Outdoor event planning: a 10-step checklist
Get ready for summer, with this simple checklist of outdoor event planning essentials.
It might not be top of your list, but it should be.
A person with a disability should be able to enjoy your event like any other attendee. It’s a legal requirement: the Disabilities Discrimination Act and the Equality Act both require you to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ and avoid discrimination. But it’s also good practice, and inclusive event planning has benefits for everyone there.
What counts as ‘reasonable’ will depend on the size and nature of your event. But the following is a good starting point:
- Parking including Blue Badge bays, or adequate room around each parking space for access
- Accessible and clear pathways: uneven or soft terrain like grassy fields can be challenging
- Clear and regular signage, in sans serif font
- Quiet and covered areas with seating and some privacy
- Well-trained staff who are wearing identifiable uniforms
Remember that physical impairments are just one aspect of disability. Sensory impairments, mental health conditions and learning difficulties may all impact someone’s ability to enjoy your event.
Let’s not be coy about it: people need to pee.
Even if you’re not holding an all-day event, you need to provide easy access to bathroom facilities. But how many?
This handy event toilet calculator will help you calculate the right number of portable toilets to avoid frustrating queues. It factors in food and drink, too: events where alcohol is served increase demand by 13%. Remember to book well in advance, and check if other big events are taking place on the same dates; there’s not an infinite supply of portaloos, and annual festivals or big one-off events will require a lot.
Alternatively, choose a location where enough permanent toilet facilities are in place, or can be supplemented with portables.
It’s probably the first that came to mind – and for good reason.
A washout or blazing sunshine can both cause significant problems, for you and your guests. Plan for the possibility of severe weather, and you won’t be caught out.
Fortunately, some of the contingencies you can build in are the same for both problems. The most important option you need is an indoor space: a marquee or a permanent building nearby will provide cover from rain or the heat of the day. Make sure it has plenty of seating, too.
More importantly, keep communication going with your guests. If you know it’s going to be muddy, change the dress code and suggest they wear wellies. If there’s a heatwave, let them know where the shady areas will be. You’ll find people are much more understanding if you’re honest, and can show you’re making the best effort for them.
Whether you’ve got live stage performances, outdoor catering or just need one microphone, the reel you use to mow the lawn just won’t do.
Safety considerations are paramount here. Any cabling must be clearly marked with hazard tape or placed under matting to avoid it becoming a trip hazard.
Your power source needs to be weatherproof, too. If you’re using a generator, confirm safety and power requirements with the venue. Make sure it’s safely under cover, and safe from any muddy ground too.
Most of us now carry a water bottle with us when we’re out and about. It’s a big bonus for the outdoor event organiser – but it’s not a perfect solution. Some might assume you’ll be offering water there, or not want to carry a heavy bottle around. And a long event means even the well-prepared will need somewhere to refill.
If your outdoor venue features buildings with drinking water or water fountains, make sure you direct guests to these. If not, or if they’re too far away from the main event, you should ensure you’re providing a supply of clean, free drinking water – especially at hot summer events where alcohol is involved.
Water coolers can be rented, and offer a good alternative to hundreds of disposable plastic bottles. Alternatively, talk to your caterers to see if they can supply water and crockery.
If you’ve ever seen the fields after a major festival like Glastonbury, you’ll know that not everyone is thoughtful about taking their rubbish home.
This isn’t just the fault of festival-goers, though. Often, the lack of bins (and staff to empty them) means there’s simply nowhere to dispose of rubbish – even at weddings and other outdoor parties.
Pre-empt a long clean up by providing additional staff to clean during the event, not just pick up afterwards. Train them so it will be reported if an area becomes a problem. Provide recycling bins as well as standard ones, and put the infrastructure in place to have them emptied discreetly but regularly.
Clean up isn’t just about rubbish, either. Ensure delivery drivers take appropriate routes to limit the impact on the site.
Enjoying a barbecue, a picnic or show food like a hog roast can be one of the highlights of an outdoor event.
But as an organiser, it’s essential that the infrastructure is there to make it work. Caterers will need flat space, power, water, refrigeration facilities and time to produce great food. Be realistic about what they need, and be led by them. If they say they need a full kitchen to deliver what you’re asking for, listen and adapt your plans.
Think carefully about the placement of your food offer. If it’s a sit-down meal, don’t ask catering staff to bring hot food long distances from their kitchen setup. If you’re offering stalls with street food, consider queueing patterns and possible bottlenecks: will a line of hungry people block an essential thoroughfare?
As noted above, signage is an important part of making your event accessible for everyone. If no one can tell you where the toilets are, or the way to the First Aid station, it’s bad news.
Think carefully about how signage will be fitted into your outdoor space. If you have fixed items like lampposts, attach your signage to these. Banners hanging from fences and buildings, or feather flags, can be effective. Avoid anything that can easily be moved or blown over in the wind, or is inserted into the ground and will leave damage.
For larger events, a map is also a great way to support wayfinding. To avoid wasteful printing, make this available online in advance. A few large-scale printed banners on site will also help: encourage people to snap a photo and they’ll have it on their phone.
The premises licences you need will depend on the nature of your event – but never assume they’re in place until you’ve checked.
Live music, movie screenings, serving alcohol and late-night food services all need licences. Find out if your venue is covered: if not, you can apply for a temporary licence.
A successful outdoor event of any size takes many hands.
It’s vital that your staff team are all well briefed, and prepared for the variety of questions they might be asked. Even if it’s not their area, they should be able to help a guest.
If you’re relying on mobile phones to communicate with staff on the ground, check signal is strong in all areas and that all numbers have been distributed. If you’re using radios, again check the coverage. Make sure they know exactly what to do in an emergency, and who to contact first if they see an issue.