Everything You Need to Know About Wedding Tents, According to an Expert

wedding tent with chandelier and table set up

Photo by Kurt Boomer; Planned by Weddings by Silke; Floral design by Siloh Floral

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 part (or all) 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. But tenting your wedding 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."

Meet the Expert

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? Read on for all the expert tips and details you need to know about tenting your wedding.

Do You Need a Tent?

First thing's first, it's important to determine if you actually need a tent for your wedding. After all, they're not necessary for all types of weddings. "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. "Why not incorporate it into the overall design for a more cohesive look?" she adds.

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 decor around it, but it can spare you a lot of last-minute scrambling.

How to Find the Right Tent Rental Company

With such a major part of your wedding (and your budget!), the last thing you want to be dealing with is a headache from choosing 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 these questions ahead of time to find a great fit.

  • Are you familiar with our venue already?
  • Do you have all of the equipment necessary for the job?
  • Is there enough staff to handle tenting a wedding, even on your busiest weekends?

When you decide to rent a tent, a representative from the company will come to survey the site. They’ll measure the total available space and any grade change (if the space you’re tenting is sloped in any way), 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 of private utilities like private electric or gas and on-site sprinkler lines, it is the client’s responsibility to let the tent company know if there is anything in the vicinity.

Types of Tents

Tents for weddings come in two basic structures: pole tents and frame tents. However, there are multiple additional options, including marquee tents, sailcloth tents, and clear tents to find the best fit for your big day.

Tension Pole Tents

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, rather than concrete. With the large poles in the center, they create a tall tower ceiling, adding an element of elegance to a tented wedding.

Frame Tents

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, but it also gives a great opportunity to add luscious draping and string lights.

Marquee Tents

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.

Sailcloth Tents

Sailcloth tents utilize poles to create a structural base to pair with beautiful sailcloth material. But remember, because 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.

Clear Tents

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

tented wedding

Photo by Merari Photography

Wedding Tent Tips

These wedding tent tips and tricks will help alleviate any extra wedding planning stress.

Space and Sizing

Only clear span tents can be safely installed without additional space for staking, as the stakes go directly into the base of the legs. All other tents require a clearance of between 5 and 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. If you’re planning to have both dinner and dancing within the tent, you’ll want to allow for between 20 and 25 square feet per person. For dinner only (without a dance floor), you’ll need between 18 and 22 square feet per person. For example, a tent for 200 people with dancing would require a 46’ x 125’ sailcloth tent (with central poles) or a 40’ x 120’ frame tent (with an entirely open space beneath the canopy).

Upgrade Options

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: "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 range from artificial turf to hardwood plank and sisal carpet that rivals the interior of a beautiful home. Platform flooring can be leveled to adjust for even 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.

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

Draping: Whether it’s just the side poles or a full ceiling treatment, draping is an important upgrade to enhance the look of a wedding tent. Simple white draping is a much more affordable option, but you can opt for other neutral fabric options, or perhaps even a pop of color. Many companies may include this option in the full quote, or they offer it at an additional charge, which ranges in cost significantly.

When to Book

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, as 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 nonrefundable or partially non-refundable deposit to hold the tent, and most tent companies need to know if you’ll be using the tent 24 hours before they’re scheduled to install.

Check With Your Venue

Before you book your venue, it's important to determine if you need a tent. But even further, it's important to confirm you're able to bring in a tent and have it on site. Start by asking your venue the following questions:

  • Is there a maximum tent size for this venue?
  • Are there any restrictions on where the tent can go?
  • Are there any restrictions on the type of tent? Can stakes go into the ground?
  • Are there any low-hanging branches or other obstacles?
  • Are there any irrigation lines that need to be flagged before installation?
  • Can we install the tent in advance?

Set-Up and Timing

Setting up a tent can take anywhere from a couple of hours to two weeks or more. Most backyard weddings, with a standard tent set-up, can be assembled and pitched in a day or two, though ideally, you’ll want your tent set up four or five days in advance to allow time for the decor 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 extensive decor. "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 decor is or explore another date where they can reserve the day prior," she says.

Safety Precautions to Consider

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 decor so there's no potential for tripping.

Finding a trustworthy and reputable tent company is the most important part of tenting your event and making sure it's 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, best set-up for your big day.

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