On my first date with my wife, long before thoughts of marriage had entered either of our heads, I shared a long-held ambition. “Under the right circumstances,” I said, unintentionally sounding like a character from The Producers, “a wedding could actually earn money for a couple.”
With gifts per guest ranging from $50-$100, all you had to do, I reasoned, was keep costs per guest below this. One way you could do this, I believed, was by having a tent wedding on a donated host property. But, as my future wife was quick to inform me, tent weddings are generally more expensive than non-tent weddings.
Many dates and several years later we had a tent wedding. Unsurprisingly to no one but me, it did not earn us money. However, it was a fantastic wedding and we learned a lot about holding large outdoor events. Here I share some of that “wisdom,” and also get help from two experts on tent weddings: Cindy Sanchez Lark, wedding planner and owner of Connecticut’s Detaille Weddings & Events, and Tom Byrne, president of Connecticut Rental Center, a tent rental company in Middletown.
It usually costs more
There are many benefits to a tent wedding, but as my wife knew long before our wedding, cost savings is not one of them. “There are several misconceptions about tent weddings; the most common is that tent weddings are less expensive than having a wedding at a venue,” Lark says. “Planning a tented wedding comes along with additional expenses that often times aren’t accounted for. Tent weddings can be as formal and luxurious as an indoor event. They can include hardwood flooring and climate control for comfort, beautiful chandeliers and draped fabric for aesthetics, clear top and sides for endless views and ambiance.”
Before you decide what kind of tent you want, you’ll want to decide where you’re putting it. Unless you have a friend with a farm or waterside vista, often a tented wedding means you are paying for the tent and for the venue where it’s going to be set up. And that’s just the beginning of what you’ll need to rent.
Lots of love and rentals
In addition to the tent, tablecloths, plates, silverware and glasses may also need to be rented.
“Tables, chairs, dance floor, and lighting are all brought in. The caterer may need a space in another tent and may need ovens and grills and supplies. China, glassware and flatware are other considerations,” Byrne says. He adds that couples need to ask themselves, “Will there be a head table or a sweetheart table? Do they need a dance floor? Will there be a DJ or a band? Will there be a bar or bars, gift table, seating chart table, cake table?” All these items can be rented, but all have to be factored into your budget.
For my wedding we found it was actually less expensive to buy tablecloths, which is why we now have a lifetime supply of white tablecloths — perfect if we ever open a restaurant.
Who’s got the power and planning?
Big weddings require electricity, and lots of it. Lights, catering ovens, bands and DJs use up power fast. You’ll need to figure out how and where you’re getting electricity, and factor in whether you need to rent generators or how you’re going to safely run electrical cords. And electricity is not the only safety consideration. “The tent company should do a site visit,” Byrne says. “The site for the tent should be as flat as possible and should be able to accommodate the size tent needed for the amount of people. Flooring can be used for uneven or sloping lawns, but can get expensive. Overhead obstructions and underground utilities should be considered.”
Be prepared whether or not the weather is good
“A major detail that should be discussed early on in the process is the backup plan in the event of inclement weather,” Lark says. “Couples should love both Plan A and Plan B, and be fully aware and comfortable with the logistics for each.”
Some couples want to rent a tent only as backup in case of inclement weather. Byrne says this is an option, but most companies will offer a “rain only” tent only “if the tent is paid for in full with no refund for canceling just before the delivery date.”
For my wedding we knew we wanted the atmosphere that a tent can provide, rain or shine, and knew the tent would work in light or moderate rain but not in a downpour or thunderstorm. In the event of this latter type of weather, we had the option of using an indoor gym. This was less than ideal, but we agreed that if necessary we would do it and have fun with it. In the end we lucked out and had nearly perfect weather.
Leave room in your budget for the bathroom
Every bride may dream of her big day, but it’s doubtful any of these dreams include some type of portable restroom. However, if you want a tent wedding, follow Byrne’s advice and “think about bathrooms. Do you need portable restrooms or are there facilities that can accommodate everyone on site?” You can save a lot by finding a venue with existing bathrooms. If you need to bring a bathroom in, the cost varies. Standard portable bathrooms are the least expensive option, but may not be the right call for a fancy affair. Remember, while a solid restroom situation won’t exactly make your big day, a less-than-stellar one will ruin it.
To avoid living a wedding horror story, you’ll want to work with proven professionals, both Lark and Byrne say.
“We have been doing this for 49 years,” Byrne says. “There are many companies available to do tents. Look for a company that has a proven track record, good reviews, has insurance, and mostly one that you feel comfortable working with. We have had many couples call the week before their wedding and said their tent company just canceled on them.”
Lark says couples should hire a wedding planner for a tent wedding because “planning a tent wedding is equivalent to building a wedding and venue from scratch. Everything has to be accounted for, down to the salt and pepper shakers.” She adds, “Tent weddings at a place close to a couple’s heart is one of my favorites to plan. They tend to always be unique and tell a great story.”