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Advice for a tent wedding

Working for a wedding association one of the typical questions we get is about having a tented wedding -vs- a banquet hall/venue wedding and what’s the best way and cheapest option. I can’t say what the “best” is, I can say both options require a different amount of attention and preparation. Over the past few months I had the opportunity of working with a couple as their wedding coordinator for a wedding that recently happened. This wedding was a beautiful rustic chic tented wedding located on the couples property. Kudos to them for pulling off such an elaborate fun filled affair I must say. As the coordinator some of my duties were handling communication and payment for vendors, setting a timeline for day of, and making sure the wedding flowed properly. I was hired to do one job, and that is to make the wedding day go flawlessly for the couple. Hiring a day of coordinator allows the couple to be a guest at their own wedding.

This picture shows a backyard tent location, with ample space and plenty of distance from surrounding trees from a 2014 wedding our Adirondack-Albany Wedding Association members assisted at. Of course, not everyone has this kind of backyard!

Let’s start with what you truly need to rent and bring in for a tented wedding. First, renting a party tent that can accommodate your guests, a dance floor, your entertainment (DJ/Band), food tables, gift tables, drinks & enough space for your guests to wander. Now that you have your tent, you will have to rent tables, chairs, linens, and all the flatware and dishes you would need. Wow the options and possibilities may seem endless. Luckily, I had narrowed down these options to the couple so they were not overwhelmed. Full service venues include all the above. All you would need to worry about is what color linen and napkins you want, sounds simpler right? Tented weddings allow you to customize everything down to the smallest detail.

When you have your wedding in a venue you always have weather on your side. Unfortunately, we can’t control Mother Nature which is the biggest obstacle of the tented wedding. The forecast 48 hours before the wedding was set for 0% chance of rain and bright sunshine, yay for the perfect outdoor wedding! Oh wait, now 24 hours before the wedding the chance of rain is now 60% with showers all day. Luckily, the tent comes with the option of having walls to plan ahead for these conditions. The ceremony was set for outdoors, and with such a large guest count moving it inside the tent would have been cramped. Showers came and went throughout the day. In-between the mist and clouds we were trying to keep everything as dry as possible in preparation for the ceremony. 4:00 PM and the rain stops and the wedding starts right on time and goes off just as planned. The surrounding grounds were damp from all the rain but it didn’t stop guests from enjoying themselves.

The reception has now started and introductions went flawlessly. It feels so good seeing the couple share the first dance and knowing I helped them create a day they will truly remember. For tented weddings you have to decide what you’re going to do for catering. I would ALWAYS suggest having a catering company come in and do your food. I hear time again “but we want to save money, and my family can cook.” If your family is worrying about putting the food out at the correct time, are they really enjoying your special day? Leave the stress of worrying about your food to your catering company and your day of coordinator. Both will work together to set everything up without being noticed. Remember to find a reputable cater that will show up on time, and ensure your food is still HOT. It’s in your best interest to ask your catering company who will be setting up this food especially if it’s a drop off only. In this situation the food was drop off only, they came and left the food, now what? If they didn’t have a wedding coordinator, who would have ensured the food was out and ready to be served? That is one of the many reasons you should hire a wedding coordinator.

Have you ever noticed that weddings at an inside venue, even at 3:00pm it still feels like it is 9:00pm? Venues have the advantage of turning the lights down to set the mood for nighttime dancing and fun. You can’t darken the outdoors with a tented wedding. The DJ was doing a fantastic job playing a variety of music to entice people to get up and start dancing, but it being bright day light guests were hesitant to get up and cut loose. Advantage of people not dancing as much was they were able to freely walk the property, engage in some outdoor games, enjoy the sights, & mingle with one another. At dusk the drinks were flowing and the dance floor was filling up with family and friends that were surrounding the bride and groom with love. We ended the night with a sparkler send off. The guest created two rows for the newly married couple to run down, with people cheering on their love. Best part of having an outdoor wedding on personal property was the guests got to enjoy a full fireworks show without having to travel to crowed places. They also had two hours of overtime from their DJ and did not have to pay the venue for this.

In the end, the wedding was the perfect balance between romance and fun for everyone that attended. The couple had the ability to customize the entire day and make it a truly unique and memorable experience. No rules or limitation from a venue, telling them what time the celebration had to end. As the wedding coordinator, I was able to bring the brides creative wedding touches to life. ~~End of post

Marks notes:

-for a list of reputable coordinators and planners in your area, visit: Association Of Bridal Consultants.

-some caterers include the flatware, linens, etc—always make sure to ask what is included, from ALL your vendors BEFORE hiring them. Many wedding coordinators/planners offer contract review for you, another valuable service. They are used to looking at contracts each week and can usually help you identify any issues or wording that may result in a charge or unforeseen later on, possibly when it’s too late.

-Secondly, many folks use two tents, think they are going to put “the bar over here in this tent” or “we’re using this tent for the buffet.” This works out great, if it does not rain. Having two tents away from each other, or side by side connected, can be a potential nightmare if it rains. If using more than one tent, make sure to ask for a gutter or covered walkway between them, depending on how close they are to each other. One larger tent, where it will fit, is always a great way to go. Never put a tent at the bottom of a hill, especially on freshly planted grass…I have seen it, 3” of rain later, complete mud pit.

- If you are having a wedding on your property, you assume more responsibility for alcohol consumption by your guests. Using a licensed caterer or beverage provider lessens this. There's even a licsensed bartender service available locally which may help lighten your load as well. Having a shuttle provide transportation and purchasing wedding insurance is ALWAYS a great idea too! You can find all these vendors through your hired planner and of course at

-Generator-power goes out! Sometimes it even goes out when it’s not storming. Having a generator for the entertainment and lighting will ensure your celebration continues without a hitch. My suggestion is to avoid your personal property tent wedding in the months of May-July in our region. That is when the most violent thunderstorms occur each year, but they can come anytime of course!

-Always make sure you are not over taxing your houses power output. Most DJs/band can run on 1-2 individual circuts. Use caution on anything that has a heating element, such as a coffee pot or heat lamps...they tend to draw the most and should be on their own circuit as well.

-Restrooms: you can go as simple as portable, plastic outhouses to high end luxury restroom trailers complete with running water, air-conditing/heat. It's like being in your house! These trailers will need water hook up and a decent power supply.

-BUG SPRAY! Or citronella candles/torches. Do not forget these!

-Lastly, Kate mentioned a tent large enough for all your tables, dance floor, food service, bar, etc. Make sure it’s large enough so everyone is actually in the tent, and not on the edges. In the event of rain, especially a slight or more intense blowing rain, the drips from the side will come a good 3’ into the tent on all sides. Not good for electronics like a DJ would provide, cash registers, buffets, décor or other things that will get damaged in the rain.

This picture is from a 2015 tent wedding at AAWA member Dunham's Bay Resort. They have their own tent on property, not only placed very well, but have installed drainage underneath, a hard surface covered with indoor-outdoor carpet and plenty of power as well as a backup generator.

Photo credit, AAWA Member, Caitlin Miller Photography.

This picture below shows two tents, connected with a covered walkway. Thank goodness for pre-planning as it did rain during this event. One was used for the dining and the smaller second tent held the dance floor and DJ. It was a total success in 2010.

Photo credit, AAWA member Total Entertainment.

Another picture where two different tents were needed due to property size limitations, trees and the aisle being in the middle. One larger tent would not have worked here.

Last picture shows a restroom trailer. This is a smaller unit, two doors on right side for ladies, one on left for gentlemen. These trailers typically start artound $1000.00 for an event rental.

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