Last summer, I hosted an outdoor cocktail party to honor my parents and celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. My house is far too small for a party, but I had the space in the backyard to put up a tent and tables and a garden that I was proud of!
Since my dad is a devoted gardener, I envisioned the guests spending the bulk of the evening among the peonies and lilacs, sipping champagne, eating mini crabcakes and bruschetta and listening to jazz. Serving staff would roam around with finger foods, informal toasts would be made, and stories would be shared. It would be a time for family and friends to celebrate this happy couple.
The party was scheduled for late June. In Maine, the temperature can be unpredictable. There are days in June when you need a sweater, and there are some Junes when you will brave a mall just to get an hour of air conditioning. Rain is also obviously a factor. In other words, I could not chance this outdoor event without a tent. The tent was not the focus, but it was a necessity. I didn’t want people to panic if the rain rolled in and I didn’t want us elbow to elbow in my tiny living room!
Thank goodness I did not skip this step.
I had never rented a tent, and that seemed a bit daunting. What do I need? Fortunately, any tent rental company worth its salt will be able to help you with this part. Before you make the call, know your numbers. I had invited 40 people, and there would be a 3-person band playing music (under the tent if necessary) and roaming catering staff (at least three employees) plus a bar with a bartender who would set up under the tent. This would be just shy of 50 people if everyone showed. Since it was a cocktail party -drinks and light food (not a sit-down meal), we did not need dinner tables.
The guest list included a lot of elderly folks, so ample (and comfortable) seating was a must, both inside the tent and out. With an outdoor venue, you have to plan for all the guests to be inside the tent or outside the tent at any given time, so I had to rent a lot of chairs.
When I called the rental companies, I asked if there were any upcoming events where I could see an example of the tent that would be provided.
The two companies I called happily told me where I could see a pole tent and a frame tent. I discussed my options with them – pole tents (they are supported by poles and have a showy top with one or more peaks and must be staked in the ground, not set up on concrete) or canopy tents (too small for this event – think about the registration area of a running race or a shaded area for a buffet) or frame tents (it has a metal frame so no center poles but is limited in width). I settled on a frame tent.
My advice is to go for one-stop shopping – a rental company that can provide items like chairs, tables, dance floor, and a reliable set-up and take down of your rental tent. The fewer companies that you have to manage, the better. While you are on the phone with them, see who they recommend for a caterer. You never know what you may learn.
In my case, the garden was my ideal party setting, and the tent was a back-up plan, but the shelter needed to keep everyone dry and warm in the event of unfortunate weather. I didn’t realize that when you set up a tent, people naturally gravitate towards it, even in the case of nice weather. It’s like a sign that says “here is the venue” even if you have been weeding your garden for weeks, you have chairs outside with balloons tied to them and blooming lilacs and crabapple trees to enjoy.
When guests arrived at 5 pm, the weather was pleasant but not hot. Guests brought gifts in spite of the invitation encouraging them not to, and I had not planned for a gift table and found myself running to the house to put them inside. Next time – gift and guest book table!
With drinks in hand and music playing, guests put down their jackets on the backs of chairs in the tent, saw the clouds rolling in and wanted to stroll outside early on in the evening. It was soon after we had decided to move the band under the tent that the rain began.
Guests mingled much later than I anticipated, which made me quite happy. I was also glad that I had rented heaters because as the sun began to dip down, so did the temperature. Jackets were arranged on shoulders, hot tea was requested, and cake was served as the rain came down lightly outside. What a relief to have a tent!
Thanks to Mainely Events for making this a smooth process. If you are thinking of a tent for your next event I would recommend them. Here a link to see more about their tents. https://www.mainelyeventsllc.com/party-wedding-tent-rentals-me