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planning a marquee reception

marquee wedding

When my husband and I got married 5 years ago I organised our marquee wedding. Although it wasn’t in our back garden, the elements of planning it were very similar in that all we did was rent the gardens on which to hold our reception. They belonged to Miss Julia Smith of Edmonsham House in Dorset and came with no recommended suppliers, staff or venue planner. In this post I have tried to capture my experience of things to think about, questions to ask and what to watch out for if you are thinking of this type of reception or if you have already decided this is the route for you!

If you are considering this type of wedding I expect the main appeal is the freedom to create your own day without any restrictions. For example we found our own caterer and supplied all our own wine with no corkage attached. For that reason I can recommend this type of wedding to anyone but with the warning that it can come with a lot of hard work and planning on your part. Here are a few of the big things to consider.


It is easy to assume that this type of wedding reception will be cheaper. My experience is that it isn’t! Hiring a marquee is much more costly than you think and most marquees will come as a basic package that if you want to add to will cost extra. The flooring is a good example, most come with basic coconut matting. If you want to have carpet to complement your décor/theme you will pay extra. The lighting is another good example. Ask exactly what is included in any price you are quoted and factor in any pieces you want to tailor or amend.


This feels like an obvious point but I can’t stress it enough. The more experienced and qualified your suppliers, the less risk you have that things will go wrong and the better peace of mind you’ll have if they do! There are other ways that you can reduce costs if you are struggling (a home made cake, ordering less costly invites online are good examples). In my opinion the marquee company is the most important to invest time and money in getting right because if anything here goes wrong the day really could be a disaster. Good suppliers get booked up fast, I would recommend booking them 12 months in advance if you can. Research your marquee company carefully, make sure they have lots of experience, check out their website, ask lots of questions to feel comfortable. Make sure they have the basics covered (e.g. that the flooring comes with a waterproof membrane underneath in case of rain…). It is also worth saying that some marquee companies will be able to offer much more outside of just the marquee and this can be very useful. Our marquee company provided all our tables, chairs, linen, bar, sofas, coffee tables and stools. This can save a lot of hassle sourcing them from elsewhere and coordinating with yet another supplier.


There are a lot of different options out there now from traditional marquees to tipis, Chinese hat and Clearspan. You will definitely want to consider which will best suit your style or theme but don’t forget about the practicalities of checking that it is suitable for the environment. For example you cannot erect a traditional marquee on solid ground (like tarmac) but you can a Clearspan. Make sure that you get something large enough to accommodate the number of guests and your preferred layout. As an example, long tables that seat many people will take up less room than multiple round tables.


In almost all cases your caterer will need a separate catering tent where they will prepare and cook all your food. Make sure you capture their requirements in terms of size of space needed and any equipment (e.g. a table!) that you may have to provide. You will also need to provide them with power and fresh running water. I would insist they do a site visit well in advance so that they can assess what else they may need that you may not have taken into account and they can agree on positioning of the tent in relation to the main marquee. Make sure your caterer can supply all of the crockery, cutlery and glassware – this will save you a lot of hassle. I would also ask them for their breakages policy and check it is reasonable.

Wedding Signs


Weddings require a lot of power! It is possible to plug into the 13 amp supplies in the house but personally I believe a safer option is hiring a generator. It does add more cost but it will put less pressure on the mains supply and you don’t have to worry about cabling. Our marquee was so far away from the house the cabling would have been a nightmare and if, for whatever reason, the power blew I didn’t want to be left literally in the dark! You will need to check how much power each of your suppliers will need (caterer, toilets, band are good examples) and let whoever is supplying your generator know. Some marquee companies will provide generators and do this part for you (again another good reason for choosing your suppliers carefully).


When you think ‘wedding day’, toilets are not top of mind but I would suggest they are really important for a marquee wedding. Invest into some good quality ones. Personally I couldn’t think of anything worse than a beautifully thought out and planned reception ruined by having to use a smelly, horrible portable toilet. There are some good ones out there! Also ensure that you hire enough to service the size of your party! I have heard one story of toilets running out of water, for example, mid event. It is worth noting that most portable toilets are unsuitable for disabled or less abled guests. You should think about an alternative arrangement. This was the only reason we actually requested use of the house on the day – for our elderly Grandad who was in a wheelchair. We had a ramp set up into the house so that he could use their facilities.


Again this seems an obvious point but more than any other type of wedding you will need to be super organised! Most other wedding venues or hotels will have a venue manager who will prompt you on each element and offer advice. With a marquee wedding you need to make sure you cover all the bases. I relished this challenge and loved it but it suits me – I did go on to a career as a wedding planner – but it won’t suit everyone. I started planning 12 months out, I literally brainstormed everything I would need to think about and came up with traffic light excel spreadsheet to do list! I spent hours researching, talking to suppliers, meeting suppliers. If this really does not appeal to you and, if your budget allows, I would consider hiring a wedding planner. Most planners will offer a ‘few weeks to go’/tailored package if you don’t want to go for full wedding planning. Personally even if you do choose to do everything yourself I would hire a planner to be there on the day. I did and I don’t think I would have been able to relax without it. They will meet you ahead of the wedding, go through your planning, offer any amends and then be the main point of contact on the day and can be worth their weight in gold for peace of mind. Whilst there are plenty of other considerations for planning a marquee wedding the above will give you a good start of the biggest and most important and hopefully a feel for whether this is the type of wedding reception choice for you. In my opinion if you want to create something personal, memorable and you have the appetite, organisation and energy to design your own day (or the budget to delegate it!) then I can highly recommend it!

Wedding Games

image credits : David Pullum Photography

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