On-Site Wedding Ceremonies & Outdoor Weddings

On-Site Wedding Ceremonies & Outdoor Weddings


On-site wedding ceremonies and outdoor weddings are discussed by Maureen Woodman in this podcast.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Maureen Woodman, a wedding planner for on and off-site catered events at The Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about “On-Site Ceremonies.” Welcome, Maureen.

Maureen Woodman: Hi, John. Thank you for having me today. I’m really excited about this. It’s definitely where everyone seems to be going.

John Maher: Sure. So, an on-site ceremony is when you decide that you’re not going to have your wedding ceremony at a church, or at some place like that. Instead, you’re going to have it at the location where you’re having your wedding reception, right?

Maureen Woodman: Yes. I would say right now that one of the biggest things that the bride and groom are looking for is a wedding that is outside, that doesn’t really necessarily reflect a religion as it did in the old days. It reflects a feeling of them. There’s definitely something, with nature involved, where if they can have it out on a beautiful landscape, it seems to be very important to them.

John Maher: Okay. So, you mentioned the beautiful landscape. What are some other advantages to having your ceremony on-site like that?

Maureen Woodman: One of the things I find interesting, everyone will come early. They’ll come about an hour and a half before the actual ceremony. They get dressed together – the bridal party, the mother of the bride, the flower girl. Everything is all there.

So, for the guests, it’s also an advantage where you just drive to one place. So, as long as you don’t get lost, you’ll make the ceremony and the reception. I think that’s a huge advantage. You also get very comfortable in the space where you’re going to have your reception afterwards.

John Maher: Right. Some people might have a church ceremony and then the reception is maybe a good distance away. So, you have to think about, “How am I going to get all of the guests from the church to the reception? Do I bus them there? Do they drive there on their own? What’s that all about?” So, having the on-site ceremony is a way to just keep it all real simple, and you’re all in one place. You don’t have to deal with some of those issues.

Maureen Woodman: Absolutely.

John Maher: What are some of the other disadvantages of having an on-site ceremony? Are there disadvantages to it?

Maureen Woodman: I think more of the main disadvantage, if anything, is that you don’t have that moment where you do come down this giant cathedral aisle. It’s way more casual. Everyone’s running around. The seating is very easy. It’s just folding chairs, normally. It’s not as stressful.

John Maher: Okay. So, is there a cost associated with an on-site ceremony?

Maureen Woodman: Yes. Usually, at a venue, when you decide to have your ceremony there, the venue will charge you an additional hour. So, you’d have an hour for your ceremony even if it’s quick. And then, you’d have your five hours for your reception. So, instead of paying for five hours, you pay for six.

Also, you’re going to probably have that hour and a half before you come in. So, the venue has to really give you eight or nine hours that day. So, there’s a cost associated with the help.

Usually, you would bring in some folding chairs that are additional to the chairs that you would have for your seating. So, you’d have to rent those. Some girls have arbors or a trellis, or they may bring something in that reflects their theme – I’ve seen people do barn doors, or book libraries, or anything that seems to be reflecting what they have. So those things are additional.

You also may have to get some more flowers, if you decide to decorate the aisles. A lot of girls are using what are called “shepherd poles,” which are something that you would see in someone’s garden. They’re wrought iron sticks that you hang flowers off. So, you could spend a lot of money there. But again, if you have a lovely backdrop, you really don’t need to put a lot for that.

John Maher: So, you mentioned paying for an extra hour with the venue. How long does an on-site ceremony typically take?

Maureen Woodman: I would say the average on-site actual marriage is probably about 20 minutes, when all is said and done. Some people go extensively on different readings and poetry and music. You can add and go. But most of them are just about 20 minutes.

John Maher: Okay. So, who is that that marries you when you do that? Are there issues with getting a religious figure to come in and do your wedding ceremony when you have an on-site ceremony like that?

Maureen Woodman: Probably, in the last two years, it would be your local Justice of the Peace. Again, another cost to have him come in and marry you or her. But what’s happening now, you can actually go online, and you can file. I think it’s six-month lead time. You need someone to notarize you, and witness you, and sign for you to recommend you. But you can have anyone marry you now as long as they go online, get it done ahead of time. A lot of people are choosing someone really special in their lives that knows both the bride and groom to marry them. That really puts a personal feeling on the wedding that I don’t think you can replace.

Again, like the old day, you grew up in a Catholic church. You married your boyfriend and the priest knew both of you. So you always had a really super ceremony. And then, now, when you have someone marry you that knows you, it’s that same feeling. They can really talk to you and your groom, when you’re getting married, and you feel special.

John Maher: Right. What are some of the things that you need to prepare for having an on-site ceremony?

Maureen Woodman: One of the biggest things you got to prepare for is the weather because if your ceremony is outside, you want to make sure that venue has a backup rain plan, or again, another cost that you could get into would be if you had to rent a tent to put your ceremony under cover, if the weather turned inclement on you. But as far as that, that’s really all.

John Maher: What about the wedding rehearsal? Is that something that you have to plan for as well?

Maureen Woodman: You hope that the venue will allow a rehearsal, which is usually on the Thursday or Friday before. That’s something that you want to ask about. A lot of girls think, “Oh! I don’t need a rehearsal. I’m just going to walk down the aisle.”

You do need a rehearsal. That day, everyone gets a little tense, nervous. People really want to know where and what they’re supposed to be doing, how the line-up goes, who comes first – the mother of the bride, the mother of the groom, the grandmother, the flower girl. A lot of people get really confused. Even if you’ve been to 100 weddings, but somehow, when it’s actually your day, you need someone to coordinate that and just maybe a couple of run-throughs the night before.

John Maher: What about music? How do you handle music, especially for an outside ceremony? Are there issues with that?

Maureen Woodman: This is something that I find tremendously — where the bride and groom can put their personal touch on the wedding. I’ve seen flutists, I’ve seen a harp. I’ve seen acoustic guitar, those are all easy.

But sometimes, when you hire a DJ, he may have a keyboard that he can bring out and play your songs. You want to make sure that there’s some kind of electricity, and a sound system. You really don’t need a huge sound system at the ceremony because the ceremony is very quiet. So, the background music will flow very nicely. Ceremonies are very quiet. People aren’t talking.

So, it doesn’t have to blast out there with a huge sound system. But it is somewhere where people can sing, do maybe a little a cappella song while waiting, but you don’t need a lot – maybe three songs before the bride comes down, the song for the bride to go down, and then usually a recessional song when the bride leaves.

John Maher: Right. What are some of the on-site ceremony things that you’ve seen that have really wowed you in terms of what a bride and groom have prepared?

Maureen Woodman: I’ve seen bride and groom — What I like is they pick people out of the ceremony that do special readings or poems, or they do something that has to do with the bride and groom. I’ve also seen some beautiful vows written.

It’s not, “For better for worse, rich or poor, in sickness and in health.” These are vows that you know, “I’ll take the dog out or I love you because of this,” or “I’m committed to you for the rest of my life,” or…

John Maher: Really customized and handwritten…

Maureen Woodman: Really handwritten, heartfelt customized. And again, there’s no tradition associated with the ceremony, it seems that the vows really become the focus of the ceremony.

John Maher: I was at the wedding the other week, where the bride and groom had both grown up on the coast of — Actually, the bride was from Massachusetts. She grew up near the coast and went to a beach when she was growing up.

The groom was from Rhode Island and went to the beach in Rhode Island. They each filled up a vial with sand from their beach as a child. And then, they mixed them together at the ceremony to symbolize them coming together. I thought that that was really neat. So, do you see people doing a lot of different things like that as symbols of them coming together?

Maureen Woodman: Yes. We call that the “sand ceremony.” So again, taking away from the original Catholic Mass years ago was the candle. So, the bride would hold the candle. The groom would hold the candle. And then, they would go to the altar, and they would light one candle together with both.

That’s where the concept of the sand has come from. Myself, I just went to a wedding this weekend. They did it with two glasses of water. They passed the water through the people that were at the ceremony. You were supposed to look at the water and make a wish of good thoughts. And then the glass went back to the bride and groom. The person marrying them married the two glasses of water together. And then, the bride and groom drank the water as a symbol of all the wishes and good will.

So, it’s interesting. But that same concept, something where they each have it, they put it together. And then, they both touch one.

John Maher: Right. So it sounds with an on-site ceremony, I think the main idea here is that you can really customize it and really make it your own, whether it’s doing a special theme, or doing like you said, the water ceremony, or the sand ceremony, or things like that. Maybe have certain decorations that are very particular to you that you might not be able to do in a church setting. So, customization seems to be the rule for on-site ceremonies.

Maureen Woodman: Absolutely. Another thing a lot of venues are doing too, they’ll provide something in the front, like lemonade and sugar cookies, or cider with apple donuts, so the guests are happy. They’re getting fed. They’re all excited.

You can really make a mess with the rose petals. I just saw a great blog this weekend on taking all the foliage and lining the actual aisle of the ceremony with just leaves. The bride would walk down on leaves.

That is one of the disadvantages. If the bride does have high heels on, and she does have a tendency to sink in the grass or the sand, if they go on a beach. I will say that there are a lot of the girls wear two pairs of shoes – a flat pair of shoes for the ceremony because the heels just do not seem to —

John Maher: They don’t like the grass.

Maureen Woodman: No, no.

John Maher: [Laughs] All right, Maureen, thanks very much for speaking with me.

Maureen Woodman: Thanks, John.

John Maher: For more information, you can visit The Essex Room website at essexroom.com or call 978-768-7335.

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