How to Plan a Chicago Outdoor Wedding Reception

Outdoors can be beautiful, but you need to have a backup plan

By Mary Gustafson

Table setting, glass, lantern, candles
Photo courtesy Blue PlateBookmark and Share

A stunning skyline, countless architectural gems, beautifully landscaped lakeside parks and Lake Michigan itself are just a few of the reasons people decide to live in or visit Chicago. Unsurprisingly, these attributes also make it an irresistible place to plan an outdoor wedding.

Setting the Date

Although the bride and groom can plan an outdoor wedding for whenever their hearts desire, wedding planners typically advise that the prime months for outdoor weddings in Chicago are mid-May to late September. Although October usually has some safe days, it’s best not to risk it. It’s not unheard of to see snow in October in Chicago.

Contingency Plans

Regardless of geographic location, wedding planners strongly urge brides never to have their hearts set on an outdoor affair. They must know from the outset that rain, hail, high winds and temperatures can fluctuate quickly and dramatically, regardless of the time of year. Wedding planners typically insist on having a Plan B and sometimes a Plan C in terms of venue. Whether the ceremony is being held in a park or in someone’s backyard, the couple must consider having a tent on standby or an indoor location backup plan. The latter will be necessary if a thunderstorm brings lightning and high winds.

Tents and Permits

Before deciding where to hold the wedding ceremony and reception, it is important to get permission and a permit from the city of Chicago or one of the suburbs. If you plan to use a tent for any part of the event, tent rental companies can tell you where you can and cannot use stakes to strap the tents down — the presence of underground gas lines and water mains may require the use of water-filled barrels and heavy-duty metal clamps. Again, reputable tent rental companies can also advise you about how to keep the wedding guests comfortable if temperatures plunge or soar. It is possible to pipe in air conditioning on hot days. Space heaters can be used on cool days.

Weather-Friendly Menus

The weather — especially temperature and humidity — plays a big role in determining what goes on the menu for an outdoor reception, in terms of taste and food safety. For example, it wouldn’t be smart to serve items such as meringue cookies, which lose their crispness on a humid day. Caterers also encourage brides to have backup plans for food. If you end up using a tent on your wedding day, be sure you understand whether the items on your menu might be easily affected by using an air-conditioner or heater. It’s best to know all the options -- and costs -- in advance, rather than having to scramble at the last minute. Wedding cakes can also be quite sensitive to temperature and humidity. Most bakers will be able to recommend a cake and filling combination that will hold up the best. Chicago summers can see temperatures high enough to cause cakes that have been refrigerated to sweat, just like canned soft drinks. Heat and humidity can also cause a melting effect that can make tiered cakes lean or tilt to the side. Bakers suggest limiting the amount of time a wedding cake is displayed in cases like this, allowing guests to see the cake in its best light. Then the caterers can cut it and prepare it for serving.

Outdoor Elements

Even though Chicago is undeniably an urban setting, there remains some outdoor elements to be considered in the big city. Local insect and mosquito control companies can come in and spray the morning of the event to keep guests from swatting bugs throughout the evening. Unscented and well-disguised Citronella candles can be effective too.

About the Author

Mary Gustafson is a freelance writer who resides in Chicago.

Related Guides

Decor Ideas for Backyard Weddings

VIDEO: Decor Ideas for Backyard Weddings

When decorating for a backyard wedding, lighting is very important both for atmospheric and safety reasons.... Watch Video

Planning Reminder:

woman having bad hair day

Weatherproof your hair

Getting married in a humid climate? If you have hair with natural body to it, a straightened style may curl up by the end of the night. Be realistic about your hair type and how it will react to the weather at your wedding locale. Discuss your best hair options with your stylist.

View your wedding checklist!


Wedding Glossary


A parabola-shaped tent with clean lines, capable of withstanding winds up to 70 miles per hour. Contains few internal poles, making it a popular choice for large weddings.

View the Full Weddings Glossary
Sign Up

Already have an account? Log In

Log In with your Facebook account.
We’ll never post without your permission.

Create a DexKnows account:

At least 6 characters
By clicking Sign Up, you agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. You'll receive the DexKnows Tips email newsletter as well as email updates about your account.

Please share the issue you encountered with our search

I am a(n):


Please check at least one issue checkbox.