Everything You Need to Know About Wedding Tents

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Everything You Need to Know About Wedding Tents

Learn how to set up your tented wedding for success.

Jaimie Mackey was the real weddings editor at Brides from 2013 to 2015. She also worked as a luxury wedding planner and produced over 100 high-end weddings and events in Colorado

Photo by Christian Oth Studio

Whether it’s part of your design scheme for an outdoor bash or a “just in case” rental while you cross your fingers that it doesn’t rain, there’s a whole lot more to tenting of your wedding than just putting up a structure and proceeding with your plans. From styles and sizes to specifications for space, tents can actually be pretty intricate. They also can play a major impact in your wedding design. For example, a sailcloth wedding tent and a clear wedding tent can create entirely different backdrops to your celebration. However, the process of tenting your event doesn’t have to be a headache.

"Reserving a tent is one of the first things we do, even if it's just a backup tent for inclement weather," says Reagan Kerr, owner of Reagan Events. "As big of a commitment it is to reserve a tent if you may not use it, I always tell our clients that this is their insurance policy."

Reagan Kerr is the owner of Reagan Events, a full-service wedding and event planning company based in Charleston, South Carolina.

Think it might be best to explore this option for your outdoor affair? Read on for all the expert tips and details you need to know about tenting your wedding.

First, it's important to determine if you actually need a tent for your wedding. After all, they're not necessary for every celebration. "Tents are appropriate for any outdoor event that may be impacted by the weather, may it be rain or extreme temperatures," says Kerr. "If there's any chance of rain, freezing temps, or sweltering heat, a couple should consider a tent to minimize any discomfort or surprises (or at least have a thorough backup plan with a bad weather tent on reserve)."

Aside from weather considerations, Kerr notes that most bands also require a tent to ensure their equipment will be protected. If you are bringing in a tent, she advises to "incorporate it into the overall design for a more cohesive look."

If you're having an outdoor wedding, include a tent in your wedding budget and decide to use it rain or shine. Not only can you plan your décor around it, but it can spare you a lot of last-minute scrambling.

Since a tent can be a major part of your wedding look and budget, the last thing you want is to choose the wrong rental company. To be sure you're finding the best fit, start by asking friends, family, and your wedding planner for recommendations. In addition, ask a few questions of the company ahead of time to find a great fit. You should find out if they are already familiar with your venue, if they have all the equipment necessary for the job, and if there is enough staff available to handle tenting your event on your wedding date.

When you decide to rent a tent, a representative from the company will come to survey the site. They will measure the total available space and any grade change (i.e. if the space you’re tenting is sloped in any way). They also will note the type of surface it will be on and measure for any connecting canopies you’d like to install between tents or between a tent and a building. They’ll also look for overhead obstructions—such as tree branches or power lines—and indications of any underground utility lines. The tent company will contact public utility companies to have them mark their lines, but in the event that there are private utilities—including gas, electric, or on-site sprinkler lines—it is the client’s responsibility to let the tent company know if anything is in the vicinity.

Tents for weddings come in two basic structures: pole tents and frame tents. However, there are additional options, including marquee tents, sailcloth tents, and clear tents, that could be the best fit for your big day. Ahead, we break each style down.

Tension pole tents have center poles that hold up the roof. They rely on a pattern of stakes and tie-downs to achieve stability, so they need to be set up in an area with softer ground, such as grass. With large poles in the center, they create a tall towering ceiling, which adds an element of elegance to a reception.

Frame tents are clear span structures that have metal frames to support the roof with an open space beneath the canopy. They are self-supporting and can be weighted down if the ground does not allow for staking. Frame tents generally require interior draping to conceal the internal framework, which can increase the cost of the tent rental. However, it also provides a great opportunity to add luscious draping and string lights.

A marquee tent combines the concept of a pole tent and a frame tent to build a beautiful structure. The freestanding metal frame creates height for a tall roof. Plus, there’s the added benefit of no poles in the middle to work around.

Photo by Amanda K. Photography

Sailcloth wedding tents utilize poles to create a structural base to pair with beautiful sailcloth material. Since it is essentially a pole tent, it needs to be set up in an area that can have stakes put into the ground. As for decorating? The poles and the fabric for sailcloth tents are beautiful in their own right, so the structure can be left as is.

For a more modern look, a clear tent is the way to go. It’s set up with a metal frame like a frame tent. However, a clear tent has a transparent canopy, allowing plenty of light to shine in. This option can be left simple and undecorated to let the nature outside shine around you, or it can be enhanced with beautiful lighting.

Want to learn all the details that will help you choose the best tent possible for your wedding? Read ahead for some important tips to remember.

As you are blocking out space for your wedding tent, be sure to account for stakes. Only clear span tents can be safely installed without additional space for staking, as they go directly into the base of the legs. All other tents require a clearance of between five to 10 feet around the perimeter to allow room for tie-downs and stakes.

Tents can be customized to almost any size, ranging from an intimate backyard dinner to a gala of 1,000 guests. If you’re planning to have both dinner and dancing within the tent, you’ll want to account for 20 to 25 square feet per person. For a dinner reception without a dance floor, you will need between 18 and 22 square feet per person. For example, a tent for 200 people with dancing would require a 46-foot by 125-foot sailcloth tent with central poles or a 40-foot by 120-foot frame tent with open space beneath the canopy.

When it comes to customizing and upgrading your tent, the possibilities are limitless. Any tent can be dressed up in a variety of beautiful ways to match your wedding's aesthetic.

"Flooring is almost always my first upgrade," says Kerr. "Unlike other decorative bells and whistles, flooring is directly related to your guests' level of comfort. Heels in grass all evening are not fun!" If rain is part of the equation for your wedding day, Kerr says a nice floor will eliminate the worry of having a soggy ground.

Flooring options can range from artificial turf to hardwood planks that rival the interior of a beautiful home. Platform flooring can be leveled to adjust for severe grade changes or dips in the ground beneath the tent. Just be sure to add in quite a bit more to your budget for this upgrade. Flooring can typically range from $1.50 to $2.00 per square foot, depending on the type.

One of the most important ways you can dress up a tent is lighting. Many tent companies carry a limited selection of fixtures built specifically for their tents, while specialty lighting companies can take it to the next level. Of course, the price range for this upgrade changes drastically depending on your choice, from $50 to $500.

Whether it’s just on the side poles or consists of a full ceiling treatment, draping is another important upgrade to enhance the look of a wedding tent. Simple white draping is a more affordable option, but you can also opt for other neutral fabrics or even a pop of color. Many tenting companies may include this option in their full quote, or they offer it at an additional charge.

Tent availability depends on the date you’ve chosen for your wedding. During the busiest months, you’ll want to reserve your tent as soon as possible. Any last-minute plans may mean the tent company is completely sold out.

Get a quote and discuss the equipment you’ll need as soon as you’ve chosen your date, even if it’s just in case of bad weather. Chances are, you'll need to pay a non-refundable or partially non-refundable deposit to hold the tent. Also, most tent companies will need to know if you’ll be using the tent 24 hours before they’re scheduled to install.

Before you book your venue, it's important to determine if you need a tent and to confirm with them if you can even bring one on-site. Start by asking your venue the following questions:

Setting up a tent can take anywhere from a couple of hours to two weeks or more. A standard tent set-up for most backyard weddings can be assembled and pitched in a day or two. Ideally, you’ll want your tent set up four or five days in advance to allow time for the décor and rentals to be delivered and installed.

According to Kerr, it's important to have your tent set up with as much time ahead of your big day as possible, especially if you're planning on including extensive décor. "If ceiling installations or flooring are part of the plan, putting the tent up in advance is key," she says. "If the venue availability does not allow for an early installation, couples will either need to adjust how expansive their décor is or explore another date where they can reserve the day prior," she says.

According to Kerr, wind is always one of the greatest concerns when working with a tent. "If you are planning an event on the ocean, on a cliff, or on a rooftop, strong potential wind gusts must be considered," she says. "Many rental companies have policies in place that if you are within a certain mileage of a named storm, their liability requires them to take the tent down."

Be sure to consider any tripping hazards a tent may create, such as stakes or tie-downs in the ground. Kerr suggests incorporating a collection of lanterns or potted plants for décor so there's no potential for tripping.

Finding a trustworthy and reputable tent vendor is the most important part of making sure your event is successful. Seek out someone who will take the time to talk you through the process, from securing the proper permits and surveying the site to sending detailed diagrams and providing proof of insurance. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and images of events with similar equipment to be sure you're getting the safest and best set-up for your big day.

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