COVID-19 cancellations result in only four weeks for Mutton Rentals to plan and install tenting and trimmings for a high-end backyard wedding.
By Sigrid Tornquist
It’s a story heard more than once over the last several months. A couple has been planning their wedding for more than a year, but as the date approaches, the venue is projected to remain closed because of COVID-19. Not only is this potentially heartbreaking for the couple, but it’s also another financial hit for the vendors.
One couple with plans for a June wedding at a venue in Michigan determined that COVID-19 would not derail their plans. Five weeks before the big event, they decided that instead of postponing their wedding, they would shift it to an outdoor venue—at the bride’s family estate in Fort Wayne, Ind. Not for the first time in this industry, tenting comes to the rescue.
Mutton Rentals, located in Fort Wayne, was contacted by a local event planner asking how quickly it could provide a bid on a structured tent with AC and an elevated, leveled floor. That request evolved to include providing chandeliers; lighting and fabric; tables and chairs; china and glassware; and a custom bay, entry tent and catering tent. Within three weeks, Mutton Rentals started the install.
“It all happened so fast and we were more involved than we would normally be,” says Matt Mutton, president, owner and general manager. “We have the capability to do all the fabric and fluff, but often with these large scale projects there are more vendors involved and the work gets divided up more. But with the quick timeline and us being willing—given less demand—we took on anything they asked for.”
The main tent spanned 20 by 35 meters, with a custom bay that was notched out to accommodate trees in the yard. “The family was adamant about maximizing their space because they didn’t want guests to feel crowded, given everything going on,” Mutton says.
The 20-by-20-foot entry tent provided a transition from the pool to the elevated floor of the main structure, and the 20-by-20-foot catering tent stood off to one side.
Fluff and fabric
Lighting included 20 crystal-like glass chandeliers suspended throughout the main tent, as well as LED uplighting that whitewashed the sidewall panels around the perimeter of the tent.
Mutton says one of the challenges in terms of working within the time frame was getting needed special order items in time, including fabric for the couple’s very specific vision for ceiling decor. “They wanted full coverage but they wanted it to be sheer, which ruled out the standard option of a premade tent liner,” Mutton says. “We hung about 800 square yards of fabric throughout the ceiling, which we had to have shipped in and then have one of our team members sew pockets in to allow for consistent attachment points throughout the ceiling.”
The couple had already paid in full a Michigan florist, who provided bouquets, corsages and boutonnieres for the ceremony and table centerpieces for the reception. A local florist provided florals and greenery throughout the tent and estate, including along the mile-long driveway. The Mutton Rental crew also suspended a massive floral wreath over the dance floor.
Behind the scenes was COVID-19, an uninvited guest not to be ignored. The family established the seating chart to be sensitive to their guests’ needs and concerns. “Tables were generously spaced, but that’s typical of a high-end event like this. And most of the tables sat less than capacity,” Mutton says. “Branded hand sanitizer was the giveaway at every table.”
Staffing was an additional challenge for the Mutton Rental crew. “We’re obviously running on a more limited staff because of the slowdown, which hit the entire industry,” Mutton says. “We were upfront with the clients, who thankfully were flexible. We said we could definitely accommodate their need but that we were going to need some more time for installation.”
For an installation that would typically take approximately five days with eight to 12 installers onsite, Mutton Rentals had a crew of four to six working for 10 days.
During the process, one of the installers discovered a relative had tested positive, which further challenged the team. “Although we had procedures in place, something like this means you have to react and respond and make decisions you hadn’t anticipated, and to help staff deal with their concerns,” Mutton says. “We had to do some juggling to make sure he had time off to quarantine, but that affected our available manpower. It’s a constant concern because outside of the crippling revenue due to COVID-19, you have to worry about how not to endanger yourself and your staff.”
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Mutton has enjoyed spending a little more time on jobsites getting his hands dirty. “We have made staffing cuts across the board this year, but you feel those cuts a little more on the operations side of things when you have a big project going along with normal everyday events,” he says. “I’m grateful for a phenomenal core staff through this COVID nightmare and have to give a huge shout out to Alishya Leburg on our sales team who handled almost all customer interactions for this project, which allowed me to focus on executing the installation.”
With staff stepping up to do what needed to be done, and clients who were willing to be flexible and creative, the event went smoothly and was a huge success. “It was one of those events that just came about—and we quoted it, but we were so pessimistic about any job happening at that point because so many people were canceling,” Mutton says. “So we found ourselves in this dance of not wanting to do a lot of legwork until we had all deposits but also really wanting the work.
“We’ve gotten more positive response from this than we have from other previous events because there’s not as much going on—and not as much to talk about outside of COVID-19.”
Sigrid Tornquist is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor, and a former InTents editor.
Tenting and trimmings: Mutton Rentals, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Event planner: Cambria Custom Events, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Florists: Ruby Moon, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Modern Day Events & Florists, Grand Rapids, Mich.
HVAC: Sunbelt Rentals, Fort Wayne, Ind.