Tents are vital components of many large outdoor events, and it is easy to see why. They offer protection from the elements, stunning visuals and atmospheres that can range from romantic to festive. They make outdoor spaces useful for eating, dancing, learning and entertainment.
Behind a beautiful main event tent, however, there is often a less noticed but equally important auxiliary tent (or several of them).
Although they may not catch your eye, auxiliary tents are ubiquitous at outdoor events, from large tented weddings to marathons. Vital services such as medical aid, sound systems support, catering stations and restrooms all rely on auxiliary tents, making them the backbone of many events.
Auxiliary tents can range from small frame tents to marquees to high-peak structures, says Bryan Bolt, sales manager for TopTec Event Tents of Moore, S.C. “We have seen all of [those examples] used in a supporting role to larger tents,” he says. “Much of this is driven by the needs of the event itself and what the planner determines to be required for what they are trying to achieve.”
Keeping up to code
Auxiliary tents may not be the stars of the show, but they still garner the attention of safety inspectors. Code requirements are becoming more stringent, and even smaller tents are scrutinized. While the International Fire Code requires permitting only for tents over 400 square feet, all tents, regardless of size, are required to follow the code.
“Code officials are constantly looking at the number of people involved in an event and [reacting] accordingly,” Bolt says. “Backyard parties and small private gatherings get the least attention while the large-scale public events see the highest level of scrutiny, and rightfully so. The level of code enforcement appears to be directly proportional to the number of people that will be exposed to the tent(s).”
Through education, the industry is getting better at adequately anchoring small tents, defined loosely as anything under 400 square feet, Bolt says. “In the past, it was not uncommon to see small sandbags, buckets of sand, small concrete weights, etc., on these smaller tents,” he says. “The industry needs to police itself on these smaller tent installations or the code officials will do it for us.”
Sarah Lapping, director of sales and marketing at Economy Tent International, Miami, Fla., warns that tents without adequate ballasting can fail, regardless of size. She recommends the IFAI ballasting tool, available to Tent Rental Division members.
Donny Vasquez, vice president of marketing and special projects at Made In The Shade Tent Rentals Inc. of West Sacramento, Calif., relies on IFAI’s anchoring guidelines. “We are fortunate to live in an area of the country where the winds are predictable and the weather is relatively constant,” he says. “We can make decisions based on how long tents will be up, where they are placed and what accessories they will have in order to best determine what will be required to keep the tenting in place.”
Anchorage isn’t the only code-related concern for auxiliary tents. “Flame resistance is paramount in a cooking environment and the tops should be rated appropriately,” Bolt says.
Damien Vieille, CEO of Ins’TenT Industries, Huntington Beach, Calif., agrees, noting that tents for catering often need to meet special health requirements. “We have some special products made for [catering tents],” he says. “The windows are made with a mesh that doesn’t allow anything to get through and come in contact with the food. The main requirement is food safety.”
Prepare to be flexible
Tents that lend themselves well to event support services often come with their own set of features that help them do their job. When adding tents for auxiliary uses to inventory, rental companies should look for functional flexibility, the variety of accessory kits offered with the system and the ability to support component sidewall systems, Bolt says.
“Marquees seem to be growing in popularity as more people realize the flexibility offered in these systems,” he says. “They can be acquired with varying widths, can easily be expanded in length in sections and are offered with angled sections and stair step systems to navigate just about any obstacle imaginable. This allows the event planner to create a continuous covered event, regardless of the number of tents involved or obstacles encountered. Just about any of these tents can be complemented with gutter systems and sidewalls to make a watertight event in just about any situation.”
Rendy Mao, sales manager at Event Rentals DC, Sterling, Va., says that his company’s tent systems from Economy Tent are lightweight, strong, and versatile. “We have found that these three technologies definitely help us set up tents faster and use less time,” he says.
Flexible systems can also be a means for a smaller rental company to pull off a large event. “I have seen situations where auxiliary tents were used in a stand-alone setting,” Bolt says. “But oftentimes an auxiliary tent’s sole function is to complement the larger event tents and allow a company with a smaller product offering to expand in multiples of smaller tents and create a larger event. Multiple smaller tents can be used in a variety of functions and be supported in their roles by the smaller auxiliary tents.”
Small frame tents are perfect for fairs and festivals, backyard parties, weddings and sporting events, Lapping says. “Rental companies can offer auxiliary tents as an upsell to their clients for catering tents, open-air dance floors, first aid tents, restrooms or mother/baby privacy tents,” she says.
Accurately estimating the need for auxiliary tenting can help rental companies work within their clients’ budgets and uncover opportunities for upselling. Moss Duvall, owner of Pelican Tents & Events, Shreveport, La., helps out his customers by exploring the needs of all the possible vendors, such as caterers, bands or DJs, liquor companies and so on. “That really helps us determine the sizes and quantities of the tents they need,” he says. “There [may] be other vendors doing paintings or rolling cigars that will need small tents as well.”
Vasquez says that catering and first aid are the most common reasons his clients need support tents. “The catering tents [are getting] bigger and bigger as events grow,” he says. “These tents are typically the first to be installed, as the customer will stock them with supplies needed for the setup of the event.”
Bolt offers this advice about determining the need for auxiliary tenting: “The event planner needs to know the general function of the event, how many people are involved, and by all means should do a site visit to be sure they can provide the scale of event required by their client,” he says. “Many of the necessary questions can be covered with a competent tenting professional conducting a thorough site visit.”
Jake Kulju is a freelance writer based in Shafer, Minn.
Auxiliary tents aren’t necessarily just smaller versions of event tents. They often come with special features that help them do their job.
“We get a lot of calls about screen enclosures to keep bugs out while food is being prepared,” says Sarah Lapping, director of sales and marketing at Economy Tent International, Miami, Fla.
Bryan Bolt, sales manager for TopTec Event Tents of Moore, S.C., says that clear tops and walls and topless structures are becoming popular. “Propane storage may be required to
be in a remote location,” he says, “oftentimes in a tent with no top, just walls.”