Tips for a Flawless Tented Wedding in Chicago

One of my favorite moments from the movie “Father of the Bride” is the scene where Annie, played by Kimberly Williams Presley, tells her dad that she wants to get married in their backyard.  Her father, played by Steve Martin, has flashes of a sweet backyard event with picnic tables and a barbeque.  His famous last words, “A wedding at home, this is a great idea.” 

As a Chicago wedding planner specializing in outdoor tented events, we couldn’t agree more. There is truly a special element about getting married at home under a big, beautiful tent. It does, however, come with a number of planning logistics. Here are our tops tips for a tented wedding:

Umbrellas hanging from tent ceiling

Planning a Chicago tented wedding? Here are 10 tips for planning the perfect backyard soiree 

Tip #1: Insurance

Discuss any additional insurance riders with your insurance broker.  Your homeowner’s policy may be sufficient but always double check.  You should also request a Certificate of Insurance (COI) from each of your wedding vendors and ask them to name you as an additional insured.  Be sure and request this at least 2 months before your wedding so you are not chasing down these items the day before the event. 

Tip #2: Remember the other natural elements

While rain and extreme temperatures may be the first thing to come to mind when you think about the weather on your wedding day, there is another element that plays into your wedding day even if the forecast calls for lovely 78 degrees and blue skies – and that element is wind. Even a gentle breeze can send centerpieces toppling and escort cards, place cards and menu cards scattering in the wind.  Thing about having a securely anchored escort board versus escort cards and acrylic place cards and menu cards in lieu of paper.  Paper menu cards can be tucked into a napkin fold but it’s no guarantee that both of them won’t take to the breeze.

Venetian Mirror Placecard on placesetting
Consider using acrylic placecards in lieu of paper so they don’t get blown away. Photo credit: Rick Aguilar Studios
Clear Acrylic Menu Card of china plate
Think of trading in paper menu cards for a menu board or these gorgeous laser cut menus. Photo credit: Lisa Kathan Photography
Escort Board Mirror with calligraphy
A mirrored escort board won’t blow away like paper escort cards.
Photo credit: Ann & Kam Photography

Tip #3: Always have a back-up generator 

Your home’s electrical system cannot handle all the power demands of a wedding:

  • Catering warming ovens and refrigeration needs.
  • Band /DJ electrical needs
  • Lighting takes a chunk of power
  • Portable restroom trailers
  • Heating or cooling systems

Your tent company will bring in generators to accommodate all your electrical needs.   We always require our clients to have a back-up generator.  It’s a non-negotiable.  We have a saying in our company when it comes to generators “One is none and two is one.”  If that generator goes so does your food and entertainment.  The cost for an extra back-up generator varies between $850-$1500.  That said, we’ve had tent installations cost upwards of $50,000 so it only makes sense to insure your event goes off without any hiccups.

Tent ceiling with gobo clouds

A final note on generators…

We recommend renting a “whisper quite” generator.  We have tried in the past to be eco-friendly and use diesel-powered generators but they are significantly louder and noisier.  

Tip #4: Allot more in your budget line item for the “venue” and “rentals”

Keep in mind that you are basically building your venue and costs can add up quickly.  Additionally, every table, chair, napkin, breadbasket and salt & pepper shaker need to be rented. Pricing for different types of tents such as sail cloth or a century pole tent can vary significantly. Options like flooring, light fixtures, tent lining, air condition or heating can run in the thousands.

Tip #5: Choose florals that can stand up to the elements. 

Keep in mind that not all florals hold up well in extreme temps.  While Hydrangeas may be the darling of many centerpieces, they are very thirsty flowers and do not hold up well if you have a clear top tent. On a clear day, the sun can create a greenhouse effect.

Tip #6: Don’t forget about composting, recycling and trash disposal

Find out if your caterer will be taking away the trash and recyclables at the end of the night.  If not, you’ll need to rent a small dumpster from a local rental company.  Ask your caterer what size they would recommend based on your guest count and amount of disposables.  Keep location and placement in mind as you layout your plan.  You don’t want the dumpster to be in eyesight of guests.    

Tip #7: Note the locations of your electrical, cable and sprinkler lines 

Your tent company will contact the utility and service companies to mark the buried electrical and cable lines.  It’s also important to note the location of sprinkler heads and water lines.  Keep in mind that there is always room for human error.  Know where your shut-off valves are located and you have access to them.  We have had instances when the utility company missed marking a buried line which were hit during the tent installation.  

Tip #8: Check for local license and permit requirements

Check with your city to see what requirements they have for tents as well as any other special requirements.  We do a number of weddings in the city of Lake Forest, Illinois and the city requires us to mail letters to neighbors living within a certain radius.  They also require us to place “no parking signs” along the street. Keep in mind any noise ordinances as well. Some cities and towns have a music cut-off time, Typically midnight, but that changes from city-to-city. 

 Tip #9: Don’t forget about your guests’ needs

Unless you are having a very small event, you’ll want to have luxury restroom trailers.  This also avoids security issues with guests going in and out of the home. (Tip 9A: Speaking of security…you need it for a home event.)

Tip #10: Check local street parking restrictions 

Some cities may have ordinances against street parking and you may need to arrange for a valet to park guest vehicles. If off-site parking is difficult to find, another option is to offer guest shuttles from the hotel room block.

Wedding Tent with lighting
Lighting in a tent get really set the mood. Be sure to take all your power needs into account before ordering a generator.

Final tips from a tent company

We reached out to Sandy Sobczak from Marquee Event Rentals and asked her to share the biggest mistakes she sees couples make when planning an outdoor wedding.  “Playing the rain game is not a good idea.” She says.  “Weather can change in minutes. Even if it’s a beautiful, clear day, think about those under the hot sun. A little coverage for your guest goes a long way!” She adds that if you wait until the last minute to reserve a tent, you run the risk of them running out of tents due to seasonal needs.  “Also, the rental sales rep will lose sleep — we do not want that to happen!”

Sandy also mentions the importance of having an in-person site check.  “We want to make sure everything fits, and the load-in will be easy for the rental team.” As planners, we can tell you that we’ve come across a few rental companies who only want to eye-ball the site via Google Earth.  This is fine for an initial proposal but your sales rep should visit the site before the contract is finalized to make sure there are no obstructions.  We’ve encountered obstacles like stoned-fence lines which required a hoist to get restroom trailers over the walls.

Need help planning a tented event? Contact us today for a complimentary consultation.

Chicago Wedding Planner Lynne Kenned Wearing Blue Sweater

Lynne Kennedy is one of 56 Master Wedding Planners in the world and is founder of The Gilded Aisle Weddings, an award-winning luxury wedding planning firm with offices in Chicago, New York, California and Italy. Lynne can be reached at

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