Today we’re lucky enough to have a guest advice feature from wedding planner Susie Evans who specialises in marquee weddings. She’s a real expert and, if you’re planning a marquee wedding, this advice is invaluable.
Over to Susie:
Having worked with so many clients who have had a marquee wedding over the years, I have a real passion for this style of event. As I’m located on the Sussex / Surrey border there are so many opportunities and locations for this type of wedding.
With a marquee wedding you are in complete control, from the location, theme and how it will all look. Many people underestimate the amount of work and time it takes to successfully plan a marquee wedding – you have to plan everything from scratch with nobody on site to guide you through the process. This is why so many couples look to work with an experienced wedding planner to help them through the planning.
What Style of Marquee Structure?
You will need to look at all your options and see what style of marquee you would prefer; clear span marquee, traditional, tipi, yurt, pole tent, stretch tent or a pearl tent?
Once you have established the style of tent then you need to look at how it will be created and consider the floor type. I would recommend in most scenarios that you opt for a wooden floor with a covering. The reason being that it provides a solid, even surface. This is extremely important if there is bad weather so the floor doesn’t become wet or boggy making it difficult for you and your guests to walk on.
Most of my marquee weddings are set up in my client’s garden and very often a garden feature is incorporated into the space. For example, how about a water feature or a gorgeous landscaped flower bed? I think this adds a real feature and can sometimes help with breaking up a large space.
Clear roofs are so popular but careful consideration needs to be given with regard to heat. Imagine a hot summer’s day (appreciate this does not happen often here in the UK!), the marquee would become a suntrap, like a greenhouse. If you do consider a clear roof, why not look at just doing a section such as the entrance area or over the bar?
I love having open sides and, if the weather isn’t great, the option for windows all round to give lots of natural light.
In the example photos below (click on images to enlarge), the couple chose a clear span structure with clear roof for the ceremony as this was for a relatively short time plus the walls were open allowing air and a breeze when the sun was shining down on them. After the gorgeous ceremony overlooking the gardens and lake, they moved over to the clear span marquee structure (so no poles in the actual marquee floor space) which had crisp white lining to the ceiling and windows around the three main walls and the eves of the marquee. There was a wooden floor with white carpet. In one of these images, you can see me doing the hovering to ensure a pristine finish before the guests came through!
If space and budget allows, my biggest recommendation is ensuring your marquee has enough space for all your guests to come into the marquee prior to the wedding breakfast in the event of bad weather. In the example set up above, you will see there was a great clear space between the dance floor area and the seating area. Therefore at no point did it feel cramped when guests were inside.
I have already referred to weather a few times but you really must consider a contingency plan. Everyone dreams of a warm, sunny day, sipping champagne on the terrace but what about if the weather takes a turn for the worst? Try to allow a good social space, perhaps some lounge furniture and open space around the dance floor so that guests can enjoy drinks and canapes inside.
Likewise, please do consider how guests will get from the car park area to the marquee or even to the toilets – is the ground even? Will it get really muddy in the event of a downpour? If so, look at walkway options – maybe some matting. Is the area covered from the catering tent to the main seating area? Otherwise the catering staff could potentially be walking your plated food in the wind and rain! Not great for them or the food!
This is anything from the toilets, generator, catering tent, green room, parking, lighting and so on.
Lighting is often missed for places such as the car parking area or the route to it as well as the toilets. Whilst the toilets themselves may be lit up, the walk to them needs to be lit too. Ideally it’s good to have the toilets in a marquee attached to the main marquee so that guests do not have to go outside every time.
The generator is a key element – well you can’t really have an event without one! All the power supplies of all the suppliers involved will be required including a list of all equipment and how much power they need. The position will need to be considered and also the size. Most generators nowadays are very quiet when running so having them fairly close to the marquee doesn’t cause any issues but they have to be on flat ground and not under any overhanging trees or buildings. I often have a backup generator especially if you are in the middle of nowhere as this then kicks in in the event of any problems such a fuel running out or a technical fault.
Always consider the access for suppliers. There may be a beautiful field overlooking a lake but how will anyone be able to drive across the field that hasn’t been prepared for access? These types of fields are often very uneven and any type of large vehicle with a heavy weight will just get stuck!
Make sure there is space for vehicles to turn and access once other facilities are in place. For example if the toilets are being located in the access point where other suppliers are having to bring items in, is there still enough space for them?
I always recommend where possible to stagger deliveries/collections so that not everyone turns up at the same time and also to make all suppliers aware of the space available and other requirements. I see it so often when a number of suppliers turn up, leave their vehicle in the nearest space, another supplier parks behind them and then someone like the band turns up and cannot move to allow them to gain access to bring all their equipment through!
If space allows, try to arrange for a supplier car park that is as close to the marquee as possible, and also well-lit as most will be leaving after the reception finishes.
It is essential that your caterers have access to freshwater; even a hose is sufficient.
So often I see caterers dispose of fat/oil outside the catering tent on the grass, leaving remnants of drinks outside or emptying hot water on the grass. You must ensure as part of the contract that they remove and discard of these things off site and that unless otherwise agreed they remove all their own refuse. Otherwise they may be left with a large bill for damages especially if you have hired the space. This again will be down to the experience of the caterers. They will need to be clear on the power supplies and the equipment they will be using.
Check also with the caterers what size tent they require and if any furniture is needed (although sometimes this will form part of their quote to you).
Even if you think the neighbours are located far away, on a still summer’s evening sound will travel. Please ensure all neighbours are aware of your plans. If you know them well enough, why not invite them along in the evening? There is nothing worse than receiving a noise complaint late in the evening on the day
Securing your Belongings
If the marquee will be unattended before the wedding, for example if the location is in a field in the middle of nowhere and you have either your own or suppliers items on site, such as a generator or furniture, then I would seriously consider hiring security or ensure a number of you stay over as you wouldn’t want somebody helping themselves to your equipment the night before the big day. Not only will you have to source a solution, you will be liable for the loss or damage to any equipment.
Also consider your belongings such as wedding gifts – do you have anywhere you can safely store them? Perhaps an outbuilding or in the house? Providing access to a key to the wedding planner or one of the bridal party would be great so that items can be moved to the secure space if required.
Need some help from a professional?
As you can see there are so many logistics to think of when planning a marquee style wedding. I would seriously think about having a wedding planner to assist you with the planning or at least have one to manage the day or lead up (setting up of marquee/suppliers). As well as the full planning service, I offer a partial planning service that is very popular with my clients who have opted for a marquee wedding.
Most venues have a wedding co-ordinator to deal with problems but you will not have anyone. Even though the caterers will be there most of the day, they are there to manage the catering aspect not to meet and great suppliers, pick up any issues or deal with an emergency. A wedding planner can dress the marquee for you, lay out all the place names (and anything that can’t really be done until the day itself), take delivery of goods plus manage the day itself so if any challenges do come about, they can take control, leaving you to enjoy your day with your guests.
Some issues that I have come across include:
- Water running out in the toilets early on meaning guests couldn’t wash their hands.
- The generator not having enough fuel for the event.
- Heater stopped working late in the evening on a cool night..
- Toilets running out of toilet paper
- Running to the nearest shop when the caterers have run out of a certain drink or need lemons and limes.
- When a guest has fallen badly and arranged basic first aid.
In most cases I resolved the issue without the couple even knowing. They had the confidence and security of knowing a professional was on hand to manage these aspects of the day for them.
A big thanks to The Great Outdoors for the images of a wedding we worked together on last year. They did a fantastic job and were a pleasure to work with.
Written by Susie Evans
Photo of Susie by SMP Weddings