A wedding reception beneath a gorgeously decorated tent can provide the best of both worlds for your wedding. You get the feel of an outdoor reception, yet you’re shielded from the elements. Of course, planning a tented reception is a bit more complicated than simply pitching a tent atop a picturesque green space. A tented reception comes with its own set of unique challenges.
Before you say yes to a tented wedding, take these nine considerations under advisement.
The number one consideration before booking a tent should be the weather. Of course, there’s no way to tell far in advance if it will rain on your wedding day, but you can take some other factors into consideration. Are you getting married in the summer in a location where it’s sure to be sweltering? Do you want to get married on a mountaintop where snow could be drifting outside your tent? These factors aren’t insurmountable, but it does mean you’ll need to factor extra accessories into your budget – like AC units or fans in the summer or propane heaters in the winter.
Investing in sides for your tent to block out potential rain is also a must. “Tents can withstand a lot of weather. If done right, you won’t even know there is a storm outside,” says Elle Ellinghaus of Elle Ellinghaus Designs in Baltimore, Md. “Literally, I had a tented wedding during Hurricane Joaquin in 2015. Outside was miserable, but we arranged for special precautions that week and the inside was lovely!”
A tent is basically a blank canvas, which is wonderful for making your wedding vision come to life. But it also means nearly everything has to be rented a la carte. From tent size to lighting to furniture rentals, a tent rental and its attendant accoutrements can add up quickly. Another added expense? The set-up. “Professional companies for tent and lighting installment are highly recommended,” says Wendy Prindle of Life Styled Events in Austin, Texas. “They will be able to ensure proper set up so that wind, rain and power are taken into consideration and avoid big day catastrophes.”
While a tent is supposed to mimic the feeling of an outdoor wedding, you’ll most likely want some of the conveniences of an indoor reception – namely, you’ll need electricity! Plan to include a generator in your budget for a tented reception. This allows you to reliably run a heating or cooling unit (depending on the season), light up the tent if your reception will extend into the evening and — if there’s no indoor kitchen nearby — set up an outdoor catering space (likely in a separate tent) so that your guests can dine on properly prepared food.
If you’re considering a tented wedding, you’ve likely paged through our dreamy indoor/outdoor inspiration. Nearly any décor you’re envisioning can be done in a tent, whether you want a country-inspired rustic wedding or an over-the-top elegant affair, but each comes with its own budget and logistical considerations. “Tents are made in a variety of styles and materials. A basic white vinyl tent is probably the most common and cost efficient way to go, but other options include clear top/sided, sail cloth, and fabric tents,” says Prindle. “Different materials are great depending on the vision of the wedding and the atmosphere that you are looking to create.” Be sure to discuss your vision with your event planner or tent rental company before making the decision to wed beneath a big top.
Keep your guests in mind when planning the layout of an outdoor wedding. If you’re holding the ceremony somewhere besides the tent, make sure guests don’t have too far to walk between the ceremony and reception. And remember your guests will need to use the bathroom! Make sure porta-potties or an indoor bathroom are nearby—and consider investing in walkway tent rentals. “If guests have to walk in the rain, cold weather or snow to use the bathroom, they will not be happy,” says Ellinghaus. “This is why walkway tents are crucial if needed.”
If you want your guests to dress up, remember that this means many female guests will be wearing high heels—with their stilettos sinking into the grass. And, if it rains, a muddy floor means the hems of pants and dresses (including a bridal gown!) could get stained – or worse, a guest could slip and fall. “If your tent will be placed on grass, consider adding a subfloor,” says Christine Terezakis or Dreamday Weddings & Events in Palm City, Florida. “While a tent will keep rain off your event, it won't keep rain water from running through the grass and under your tent which can create a muddy mess. A subfloor also gives a safer, more level foundation for furniture and for guest activity.” With a number of subfloor options – wood, carpet, faux grass, clear acrylic – it’s easy to select a subfloor that matches your décor. And consider providing heel stoppers at the reception. Your well-heeled guests can put them on to avoid sinking into the grass when they step away from the subflooring.
Before signing on the dotted line, check your chosen venue’s rules and regulations. Is it possible to set the tent up several days in advance? This will protect the ground if it rains in the days leading up to your wedding. Are there any sound ordinances that prevent you from playing music after a certain hour? Is there a place for the caterers to set up an on-site kitchen? Make sure what you’re dreaming of jives with what the venue allows.
If you’re planning to have a true outdoor wedding under the sun or stars and a tent is simply a backup in case of rain, make sure you book even the most basic tent far in advance. “We always suggest a Plan B be planned for well in advance of actually needing it,” says Prindle. “When the weather starts to turn bad, tent companies are going to get bombarded with calls and inventory may be limited or nonexistent as you move closer to the wedding date. So, it’s best to reserve a tent from the start or at least 2-3 months in advance.”
Your Stress Level
Finally, remember that a tented reception may have some challenges, but in the end, it’s your wedding day - so have fun! “If you are the person who will look up the history of the weather on your date for the past 20 years and then stalk the weather channel every hour leading up to the day, think about going a different way,” says Ellinghaus. “Weddings are a plethora of emotion and stress and the last thing you want to worry about is weather. On the other hand, if you are the person who says, ‘I would like sunshine, but if it rains I'll dance in the puddles!’ then a tent is definitely for you!”