How to Organise a Marquee Wedding

We are absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to planning a wedding and searching for venues in New Zealand. Whether you’re eloping on one of NZ’s beautiful beaches, planning an intimate gathering at a family farm, or an elaborate and extravagant event on one of our many beautiful wineries, it’s not hard to find somewhere stunning to exchange vows and celebrate.

Organising a marquee wedding means you have the luxury of choosing almost any location, and is a popular choice in NZ.

While many venues have function centres or restaurants, if you’re considering getting married somewhere off the beaten track, or having a larger wedding than the particular venue normally caters to, you’re very likely to be looking at a marquee. Private residences such as historic homes, farms, beaches or parks abound and can make a perfect wedding day location, and even more unique spaces like a rooftop building or forest can be great marquee spots.

Planning a marquee wedding often indicates you’re having a ‘dry-hire’ or DIY wedding, so make sure you think about the logistics of each type of venue because it can be a lot of work (I speak from experience).

Marquee Weddings at Private Residences

Having your wedding at a private residence can be more economical than hiring a venue, but it’s also easy to overspend when you’re responsible for organising everything yourself. A marquee allows you to create an entire new space away from the main house so your home isn’t over-run with guests. Remember you’ll need a relatively flat space if your guests are going to dine at tables under the tent.

Parks & Public Places

We’re lucky in NZ, as regional councils allow wedding receptions in many parks or public places (with regulations to abide by). You’re likely to need to apply to the local council for an ‘Event Permit’ to hold your wedding in a public space. To apply in your city, see these links: Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Queenstown, HamiltonTaurangaNapierHastings, Taupo, Rotorua, Coromandel. Depending on the size and type of event you are holding, you may need to apply for other permits, such as a ‘Temporary Building Structure’ permit for a marquee over 100 square metres, and you may need to think about liquor licensing, sound levels, toilet accessibility, car-parking, power access and more. A 100-square metre marquee will hold around 60 to 90 guests at a cocktail-style event. For a seated reception for 120 guests, you would require between 200 and 240 square metres of ‘tent space’.

Farms & Private Open Sites

A large space with a view of the ocean provides a beautiful view and great photographic opportunities for your wedding. We were lucky enough to have stunning views over Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel – though we didn’t have a marquee. For a completely DIY venue you will need to organise everything from the ground up: toilets, heating, generators, transportation, a food prep area, car-parking, lighting, furniture, and the list goes on. Ideally, look for a site where the property owners have hosted wedding before and are willing to help you pull everything together, or work with a wedding planner.

Once you’ve chosen a venue, visit it with your marquee company.

A site inspection of the venue is included with your marquee company’s service. This is a vital step as they must see where you plan to have the marquee in order to give a realistic quotation. Let them know your estimated number of guests, ask what size marquee is needed, and obviously check you have the room for the required size. They will advise on access, layout, and any potential hazards like underground pipes and roots.

Choosing your marquee

  •  For your marquee, do you want white canvas walls do you want windows (clear walls) and or do you want it completely open? Do you want silk lining in your marquee?
  • What type of flooring would you prefer? The ideal solution is a level hard floor this provides a solid surface for guests to walk on, or plastic grid flooring or perhaps no flooring for that rustic look?
  • Do you prefer round tables or long trestle tables? This may effect the shape of marquee you choose.

The best thing to do when planning a marquee wedding is write a comprehensive list of tasks and requirements in order to tick off as time goes by, as well as a detailed floor plan and run sheet.

Marquee Floor Planand Run Sheet – set this up well in advance and use it to work with you vendors. Drawing a simple sketch of the tables, dance-floor, power, etc will be a priceless use of time. Consider what type of layout are you after in general, where you envisage the catering tent going, as well as the portable toilets, marquee entrance, and where you’ll want the dance floor & stage.

On your run sheet, list exactly what times you want everything on your big day to take place and who is responsible for each. There’s a run sheet template in your little white book.

Other vendors

For a marquee wedding, I suggest you only choose the most experienced and capable wedding vendors.

Wedding caterers in particular need to be able to work in marquee and/or outdoor conditions. If you have chosen a location such as a park, paddock, hill-top or similar, do remember your caterers will need to bring all heating and cooking equipment to site – this is no mean feat when you are talking numerous ovens and gas bottles. Consider also that they will need a reliable power source and cover for their catering area. Check with your caterers what size catering marquee they need to service your wedding proficiently. Ensure your caterers have access to fresh water; this can be simply an extendable hose into the catering tent or access to the kitchen in the venue.

If possible, meet with at least a couple of caterers, rather than just viewing a website and choosing based on price. Great food is a very important part of a great celebration, and you want to be able to trust everyone is going to enjoy it, including yourself. See also how to choose your wedding catering.

What else do you need to plan for a marquee wedding?

Weather – What if it rains? Think about a contingency plan whether you hire an additional marquee or hold the reception in the marquee on the dance floor if uncovered. If space and budget are flexible then you can have a special lounge area in the marquee.

Make sure there is a partition between the catering tent and the main marquee, guests do not want to see staff dishing up food.

Power – Be very aware of power, how much the band/DJ, toilets and caterer needs. Does the venue supply enough power and, more importantly, do you want to risk the power tripping? Don’t rely on a near-by house or venue to supply your power source for your caterers, lighting and sound. Hiring a generator will eliminate any potential fuse-blows (imagine the lights and sound going out mid first-dance!).

Remember, you’ll need plenty of lighting for an evening wedding. Depending on where your location is, you are looking at around $300 for a basic generator, plus transportation.

Acoustics – Sound is very important too. Guests want to hear your speeches, so invest in a simple hired sound system with either lapel or standard microphones.

Love thy neighbour – Ensure the neighbours are aware of the wedding and anticipated noise and don’t take advantage of the flexibility a marquee wedding allows you – respect your surroundings.

Parking & vehicle access – Do you have sufficient parking? Ensure there is good signage so people know where to park. Whenever hiring suppliers that will arrive in larger vehicles, think about the access available to them. If access is narrow and deliveries have to be scheduled in, make sure suppliers know the relevant time slot they can deliver and explain any difficulties with the access available.

Planner – You may want to think seriously about having a wedding planner or day of coordinator to assist: they can decorate the venue, take delivery of goods plus manage the day itself so if any challenges occur they are dealt with in a professional manner leaving you to relax and party.

Toilets – With a large number of guests attending the wedding you will need to organise some mobile toilets.

Decoration – The beauty of marquees is you have so much height to play with. Hanging lanterns, bunting and pom poms or hanging crystals chandeliers and floral arrangements give a more intimate feeling. When done well, this will help reduce the ceiling height and create dramatic entrances into different areas of the marquee. Of course, if you’re planning a marquee wedding in an open space, you’ll need to hire absolutely all decoration and furniture you need – there’s not likely to be small tables nearby for a cake table if you forget one. Check with each vendor what they require too.

Head to the wedding planning page for an index of our content, and if you haven’t already seen our wedding organiser and diary, take a little look at the little white book.

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