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Planning an Outdoor Wedding?

A How-To Guide for Your Outdoor Wedding

Tent Size

The initial step in a tented wedding is figuring out the right tent size for your reception. First, your Sperry office will ask for your guest count, dining style (seated, buffet), whether you need a dance floor or a stage for a live band, and if you have any additional space requirements (buffet tables, lounge area, etc.).

One large reception tent to hold dinner and dancing is a classic arrangement; however, some couples choose different size tents for different purposes, creating a series of destinations for their guests.


Lighting is an important factor in your wedding’s overall style. Each Sperry office has its own distinct collection of under-canopy lighting options, with classic choices such as onion lanterns, Asian lanterns, and bistro strings. Many have different chandelier styles (crystal, wrought-iron) as well as uplighting and stage lighting in customizable colors. For higher-budget weddings, it’s not uncommon for a couple to bring in a specialized lighting or décor company to create a truly customized scheme in our tent(s).


You’ve seen it and you want it: the fully floored tent. It’s the ultimate in luxury for an outdoor wedding and ensures comfort under foot for everyone in attendance. A full floor is a higher budget item, and highest of all is a raised floor installed on an engineered platform to position a tent perfectly on a sloping lawn or coastal bluff. Sperry offices have floored over uneven lawns, tennis courts, and even pools…inquire if you have a special circumstance. But keep in mind that hundreds of our customers have their wedding receptions directly on lawn with plenty of dance floor to spare.


It might seem counterintuitive, but an outdoor wedding often costs more than an indoor one. Why? Because a tented wedding is like building a venue from scratch. The main advantage of a Sperry Tent is the personalization factor: there’s a lot more creative freedom when you aren’t locked into the look of an indoor venue. If budget is an issue, your Sperry office can work with you on an efficient reception layout and choosing affordable lighting and flooring. And while there are more affordable tent styles out there, keep in mind that a Sperry is the only genuine sailcloth tent (versus similar looking canopies that are made from vinyl). Also, it’s important to note that each of our offices is privately owned and therefore has its own pricing structure.


Planning in advance for popular wedding months is key, and reserving your tent and other outdoor rental equipment is no exception to this rule. As a geographic region’s outdoor wedding season progresses, it is possible that certain popular tent sizes will become fully booked on certain in-demand weekends, so it’s never a bad idea to deposit your desired estimate sooner than later.


No one wants to envision bad weather on a wedding day. However, a gloomy forecast is much more manageable and much less worrisome if contingency plans have been arranged in advance. Most Sperry offices offer rain plans for rain-only rental equipment that can be reserved with a lesser deposit and cancelled before the scheduled setup day if the weather report looks promising. Typical rain items include ceremony tents, cocktail tents (so that guests don’t end up gathering in the reception tent too early), covered walkways to connect tents (for guests and catering staff), and flooring for soggy lawn areas.


Our standard side walls are clear except for a 20-inch skirt of ivory sailcloth along the bottom. This preserves views of the surrounding landscape even if your tent is fully sided. Sides are a standard item on rental equipment lists and should not be removed: you never know when the temperature will drop or a breeze will pick up. Sides can be installed but rolled up, leaving the tent open to the landscape until the sides are needed. If planning an off-season wedding, seriously consider reserving tent heaters in advance for peace of mind; likewise, for a hot month, don’t forget rental fans.


You’ll want to consult with your caterer on all aspects of your tent plans. First, figure out where the catering staff will work during the wedding, whether it’s in a venue’s kitchen, a residential kitchen, or a garage. If an indoor setting isn’t possible, then you’ll need a dedicated catering/cook tent near the main reception tent. Joining the two via a covered walkway in case of rain/wind is a good idea. Overall, caterers are familiar with tented events and will offer suggestions as to their ideal cook tent size – usually about 400 square feet or more. Involve them in the process to make sure their needs are met.


Once you’ve chosen your tent(s), lighting, and flooring, you’ll need to tackle the rest of your party rentals: dining tables, chairs, linens, table décor, etc. Some Sperry offices offer party rentals; some don’t. In general, your caterer is your guide here. However, when your wedding date approaches, pay careful attention to the delivery and setup/breakdown schedule of your various vendors. As a general rule, you want the tent up before the party rentals and décor arrives, and you want the party rentals and décor gone before the tent comes down. You also need to take into account your venue – some require a quick turnaround on tent setup or breakdown depending on how many weddings it’s hosting on a given weekend. Planning all of this out in advance is well worth the effort.

Town Codes

U.S. fire codes are such that tents need to have marked exits and a certain number of mounted fire extinguishers, so don’t be surprised to see fire equipment added to your rental estimate. Also, keep in mind that most towns require a permit for a tent setup of a certain size; your Sperry office can handle the permit application for an additional fee.

Event Planners

Hiring an event planner isn’t necessary, but an experienced planner can alleviate a lot of headaches when it comes to the complexities of an outdoor wedding. The benefits to hiring a planner who has “been there, done that” include: negotiating with vendors, scheduling deliveries/takedowns, thinking of contingencies for unexpected weather (wind, cold, rain), getting creative with lighting and tent décor, reviewing rental equipment estimates and agreements, assessing power needs, and figuring out less-than-sexy logistics such as outdoor restrooms and parking. Oversights and inexperience can be costly when it comes to weddings, which is why having a planner on your side is never a bad thing.


Almost every vendor who makes an outdoor event happen requires power. The tent lights, catering equipment, portable bathrooms, and the band or DJ are the principal power users, and keep in mind that a couple extension cords and the available outlets in your garage might not suffice. Be prepared for each vendor’s power usage and ask how many dedicated circuits they require. As a general rule, for a private residence, it’s smart to have an electrician install a special panel for the wedding’s power use (it can be removed afterwards). Or, if the tents are placed in a field or lawn away from a power source, a generator will be required.


Arranging a variety of tents on one property for different uses is a creative way to entertain guests through the stages of a wedding day. Inventive tent uses include: a cigar-rolling and whiskey tasting station; lounge area with comfy furniture, high-top tables, and moody lighting; dessert station with espresso bar; and a kids’ tents with snacks, crafts, and games.

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