Planning a Marquee Wedding

Written by Katrina Otter
We’re busting the myths and sharing our top tips on the marquee wedding today!

Marquee weddings aren’t what they used to be as couples now have some seriously stylish options available. But not one for style over substance, we still want to arm you with all the considerations behind this outdoor wedding choice.

Marquee weddings hold a very special place in my heart. Firstly, there’s something really rather charming and romantic about the concept of creating your own wedding venue, to your own specifications and making it a real reflection of your own style and personalities.

Secondly, with my wedding planning hat on, there are various logistical and planning considerations that need to be taken into account when organising a marquee wedding and as anyone that’s read any of my previous features in our collaborative wedding planning series will know, I LOVE a good logistical wedding!

Thirdly, as I’m based in the countryside, marquee weddings equate to roughly 40% of the weddings I plan every year and to date I’ve organised wedding in tipis, traditional canvas marquees, contemporary clear span frame marquees, yurts, Sperry tents and unique Pearl Tents.

And finally, the main reason – on 18th May 2013 (how has it been four years already!) I held my own elegant English country garden wedding reception in a marquee.

In today’s feature, I’ll therefore be sharing my love for all things marquees and imparting my knowledge, experience and some logistical top tips for those of you planning or considering a marquee wedding.

Before I start, a few words of caution! As much as I love a logistical wedding, not everyone feels the same way as me, so if you’re not a fan of operational challenges then please go into planning a marquee wedding with your eyes open – there is, on average, A LOT more work involved and A LOT to consider. Marquee weddings also aren’t always the cheap option (this BTW is one of the most common wedding misconceptions). You’re basically creating your own wedding venue and that includes building the venue, filling and staffing the venue and then clearing the venue away after the party is over.

So… with those little notes of caution out of the way, shall we get on with the planning?

The first thing to find is the site. Where are you going to hold your marquee wedding?  Some wedding venues (you can find an extensive list of marquee and tipi friendly venues via the Coco Venue Finder) allow you to put up a marquee on their lawns whilst still being able to use the main house for your ceremony and accommodation, whilst others will let you use their land only, with the buildings themselves forming the perfect backdrop.

Obviously, there’s likely to be a cost consideration here too but the good news is that you’ve got options.

(On a side note there are also venues that already have permanent or semi-permanent marquees, which in turn eliminates some of those word of warning operational challenges and cost considerations mentioned above and below!)   

Of course, some couples also opt for a marquee wedding so that they can make use of their own gardens or land. This is a wonderfully personal option but please be aware that you’re going to have a week or so of comings and goings in the run up to your wedding and in the days afterwards too, so please be sure that everyone that this will affect is happy about this!

Think about the practicalities of your marquee wedding, especially if you’re holding your wedding at home. Is there sufficient access to the proposed marquee site for suppliers and their vehicles?  Are the existing toilet facilities adequate for the numbers you’re inviting? Is there access to a power source or will you need to hire in a generator – if you do, where will this be placed? Where can post wedding waste be disposed of? Where will your guests park? Is there running water nearby for your caterers? Will you need to bring in a wedding planner who can manage everything for you (including the breakdown and clear up) or even security or cleaners?  Is there nearby accommodation for your guests and where will you hold your ceremony?

I did warn you that there was A LOT more to consider, right?!

The best advice I can give you here is to think through all of the elements that a ‘traditional’ venue would provide for you and look at how you can manage all of these things with a marquee wedding.  Everything is possible if you’re organised and prepared!

Consider the design of your marquee. What works with the style of wedding that you’re planning?  Do you want one big space or would you like to keep the dancefloor hidden until after dinner? Have you got your heart set on long and impactful tables or would you prefer round guest tables? Do you prefer carpet or coir? Each and every one of your choices will have a cost implication so it’s worth thinking through your options in advance and then being prepared to be flexible or agree to compromise on things that aren’t a top priority.

You’ll also need to think about the style of the actual marquee structure as well. There are so many marquee and tent options available so please take some time and do your research before you start requesting site visits and quotations.

Other marquee design and structural considerations you’ll need to think about include… Lighting, flooring (is the site flat or will you need a levelled cassette floor?), décor, hanging points (for any floral or lighting installations), wet weather contingencies and your back of house area for suppliers.

Then you need a marquee company! Once you’ve done your research and have narrowed down your style and options, enquire with the companies who are on your shortlist giving them the basics including dates, guest numbers and your requirements. Some companies might want to come and perform a full site survey to be able to give you a quote, whilst others might provide a package that includes most of the elements that you need.

In case you haven’t picked up on it already, I’m a bit of a control freak (that’s the Virgo in me!), so personally I’d insist on a site visit before committing to any marquee company or paying a deposit (it’s not uncommon for a marquee company to charge for this visit BUT for the peace of mind it provides, it’s worth every penny).

Check your quote with a fine-tooth comb and make sure that it includes everything that you need. If something doesn’t make sense then question it and even ask to see images, after all, if you’ve never planned a marquee wedding before then how should you know what the difference is between the various linings or uplighter proposed?

Put your caterer in touch with your marquee company as this will save you being the go-between when the inevitable questions arise! If your caterer wants to check access times, power or the dimensions of the catering area, they can do so directly with the professionals rather than having to go via you! The same applies to florists IF you’re thinking of hanging any form of floral installations as your florist MUST discuss hanging points and weight bearings with your marquee company in advance.

Be nice to your neighbours! It’s very likely that you’ll need your neighbours on your side for a marquee wedding, unless you’re in the position of being miles from anywhere! Let your neighbours know the times you’ll be partying and make it really clear what time everyone will be arriving and leaving.

Get your helpers together and get your schedule A-game on well in advance of your wedding because as I’ve already mentioned, there’s A LOT to do with a marquee wedding, a LOT to consider, a LOT of components, elements and suppliers to account for and the set up WILL take considerably longer than you expect (however long you’ve allowed for – double or even triple it!). From making cups of tea for the crew that are setting everything up to adjusting furniture, welcoming suppliers, dealing with questions and queries, clearing up after the event and a myriad of other tasks, you’ll need a kick-ass schedule and willing helpers who you can trust.

Having a professional wedding planner to call on during the whole planning process can be an absolute life-saver – we know all the right questions to ask and we’re well used to thinking through EVERYTHING that comes with a marquee wedding – but I understand that we’re not for everyone.

If you’re still wondering about the wedding planner subject then this feature might be a good read for you too! If you’re taking on the planning yourself, then absolutely go for it but make sure that you’ve got someone who’s there for you on the day i.e. a caterer, colleague or sober friend! You don’t want to be working or worrying on your wedding day when you should be enjoying the amazing party that you’ve planned.


Featured marquee Venues

The Pearl Tent Company


Coastal Tents

Stanstead Bury

Narborough Hall Gardens

Wedding Weekends at The Copse

Feeling a little more confident about the marquee option? Has this swayed you to consider the canvas? If you still feel you have some questions about your marquee wedding then you can find me right here.

Swing back a little later this week and Emma will be sharing a selection of Marquee Wedding Venues for your browsing pleasure.

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