It’s one thing to install a tent for a wedding. It’s another to create an event venue that honors a couple’s values, heritage and dreams.
by Laurie F. Junker
Tented weddings never go out of style. Tents are both practical and romantic, sheltering guests from the elements and providing a blank canvas for all kinds of decor. They evoke a sense of adventure, intimacy and connection to nature that many couples find irresistible.
Still, smart tent rental companies and event planners stay on top of trends to ensure that inventories, services and business practices remain relevant. If you hesitate when a potential client calls and asks, “Are you experienced in [trend-of-the-moment or specific cultural heritage] style of wedding?” the caller will likely move on to a competitor. Here are three weddings styles that build a tent rental company’s reputation as an expert vendor.
Instagram weddings on real-life budgets
Pinterest and Instagram have brought the world to brides and grooms, and most couples rely on them to plan their weddings and inspire the photos they hope to post on social media afterward. But frequently, the reality of what it costs to deliver that vision necessitates compromise.
“Inspiration photos of tents with lots of greenery, flowers, drapery and lights are common and often out of the clients’ price range,” says Kyle Gagnier, CERP, general manager of Fosters’ Tent Rentals of West Chazy, N.Y. “But we can usually use creative design to make something close and stay within their budget.”
Some budget-friendly swaps Gagnier recommends are trading trendy cafe-style bulbs for mini bulbs, using lap-length linens instead of floor-length, and renting a more economical tent, for example, solid instead of clear top, while dressing up the inside with greenery, flowers and lighting. One area Gagnier wouldn’t skimp on is tent size.
“I’m big on making sure there’s enough space in the tent for each guest,” he says.
Wedding planner Sarah Trotter of Lasting Impressions Weddings in Minnetonka, Minn., advises her budget-conscious clients to focus on items that deliver the biggest impact.
“Brides are looking for the wow factor, and there are so many things out there they want,” she says. Photo booths, hedge walls and other backdrops are examples of the “extras” that many couples see on social media. Trotter usually steers couples away from spending on things like charger plates and flatware, while directing them toward higher impact decorative items such as furniture.
“Lounge furniture, lounge furniture, lounge furniture,” she says emphatically. “Informal groupings of chairs and loveseats make a space look special.” Trotter also recommends interesting light fixtures and other ceiling installations to create a unique setting that doesn’t cost a fortune.
Terry Turner, CERP, owner of All Occasions Party Rentals of Knoxville,
Tenn., has noticed the speed of trends picking up and credits social media. “Brides used to carry around the Martha Stewart wedding book, but now everything for their dream wedding is on Pinterest, on their phone and maybe happened yesterday. So it can be a headache to try and keep inventory current.”
To save money, Turner recommends focusing on elements that guests will be most likely to remember, such as a cool bar area with great shelving and lighting, and saving on things like linens and seating.
Tent shares are another option and can be a win-win, weather permitting. When All Occasions realizes two clients have weddings at the same place on back-to-back weeks, they bring it to both parties’ attention and let them decide if they want to split it, offering a discount to reflect the labor savings.
Turner also recommends saving on the venue. “Some of these places cost $4,000 to $6,000. Why not find a field or a property somebody in your family owns and have it there? We can create a venue anywhere with a tent.”
My small, lean, green wedding
There are more than 100,000 posts with the tag “#greenwedding” on Instagram, and no, they’re not pictures of green bridesmaids’ dresses. Weddings produce a lot of waste, and an increasing number of couples are looking to limit their celebrations’ environmental footprint through sustainable or “green” practices.
Ellen Hockley Harrison started her Jersey City, N.J.-based company, Greater Good Events, in 2015, after working in catering and event management for 10 years. “I was really frustrated with the extreme waste I saw and wanted to offer a more sustainable approach,” she says. “No one had heard of an eco-friendly event planner when I started, but now I’m meeting people all over the globe who are trying to do the same kind of work.”
“Sustainable,” “green” and “eco-friendly” mean different things to different people, but in general, a green event considers social, ethical and environmental impacts. At a minimum, an eco-friendly wedding would minimize or eliminate single-use plastics in favor of reusable items, recycle bottles and cans, and compost leftover food and food scraps. More intensive efforts might include replacing paper invitations with evites or seed paper, sourcing products and services from minority businesses or those that employ underserved populations, and purchasing carbon offsets. Green weddings also tend to be smaller, with guest lists around 100 people, according to Harrison.
The good news for tent and party rental companies is that eco-friendly planners champion renting as an excellent environmental choice. However, some would like to see more sustainable decorative items available for rent. “Balloons are popular but are such a poor choice for the environment, so I encourage other ideas such as paper floral installations, arches, arrangements or even entire walls,” says Paige McQuillan of Paige Events, based in Santa Cruz, Calif. “I’ve started seeing some creative installations, and they can certainly be reusable.”
Other items on green planners’ wish lists are live plants and trees, which are good alternatives to less eco-friendly cut flowers, LED candles, vintage furniture and accessories such as lanterns and pottery to dress up tent interiors.
One frustration, however, is when rental items show up wrapped in plastic, something Harrison says she sees too often. “We’re working with a couple of rental companies to come up with alternatives,” she says. At a minimum, the plastic should be reusable or repurposable.
The sustainable wedding trend, along with demand for green-minded planners and vendors, is expected to grow. “In five to 10 years it will be the norm,” Harrison says. “The outliers will be those that don’t think about it.”
Big and bold Indian weddings
The average cost of a wedding in the United States is about $34,000, according to the wedding site The Knot. The average for an Indian wedding is at least triple that, and growing, according to Shawna Gohel, CEO of Maharani Weddings, a digital Indian weddings magazine.
That easy math makes a compelling case for tent and party rental companies to cater to this market. Consider the extravagant nature of Indian/South Asian weddings—guest counts in the 500s, celebrations that last for days if not weeks, an affinity for tents and lots of color, sparkle and glamour—and you wonder why there aren’t more tent companies focusing exclusively on this market.
“I started my business because, when I got married 11 years ago, I couldn’t find any resources with inspiration pictures for Indian brides,” Gohel says. Many Indian weddings have a lot in common with traditional Western celebrations—faith-based ceremonies, food, family, flowers and dancing—with a few key differences. Multiple ceremonies over multiple days (see the sidebar for specifics) and a large scale means longer-term and more varied rental needs.
Couples are often looking for more than a basic white pole tent. Gohel recommends offering a variety of shapes and lots of color options, focusing on rich jewel tones such as emerald, amethyst and sapphire, so that tents and linens match a couple’s color theme. Lighting is also essential, particularly twinkle lights.
“They add a Bollywood vibe, and all Indian brides want an element of glamour,” Gohel says. She notes that Indian weddings are getting bigger and more extravagant. Uplighting is one example. “It used to be something you’d only see at high-end weddings, but now they all have it, plus every other kind of lighting.”
To tap into the Indian wedding market, Gohel recommends reaching out to Indian wedding planners because most couples hire them. Even more important is getting in front of the bride with beautiful pictures on social media and via strategic partnerships and influencers. “If you capture the heart of the bride, you’re in,” she says.
Laurie F. Junker is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis, Minn.
SIDEBAR: Indian wedding glossary
Indian/South Asian weddings have unique traditions that tent rental and event companies need to understand to successfully serve this market. Here are a few terms and traditions to know.
The Sangeet is a big party that happens a few days before the actual ceremony or, occasionally, the day before, on the same day as the Mehndi (see below). Usually, all wedding guests are invited, and the celebration includes an introduction of the bride’s and groom’s families, performances by relatives and friends, and a full dinner.
Mehndi is a party for the bride and female family and friends that takes place the day before the wedding ceremony. This traditional ceremony involves the application of intricate Mehndi, or henna, designs on a bride’s hands and feet, which is believed to bring good fortune to the couple. The process can take four to five hours, so Mehndis are festive occasions and include singing and dancing to entertain the bride and lots of food.
The Baraat is a groom’s wedding procession to the ceremony, traditionally on a white horse. Some modern grooms show up in cool cars, motorcycle sidecars, pedicabs, ATVs—you name it. Whatever their choice, the vehicle is festooned with flowers and often accompanied by attendants and music.
The wedding ceremony takes place in a Mandap, a temporary structure with four pillars decorated with fabric, flowers and lights to create a canopy.
A fusion wedding combines different traditions such as Indian-American or even Indian-Indian, where, for example, the bride is from northern India and the groom from southern India. These celebrations might involve additional ceremonies and parties.