By Kim King Smith, ABC™, Kim King Smith Events, Edinburgh/Indianapolis, Ind.

Twinkling lights. Fresh air. Outdoor revelry. Tented weddings are a gorgeous way to celebrate a momentous day. But to make a tented affair an event to remember, the professional bridal consultant must work closely with vendors to create a map for success—and then remain in the driver’s seat from start to finish.

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Tented affairs require clear direction
Tented weddings are not effortless. “Many brides fall in love with the look of an outdoor wedding, but have no idea what to do when it comes to the logistics,” says Rayna Ortwein, Always Planned, Lexington, Ky.  “The tent is just the beginning.”  Tented affairs involve many rentals of items that are normally included in an inside venue. Everything must be taken into consideration: chairs, tables, linens, lights, dance floor, staging, heat, air conditioning, bar space, restrooms, handwashing stations, insect control, trash receptacles, tent sides, pole covers, and the list continues.  Teamwork is essential to managing an outdoor event with multiple facets.  “My best tented wedding was one where everyone working the wedding worked as a team. From the caterer to the rental company, everyone was on the same page,” says Stella Inserra, PBC™, Simply Dazzling Events, New York City.

It’s also important to make sure that your client realizes everything that’s involved with a tented affair, and the subsequent expenses so you ensure a comfortable and successful event.  “A tented wedding is a more expensive option because you are building a wedding venue from the ground up,” says Inserra. The average cost of a tented wedding can be significantly higher than a traditional venue. Brides wanting to have their wedding at a home or estate should plan on paying premium prices on incidentals like landscaping, outdoor furniture, lighting, and yard décor.

Navigate pitfalls with a clear course
To ensure tented weddings are devoid of tension, misdirection, and extra expenditures, the successful consultant anticipates roadblocks and finds an alternate route. What are those roadblocks? Finding even ground on which to place the tent is one.  Level areas with few trees, wiring, or looming branches make erecting tents easy and effortless.  Steer the tent locale away from landscaped areas with shrubs, trees, and statuary.  Tent companies are well aware of the type of damage that can be rendered to their equipment. They often require a damage fee of 6 percent of the total rental fee on average.  Mike Wiggins, director of outside sales for A Classic Party Rental in Indianapolis, says, “This is a good fee to pay when you have linen, glassware, tables, and chairs with replacement costs that can run much higher. And, it’s usually a lot less than the 20 percent service fee you would pay at a venue.” Not only should your rental company have insurance on the tent, it should also have a waiver with the planner and the wedding host on it, too, according to Insurance Services Owner and CEO Wally Deford, Spencer, Ind.

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Time of year is a factor in the event’s success as well. Both Ortwein and Inserra feel outdoor weddings are best when held in the spring or fall. “The weather is always mild, and it’s perfect to stay outside all evening,” says Ortwein. Other priorities involve plenty of parking space, well-lit pathways, and shaded areas for guests.

Staying on budget is also important, but not at the sacrifice of safety. Experienced outdoor planners ensure that even the strictest of budgets makes provisions for electricity, water, flooring, and additional shelter for staffing and catering. The top three equipment priorities for an outdoor wedding, says Inserra, are “generators, heating/cooling units, and port-a-potties.” Electricity is of the utmost importance for lighting, generators for the band, fans and the like, but power lines both above and underground can perform havoc in the erection of the tent.  Prepared planners make certain that the rental companies are contacting the utilities in their area so no power lines, fiber optics, or gas lines are located where the tent will be staked.  Most counties have varying ordinances for construction of tents. Many even require a licensed general contractor to supervise the erection of the tent.

Drive off the beaten path to explore trends
Once all of the details are worked out, planners discover the true beauty of steering a tented wedding. Ortwein loves the advantages of outdoor weddings.  “When it comes to décor you can do as much or as little as you desire.  I love the fact that, at outdoor weddings, your guests have a large area to mix and mingle. You can create many different areas for your guests.”  Inserra agrees. She feels a tented wedding is a blank canvas.  “The only limits are imagination and budget. A tented wedding awaits your personal and creative signature.”

Getting creative involves staying abreast of current trends. Many brides are now tenting their affairs inside a structure. Traditional tents include the hi-peaked, the clear span, and the framed tent.  The hi-peaked adds beauty, the clear span offers an advantage for large crowds, and the clear tents offer a full view of the landscape and starry night sky.  In good weather, many planners take the risk of using the tent frame and not covering it. Ortwein realizes it is gutsy creating an open-air event, but likes using this idea since it “creates a more intimate space while keeping it open and airy.”

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The popular vintage trend is also evident in tented weddings. Old barns are being transformed into lush lofts with draping, lights, and tents. Pole tents are gaining popularity compared to framed due to cost and a more retro look.  Tack on vintage bulb lighting strung throughout the tent and on companion trees and structures, and add oaken, folded church chairs to complete the look. Fancy linens are being replaced with crisp white linens and,  perhaps, a burlap overlay.  Mason jars are being used for votives and barware.

Other tented trends include vintage furniture, lounge ensembles, lucite bars, rose petal flooring, specialty draping, chandeliers, and placement of tents in barns, stadiums, ballrooms, and on basketball courts.  The sky is the limit—as long as the budget doesn’t have one.

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