I used to work for a banquet hall that hosted weddings of all shapes and sizes.
When planning an outdoor wedding, party, or gathering, your tent is one of your most important considerations. In this article, I am going to walk you through everything you need to know about procuring the perfect tent for your special event, including varieties, sizing calculations, accessories (both necessary and optional), ensuring your tent remains comfortable regardless of weather, and more.
In This Article
- Why Bother With a Tent?
- What Size Tent Do I Need?
- How Do I Plan the Layout of My Tent?
- Which Add-Ons Do I Need and Which Can I Skip?
- How Can I Find a Reputable Tent-Rental Company?
- Should I Get a Frame Tent or a Pole Tent?
Why Bother With a Tent?
Two words: Murphy's law. If you are having an outdoor wedding reception, unless your venue has an alternate indoor location that is up to par (that is, will fit all of your guests), you need some kind of contingency for bad weather.
Even if it doesn't rain, excessive heat can kill a party. A tent makes it possible to have a party nearly anywhere. Instead of renting out a banquet hall, you can have your party in a garden or at a meaningful location like your grandparent's farm.
Even if you plan to use the tent only if it rains, you still need to size it out and price it out ahead of time—two days before your event is not the time to worry about it.
What Size Tent Do I Need?
And you thought you'd never find a real-world use for geometry! The number one question anybody planning a tent wedding has is "How big of a tent do I need?" You can't seriously begin to price out tent rentals before you figure out the size you need, and the layperson just isn't going to be able to eyeball it.
Most tent-rental companies carry 10' x 10' models and up in 10' increments. Don't be intimidated by the huge range of sizes; the great thing about having your wedding or party inside a tent instead of inside a building is that you can build a space that works for you.
How to Calculate Your Tent Size
This is going to take some math, but don't worry—it's easy math. You may be able to use an online size-calculating program to help you out, but if not, follow the procedure below.
1. Take your guest count: If everybody's going to be seated at 60" Round tables (which accommodate 8 people), you need a 10' x 10' area, or 100 square feet per 8 guests.
Example: 150 guests divided by 8 comes to 18.75 round tables (if you don't get a whole number, round up because you can't sit at half a table). 19 x 100 = 1900 square feet. If you're seating guests at long tables, you'll need 80 square feet per eight guests.
2. Consider the bridal party: Are you seating the bridal party at the traditional long head table? If so, you need room for that. Take the number of people you want sitting at that long table (including the bride and groom) and divide by four. That's the number of 8' tables you need to form the head table. You need room behind the tables to let people get in and out and also room in front to get the right effect. Allow 10' x 10' per head table.
Example: A 12-person bridal party divided by four is three 8' tables. This requires 300 square feet.
3. Make room for the buffet: Allow a 10' x 10' area for each 8' buffet table (this also allows room for the buffet line to form). Usually, your caterer will be the one to tell you how many buffet tables you need. If my make-believe party needs four buffet tables, that's 400 extra square feet.
4. Figure out what else you need room for: Do you need to accommodate a stage for a band? Do you plan to have a dance floor? All of these are going to take up real estate in your tent. For stages and dance floors especially, you need more than the actual size of these items, since nobody wants to sit two feet away from the stage.
Example: If I was using a 12' x 12' dance floor, I'd give it at least a 16' x 16' area, adding 256 square feet to the tent.
5. Add It All Up: For the scenario I just outlined, the total square footage adds up to 2856. The number you just calculated is the bare minimum square footage you need. If you get a tent smaller than this, your guests are going to be banging elbows all night.
Common Tent-Rental Sizes
Now that you know your square footage, all you have to do is match it up to the appropriate tent. Remember, you can't go below the number you came up with. If you are right on the border, always go up. Below is a list of some of the most common tent sizes.
|Tent Size||Square Footage|
20' x 20'
400 sq ft
20' x 30'
600 sq ft
20' x 40'
800 sq ft
30' x 30'
900 sq ft
20' x 50'
1000 sq ft
20' x 60'
1200 sq ft
30' x 40'
1200 sq ft
30' x 50'
1500 sq ft
20' x 80'
1600 sq ft
40' x 40'
1600 sq ft
30' x 60'
1800 sq ft
30' x 70'
2100 sq ft
30' x 80'
2400 sq ft
40' x 60'
2400 sq ft
40' x 80'
3200 sq ft
60' x 60'
3600 sq ft
40' x 100'
4000 sq ft
60' x 70'
4200 sq ft
40' x 120'
4800 sq ft
60' x 80'
4800 sq ft
40' x 140'
5600 sq ft
40' x 160'
6400 sq ft
80' x 80'
6400 sq ft
Should I Choose a Square or Rectangular Tent?
I recommend getting the squarest tent your site allows for two reasons:
- Your guests will have an easier time mingling, and all will feel included during important parts of the evening like the cake cutting
- Wider tents have higher ceilings, which look better and do a better job of keeping you cool. A 40' x 60' tent will have a higher ceiling than a 30' x 80' tent from the same manufacturer. Only use a long, skinny tent if that's all that will fit in your space.
How Do I Plan the Layout of My Tent?
It's important to sketch what the layout of your tent will be. Where will you put the guests, bridal party, buffet, and stage? You can do this on graph paper, but if that's not your thing, there are also several online programs.
County Marquee, a UK-based tent-rental company, offers a pretty cool flash-based tent-layout planner on its website. You can enter measurements in either meters or feet and choose from a variety of table sizes. I have never used this company (I'm in the US), but the planner is useful no matter where you rent from.
Sample Tent Layout
Which Add-Ons Do I Need and Which Can I Skip?
Pricing on this stuff tends to vary regionally. I'm based in the southeast USA; if you're in Chicago or LA, you're probably going to end up spending more.
When you're shopping around, make sure you get pricing that includes delivery, set-up, any accessories, fire/zoning permits if needed, and take-down. If at all possible, try to get the tent delivered and set up a couple of days ahead of time so you have time to set up and decorate. A 40' x 80' tent is going to take at least several hours for the tent people to set up. Below are some common add-ons people ask about.
Since 95 percent of people want a white tent, other colors are hard to find and are going to cost you—hey, that's the price of being original! A clear-top tent is an alternative to white that usually doesn't cost more. For an evening shindig, it will look awesome all lit up. Having your party on a spring or summer day? Skip the clear top—you would essentially be partying in a giant greenhouse!
You see these a lot in bridal magazines. They are floaty, parachute-looking linings that are usually white or ivory, though you can get insane colors for insane prices. Even in your basic white, these can get pretty expensive, usually one to four times the cost of the tent itself.
Bridal magazines try to make these sound as essential as a best man and a marriage license. Fortunately, like sterling silver flatware, tent liners are a fancy detail 98 percent of people can skip. Instead of a liner, get a pole tent. They look perfectly nice, and no liner is required. The peak is made via one single pole instead of lots of interior frames and what-not, so you don't even need a liner. And if you do get a liner, don't blow a ton of money on a custom fuchsia-colored one when you can use lighting effects on a normal liner to get a similar look.
These cost about $1–3 per linear foot of tent perimeter. The perimeter of our imaginary 40' x 80' tent is 40' + 40' + 80' + 80', so we'd need 240 feet of wall. Solid, clear, and cathedral walls (walls with windows) are standard. Fabric walls are nice, but they are for looks only. They won't keep the heat in or keep you dry.
Whether you need walls depends on the time of year. Having your wedding in the dead of summer? Skip the walls and add fans instead—walls will just make your tent hot. Having your wedding in the winter? Get walls and heat.
One of the pictures in the photo section below shows patio heaters in the tents, but don't do that—get an actual tent furnace. For not too much money, you can get one with a thermostat, just like the heat in your house, so you don't have to keep adjusting it during your event, and 90 percent of it sits outside the tent, so it doesn't take up space. Plus, you don't have to worry about somebody knocking it over.
You can't just put carpet on the grass. It'll look rumpled and stupid after about 20 minutes, and it creates a tripping hazard. If you're just looking to keep your feet dry, portable flooring runs for about $1.50 per square foot. But for a floor, you need a flat piece of land to start out with, preferably sand (they are really made for beach weddings) or asphalt.
If you want a hard deck that guests wearing heels can walk on and can be built almost anywhere, you'll spend $1.00–2.50 per square foot, including carpet. $2 per square foot doesn't sound like a lot, but do the math: A 40' x 80' tent is 3200 square feet. At $2 per square foot. That's $6400 for the floor. And that is for the standard grey or black carpet.
White carpet, as you can imagine, is pretty much single-use, so if you want it, expect to pay more for it. Also, if your land slopes, the cost will go up significantly, since there will be a lot of labor involved. Tent flooring is a nice luxury, but at the end of the day, it can break your budget, and most people don't need it.
These are also about $2 per square foot, but since you'll probably only want a 20' x 20' area at most, creating a simple dance floor is a lot more affordable than flooring the whole tent.
Lighting comes in several flavors, and it's going to vary depending on which tent company you go with. One great option for evening events is stage lighting with color gels. These lights can be mounted to the framing structure of the tent and look really cool.
I've had people use Christmas lights, but a word to the wise: You need a lot. Like 10 times more than you'd ever use for your house. Bear in mind that if you are providing your own lights, the tent company probably won't put them up for you, and you'll have to get them out of there before they come to take the tent down.
You could also order a shower-curtain type lighting system that can attach to the back wall of the tent. Something like this would be great either behind the head table or behind the cake table.
This gets expensive. Since tents aren't sealed or insulated like buildings, a 2000-square-foot tent will use five times as much AC power to stay cool as a 2000-square-foot building.
More AC means more power—much more than any nearby building could provide. So getting tent AC also means renting and paying for huge generators. I hesitate to even put a price on this because I've only booked maybe two jobs ever with AC since nobody wants to pay for it.
How Can I Find a Reputable Tent-Rental Company?
A rule-of-thumb when buying anything big—including hiring a party rental company—is you get what you pay for. You wouldn't trust a caterer who said they could get you filet mignon for ten bucks a head, and you shouldn't trust a tent company that's thousands of dollars less than everybody else in town.
Like I said earlier, tent prices are regional. If a vendor is significantly cheaper than everybody else in your area, there's probably a reason for that. They're either brand new to the industry and don't know how to price themselves (do you really want to be this company's test case?), or you're comparing a wedding-quality tent to a ten-year-old state-fair-quality tent.
What to Look for in a Party Rental Company
Responsiveness: Beware of any vendor who doesn't answer the phone if you call during business hours (or at least return a message promptly). What if something goes wrong during your event? You don't want to rely on somebody who can't or won't be available.
Price Quotes: Before booking or paying anything, ask for a written quote for everything you want to get from that vendor, including setup, breakdown, delivery, deposits, taxes, etc. If they can't or won't provide you with a free quote, move on.
Some companies want to come out to the party site and see where the tent is going in advance, while others don't really do that unless there is something unusual about the site. Some will come out but charge a nominal fee (maybe $20) that is applied to the price of the tent if you place an order with them. This is all pretty standard, but I would hesitate to use a company that charges a large or non-refundable fee.
Some companies that give free site surveys won't give you a line-item quote to take home with you because they don't want you going to another vendor who price-matches. They should at least let you look at their quote and give you a final price even if they won't let you take the quote with you.
Cancellation and Order-Change Policies: What happens if you decide a month before your event that you don't want a tent anymore? What if you have to reschedule? What if your guest list shrinks (or doubles)? Things happen. Find out the company's cancellation policy and get it in writing.
Typical Clientele: Is this a wedding-quality tent? Since the wedding business is seasonal, most tent vendors also do tents for church events, school events, county fairs, etc. I wouldn't use a vendor that never does weddings. They might be cheaper, but you might get a shabby-looking tent.
Services Offered: Most tent companies also do tables and chairs, and some can even do your dance floor, stage, tablecloths, dishes, centerpieces—you get the idea. Get everything from the same place if at all possible. For one, you'll only have one delivery charge. Plus you won't have to worry about the tablecloth people getting there before the table people or the stage not fitting under the tent. Unless you have a really compelling reason, you'll end up saving money and frustration by using as few vendors as possible.
How to Research Tent-Rental Companies
Where do you find a company? Many times your caterer can hook you up, and I'd go that route first since it's to their advantage to recommend somebody good. Failing that, a Google search for "tent company + your area" should give you a good start. Also, be sure to ask people you know and check out Yelp and Google Reviews for an idea of who's good and who sucks in your area.
Frame Tent Photos and Inspiration
Should I Get a Frame Tent or a Pole Tent?
This is going to come down to the logistics of your setup (which your tent company will help you out with), your budget, and your personal aesthetics. Below, I have listed some pros and cons of having a frame tent. To sum it up, frame tents are more expensive but more practical. Pole tents are cheaper and have that "swoop" effect that everybody likes.
Pros of Frame Tents
- They don't require center poles, which gives you greater flexibility in terms of where everything goes under the tent.
- They hold up well over time. If you are having an all-week shindig (say, having your rehearsal dinner, wedding, and post-wedding brunch under the tent), this is the way to go. With periodic maintenance, these tents can stay up for months.
- They can go on any surface. However, it is always safer to stake a tent into the ground than it is to use weights or water barrels. Some companies will not weight or barrel large tents for safety reasons.
- Frame tents can be attached together. Why would you want to do that? If you're setting up outside your ceremony site, you can use a long, skinny tent to make a covered walkway into your main party tent. If your area has a huge tree right in the middle of it, you can build an L-shaped space. You can attach frame tents together but you can't attach pole tents together because of the way they're built.
Cons of Frame Tents
- They are almost always more expensive than pole tents.
- They take longer to set up.
- Some people don't like the looks of frame tents, especially from the inside. You can use a liner on the inside, but this is an expensive option.
Pole Tent Photos and Inspiration
More Inspiration Galleries
Table Clips: Essential to all outdoor parties!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: We are having a spring evening wedding and the temperature could be in the 50s - 60s. If we had a frame tent without sides, would that help keep heat in if using patio heaters, or would you just not use a tent?
Answer: Some tent companies have sides that can slide like a shower curtain. Others have sides that zip into place. Either way, tent sides can be removed during an event, so you can make a change based on the weather. Some also have clear sides.
If you really don't like the idea of sides, I actually would not do a tent and would just have the heaters. I just can't recommend putting a patio heater inside a tent. It isn't safe.
Question: Can a frame or pole tent be air-conditioned? And is a structure tent better than both of those?
Answer: A structured tent is the same as a frame tent. Any tent can be air-conditioned if you add walls to it.
© 2009 Jo Gavilan
Karen Culmer on June 14, 2018:
couple are being lent a 20 x 40, I believe a pole tent for their wedding ceremony. I am having a square wood arch made. Wondering if you could estimate the height of the tent ceiling?
Karen177 on February 03, 2017:
Super helpful guide! If you're looking for a quick way to determine "what size tent do I need?" you can also check out this free tent size calculator: https://www.goodshuffle.com/tent-calculator
sophia william on July 20, 2016:
wow that is wonderful guide for wedding tents im looking also looking for, does anyone know where to get rent wedding tent, i have read another review for it on this page here http://www.discounttentsnova.com/
completemarquees on December 27, 2012:
You are very talented, i like you lens
Wedding Mom on December 11, 2012:
Those guides are indeed, very helpful.
Jo Gavilan (author) on August 12, 2012:
@OhMe: Thanks so much!
Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on August 11, 2012:
This is a wonderful guide for anyone looking to rent a tent. Well done!
montymanatee on August 04, 2012:
Blimey! This is the most comprehensive guide to wedding tents I've seen. Love the lists of dimensions. Will know who to turn to with all tent questions! (I do get a few)
StewartClan on July 22, 2012:
One marvellous day I will be Mother of the Bride.............I cannot wait. My daughter is nineteen and she isn't even dating anyone right now. But one day I will be picking a brilliant and wonderful marque like these. Thank you for this enjoyable lens, I really liked it!