water, to dress up fountains and ponds.
14. Twinkle after twilight. Upgrade the lighting at evening events with Portofino lights --larger than traditional tiny twinkle bulbs -- which can be strung across the event space for a festive feel. Another option: large balloon lights, which come in traditional round "moon" designs, as well as unique shapes such as arches or zigzags.
Whatever lighting you choose, be sure to illuminate entrance areas, paths and rest rooms, as well as the event and entertainment areas, to ensure guest safety.
15. Anchor all props. When balloons and other props are part of the décor, make sure they all are anchored securely against the wind by using strategically placed sandbags or, for a more aesthetic solution, gallon-sized freezer storage bags filled with small colored stones (available at garden and hardware stores).
16. Wilt-proof your centerpieces. Heat and humidity can cause roses and hydrangeas to droop. For centerpieces with staying power, use hearty blooms, such as sunflowers, in place of daintier florals. Or, eschew florals completely and decorate tables with themed props (e.g., mini beach balls, pails of sand and shovels), glass containers filled with shells or, in an evocative desert setting, a potted cactus arrangement.
Keep the Bugs Away
Flies, mosquitoes, ants and bees are a part of nature, but they don't need to be a part of your outdoor event. Our experts offer the following tips for keeping pests off the attendee list.
17. Go on bug patrol. Hotels typically have measures in place for dealing with resident insects. However, when it comes to using a public or private park, golf course or pool, pros suggest site-inspecting the space with potential pests in mind. Try to visit at the same time of year and even the same time of day as your function, to get the most realistic sense of the situation.
Another consideration is the location of trees. While they can provide shade and a nice backdrop for your function, they might also have worms and caterpillars, which can fall on guests, food stations, etc. If the venue allows, hire a professional pest control company to treat the site before the event.
18. Rely on old faithful. If you don't have the time or budget for a thorough bug check, use decorative citronella candles or citronella tiki torches, available from national retailers such as Lowes (lowes.com) and Home Depot (homedepot.com), to thwart insects.
Resist the Gross Restroom
The setting may be gorgeous, the décor elegant and the food delicious, but the overall impression of an event can be ruined if guests have to use a down-at-the-heels restroom or standard portable potty. Among ways to upgrade the experience:
19. Provide a posh option. If the budget allows, consider renting upscale portable restrooms. Among the options are VIP Solar Flushing restrooms from National Construction Rentals ($1,500, at rentnational.com), which have flushing toilets, solar lighting, running faucets, soap dispensers, marble counters, built-in trash receptacles and indoor/outdoor carpeting.
20. Stay flush with your budget. If funds are tight, upgrade bare-bones restrooms by setting small floral arrangements on the counters and stocking them with high-end paper products.
Consider hiring an attendant to monitor the cleanliness of the site; he or she can restock paper goods, wipe down the countertops and keep the restrooms tidy throughout your event.