If a cottage has been in the family for one or two generations a life time of memories has already been built. Holding a wedding there, with friends and family for whom the cottage already has significance, can be very special. But, there are details of a cottage wedding that need to be addressed to make it successful.
Because of the beauty and relaxed setting, cottage weddings are more romantic than a wedding in a banquet hall. The wind in the trees, the moon on the lake, the flicker of the torches, the glitter of silverware are all irresistible. Two favourite wedding memories stand out: The first was of a bride and groom driven across Lake Temiskaming in a 1930's Italian speed boat. They were met at the dock by ushers, resplendent in tuxedos. The waterfront and dock were awash with flowers.
The second memory is of a waterfront wedding on Toronto Island. The guests arrived by chartered yacht and were greeted by the bride and groom. The day was structured as a "Reverse Wedding" with the ceremony late in the day, near dusk. A wedding arch framed the young couple, with the setting sun over Lake Ontario and with Toronto in the background. Not a dry eye there.
Without the ceremony you may have a party but not a wedding. Cottage weddings are really dependant on a Minister, Justice of the Peace or other officiant to come to the cottage. Itinerant officiants are scarce in the summer time; demand far exceeds supply, especially in cottage country. At the very latest you should have this organized by mid-April of the year of the wedding.
Since few cottages are large enough inside to accommodate 75 to 150 guests, the size of a typical cottage wedding, a tent is usually required. Tent size is based on a minimum of fifteen square feet per seated guest. 100 guests, therefore require 1500 square feet of tent. This could measure 30' x 50', for example. In addition to the footprint of the tent itself, a further 10 feet all around are required for support ropes.
The tent footprint must be unencumbered by overhanging branches, wires and eaves troughs. The ground should be level and free of rocks, shrubs and planters. Additional space is required for the food preparation area, washrooms and service vehicle parking. You will need a staff tent if you don't want staff to change into their uniforms inside the cottage.
Few cottage septic systems will accommodate the demands of 100 or more guests. The problem is easily solved by renting a washroom trailer. These are almost "hotel" quality, self-sufficient in terms of running water in the sinks and toilets and with electric lights and stairs. A washroom trailer must be parked on level ground near, but not too near, the reception tent. The path from the reception tent to the washroom trailer must be level and well lighted.
Given the distance your guests will travel from the city, overnight accommodation close to the cottage is essential. Bookings must be done by early April to find any space other than a shabby motel by the side of the highway.
Even if you book enough rooms for your guests the job is still not done. Given the late hour at which guests will be leaving the wedding and their unfamiliarity with the area, providing transportation between the cottage and local hotels will be a plus. You will need to charter at least 2 mini vans from a local taxi company to take guests from the wedding later at night. This allows guests to leave more or less as they wish. During the afternoon, when all guests need to be on site at approximately the same time, a bus works better. Make sure that all drivers know where they have to go and when they have to get there.
An alternative to hotel rooms would be the rental of motor homes for the weekend of the wedding. Parking space is an issue but providing your guests with comfortable sleeping accommodation near the wedding is remarkably convenient for everyone.
At 2.25 guests per car, 100 guests will require parking space for 40 cars. Ask your cottage neighbors for permission to park on their properties. Remember not to park cars so as to block in the caterer, cake supplier, florist or anyone else that might have to leave before many of your guests. It's difficult trying to get guests to move their cars when they are busy having a good time.
If your main parking is some distance from the reception area, valet parking service is one answer. The service typically carries insurance in case a car is scratched in the parking lot. An alternative is to rent one or two 6 passenger golf carts for a shuttle service.
Depending on the month, flying and /or crawling biting insects are present. Be prepared by having sufficient insect repellent on hand for all of your guests. Make sure that whatever repellent you choose will not stain clothing. Also a good idea to lay down a fog of insect repellent the morning of the wedding; supplied by a professional landscape or pest control company.
There is a risk of accident and injury without adequate lighting of all paths that your guests will use at night to get to parking, washrooms, or a neighbour's cottage. At night in unfamiliar surroundings, people tend to thrash about. This is especially risky for the elderly or tipsy. Special attention and additional lighting must be given to rocks and tree roots that are visible in daylight. At night, they aren't. Rope lights are effective and beautiful, as are railway type lanterns. No open flames.
The wedding will require between 7 and 10 independent circuits, each of at least 15 amps. This will provide for tent lighting, sound systems, additional refrigeration brought by the caterer, coffee brewing, etc. If your neighbours are close enough, draw a few circuits there. If not, you may wish to consult with an electrician about beefing up your service. (Generators, unless of the silent variety used on a movie set, are too noisy).
Your caterer will need to be equipped with sufficient portable refrigeration to safely store all foods that need to be kept cold. Shrimp is especially fragile in hot weather. You should ask specifically about the caterers plans for cold storage.
It is always a good idea to notify your insurance company at least 4 months in advance that you are planning a liquor-related event on your property. You may be advised to add a rider to your homeowner's policy. You will also need to see evidence that your caterer is adequately insured with a PLPD policy in the amount of at least $5million that covers the service of alcohol, among other risks. See "Bar Service".
You will need to see evidence that everyone serving alcohol is "Smart Serve" trained and certified. If bar tenders are not certified, your insurance coverage is voidable. If alcohol is served, (but not sold), in a tent at a private party on private property, no Special Occasion permit is required. This does not relieve you or your bar tenders from the responsibility to manage your guests' consumption of alcohol. Even if your guests aren't driving they can suffer an alcohol related accident by tripping on a tree root or falling into the water. It is your duty to make sure that all guests get home safely.
Beverage Service can be divided into 4 time periods: before the ceremony, before dinner, during dinner, after dinner.
1. Before the ceremony serve real fruit punch, frozen fruit drinks and lemon or lime flavoured water - no alcohol.
2. After the ceremony begin to celebrate with a toast to the bride and groom with champagne or sparkling wine. Henkell Trochen or Frexeinet are medium priced sparkling wines that have the cachet of expensive French champagne without the expense. Women will cling to a champagne flute as a stylish fashion accessory long after their glass is empty. This helps minimize alcohol consumption when guests have not yet had anything substantial to eat.
3. During dinner wine is served at each table. Opened bottles may be placed on the table for guests to share or servers can pour for each guest. The bar should be closed except for the service of non-alcoholic drinks to children
4. After dinner the service of hard liquor may begin. Make sure to close the bar at least 30 minutes before guest departure. The days of "one more for the road" are past. Coffee and tea should remain available throughout the evening.
Menu Planning - Dining Alfresco
At the risk of stating the obvious, a cottage wedding menu recognizes that guests are dining during a Canadian summer, outdoors. This is not a setting for roast beef and mashed potatoes. The menu should draw on local produce, fresh from the garden. The menu should sparkle with fresh fruit and vegetables used generously in appetizers, salads, side dishes and desserts.
It's always better to cook on-site, a la minute, rather than at a base kitchen hours away. Few foods survive the trip without losing taste, texture and colour. Cooking on site is also interesting for your guests. Frequently, our chefs have an attentive audience as steak or lobster or stuffed tomatoes meet the grill. Steak Diane always produces a chorus of "Ooohs" and "Aaahs" as the cognac goes flambe.
Some dishes are more difficult than others. At a cottage wedding I try to avoid anything with ice cream or freshly whipped cream. Hot weather is a real challenge for such delicate foods.
After the ceremony, dinner and speeches your event becomes a party. The urge to bust loose needs to be tempered by the ease with which noise travels across the water. Unless you simply cannot be heard by neighbours, start to turn down the music volume by 11:00 p.m. A great way to evolve the night is with a camp fire. Guitar music, a sing along, hot buttered rum, mulled wine, roasted marshmallows and chestnuts all evoke the reasons for a cottage wedding in the first place.
An added touch is for torch-lit canoes to park on the water beyond the lights of the cottage. We have also seen the bride and groom leave on their honeymoon by paddling off into the dark by torch light. Very romantic.
If you value good neighbours you will notify them three months before the wedding that you are having a party. Mail them a note to their home address in the city and leave a copy in their mail box at the cottage. Then, phone them. Better yet, invite them. You may need their help with parking, refrigerator/kitchen space, bedrooms, electricity, etc.
Don't let guests' cars block the access road to a neighbour's cottage. Don't let young guests wander onto a neighbour's property, or feed or annoy their pets or play with their toys. Your celebration should not become someone else's head ache.
Supervision of Children.
Young children at a cottage wedding require extra supervision, especially around water, poison ivy, bee hives, pets and other animals. It is essential that supervision be assigned to someone who is not part of the wedding celebration and who is competent to deal with problems. Bronze Medallion life guard qualifications are a minimum. One supervisor for no more than 12 young guests. Prepare a program for young guests with the opportunity to explore, play games, burn off energy and have fun. A room needs to be set aside for them to fall asleep early after dinner. Outfit this room with kids' videos, story books, pillows and blankets. Older kids can enjoy a camp fire complete with marshmallow roast and story telling. After these kids have retired, older guests can enjoy the fire themselves.
Good weather may be hoped for; bad weather must be planned for. Keep plenty of golf umbrellas on hand for guests who have to leave the tent during rain. Have umbrellas near the parking area so that guests can get comfortably from their cars. If rain prevents an outdoor ceremony the dance floor inside the tent is an effective alternative. If the weather is unusually hot provide monster fans for a breeze. If the weather is unusually cool provide tent heaters. Remind your guests to avoid high heels and floor length gowns. Hats are both fashionable and practical. Sweaters or blazers are unavoidable.
I was once contacted by a prospective client who said she relied on karma to take care of her wedding and paid no attention to detail. She thought that using a tape measure to determine the space available for a tent was too fussy. We refused her business. Cottage weddings will provide a lifetime of beautiful memories, but, they require planning.