There has to be more to know besides cost and maximum occupancy...
September 19, 2013 9:55 AM   Subscribe

What are the best questions to ask when checking out a potential wedding reception venue?

My fiance and I plan to get married sometime in 2015. It's a ways off, but we want to start checking out local venues since we know that's usually one of the first things to nail down and we may as well start thinking about it now. In the next couple of weeks we'll be going to check out one possible reception location, a nice restaurant that has an event space next door. (We are planning on having the ceremony in a park nearby, so this particular place would be a good option.)

Without knowing much about the location itself, what would you recommend asking the venue manager that we'd be meeting with? I've read a lot on wedding blogs so far, but I have not seen specific advice on this. Obviously cost will be a major discussion point, but I can very well see myself coming away from the situation going, "OH! Why didn't I think to ask about [e.g.] what sound equipment they have available?!" I know I can always call them or email them with follow-up questions, but I'd like to 1) be mentally prepared and make this initial meeting as productive as possible, and 2) not let my practical ignorance about the wedding process shine through and lead to us not getting as good of a deal (or something). I guess they may charge whatever they charge no matter what, but I've found that I really do get better outcomes in situations where I can present myself as well-prepared and -informed. (I say "I"-this" and "I"-that because I am the female, type-A half of the relationship and I'm quite certain that my wonderful fiance will end up letting me do most of the talking.) Looking for any suggestions whatsoever--both non-obvious and obvious--I just know there are plenty of things we haven't thought of. We really like the idea of this restaurant, so any restaurant-specific questions would be good but general questions to ask are great too. And again, we'd only be having the reception there. Happy to provide further information, as needed.
posted by lovableiago to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Accessibility (for folks with wheelchairs or other assisting devices)
Food quality
PA system
Ease of set up for things like DJs
Do they offer a specific contact person that will be THE contact person for all questions
Staff experience with weddings/large events
posted by edgeways at 10:01 AM on September 19, 2013

Parking: How much of it is there, how much will it cost (you or your guests), how much can you block off?
Corollary to that is Access: How easy is it for people to get there from any direction they are likely to be traveling (including public transportation or taxis from nearby airports)?

Neighborhood: Is there anything else going on at the same time near there?

Food: Do they have vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free/yaddada-yaddada options? Will they provide a cake and/or facilities for setting up and serving the cake?
posted by Etrigan at 10:03 AM on September 19, 2013

- Do they require the use of a wedding/events planner (or their wedding/events planner that you will be charged for)?
- Can you bring in your own alcohol/food or must you use theirs? Corkage fees?
- How early for set-up, etc.?
- Use of space for rehearsal? (applies more to wedding venue than reception)
- Do they provide tables/linens/chairs included or must you do rentals yourself?

And don't forget to ask about anything special that they do or if they have anything else they could provide that might be of interest.
posted by magnetsphere at 10:04 AM on September 19, 2013

Here are some to get you started:

How long will you have the space for? Is there a charge for staying over that time?

Are there vendors they work with that you have to choose from?

What types of alcohol are allowed? Are shots allowed? (Many venues prevent this, may or may not be of concern to you)

What is the parking like?

Do they schedule more than one event a day? If so, make sure you have enough time for setup.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:05 AM on September 19, 2013

Here are questions we asked when looking at venues:

-Do you provide catering? If yes, how much does that cost? Can we choose a different caterer instead? If you do not provide catering, do you require that we use specific caterers or can we choose any we want?

-Do you provide tables, chairs, linens, tableware, glassware, etc? If yes, how much does that cost? Can we provide our own instead? If you do not provide these things, do you require that we use specific vendors or can we choose any we want?

-Can we bring in a DJ/band/karaoke machine/whatever and set up speakers and play loud music?

-How late can we party until? Does loud music have to end by a certain hour of the night due to noise ordinance laws?

-How far ahead can we get into the venue to set up? A few hours before? The day before?

-Can we string lights/hang things on the wall/put up other decorations in your space? If so, do you have anybody that can help us reach high spaces or do we need to provide our own ladders and tall people?

-Can we serve booze? If so, are we allowed to have guests under age 21? Do we need someone checking ID?

-Do we pay you up front or at the end of the night?

-Do you have a coordinator who will oversee setup and help vendors get in/out, make sure things are timed properly, etc or do we need to provide our own day-of coordinator?

-What are some things that previous couples have forgotten to account for when planning an event at this venue? Can you help us avoid those pitfalls?
posted by joan_holloway at 10:05 AM on September 19, 2013

Do you have sufficient power for the band and the caterers?.

One place I worked with, it was their first outdoor wedding. They had a field, they had parking, they had power.

But they didn't have enough power. When the band went on, the caterers had to turn off the coffee makers. It all worked out, but there was some improvisation at the reception.
posted by zippy at 10:08 AM on September 19, 2013

Do you have access to control heat and/or A/C just in case the weather surprises you?
posted by travertina at 10:09 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do they have any restrictions on your vendors, like catering, booze, etc.?

Do they need to you shut things down by a certain time?

If it's a big venue, will other receptions or parties be going on at the same time?
posted by craven_morhead at 10:17 AM on September 19, 2013

What are the rules for accessing the space the day before/the morning of the wedding (for wedding rehearsal/dropping off and storing stuff/setting up)?
posted by muddgirl at 10:18 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Once you've settled on a few places, ask if you could be around when events are taking place. See what it's like for parking, the sound system, etc.

What are the bathrooms like? Are there enough of them? Are they nice?

What is the contingency plan if there's a catastrophe on your wedding day? What if there's no power? What if the joint burns to the ground the night before? What if there's a weather event that precludes having the ceremony on that date at that time? Understand the Force Majeure clause in your contract.

Do NOT rely on verbal promises, if it's not in the contract, it's not going to happen, so if the contract says, "Available from 2:00 PM until 9:00 PM" but the person you're dealing with says, "It's okay for you to come in the morning to set up" have them put it in writing, in the contract.

If the place you're considering is going to cater, set up a tasting appointment so you can see what's on offer.

Don't go with the fanciest-schmanciest food options, go with stuff that's hard to screw up. I'd rather eat a decent prime-rib than a dry and tasteless poulet aux champingnon.

Find out what your options are for cocktails. Full bar, cash bar, limited bar, beer-and-wine.

We had our reception at a restaurant and it was GREAT! We had the entire bar/dance floor area to ourselves. Our cost was $35 per person and it included an open bar. They provided champagne for our toast (it was crap, taste and approve the champagne they serve--on the other hand, who cares, it's one toast...) We had a Cuban/Mexican buffet and it was so YUMMY!

One weird thing was I was asked to pay separately for my Mom's Glenlivit (really, another $30, but still...) So ask about that if you're doing an open bar.

At the end of the day, it's a party, not a coronation. Expect that something will get screwed up. We had the world's ugliest wedding cake, the bakery gave us day-glow yellow flowers on the cake. But it's cake, it wasn't the end of the world and I love telling the story of our florist trying to put lipstick on that pig. (700 daisies anyone?)

You're doing this once in your life, the venue does it 365 days a year, get referrals and talk to folks who've used them recently.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:29 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Stupid thing: check out the bathrooms. People are going to be dressed all fancy schmancy, poofy dresses, whatever. There's nothing worse than having to navigate a too-small toilet cubicle in celebratory finery, getting your dress all up against the pad disposal trash and having to straddle the toilet to open the door.
posted by phunniemee at 10:31 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

will you have the whole place to yourself? Some larger venues, with, say, an attached restaurant, may keep adjoining spaces in use.

At a relative's relative's wedding some years ago, many guys ended up gathered at the bar outside the reception room because baseball was on. The reception room had its own dedicated bar & bartender, but one guy wanted a smoke, the bathrooms were that way, etc., etc. And we were all standing around with a handful of random people in jeans because, hey, it was just the back room bar as far as they were concerned.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:33 AM on September 19, 2013

An alternative way to approach this problem would be to think about what your vision for your wedding is and make absolutely sure that the venue's rules don't conflict with what you're hoping to do. That sounds kind of obvious, but I was continually surprised that so, so, so much about our wedding ended up being predetermined by what the venue allowed.

For example, we very badly wanted to bring in our own food/caterers, so questions about required caterers and kitchen facilities were very important to us. We didn't care as much about how late we could stay because we are old and go to bed early. YMMV.

That turns out to be a huge piece of the budget, too -- the cost of the venue is not necessarily just the cost they quote you, but also "at X place we'd have to use their $100/plate caterer" but "at Y place, there's a required tent rental company and you pay for cake slicing" and "if we did Z place, we'd need a shuttle bus for our guests" or whatever.

Nthing checking rules about how alcohol is handled, especially if, e.g., being able to bring and serve your own is important to your budget. (We were surprised by the venue saying "and of course, we'll be operating a cash bar at your wedding" at the moment of signing the contract, and we heard similar stories from other couples.)

Access to the space after the wedding can be important if you're DIYing a lot (our venue had no events the next day, so we didn't have to do cleanup immediately after the wedding).

Our last-minute surprise was that our venue outlawed helium balloons, because they'd recently discovered that escaped balloons triggered their optical-beam smoke detectors and caused the fire department to come out.

In retrospect, I'm not sure whether I would have wanted to know in advance that our venue had a somewhat adversarial relationship with its neighbors, which resulted in the threat of its losing its liquor and entertainment license two weeks before our date.
posted by teditrix at 10:35 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check that there are enough electrical outlets.
posted by number9dream at 10:42 AM on September 19, 2013

If you want to get a cake elsewhere, will they charge you a cake service fee? We've seen places that charge $3-5 per person to cut and serve cake.

What are their cancellation policies?
posted by barnone at 10:50 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't forget to ask about even insurance requirements.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:17 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Based on the only wedding I've ever had to plan, I would ask if the caretaker of the camp is going to come on the intercom 14 minutes into the wedding and advise people who are parked along the road to move their cars.

Or, you know, just make sure anyone working at the venue that day is going to be on board with the fact that there is a wedding going on.
posted by bondcliff at 11:50 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If people at your wedding will be drinking, can they leave their cars there overnight and collect them in the morning?
posted by jacalata at 12:23 PM on September 19, 2013

Is there a room you can go to get changed?
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:23 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're asking them to do anything over and above what they do as a matter of course for everybody (like open early, allow in outside caterers, or host your event at all if they are not normally an events space), then you need to be extra wary of everything they say. In any case, write it all down (ALL OF IT) and be certain to get it all in the contract later. Otherwise you may find down the line that some employee has airily promised you the impossible.

Keep your ears pricked for anything like "Oh we are remodelling the (whatever) but it will totally be finished by then". No it won't.

Have a sense for whether the staff are problem-solvers or whether they largely see your event as being in the way of the rest of their operation. If you hear too much "can't do this, oh we never do that, no we're not allowed to...." this is an attitude that will make everything twice as difficult on the day.

If there's such a thing as an event/entertainment licence where you are, then make sure the venue has one, or make sure it's very clear who is in charge of getting it.

If it's not a conventional event space and you are bringing in catering/sound, then add up your power requirements beforehand (in terms of the wattage AND the number of outlets) and check this with a member of staff who knows what they are talking about.

Again in a non conventional event space, the caterers may need prep space, power, water and drainage; where will you set them up and how will they get everything from there to the tables?
posted by emilyw at 1:49 PM on September 19, 2013

If you're assigning seats to your guests: "Do you have enough placeholders for my guests?"
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:53 PM on September 19, 2013

Are any other events happening nearby or at the venue?

Anecdata: My mom's wedding reception was exactly a year ago this Saturday. It took place at a hotel near a touristy part of town that happened to be having an outdoor music festival one block away. That caused an atrocious traffic jam, blocked off most of the streets, shut down two of the three entrances to the hotel, took up all the parking, and filled up the hotel. Oh and it was really loud to boot. And although this music festival is an annual event and planned well in advance, no one at the hotel told us that it was happening.

The hotel DID tell us that we were the only event scheduled that day. In actuality there were three other weddings taking place at the same TIME.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:28 PM on September 19, 2013

Find out who will be your main POC and what that person's professional style is. The event planner who is my POC for my reception site has been less than stellar. It takes three emails and a phone call to get her to respond to a question. I am not bridezilla but this woman has made me become one. Find out who you will be working with before you sign a contract, and how responsive that person will be to you and your needs.
posted by dmbfan93 at 5:15 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

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