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Everything You Need to Know About Planning and Designing Tent Weddings in 2021

Everything You Need to Know About Planning and Designing Tent Weddings in 2021

Turnkey venue or tented venue? Wondering which is more expensive? Ready for the inside planner scoop? Let’s break it down with everything you need to know about planning and designing a tent wedding.

Tented Wedding From Sapphire EventsPhotographer: Michelle Boyd

What is a Turnkey Venue?

It’s very literally a brick and mortar space. 4 walls, a roof over your head, and a floor under your feet that provides just about everything in house that you could possibly need. A turnkey venue has readily available utilities like water, electricity, restrooms, and even waste management (don’t forget you have to take out the trash!)

While you can customize a turnkey venue to a point (with décor and your floor plan), it’s a very self-sufficient space. Some examples would be a hotel ballroom, a country club, or any space that rents itself out regularly as an event location.

Now, a semi-turnkey event space will be lacking specific amenities – this could be a historic venue or an open warehouse space. The bones are there, but you’ll need to round it out more with a great support system. Your catering team may have to build out a larger kitchen space or you may have to incorporate additional outdoor space to increase your square footage and accommodate all your guests and the entertainment.

A Tented Wedding Space

This is the complete opposite of everything we’ve touched on so far. This is a completely blank slate. Many times it seems like a backyard or family property wedding should be less expensive overall, however, what many people aren’t considering is how extensive the buildout will need to be. And this includes if you have a small guest count!

If you’ve been following for a while, you know I preach about price per person and how the largest check you will write for your wedding will be food & beverage. Let’s go ahead and throw a big asterisk next to that because a tent wedding is a totally different ballgame.  For a tented wedding, the biggest check you will write will be for the support and production team that is making that wedding happen from the ground up.

Tented weddings and full build outs are my absolute favorite venues. Even if they require so many additional logistics!

Tented Wedding With Chandelier Lighting From Sapphire EventsPhotographer: Sydney Baye

The Structure

This will likely be a tent. There are so many variations to choose from!

  • Sailcloth Tent: Stunningly beautiful, but because the poles are located on the inside of the tent, you have to be able to design around them.
  • Steel Gable Tent: These can be larger in scale because of the way the structure is assembled. Especially a great option if you’re having a large stage or a large guest count.
  • Clear Top Tent: What time of year are you getting married? While gorgeous, this tent type can get very hot during summer months because of the magnifying glass effect.

Other factors/features:

  • Side Walls: In certain spaces these make functional sense based on the layout. You’ll need to be mindful of where those openings are.
  • Rain Plan: You’ve heard me say this before, but you need to love Plan B and Plan C as much as you love Plan A. Especially when you’re debating a tent and side walls to keep everyone dry.

Tented Wedding With Turf From Sapphire EventsPhotographer: Lance Nicoll

Tent Size

As you’re building out your blank slate event, you have to consider things like number of guests and service style. If you’re doing a seated dinner for 200 guests with a stage and a dance floor, you also have to budget room for catering stations and bars. A cocktail style reception would require enough space that the majority of your guests can take a seat, catering and service to take place, and there’s enough room to easily access the bars and dance floor.  You’ll need to check with your band’s rider to find out their stage size needed. Will what they need fit into your tent comfortably along with all guest tables and bars? There’s also a need for a small tent for your “band green room” – they need a location away from the reception to change clothes if necessary as well as have their breaks in. Speak with all your vendors and find out their additional storage space needs, as an additional tent may be necessary for that.

Food & Beverage

You have to ensure you’re accommodating the correct number of bars, as well. I recommend 1 bartender per 50 guests. Do you want multiple satellite bars or a pit bar in the middle that takes up more space but allows for access from all sides?

And you can’t forget a catering tent! They will need a space to operate their back of house and store all their service supplies. And opaque, whole frame tent would be just fine for this! Check with your caterer to see the amount of square footage they need based on their staff size and your service style.

Champagne Tower From Sapphire EventsPhotographer: Sydney Baye

Flooring

How level is your current event space? How does it drain? While some things are considered luxuries and “nice to haves”, providing your guests with a floor is an absolute “need to have.” Flooring will go down first, even before your tent structure.

  • Lay of the Land Floor: This is a subfloor that is applied directly to your land space. There may be uneven spaces depending on your current grading.
  • Raised Floor: This is going to raised 18-24 inches and it will ensure your entire space is level from end to end.

I need you to really take in what I’m going to say next. When it comes to tented weddings and you need to have a floor, be prepared for your floor to cost more than your tent and even possibly more than your tent and food & beverage combined. Building a floor is the single most expensive aspect from creating an aspect from the ground up. Remember, you’re not only paying for something to be build in a very short time frame, but also have it taken down. This requires a vast amount of really amazing labor. To give you a bit of perspective, your flooring can cost more than someone people spend on an entire turnkey venue.

Real Wedding Story: On a Sunday, the subfloor was installed. That evening the site experienced torrential rainfall. Although the subfloor was covered with a tarp, a third of the pieces were compromised and needed to be replaced. This is why you have to ensure you have a timing buffer built in to the install of production.

Additional flooring options (on top of your subfloor) include turf, carpeting, linoleum, and even actual hardwood. Remember – each of these coverings can vary in price point. As pretty as the surface you put on top is, don’t forget how necessary flooring actually is. It’s there to ensure everything is level and it’s supporting all of your tables, chairs, glassware, and also ladies in heels! Plus, if Mother Nature stops by with a storm, you want to make sure that your event space is raised so your wedding stays dry!

Landscaping and grading can be an additional expense as well. No matter your type of subflooring, will your current environment around the tent sustain the level of event you’re looking to produce? If not, you’ll need to get that sorted way before even thinking about installation. Does brush need to be cleared out? Do you want to lay down gravel or create additional pavement pathways?

Luxury Tented Wedding From Sapphire Events Photographer: Michelle Boyd

Electricity

As you aren’t in a turnkey venue, you will need to bring in all electrical needs to support your entire event. This can include overhead lighting for the tent itself, entertainment lighting (including stage lights and a wash over the dance floor), support for your band’s backline, sound equipment, functional lighting for all pathways (especially as the sun goes down!) to get to and from parking areas and bathrooms, exterior tent lighting, and catering tent (not just for function but for power for their equipment).

Where will all this power come from? Are you providing a generator? How many amps and outlets will be available? You may also be considering pulling from a distribution source or panel that is connected to the property’s existing electrical source. If this is the case, you will need to calculate all electrical needs ahead of time so you can ensure enough power is available.

Photographer: Michelle Boyd

Water + Restrooms

Where is the water for your bathrooms coming from? Your florist will also need access to water as will your caterer, not only for cooking needs, but for handwashing stations.

Restrooms will need to be brought onsite that will accommodate not only your guest count, but your vendor and staffing count as well.

And, of course, we can’t forget about waste management. This is a major one when you’re not in a turnkey venue. How much cubic footage in a dumpster will you need to handle all of the inevitable waste that your event will have? Remote locations likely will not have nearby trash receptacles that you will be able to utilize. You will need to think through the volume of the waste your caterer will be producing as well as all waste before and after the event, especially when tearing everything down.

Rentals + Equipment

Everything you use during your wedding will need to be brought in from offsite. This includes tables, chairs, linens, stage, dance floor, and all functional items your vendors will use like back bars, catering tables, etc.

Refrigeration is another item to consider. Do you need a refrigerated truck to house ice, specialty bar items, all cold food, etc. And you’ll need a power source for the fridge!

Photographer: Michelle Boyd

Property Access

Most of your vendors will be arriving in box trucks. Do you have space and pathways for all of them? And how will they all leave at the end of the night? How about parking and transportation for your guests?

By now I’m sure you’ve realized how intense planning and designing a tent wedding can be. But going into this with eyes wide open is the absolute best way to understand the needs of a tented wedding and basic items like electricity and water that you just can’t skimp on. Having the wedding of your dreams in this situation is not impossible. In fact, Sapphire Events does it all the time and there is truly nothing more special than an event that you’ve literally created from nothing.