planning an outdoor function - some guidelines and tips

So you have the opportunity or possibly even the "need" to hold a function outdoors. There are a number of reasons why you could be considering having an outdoor event, eg......

  • Wedding
  • Special occasion to celebrate
  • Corporate function
  • Want an interesting venue to have a function
  • Extension of space required from existing function building
  • Spectacular product launch, etc..... or any of many other compelling reasons!!

The purpose of this article is not to provide a definitive checklist for an outdoor function (there are too many variables for this), but rather to give you some initial thinking and considerations to contemplate and think about prior to finalising the decision and then some basic, obvious checklist items to, hopefully, assist you with both they thinking and subsequent planning.

There are "additional" costs associated with having an outdoor event, however, if carefully planned and executed well, you can create and enjoy a truly memorable and spectacular function which none of your guests will ever forget! So, lot's of positives and upsides!

Let's assume for this article that it will be a marquee function. I have split the article/  "thinking" into two parts:

  • Initial evaluation and considerations
  • Some basic checklist items

Initial evaluation and considerations
Be positive
Once you've made the decision to have your function outdoors, go for it and be positive and creative with your initial thinking and conceptualising - you can always par this back at a later stage if necessary!

Maximising the outdoor aspect
Make sure that you maximise the natural features available such as view, outlook, terrain, garden, sunset, any particular features etc

Consider the best possible location for any speeches, ceremony etc - is it possible to hold this outside? Always have a Plan B in case it rains or is too windy!

Planning ahead/ guest numbers
Once you have made the decision to have a marquee function try to organise your event as early as you can so that firstly, you can guarantee getting your marquee and caterers booked and locked in and also get the infrastructure and furniture etc that you want.

In addition, especially for a marquee function, try to have your final numbers as early as possible so that you get and pay for the size of the marquee best fits your guest numbers - no point in paying for additional space if you don't need it!

Footprint/ space
It is really important to make sure that you have sufficient space for all your intended guests, furniture and other function components. To give you a simple "rule of thumb" calculation, without factoring in any theming props:

  • For a cocktail function allow 1sqm per person
  • For a seated function allow 1.3-1.5sqm
  • So, if 100 seated you need min 130sqm, hence a 15 metre x 10 metre structure would work well
  • Cocktail - a 10 x 10 structure would be okay

Another footprint consideration is that, if there is the space, having an outside area for guests to mingle, have a drink, enjoy a canapé, enjoy the vista etc.

In addition, if at all possible, try to ensure that your footprint is flat so that you don't have to have scaffolding, as this is inevitably an expensive and will incur significant additional cost

A marquee function will incur additional cost compared to using an existing building. Make sure that you allow for this when compiling initial budgets. Get quotes as soon as you can from certainly the marquee company and check with your caterer if they charge additional set up or hire costs for a marquee function.

There will be function components such as furniture, power, toilets, lighting etc that would generally  be included as part of your venue hire if using an existing building

Some basic checklist items
  • Get quotes from at least two marquee hire companies
  • Make sure that you are comfortable and like the proposed structure. As an example there are different types and shapes of structure - get the marquee companies to talk you through the various options, ramifications and costs of different structures
  • When comparing quotes, ensure that you are comparing "apples with apples".
  • When getting the quotes, get as much overall assistance with the infrastructure requirements as you can. All marquee companies will be very happy to assist you with any "extra" costs as obviously this becomes part of their earn! You should find that the marquee provider can also quote on and supply the likes of:
  1.     Furniture
  2.     Linen
  3.     Sound/ lighting
  4.     Power if required
  5.     Pot plants/ shrubbery
  6.     Refrigeration
  7.     Toilets/ toilet trailers
  8.     Catering equipment etc

  • Catering marquee - if your caterer doesn't have an kitchen close by or access to one or a mobile kitchen, you will need to provide a caterer's marquee for them to set up in, serve from and clear away into

Furniture - more than just tables and chairs!
  • Tables and chairs for the meal
  • Trestle tables for caterers to serve food on and use as a bar
  • Reception table?
  • Outdoor furniture?
  • Stage?

  • The key supplier and ingredient (!) of any function.
  • Having an outdoor function, think about how the food and menu will best support and fit in with the environment, theme or objectives of the event? If you'd like your guests to mostly mingle, a finger food menu would logically work best, possibly complemented with a couple of food stations or noodle boxes? If something more formal, it's not hard to  create an elegant three course dining experience! Options are plentiful and entirely yours to choose from!
  • When you think that you have decided on the food concept for your function, get at least two catering quotes
  • Make sure when you brief the caterers, you provide them with as much detail about the location, marquee etc so that it is clear what is already provided/ included in someone else's costs and what they have to provide and quote on - really important that you compare caterers quotes accurately
  • Make sure that the caterers are fully comfortable providing catering services in this environment

Linen/ theming/  floral/ plants
Without spending huge dollars, have some fun and think about how you can easily make your function venue more colourful and even spectacular! Let's split this into two

Your linen needs could include for example:

  1.     Table cloths
  2.     Napkins
  3.     Chair covers/ bows etc
  4.     Linen to cover trestle tables/ any other tables - the caterer will hopefully provide this

 Theming/ floral/ plants etc
  1.     You can go elaborate/ spectacular and get a quote from a theming company
  2.     Keep it simple but effective by, for example......
  • Breaking the table cloths with table runners
  • Get bows or sashes for the chair covers
  • Create a simple but elegant napkin ring (could be as simple as a small piece of silk)
  • Have an elegant centrepiece
  • A well designed menu will add effect and class!
  • Carefully chosen plants in and out will break up the space as well

      Remember that this is a one off event, be creative and have some fun!!

Ask the marquee company to advise in the first instance - if you just need simple, basic lighting, that's easy for them to supply. If you want something more elaborate and spectacular, get a specialist quote

Sound system
Think through what you will need sound for and then get a quote, eg

  • Simple sound system for speeches including speakers
  • Facility for iPhone or similar
  • Sound system for band - they will either provide their own or provide specs for hiring in equipment

Depending mainly on the time of the year and the required formality or otherwise, you may or may not require a floor. Especially if in summer, don't bother and it will also save you significant $$'s

Power / electrical reticulation
Once again talk to the marquee company about this - you will more than likely need some power. This could be as simple as a generator or you might need some reticulation from an electrician. The marquee company will advise

Portable "loos"/ restroom(s)
Make sure that you have factored these into your planning and budget. Get your marquee companies to advise options and quote on them - not having sufficient or "unsuitable" toilets could spoil the memories of the event for your guests!

Permits/ consents
Talk to the marquee company to check whether any permits or consents are required and that they will take care of them - not a major but sometimes required

External furniture/ pickets
If you have the space in your footprint, create a usable and attractive outdoor setting using outdoor furniture, umbrellas and possibly some picket fencing. This will add greatly to the ambiance and atmosphere of your event and, in the context of the overall budget, not cost a great deal

Basically there are two considerations:

  1. Make sure that only your invited guests enter your function - your call as to whether you feel this is necessary
  2. If your marquee especially has catering, sound or AV equipment in the night(s) before your event and the night after, you should get some security presence

Ensure that someone, either you or logically your caterer takes responsibility for removing all rubbish after the function

Heating/ air conditioning
Hopefully you won't need either but talk to the marquee company about this - key is time of year of your function. If mid winter look at possible heating options available

Costings/ quotes
Based on the above checklist items, make sure that you have all necessary components included and costed out!

Click onto "Function Organisation" for more detail and assistance in compiling a check list for your function

To  conclude outdoor function it is!! Do conceptualise and think creatively when planning this function and look at the footprint that you have, the various possible outlooks and think colour, life, energy, the sun, grass, sea or whatever and so much more!

Whatever the reason for having your event outdoors, a corporate occasion, wedding or big birthday or watching a game of cricket, make the most of the opportunity and make sure that you don't constrain yourself with tunnelled thinking - you have the ability and scope to create a truly memorable event! Enjoy!

This article was written by
Ian Fraser of Hospitality Solutions Ltd

Ian Fraser has worked in corporate hospitality and
event management for over sixteen years. In this
time, he has organised over 800 functions and
events and project directed some very large
hospitality projects/ events.
In recent years, he has also been approached by
organisations to assist them in a consultancy role.


Ian Fraser

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