Here in Ottawa, you’re as guaranteed good weather as you’re guaranteed to win the lottery. Warm sunny afternoons in February and frigid blizzards in April make way for a summer that can be stiflingly warm, unbearably cold, wet and soppy or tinder-dry. Add in mosquitoes — or the strange lady bug infestation we had a few years ago — and planning an outdoor summertime event is no easy task for the amateur or seasoned professional event planner.
When we plan an outdoor event at A Social Affair Event Management, a plan B simply isn’t enough. For the best executed summertime outdoor event, it’s best that your contingency plan has its own contingency plan, and every back-up has a back-up. We might be biased, but it’s also usually best to engage the help of a professional event planner.
To get you started on planning that outdoor event (with or without a planner), here are the best things to consider:
Do the outdoors even make sense?
Certain types of events simply don’t mix well with the outdoor elements. An electronics show outdoors might feel unique and interesting, until a few drops of water hit the wrong surge protector and you’re out $30,000 in equipment. A Culinary school showcasing their best pastry students? Buttercream melts quickly and no one wants cake with a melted butter topping.
Carefully consider all the elements of your event: the main goal, the comfort of your guests, the music and lighting, the catering, the decor, the theme, and the entertainment and ask yourself “is this best done outdoors?” If the answer to any one of those is “no,” then compare the reward of having the event outdoors to the risk of that element going wrong. If the risk is greater than the reward, get indoors!
Put on your lawyer hat!
Hosting an event outdoors brings with it an array of special permit and other considerations. If you’re planning to serve or sell alcohol, you’ll need an SOP (Special Occasions Permit.) This is easier done indoors than outdoors. For an outdoor event, you’ll need to notify the fire department, local municipality, police, and health departments at least 30 days in advance, and they’ll need to know all the details. Thinking of fireworks? You’ll need a permit for that. Planning to sell food outdoors? That’s another permit.
Speaking of food…
Nothing will make an event infamously memorable more than a tainted food scandal. When developing a menu for your special event, keep in mind foods that are easier to keep outside for an extended period of time. Most foods need to be kept hot or cold to avoid the growth of bacteria, and different foods will spoil after different amounts of time. It’s generally easier to keep food cold with ice and coolers than to keep food warm, so many outdoor events will have a cold menu. Do your research carefully and avoid the stigma of a foodborne illness outbreak at your event!
It could be hot, cold, wet, dry or a combination
Other than politics, nothing is as unpredictable in Ottawa as the weather. A morning of sunshine and mild weather can give way to a torrential downpour. Easy breezes in the afternoon can turn to a hot and muggy evening. In 1942, July temperatures in Ottawa dropped to 3 degrees celsius. Having a snow plow on hand for a summer event may be overkill, but here are some consideration to keep in mind:
Remember to discuss adverse weather with all your suppliers and carefully note how they plan to react to unpredicted weather.
If you’re planning a really large outdoor event, like a music festival, learn what engineering exists on-site for drainage. A Friday night downpour can easily turn a Saturday concert into a muddy pit.
It’s also worth noting where the existing infrastructure (like buildings) will provide shade and at what time of day.
Rain can also make certain areas treacherous if they become wet and slippy. Plan for signage or even cordoning off a certain area if it becomes too dangerous.
Make A Rain Day
While there are many ways you can accommodate the weather with a few small changes and contingencies, certain event types colliding with certain weather conditions is a recipe for disaster (remember the Bluesfest Stage Collapse in 2011?) Do your homework well in advance related to the cost of postponing or even having to cancel an event if it isn’t safe to move forward.
Planning any event involves hundreds of moving parts, and an outdoor event heightens all the risks and challenges.
Whatever outdoor event you’re planning in Ottawa, make it a positive and stress-free experience for yourself and your attendees by teaming up with A Social Affair Event Management.
Our collaborative approach will capture your vision for your event while we assist with the details, from venue scouting and rental to catering, decor, event marketing and more. Contact us today for a free consultation.