First tip: Bring a camera with you to every wedding venue you visit. Second tip: Bring a notebook and take copious notes. The photos and notes will help with the final decision making process.
It’s no secret that wedding planning is full of surprises and hidden fees. If you haven’t hired a wedding consultant (I recommend that you do – call me for recommendations), it can be hard to know how to avoid bumps along the way, especially when choosing your wedding venue.
Ask if you can check out the venue during another wedding – from a distance, of course. It’s not nice to be a wedding crasher. You can get a feel for the place with a bar, tables and maybe seeing the guests will give you an idea of how the setting will look with your guests. Always ask permission.
How early can arrive on site to set up and will they have people to help you? Reception halls generally allow you ample time for this.
If you’re booking a large wedding, will there be more than one event scheduled on your day. How many events do you host a day? It’s important to know if there will be another wedding or event held on the day of your wedding. If another reception is taking place at your site, ask what steps the staff takes to keep the parties separate. Will the wedding coordinator be present to supervise your wedding? If not, who will be supervising and troubleshooting before the day of your wedding? Ask to meet them.
What is the maximum number of guests they can accommodate? Often the maximum number of people is based on fire code.
Will they provide a shuttle to and from a nearby hotel for your guests to the ceremony and reception? If not, you may need to rent your own shuttle service.
Do they provide a coat check service (especially important for winter weddings)? If not, is there an area that can be used and staffed for that purpose?
Are there any additional costs – cleaning fees, insurance – fee waivers, etc.? You don’t want any surprises. Asking for references can be helpful. It allows you to ask specific questions and get an unbiased answer.
Are their any restrictions you need to know about. For example, candles are gorgeous and most brides would love candles all around their reception room. Are candles or other open flames allowed? Some venues restrict things like throwing rice or confetti, or bringing in outside beverages or rental items. There may be rules about decorating, like no hanging decorations or fabric from the ceilings. Ask about time restrictions. Some sites charge up to $500 an hour for overstaying.
Be sure to get a list of all the things that are NOT included in your venue package. Ask about extra items that could mean additional costs, such as a corkage fee for the champagne. Request that they eliminate features in your package that you don’t want. If they can’t be taken off the list, ask for a discount.
Some venues will expect you to use their caterers, florists, etc. If you are buying an all inclusive package and after you have interview one of the vendors find out they are not a good fit, can you bring in your own vendor? Your venue will probably give you some information on the food and beverage details up front, but hidden costs are very likely when dealing with food and alcohol. If your venue does not give you the food and beverage minimum up front, always ask for it. Most venues have something written into their contracts to ensure your vendors get a meal, often at discount prices. Make sure to ask about the price of these meals. If you are required to pay the full cost of the meal, you may want to factor that price into your budget. It is a common courtesy to invite the wedding officiant and/or minister to enjoy a meal at the reception.
What is their food and beverage minimum and what are the consequences of an overage?
Are there rooms available where the bride, bridesmaids and groomsmen can get ready before the ceremony?
If its an outdoor location, do they have any back-up plans for rain or other inclement weather?
Do not assume that parking is included in your cost. Most venues charge a fee for their valet service as well as their parking garages. Will there be ample parking for your guest list? Will it be complimentary or will the guests have to pay to park?
Is the wedding venue wheelchair accessible?
Does our venue have liability insurance? If someone gets injured during the reception, you don’t want to be held responsible – if the site doesn’t have insurance, you’ll need to get your own.
If they have there own in-house caterer, or cake baker, will there be a tasting? Is a tasting included as part of the wedding package? Is a tasting available before you book? Who can participate beside the bride and groom?
If your venue is a hotel, do they have any special discounts for rooms for your guests? If a country club or golf resort do they have any affiliations with local hotels for wedding guests?
Do you have to be a member of a country club to have your wedding there? Since country club memberships are usually very expensive, most clubs let outsiders hold events there if they are sponsored by a member. Before you even visit any club spaces, inquire about the membership requirements.
What security services do they offer? Do you need to hire your own security guards, or does the site hire them or have them on staff? In general, you should have 2 security guards for the first 100 guests and 1 more for every additional 100 guests. Gifts have been known to disappear from the gift table.
Do you have signage or other aids to direct guests to my wedding and reception?
Is a dance floor included at the reception? If not, what is the cost? What is the size?
Do you have a recycling policy? It’s not easy being green.
Are there any sound equipment restrictions (e.g., noise ordinances) that you should know about for your band or disc jockey? Event spaces, like ballrooms and country clubs, often have built-in speakers, so all the band will have to do is bring their instruments and plug in. Most DJs have their own sound equipment, lights, etc.
If you are looking for other wedding vendors, ask for referrals. Your venue probably works with specific cake bakers, rental companies, wedding officiants, photographers, etc. Some venues will give you a list of “preferred vendors,” if not ask for specifics. When they recommend a vendor it usually means that the vendor already knows the lay of the land, has worked there before and has a good working relationship with the site coordinator. I recommend hiring a Wedding Consultant to assist with the many details of your wedding that you may never have thought of.
What is the staff’s dress code? What is the server to guest ratio?
Is there an in house pastry chef? Is an outside cake allowed? Is there a cake cutting fee?
In your search for a wedding venue, there will probably be even more questions that arise for you personally. For example, you may want the menu to reflect your heritage, or with a large wedding party, you may need ample parking for limousines, trolleys, etc.
Request a proposal with all the pricing and policies, including the tax and service charge, so you have an idea of the basic cost. You will need a bottom-line fee. Never assume anything is included. Before you sign the contract, read it carefully. Is there a payment schedule? What kind of deposits are required? Your wedding date is not officially reserved until you sign a contract and, in most cases, give a deposit – even if the venue wedding coordinator says you don’t need to worry about it.
You may want to ask your venue for a sample contract before you sign your own contract.
It’s wise to document all your conversations in e-mail and keep your correspondence. Before you sign the final contract, read the fine print and make sure it includes everything you and the wedding coordinator agreed upon. Ask about any other hidden fees. As new things are added or changed in your contract, have the updated version printed out and signed by you and the wedding coordinator.
It may seem that there are a lot of questions to ask, but by asking, not only are you avoiding surprises, you are showing the venue that you are a serious customer and that they should treat you accordingly.
If you think of other questions that may be important to you, please leave your suggestions in the comments below.
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