Whether you got engaged over the holidays or you're just realizing that it's time to get busy on your wedding that's coming up this year, many of you are breaking out the spreadsheets and color coded folders to organize your vendors and ideas. For most engaged couples, first on the list is finding a venue!
The list of venue styles is infinite, but we planners usually break venues down into 2 different kinds: onsite and offsite. Onsite refers to the more traditional of the two; hotels, country clubs, or wedding banquet facilities. Offsite venues can be anything from a public park or private residence to the beach or even an open field.
As different as the Ritz Carlton is from your grandmother's backyard, so are the tips and questions to ask at these different venues. So, in the interest of organization, I'm splitting all this venue talk into a couple of different parts.
Let's start with the (often) simpler, onsite venue.
Parking. An onsite venue (like a hotel or country club) likely has more parking than you need because of the guests they accommodate daily. A dedicated wedding or banquet facility, however, might not have a dedicated lot or structure if it's in an urban or downtown area. For onsite venues, your biggest parking concern isn't logistics, but budget. Be sure to include valet parking costs in your budget. Some hotels and clubs require you to pay for valet for your guests. In other cases, it's a nice gesture if the parking lot is far from your event area or if street parking is difficult to find.
Minimums and Site Fees. Hotels, clubs, and banquet facilities often charge a site fee for your ceremony (sometimes including chair set up; other times not) and a separate food and beverage minimum for your reception. A food and beverage minimum is just that, your minimum. It's good to be comfortable with a price just north of that in case your food and beverage choices are more upscale than the venue's standard. When choosing your venue, be sure to not just compare minimums, but the bang for your buck aspect. Two different hotels might have the same minimums for their ballrooms, but depending on their separate menu costs, that minimum might buy you a chicken buffet or plated steak.
Tables, Chairs, Linens. 99.9% of the time, an onsite venue will include all of these items, saving you time, energy and (usually) money. However, be sure to ask about the specifics--what are the table sizes and shapes? If your heart's set on long tables but they only have rounds, be sure to account for that in your budget. Many venues will tout that they provide linens in a plethora of colors, but be sure to ask about the size. Some venues provide linens, but they aren't floor length. If you don't want guests staring at ugly table legs, budget for rental linens. The same goes for chairs! Be sure you know what the venue's chairs look like and the condition they're in. If you're having a springy coral wedding and your club's chairs are forest green, it's time to budget for rentals. Also, be sure that you're clear on chair setup for your ceremony. Chairs might be included, but there could be an additional fee (sometimes up to $5 per chair) to have them set up. Should you budget for it or find a helpful friend or family-member?
The Bar. Alcohol makes venues a lot of money. As a result, some like to limit you on how you can limit your guests. If you're looking to ensure that no one gets out of hand at your reception, be sure that you are allowed to limit consumption to only beer, wine, and champagne. While most venues won't require you to host a full bar, some do require that the full bar be open and available to your guests for cash.
Access Time. It isn't unusual for a hotel or similar venue to have more than one wedding on the same day, much less the same weekend. It's imperative to know what time your vendors can access your ceremony and reception areas. The later the available time, the more help your vendors will need. Translation: the more money you'll have to spend.
Cultural Food & Dietary Needs. Is your family kosher? Maybe you and your fiance are vegan or you want to serve appetizers that honor your Indian heritage. Before booking, know where the venue stands on allowing you to bring in these specialty items or ask extensive questions about how they've met these requests in the past.
Extras. Onsite venues can be great for their incentives (free suite on the wedding night!) and notorious for their add-on fees (those gold chargers you saw during your walk through are an extra $3.00pp). Here are some additional items to ask about:
1) Is there an additional fee for a getting ready location for the bridal party or is that included in the site fee?
2) Do any local rental companies offer discounts at this venue? If so, which ones and how much?
3) What is the cake-cutting fee? If a dessert is included in your per person meal cost, are you allowed to swap the included dessert for a waive of the cake cutting fee?
4) What is the corkage fee for wine brought into the venue? (Hint: if you're a member of a wine club, have friends in high places, or happen to work in the wine/alcohol industry, it might be less expensive to pay corkage than to purchase the venue's wine).
Happy venue hunting!