Outdoor Summer Events – The Tent Question?

Are you considering having an outdoor or backyard wedding or party this summer or next?  All kinds of outdoor events take place  from fun and informal get-togethers such as birthday or retirement celebrations to more formal occasions like weddings, rehearsals and brunches.


In case of bad weather, if your guest count is more than you could comfortably accommodate inside your home along with space for serving bar and buffets, you would definitely want to think about having a tent.

As an event planner with over thirty years experience, the first question I always ask is “have you  considered  getting a tent”?  Many times, the answer is “oh, I hadn’t thought about that” or “well, I think I will wait to see what the weather is going to be like and if rain is in the forecast, then make a decision”.

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Here are some things to consider:  A tent provides protection from all kinds of weather, not just rain!  A scorching hot sunny summer day will make your guests just as uncomfortable as a torrential downpour!  As well, if you are serving buffet style, you will want to have your food tables under shade as much as possible so foods can stay cooler and fresher.  Of course the caterer will also have to make sure that it is well chilled in advance and set out on ice, but the shade of a tent will help to keep the temperatures safer for the foods being served.  Wind is also a consideration.  Tents come complete with removable sides which can provide a buffer for wind.  Depending on weather conditions a day before your event, the tent installer will either leave the sides completely open or with partial or full walls installed.

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What about deciding last minute?  This is not a practical approach primarily because tents are in high demand and low supply during the peak wedding and summer entertaining season.  Unless you book ahead chances are there will be no tents available for you close to your party date.  As well, tent rental companies require a substantial non-refundable deposit when you reserve a tent for your date.  Also, these companies need to be able to schedule the installation well enough ahead to make sure there is sufficient personnel  and delivery logistics  as needed.  Even if you do manage to secure at tent at the last minute, chances are you will be getting a less than “pristine” tent with repair patches or small holes and wear and tear or even mildew stains – tents that perhaps are mainly used for festivals or other less important uses.

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So now we come to a few questions.  How big a tent do I need?  Will it fit in my yard?  What is the cost for a tent?  Can I afford it in my budget?  Are special permits required?  What are my options?  What is included in a tent?

Size:  Here are some basic guidelines when determining which size tent that would be most practical for your event.  What type of event is it?  Is it a buffet or waiter served meal with table and chair seating for all guests?  Is it going to be a cocktail style or casual barbecue/buffet style with some table seating for guests and some standing (high top cocktail tables and occasional chairs)?

For seating for all guests at round tables you will require approximately 10 square feet per person for the tables and chairs.  For every 6′ table (bar,  buffet tables, sweet tables, etc.) you will need 100 sq. feet.  If there will be a dance floor you will need about 2.5 square feet per person (dance floor comes in 9 square foot sections).

Let’s translate that into a buffet wedding party for 60 guests with dancing.
600 feet for the tables and chairs,
200 feet for bar,
300 feet for buffet table,
100 feet for deejay table
135 feet for dance floor.
That adds up to approximately 1335 square feet.  To accommodate this you would require  a 30 x 45′ tent or other configuration that gives the same approximate square footage.

Will that fit in your back yard or outdoor space?  Is the ground relatively flat.  Are there large trees or garden structures, gazebos, etc. that might interfere with a tent installation?  The tent company will have one of their specialists come to do a free site visit at your property to take measurements and determine if a tent installation is possible and what size or configuration of a tent would be required to accommodate your  requirements.  In many cases they will also be able to give you a computerized layout for your event showing recommended placement of tables, chairs and catering stations.

Cost:  Count on roughly $1.00 per square foot which will give you a basic frame tent (no centre poles), four optional sides, basic lighting and installation.  Tent permit fees vary according to type and size of tent and local municipal regulations.  The tent specialist will advise whether or not a permit is required and the fee involved.  Fees can start from $150.00 and up.


Options:  Tent options are numerous!  Tents are available all white or yellow and white striped.  Frame tents (no centre pole) or pole tent (usually larger).  Walls can be solid white or clear.  “Cathedral walls” which are white walls with clear window “arches” are lovely if you have a scenic backdrop you would like to display.  Pole drapes are covers for the tent poles.  Ceiling draping hide the tent ceiling and makes for a very romantic ambiance.  Wall draping is another option completely changing the “tent” look to a very beautiful room.  Dance floors in hardwood or black and white tiles are available as well as complete flooring and carpeting.  Popular twinkle lights are also available around the perimeter of the tent, as well as chandeliers.  The options are unlimited!  Of course, these are all available at an additional cost.  Your tent company or event planner can advise you as to how to get the maximum effect for your price point.

Written by Lin Bennett, President and Creative Director, Feast Your Eyes Catering and Event Design.