Dan Mueller works as a parks manager and event coordinator at the Gardens at SIUE (Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville). He handles everything from giving an engaged couple the first tour of the grounds, booking their space (there are three wedding venues on the site), to cleaning the grounds and getting everything set on wedding day. He has to work closely with the couples and outside vendors to make sure things run smoothly on the wedding day. Oh, and he’s also my dad.
With wedding season kicking up for him right around now, I thought it would be a good time to talk to him about what all goes into a wedding day for the event coordinator of an outdoor venue.
Destination42: First, walk me through a typical wedding day.
Dan: Well it really starts the day before. That’s when we finish prep like mowing the grass, string trimming, sweep, shining up metal fixtures, moping floors of outdoor pavilions, pruning tree limbs, etc. The day of we start about four hours before the event: hauling in chairs, plugging in any cables, and checking for electrical failures. That way we’re ready when relatives start showing up around two hours before the start of the event. A lot of times people show up early because they want to look around the venue before the ceremony starts, especially if they have kids.
Some wedding parties show up and they’re completely prepared. They’re dressed with their hair and makeup done and they’re ready to go. So all I do from there is cart them to the ceremony site (or let them walk if they want) and then the ceremony begins. Other parties plan to get ready there, which is talked about in advance as there is a fee to rent our building, and then after they’re ready I cart them out there.
While the ceremony is going my job is just people management, basically. I direct latecomers to the ceremony site, photographers to the right location, and keep other guests at the gardens away from where the ceremony is taking place.
D42: What should couples be aware of when they’re looking at an outdoor venue?
Dan: Well here’s a list:
1. When you have an outdoor event, you’ll have a reduction in the number of people that attend as compared to an indoor event. That’s what I’ve heard from the various wedding parties.
2. Tour as many places as possible. Look at places until you get the right feeling. Internet photos don’t do it justice, referrals don’t do it right, Youtube doesn’t do anything justice. Wait until you find a venue where you get the feeling that you’re going to get married there, and don’t pick the first place you go to.
3. Don’t let your parents pick the spot. You’ll put everyone on edge like that.
4. Don’t be incredibly rigid with your schedule, because some outdoor venues are hard to find. You have to give more time for people to find the venue, walk from the location, find parking, etc. Everything takes longer with an outdoor wedding.
5. Be prepared to walk. Sometimes parking is upwards of 20 minutes away from the event site.
6. Kids will wander in an outdoor venue. They’ll think they’re at the park or something and wander from their seats.
7. Ask the venue about their rain policy. Some places have an alternate venue on site, some don’t. If the venue doesn’t have an alternate site (like the gardens), you will know that going in.
D42: Any advice for dealing with people like you, i.e. event coordinators?
Dan: 1. Be realistic with the number of seated guests you anticipate. It’s good to have a close number by the time you tour sites.
2. Having a date in mind helps. There’s so many people that come in and say “I want a fall wedding” but fall is August-October. Having a date is helpful so the person booking you will know if the date you want is available. If you wait then the day you want might be taken.
3. Have the decorator at the tour. Whoever will be decorating the space will usually be asking questions about the venue.
4. Have contact information at the ready. Some venues are very aggressive about getting you to book the space right away, they’ll call within two days of your tour.
5. Understand the consequences of an outdoor wedding. Things like the weather, insects, and other guests will be a factor in your wedding if you get married outside.
6. Some outdoor venues will have chairs, trellises, tables, doves, etc. available for rent but other places will not. Ask about rental fees and availability. Some places will ask you to go to outside companies for rentals.
D42: What’s the craziest thing you’ve had a bride ask you to do?
Dan: Well I had one bride that asked me to hold her baby during the ceremony. It was a short service, so it wasn’t that bad. I just wasn’t expecting it. Oh! and during one ceremony, a six foot blacksnake slithered out from the pavilion steps and went straight under the thirty chairs on the step below and through the bridal party during the ceremony. The minister handled it well saying, “One of god’s creations has joined us for this ceremony. This snake is joining us just like a bird flying overhead. Oh look there he goes.” and the ceremony continued without a beat. So keep an eye out for wildlife.
D42: Any other advice?
Dan: I’ve had lots of couples tell me when they’re booking the site that they had a perfect outdoor day together while they were dating, and that’s what they were looking to replicate on their wedding day. Odds are, you won’t get that perfect day. But the aggravation is worth it for the chance that you will, and if you’re in an outdoor venue that you love, even if it sprinkles a little or a dog runs by you’ll still be happy because you’re getting married somewhere that you love. And that’s worth it.