You found your true love, he found the perfect ring, you said yes and now the whirlwind of wedding planning begins! Undeniably, one of the most pivotal decisions is where you will hold the wedding and reception. The venue, more than any other element, sets the tone for the entire event. Do you want classic and sophisticated? Maybe you'll opt for a hotel ballroom or country club. Rustic and country more your style? Perhaps a barn wedding is the answer. Looking for something totally unique? Perhaps you'll try a museum or other out of the box space. Whatever type of venue you choose, there are some very important questions that you need to be asking. In my time as a planner, I have worked with some really amazing venues...and a few not so great ones. Whether good or bad, I have learned what questions to ask up front to avoid stress and disappointment down the road. I'm making it totally easy for you and listing out everything that I think you should be prepared to ask. So read on, print them out, and be prepared to impress your coordinator at your next meeting! I'm also sharing a few photos of some of my absolute favorite venues here in Pittsburgh including Hotel Monaco, Point Breezeway, the National Aviary, the Omni William Penn, the Pittsburgh Opera House, and West Overton Barn.
1. What dates are available? Are other weddings / events booked that same day?
2. Is the rental fee lower during “off-season” (November – April) or on a Friday or Sunday compared to a Saturday?
3. What services does the rental fee include (tables, chairs, linens, tableware, etc.)? If not provided, do I have to get them through caterer / outside rental company?
4. How much is the deposit and when is it due?
5. How do I make payments and what is the payment schedule?
6. When is the final balance due?
7. What is the cancellation policy and is any part of the deposit refundable?
8. Are there “hidden charges” (service charge, gratuity, cleaning fee, overtime fee, etc.)?
Food & Alcohol
9. Is there an in-house caterer? Do I have to use that caterer?
10. If in-house caterer, are they willing to accommodate various dietary restrictions?
11.. Can I bring in cake / cookies / desserts from an outside bakery? If so, will someone cut the cake and plate the cookies and desserts? Is there a charge for this?
12. What is your alcohol policy / do you have a liquor license?
13. Are mini bottles of alcohol permitted as place “cards” or favors?
14. What are the options for alcohol service and what are the associated costs?
15. Am I permitted to bring in my own alcohol? If so, is there a corkage fee? Are kegs permitted and how do they have to be delivered / packaged? Will I need to provide garnishes (lemons, limes, etc.)?
16. How many bars will be set up and where will they be located? Does the venue provide bartenders? How many?
17. Is there a food and beverage minimum? If so, are there fees if the minimum is not met?
18. Is a champagne toast complimentary?
Vendors & Rentals
19. Does the venue have a list of preferred vendors? Do you have to use this list or can you bring in any vendors?
20. When can vendors arrive for set-up? Am I able to drop items off the day before the wedding?
21. Does everything have to be torn down and removed the night of the wedding or am I able to leave items until the next day?
22. How long do we have to clean-up and tear-down?
23. Is there staff that will assist with setting up and tearing down decorations?
24. Are there restrictions on décor (candles, hanging things from walls or ceiling, confetti, etc.)?
25. How many guests does the venue accommodate?
26. Is there a separate space for the ceremony? Separate space for cocktail hour? Will staff help with flipping the rooms in between?
27. What type and size tables are provided? Is there room for placecard table, cake table, gift table, etc.?
28. How many hours do I have the venue? What is the cost if I go over these hours?
29. Is there time available the day before for the rehearsal (if doing ceremony at reception venue)?
30. Is the site handicap accessible?
31. Is there a parking lot? Will guests have to pay for parking? Will I need to pay for a valet service?
32. Are there adequate restroom facilities? Coat check?
33. If the parking lot is a far distance from the venue, is there a shuttle or golf cart to drop off elderly guests?
34. Is there air conditioning? For barn or unconventional venues, is there heat? If not, can heaters be rented and brought in?
35. What is the back-up plan for rain or inclement weather?
36. Is the venue child-friendly?
37. Is there a private room to get ready?
38. Do you provide any sort of overnight accommodations or have any partnerships with nearby hotels?
Music & Sound
39, Is there sufficient room for a dj, band, dancing? Where will these be set-up? Is the dance floor large enough?
40. Does the venue provide a wireless microphone (important for speeches), speakers, and any other sound equipment or does that need to be rented?
41. Are there noise restrictions or restrictions after a certain time?
42. Can an iPod or laptop be hooked up to the sound system?
43. Look at where they plan on setting up the dj or band - are there enough electrical outlets? Will wires be running across the floor?
Staffing & Coordination
44. Does the venue have a specific person devoted to wedding coordination? Who is that point person? When do you begin working with him or her?
45. How much assistance is given in regards to set-up and tear-down? Is there someone that will help with getting gifts and decor loaded into cars and brought back to a specific place?
46. You won't ask these questions - but get a feel for the coordinator. Is he or she friendly and welcoming? Does he or she respond to your phone calls and e-mails in a timely manner with the information you are requesting? Does he or she seem knowledgeable about the venue and excited to help with your planning?
If Ceremony and Reception Take Place at the Same Venue
47. Are you allocated time for a rehearsal before the wedding day?
48. Are there chairs / chair covers provided or do those need to be rented?
49. Will someone assist with chair set-up for ceremony?
50. If the room needs to be flipped for the cocktail hour or reception, will the venue staff do this?
I hope these questions take some of the stress out of choosing a venue! Ultimately, my best advice is to do research and decide what's important to you. I love the idea of doing a "needs, wants, wishes" list. I do this for many decisions - not just venue searching. Make three columns - your "needs" are the things you won't compromise on, your "wants" are the things that you have always pictured for your wedding day and will help to bring your vision to life, your "wishes" are those things that go above and beyond. Your wishes will help to make the final decision if you have a tie between two choices! When you go to visit a venue, have a list of questions ready (hint, hint - there are 50 right here), ask questions, take lots of notes, and be realistic about your budget and expectations. You'll quickly get an overall feeling for the venue. A great venue should have a coordinator or owner that is friendly and welcoming, knowledgeable, and happy to answer all of your questions.
My final advice is to "get it in writing." Read your venue contract very carefully. Then reread it. Then have someone else read it for you. Anything that is promised that is not stated in the contract, make sure you get in writing or at least in an e-mail. You are only dealing with one venue, but venues are dealing with many, many couples. Make it easy on them and you by having a paper trail and staying organized. Best of luck friends!