SPECIAL EVENT & WEDDING VENUE SELECTION: A How-To Guide
Let’s face it! Planning an event can be a daunting task no matter the size, especially if you are not a professional planner. You want your event to be perfect in every way, whether the concept is for guests to feel at ease in a laid back format or a formal affair designed to make guests ooh and ahh. So where to start? The bottom line is big or small, you want your event to be memorable in a positive light (not, the kind of memorable associated with disaster).
Start with choosing your space. While this can be a very daunting task, it is a crucial decision that must preclude many other planning choices. Vendors (florists, musicians, bands, caterers, entertainers, djs and others) need to know the date and location of your event in order to determine availability and pricing.
To begin the process, you want to consider 3 main things:
- (1) Does the venue determine the date or is your date set in stone?
- (2) Will your event take place indoors or outdoors?
- (3) What is the anticipated start time and duration of your event?
Once you have the answer to these questions, do your research and come up with a visual list of 10-20 venues that are your top choices. Narrow this list down to your short-list by making phone calls and eliminating options that are unable to accommodate your top 3 set parameters.
Take your short-list and pick up the phone. Contact the venues and ask important questions to further eliminate or confirm venues on your short list as being viable options. Questions will vary based on your event and the things that are important to you. Write down a list of 10 to 15 items in the order of importance to go over with the venue coordinator. In addition to your event specific list be sure to ask the important questions that may not be at the forefront of your mind.
Many venues have a go-to list of preferred vendors they work with. This can be a huge help if you aren’t sure where to start with decor, catering, entertainment, etc. However, in some situations, this can be frustrating if the venue requires you to use their preferred vendors or charges an additional fee for bringing in an outside vendor.
- Do you have a preferred vendor list?
- Am I limited to working with vendors from your preferred vendor list?
- Is there a fee for bringing in a vendor(s) not on your preferred list?
Know the Vendor Requirements and Restrictions
Lets face it, in order to keep up appearances venues need to have rules to protect the beauty of their event and ensure that things are top-notch on your special day. However, sometimes the venue is not always good about communicating their requirements and restrictions up front. Be sure to know and communicate these details to your vendors (or planner if you are using one). Some requirements and restrictions may impact the quote a vendor gives especially if they will be required to arrive or remain later than expected.
- Do you require vendors to carry Liability Insurance?
- If so, do vendors need to list the venue as an additional insured?
- Do you have specific requirements for Load-In and Load-Out for vendors?
- Do you have any other policies that may affect my vendors?
Outdoor Event? Know the Inclement Weather Backup Options (& What They Look Like Visually)
This questions is more for those planning an event that may take place outdoors. Make sure that you discuss in detail what the backup plan will be if there is inclement weather. When it comes to the backup option I have experienced the best and worst of both worlds from indoor options that were even lovelier than the outdoor option to last-minute, frantic moves to indoors where the venue really was not equipped to accommodate an indoor option.
- When to do you make the call to move an event indoors?
- Does the venue make the call to move an event indoors, or is it left to the client?
- Does moving an event indoors change the number of people that can be accommodated?
- What will the layout and look be if moved indoors?
- How long will it take to move things indoors?
- Will you still be able to achieve a similar look and feel for my outdoor vision indoors?
- Do you have visuals of the indoor option?
Inquire About Setup Times & Restrictions
This is extremely important. You need to know how early you and your vendors can have access to the site and when you and your vendors need to be out of the site. Some gorgeous venues work on VERY tight timelines and it may be too tight if you are planning on elaborate installations and details that require many hours and even days to setup and install. Also, keep in mind that some venues may accommodate events back-to-back and may have very strict restrictions on when your vendors can arrive and setup.
- How far in advance can I and my vendors come to the venue to setup?
- When do my vendors, guests and I need to have all of our items removed from the venue?
- What happens if the event gets behind and we need more time?
- Can I pay an additional fee to have earlier access?
Inquire About Parking
Make sure to discuss parking ahead of time. This is especially important for venues that are in cities or have limited parking available. You may need to arrange for valet services. For venues that have large parking lots, but where the parking lot may not be close to where you will actually be celebrating or having the event, you may want to consider alternative transportation for guests who may not be able to move very well. If there is a long trek from the parking site to the event site, you may need to inform your guests to allow for extra time. This is especially important if your event is a wedding, as late guests can disrupt your wedding timeline.
- Can the venue accommodate parking for all my guests?
- What is the distance from the parking lot to the main event site?
- Are there alternative transportation options for elderly/handicapped guests who may not be able to walk long distances (i.e. golf cart)
- If the venue does not have on-site parking to accommodate my guests, what are my other options?
- Will a valet service be required?
Inquire About What is Included With Your Package
It is especially important to your budget to know and understand what is included with the booking of your venue. Some venues may only provide the space itself and you may be responsible for providing everything else (food, tables, chairs, linens, glassware, silverware, plates, tablecloths, etc.). Other venues may have the inventory to provide you, but may charge extra depending what you require. In addition, be sure to ask questions regarding what is included as far as space.
- Does the venue charge more if you use the entire space as opposed to one building or one room?
- What is included with my pricing (i.e. linens, tables, chairs, tableware, decor, etc.)?
- What is not included in pricing?
- If I bring in outside catering, will they have access to kitchen facilities?
- Do you have enough restrooms onsite to accommodate my guests (2 restrooms per 50 people)
- Is an onsite coordinator available? Is this an additional fee? What will he/she be responsible for?
Write It Down & Make It Official
You have asked all the right questions and spent countless hours doing your research, visiting venues and finalizing your decision. Do not skimp out on the most important part of the planning/closing. Get your agreement in writing. Don’t breeze over it. Read it thoroughly to ensure that everything discussed is included in the contract ESPECIALLY those small details that were added on for value due to your special request. Most contracts are form contracts and it is very likely that the person responsible for the contract and the person responsible for going over the details and answering your questions may not be one and the same. Your contract is your insurance policy if the venue fails to deliver on what they promised. Make sure you get a copy.
Venue Chosen, Now What?
Your venue is confirmed now you can move on to your priority list of vendors. Not sure where to start for some or all of the items on your list? The venue’s preferred vendor list can be a great place to start. Always circle back to your venue as you have discussions with your other vendors to ensure the venue can accommodate them and they can accommodate the venue. If a vendor includes something in their pricing that the venue is charging extra for, or vice versa, make sure to check-in and see if your initial pricing can be adjusted.
Most importantly, give yourself time between decisions. Space things out and enjoy the process!
Nichole Rohrbach McKenzie is owner and harpist for Harp & Soul a Luxury Event Music Planning Service based out of Atlanta, GA and Philadelphia, PA. Nichole brings with her professional degrees paired with over 15 years of professional performance and operations management to ensure that the music for your event is flawless and curated to enhance your vision for your special day.