For the last 6 years, I have found that most of my clients have come to me looking to host their wedding or a private event in marquees rather than event spaces. During this time I have gained lots of knowledge on the do’s and don’ts on how to achieve an amazing party in these beautifully simple spaces so, I thought I would share some insight into the key factors you should consider to plan a perfect party for those of you who are planning to do the same.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Wheeler
Planning any event must start with deciphering the budget.
RULE NO.101 Please do not start planning your event until you know how much you can spend/want to spend. Setting a realistic budget is essential! So many people have the view that a marquee event is cheaper than holding it at a venue, well, that isn’t often the case as you have to remember you are creating a venue on a totally blank canvas, often in a field or garden where there are limited facilities.
If you don’t know where to start, I suggest you gather three quotes from reputable suppliers for each category you need to book, so you can start to gain a good understanding of what each element will cost.
Don’t forget to add a 10-15% budget buffer for things that don’t immediately come to mind.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Wheeler
- Make sure you choose a marquee that will be big enough but, not too big, you want and need an atmosphere to make the party great.
- Decide on the location for the marquee and get the scale of the site – make sure on your initial site visit you get the accurate measurements. Consider factors like accessibility, parking, and proximity to amenities.
- Don’t forget extras like flooring, lighting, and heating or cooling systems, depending on the weather and season.
Catering and bar service
- Decide whether you’ll have a catered meal, buffet, food truck, or a combination and consider the logistics of how food service will work before you pay your deposit.
- Plan a menu that suits your guests’ preferences and dietary restrictions. I would advise you to taste the food beforehand as you will spend a large proportion of your budget on catering, and you want to make sure it is exactly as you expect.
- Make sure when you are gathering catering quotes that they have included the costs of their kitchen and any service wear they need. You will also want to ask if they provide their catering tent (with lighting and tables) or if they expect you to arrange this.
- You will be expected to create a service area in a location which is behind the marquee, near the kitchen with bins for service staff to clear efficiently.
- You may be able to arrange bar service through your catering company. When you gather quotations for the bar service please make sure you consider and get costs for corkage, glassware, service trays, ice/fridge freezer (or ice machine / or both) and an understanding of how many staff will be working on the bar – nobody wants service to be slow at the bar or drinks to be warm.
- Where will the bar be and do you need to source a physical bar? If so, when you choose your bar, make sure there is lots of room for glasses, under counter fridges and a bar back which will display the spirits.
- Don’t forget about non-alcoholic drinks – move away from the elderflower presse (that’s really overdone) and try to make sure there is a variety of non-alcoholic drinks – not all of them need to be super sweet.
- Cocktails are always a good idea … even if it’s just one!
- Trying to work with as few suppliers as possible will save you time and money on delivery and staffing costs.
Photo Credit: Tim Dunk
One of the best perks of throwing a party in a marquee is that you have a blank canvas to work with – your space is entirely down to you to design, however for most of us that can be overwhelming.
My suggestion, (and many stylists may frown when I say this) is that if you are not a styling visionary – if the look, feel, smell, or texture doesn’t come naturally to you when you look at a blank canvas, use resources available such as blogs, Instagram and Pinterest and take a few ideas you love and stick to them as much as you can… having hundreds of Pins can make the whole event look like a mishmash. Going big on a few great things is better than having loads of incoherent ideas in one room.
- Choose a simple colour pallet.
- When you come to place an order for furniture, I suggest you get the accurate floor space size so you can see the exact area you can use for tables and chairs, especially if you are having a sit-down dinner.
- When you are designing the chillout/social areas of the space, it works well to create pockets of seating with a table.
- Rugs, cushions, lamps, a variety of table sizes and parasols work well to soften up the space.
- Last but not least, don’t forget how you are going to light up the space – lighting is a key ingredient to making a good party great!
Photo Credit: Benjamin Wheeler
Think about what you and your guests value and plan your entertainment around that. To do this, I would walk through the party from start to finish and think about what your guests will be doing at each stage and what entertainment will be taking place.
- Get a great DJ if you can’t afford a band and a DJ. Share with them what music you and your guests love and hate so they can keep the dance floor packed all night.
- Garden games are always fun and they can be a great way of entertaining younger guests.
- Think about how you can WOW your guests… this may be a firework display, surprise acts, a sing-along…
Lighting and Sound
Planning to have adequate lighting both inside and outside the marquee, and the appropriate speaker systems in the right locations is essential. I always work with a sound/AV and lighting company and I suggest you do too, as lighting can make the party look and feel amazing, If it’s not planned properly it can make the dancefloor feel flat – trust me, this is worth the investment.
- If you are doing a speech, use a mic and make sure you do plenty of sound checks.
- Lots of bands will provide their own sound system, but not lighting – make sure you understand these details ahead of booking.
- Get a stage if you hire a band or DJ – it just works better than not having one.
Informing your guests on the how/what/where of your event efficiently and easily is key – you do not want to be bombarded with questions.
I suggest you create a guest list and send out invitations well in advance and you use an RSVP system to get an accurate headcount, answers to any questions you may have, details on dietary requirements etc.
- The fewer guests you have the more you can splurge on them, which may work well if you are doing a formal dinner or if you are going for something more informal, you can go cheap and cheerful having all your favourite people in one room.
- At Rosie Green Events, we use Paperless Post and With Joy regularly and can highly recommend these, they are easy, reasonably priced options.
- If you want to go with traditional stationery you can post, these are two great stationery suppliers we love to work with: Lou Paper, Sheaf stationery, Pale Press London
Logistics and timelines
Detailed event planning, considered supplier sourcing and clear communication with your guests and suppliers is the key to running a successful event. So, you need to have a timeline that is clear and details everything that needs to happen, when and by whom (work in 15-20 minute chunks).
Arrange parking for guests and consider offering transportation options if necessary. Don’t forget if you are having your party in a rural location you may need to consider lighting up the area where cars are parked along with a walkway from the marquee to that location.
- Have a call 3-4 weeks ahead of the party to run through your timeline and confirm all logistics with each of your suppliers.
- Create a seating plan if applicable, and make sure the guests with dietary requirements and any accessibility details are clearly shown.
- Consider hiring a cleaning team to clean the site after the party – if you are using a working farm this is often a contractual requirement. It is worth looking into hiring a skip, to make sure you have somewhere to get rid of your waste… You don’t want to have to take it home with you.
- Staffing is key to the party running smoothly, don’t underestimate the need for lots of hands on deck.
- Have signage around the site directing guests to the loos, car park etc.
- Have a coat rail (even in summer), with tags for guests to put their names on.
- Luxury toilet blocks are more expensive than you may think! When you get quotes, if one is way cheaper than the rest, be wary.
- You will need a generator, and it should come with ample cabling to reach all the key areas on site. Will Power is one of our favourite suppliers, they are so helpful when it comes to power planning.
Safety and Permits
- Ahead of the party taking place, I advise you to get the PAT and insurance certificates from all of your suppliers.
- If you have a bar where cash is paid, you will be required to get a license.
- Some suppliers will expect a risk assessment to have been completed before they work on-site.
- Have a plan in place for emergency situations, such as first aid and fire safety.
- You may also be required to arrange a temporary event license.
Weather Contingency Plan
When the marquee goes up, make sure you get the debrief on how to make the marquee watertight if it’s wet and cold or, more open if it’s a hot day.
- If the weather gods are not on your side, you should consider how to keep your guests dry when they come from the drop-off area – car park/coach drop-off point etc. It can work well if you can make the site as small as possible so guests are not walking around in the rain for a long time.
Delegation if you don’t have a planner
To make sure you have the best chance possible of relaxing and enjoying the party, I suggest you delegate responsibilities to a trusted team or hire an event coordinator to manage everything. Event planners in the ‘personal event’ sector are not valued as much as they should be… the view is that they are nice to have, not an essential service that should be booked. I am of course biased here but, I do believe they are the ones who make the event run smoothly so you and your guests can have a good time – if we are not there, you will be bombarded with questions regardless of how well the party has been organised.
- Remember that careful planning is key to a successful marquee party. Be flexible and prepared for unexpected challenges, and most importantly put the measures in place so that you have the support there so you can have a fantastic time celebrating with your guests.
I hope you have found this blog useful!