Looking for that perfect site for your next special event? While there may be a lot of venue options in your geographic area, not every one will be equally well suited to YOUR needs and YOUR budget. We’ve set out below key issues to consider in making a good venue match. Careful, advance review will go a long way toward protecting your pocketbook, keeping you sane throughout the planning process, and ensuring that your big day is all that you envision.
#1 | COST
There are a lot of variables that affect cost. Take the time to fully assess the cost of holding your event at any particular venue. Gather as much information up front as possible-online, over the phone, and in person. Read reviews, ask questions, talk to family members and friends about their experiences. Narrow down the options and schedule site visits for the venues you like best. And when you do visit, try not to let an initial wow outweigh practical concerns that may affect suitability or bottom line.
Be aware that venue pricing varies depending on time of year, day of week, and time of day. High season vs. low season. Weekend vs. weekday. Saturday vs. Sunday. Evening vs. mid-day. If you absolutely love a particular venue, but it initially seems out of your price range, perhaps you can change your date or timing (from evening to mid-day, for example) to better fit your budget.
Find out if in-house catering is available and if you are required to use it. Are you allowed to bring in outside catering or catering enhancements such as food trucks or specialty desserts? Does the venue charge a fee for bringing in outside caterers or specialty food items?
Ask whether the venue charges a rental or facility fee independent of any catering. Check whether rental fees will be waived if you meet a certain food and beverage minimum.
Identify what equipment is on site and be sure to clarify exactly what is included in your venue rental. You likely can save a lot of money if you use tables, chairs, linen, china, glassware, and flatware already on site. Limit your outside rentals to focal points and special accents if you are trying to control costs.
Lighting and audiovisual (AV). Check on site capacity and costs for technical upgrades, customization, or support services. Newer venues or recently renovated facilities are likely to have greater technical capacity and be more flexible than older venues. Try to build off what is already available. Bringing in outside lighting/AV specialists can get very expensive.
#2 | LOCATION / CONVENIENCE / PARKING
Easy to overlook logistics when you have a particular venue in mind and it fits you to a “T.” But difficulty reaching a venue can put a damper on an event well before a celebration even begins. Your guests will remember not only the fabulous food and décor, but also the relative ease with which they were able to get to and participate in your event.
Try to choose a location that is easily reachable and has ample parking. If you will be holding a ceremony or service at a different location, think about how your guests will travel from one place to another. Make arrangements for off-site or valet parking if parking will be limited. Pick up the tab for paid parking if you are able. Your guests will definitely appreciate the gesture. And make sure you consider closing times for any paid or off-site parking–the last thing you want is to have a parking garage close before your guests are able to retrieve their cars.
Consider proximity to hotel accommodations, airports and major highways, public transportation, tourist attractions, and dining establishments. This is especially important if your event will stretch out over several days or if you will be inviting out-of-town guests.
#3 | FIT / AESTHETICS / AMBIANCE
Consider how well a particular venue fits the type of event you are holding and your personal style. What are you celebrating and is the venue appropriate for that sort of celebration? Is your style formal or informal? How about the architecture and interior décor? Does the venue have that “just right” feeling from the moment you walk in? Try to choose a venue that won’t require a complete makeover décor-wise. That can get very expensive. Aim to complement the setting rather than fight it. And for nontraditional venues, be sure you are fully aware of and comfortable with the organization’s mission and its day-to-day use.
#4 | ACCESSIBILITY / FUNCTIONALITY & AMENITIES / SECURITY
Make sure the venue is fully accessible to all. Neither age nor physical ability should be a barrier to participation. Consider the needs of all your guests–children and older adults, relatives or friends who may be wheelchair bound. Make sure ramps and elevators are easily accessible to wherever you will be, and that there are flat walkways to any outdoor space you are considering.
Check the location and adequacy of rest room facilities. Be sure all equipment on site is in good condition.
Consider physical security. Do facility doors lock and is there a secure place for you to store gift envelopes until the end of your event? If you are considering a private club or hotel, ask if other events may be booked at the same time as yours in nearby spaces. Be sure to clarify which areas club members and hotel guests will have access to during your event and whether you need to plan for additional security.
#5 | SIZE / LAYOUT
Determining whether a venue is the right size for your event is not as simple as checking the numbers on a capacity chart. Carefully consider how you wish to USE a space. If you need a dance floor, check the maximum size available and whether it will fit comfortably in the space along with dining and service tables. Don’t forget about the equipment that will need to be set up on or near the dance floor. Modern lighting and sound equipment take up a lot of real estate!
If you need supplemental space for a cocktail hour or additional activities, make sure what’s available suits your purposes and preferences. Is there an additional fee for use of those spaces? Will the venue move furnishings and decorative accents from other areas into your space for your exclusive use during your event? Don’t be afraid to ask about this up front. Again, using what is available can help keep your costs under control.
Remember that “size” is not just about square footage and fire code capacity. It’s also about “fit.” Too large a space for a particular size group, and you may find yourself having to figure out a way to bring the scale down. Too small and you and your guests may feel crowded, the flow of your event awkward. You want to have just the right match so that everyone is comfortable and your event feels warm and inviting.
#6 | CATERING / FOOD & BEVERAGE
Again, find out whether on site catering is available. Preview menu options. Inquire about customization and associated costs. Assess whether a venue’s culinary style and menu are a good match for your style and your budget. If not, or if you just prefer otherwise, can you bring in an outside caterer or catering enhancements? And is there a fee for doing so?
Note available bar and beverage options. Most venues offer different packages and price points for bar and beverage services. The details can be confusing. Ask questions and be sure to choose a package or option that best suits your needs and your budget.
#7 | MINIMUMS / RESTRICTIONS
Inquire as to whether the venue will require you to meet a certain food and beverage minimum. Keep in mind that such minimums are usually exclusive of service charges and sales tax. Hosts sometimes overlook these additional charges, the unfortunate result being a final bill that exceeds initial expectations or budget.
Note also whether there are any food and beverage restrictions, for example, whether alcoholic beverages are limited to wine and beer, or whether red wine is prohibited due to special carpets or displays.
Check to see whether you are required to choose outside vendors from a preferred vendor list. Can you select others so long as they are generally known and meet the venue’s insurance requirements? Be sure to note any restrictions on access or access time for your vendors–you’ll want to be sure your deliveries, load-in, and setup go as smoothly as possible.
Ask whether there are any noise limitations. If your venue is located within a residential community or your event will take place outdoors, are you required to obtain a noise variance?
Décor restrictions. Most venues prohibit adhering anything to their walls. Consider the scale of staging, props, or décor you might want to have. Doors and emergency exits cannot be blocked; catering and venue staff need adequate service space.
Be sure to check the venue’s cancellation policy. Ask what assistance the venue will provide if weather or other uncontrollable factors force your event to be moved or cancelled (often referred to as a force majeure clause in a contract).
#8 | ACOUSTICS & LIGHTING / TECHNICAL
Think about acoustics. Trendy as they are, large industrial spaces with raw concrete floors and high, open beam ceilings may cause sound to bounce all over the place and make it uncomfortably loud for your guests. A reverberating echo chamber can easily detract from your and your guests’ enjoyment.
Windows. Large expanses of windows opening to stunning scenery can be gorgeous, but be sure to consider whether the amount of light they let in will be a problem. You don’t want to have to spend a lot of money draping or darkening a space if doing so is not within your budget or where you want to target your resources.
Remember, again, to consider lighting and AV. Consider whether you will need additional equipment or technical support as well as costs for the same. Is sufficient power available to meet your vendors’ needs and are outlets easily accessible? Will you have access to WIFI and will there be a connection fee?
#9 | CUSTOMER SERVICE
This is a big one. Note how attentive the venue or sales manager is to your needs. Are your questions answered readily and quickly? Read all those online customer reviews. Just as with retail products and services, reviews can reveal a lot–both good and bad.
#10 | MISCELLANEOUS
If you are considering holding your event outdoors, be sure to have a backup plan should weather become a problem. Does the venue have adequate indoor space if you need to move your event indoors? Make sure the venue won’t book the same space for another user prior to your event.
And last, but not least, obtain in writing the venue’s payment terms and payment schedule. Read every word of your venue contract carefully, review what is and isn’t included, know what is expected of you in terms of what information must be provided when, and whether any or all deposits/payments are nonrefundable. Never be afraid to ask questions. Prepare to plan ahead; details matter. Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate.
And when the big day arrives, hold your venue to the highest standards, but accord venue staff the respect and appreciation they deserve. Let your chosen venue shine and enjoy every last minute of your celebration!