Tip of the Day #58: Cardinal Rules of Tent Weddings
I am a huge fan of tent weddings. When I think of the ultimate tented wedding, my mind immediately conjures up images of The Great Gatsby. I envision sprawling lush green lawns dotted with guests sipping cool spiked lemonade juxtaposed against a dreamy white canopy. Pure heaven.
The biggest misconception about tent weddings is that they are cheaper than renting event space at a permanent venue. Tent weddings have a myriad of added costs since you are essentially building a structure from the ground up. Before you break out the measuring tape to write down the dimensions of your childhood backyard, take a peek at my tips for planning the perfect tent wedding.
You should physically walk around the space and observe the natural surroundings of the tented area. Is the space picturesque in front of a quaint house, beautiful mountains or a sunset over the ocean? Or do you have obstructed views from your neighbor’s ever-growing compost heap in their backyard? There is no hiding the natural surroundings of a 360 degree view in a tent wedding so choose your location carefully.
Picking the Right Tent Vendor
My favorite tent company is Sperry Tents based out of the Hamptons. Sperry has provided tents for A-list clients including Oprah, Martha Stewart and Jerry Seinfeld, to name a few. Their staff members are professional, provide a high-quality product and are all good-looking to boot (think Vineyard Vines meets Ralph Lauren Ivy League post-grads).
If you cannot afford to spring for a Sperry tent or want to get quotes from other companies, there are a few items to consider before signing on the dotted line. The tent company should come out for a site visit at your proposed reception location to measure the venue space and make note of any issues including sloped ground and property obstructions. In addition, they should review possible land restrictions, research permits and city or property ordinances that may have to be followed in order to hold the event at the space. The tent company should carry liability insurance and oversee set-up in addition to remaining on-site during the event to ensure the tent remains properly intact.
It is crucial to spring for flooring in tent weddings. There is nothing more awkward and uncomfortable than to see women struggle to walk in shoes as their heels sink into grass or uneven rocks. If it happens to rain before or on your wedding day, your tent will look like a mud wrestling pit. One of the most common types of tent flooring is wall-to-wall plywood laid over a sub-floor. Plastic flooring can be laid on top of concrete and turf can be used on flat surfaces as well. If you can only afford partial flooring, a wooden dance floor is adequate.
In addition, I would highly suggest providing SoleMates during your ceremony and a basket of inexpensive flip flops for the reception. SoleMates are tiny little plastic caps that are placed on the tip of high heels to make walking easier and prevent heels from sinking into the earth. Genius.
Tent wedding decor should take on a minimalist approach. Draping with fabric can do wonders to transform the tent to a luxurious event space. Another popular option the past few years has been hanging chandeliers, upside-down umbrellas or Chinese lanterns from the ceiling. Just keep in mind that hanging objects from the structure will most likely bring in additional rigging charges from your design & decor companies so make sure to keep your budget flexible if you want an extra pop of style.
As with any wedding, lighting is incredibly important. For tent weddings, stick to amber and “warm” lights to create a soft glow against the white tent backdrop. Avoid greens and blues which can come off looking harsh and cold. Candlelight always helps but be sure to check that your tent company is providing a flame retardant structure! Gobos with a floral design or monogram are also a great option to personalize the tent and add another dimension of style, similar to the tent below.
If you are working with a seasoned tent rental company, they should provide a floor plan as well as recommendations for the size of your tent to fit all of your reception elements comfortably. As a rule of thumb, if you’re seating guests at 60″ round tables, you need 100 square feet per 8 guests and 80 square feet per 8 guests for long tables. If you have a band, DJ, cake table, and other reception elements, these should also be factored into your total square footage.
It is imperative that you plan for the temperature and time of year. If it’s summer time, you should invest in temporary air conditioning units. If it’s fall or winter, heating lamps do wonders for keeping guests toasty. You should also keep in mind that the temperature will shift from the ceremony to reception as the sun goes down. An array of inexpensive shawls is also a nice touch to provide for guests for the later hours of the evening. Without sounding painfully obvious, tent wedding are essentially held outdoors. If there is a threat of rain, strong winds, snow or a brutal summer sun, it is crucial to prepare to face the elements.
Food & Beverage
Oh, there’s no kitchen in your tent? Right. The most effective way to accommodate a catering team is to construct a catering tent off to the side of your main reception. Catering takes a lot of prep space and the area will need a source of power for portable ovens and tools. Before hiring a caterer, you should disclose your plans for having a tented wedding and inquire about whether or not the company has experience with tent weddings and what they will need in terms of set up, prep and serving to adequately cater to your guests.
If you are hosting a wedding at a private residence, I would strongly recommend bringing in portable bathrooms for guests to use. You don’t want drunk guests traipsing through the home throughout the evening, wreaking havoc on your septic system. Contrary to popular belief, there are actually luxury port-a-potty rentals. Some of my favorites include Harthill Hospitality and Elite Restroom Rentals.
Types of Tents
There are a few different types of tents. Frame tents are typically the smallest and are marked by four posts supporting the structure. The Century tent has poles supporting the overhead canvas and looks like it has peaks from an aerial view. The Structure Tent typically has Aluminum I-beams instead of poles with an open floor plan. Tents vary greatly in price based on style, size and quality so make sure to do extensive research before you book a tent.
Number of Guests
It is extremely important to keep a close eye on your guest list as you receive RSVPs. Tented space has limited square footage and maximum opportunities for re-configuring the floor plan. There may not be a way to accommodate a few last minute guests if there is not enough square footage within a tent. After all, comfortable, well-fed guests will add to the positive ambiance of your wedding so make sure to plan ahead for your tent wedding!