CYA (Cover Your Ass): Ask the Right Questions of Your Venue

featured on July 23, 2014

When planning your wedding at a Catering Hall, their list of inclusions often seems all-inclusive, but you’ll want to be sure that what they’re providing is in line with what you need for your specific event.

As wedding and event planners, we visit new venues all the time, and ask dozens of questions about their capabilities, requirements, guidelines, offerings, and general approach toward events.

If you’re planning your event on your own, you probably already have an idea of the questions you will be asking (how much everything costs, whether you can have your ceremony onsite, how many guests can fit) but here is a quick list of top questions to ask, that you may not have thought of, to make sure you have all the information you need to plan your event:

-       Maximum Seated Capacity – It’s important to ask this question, but you’ll also need to ask “what is the maximum seated capacity, when a dance floor is set up?” Sometimes, caterers give you a number, but because you didn’t know to ask about the dance floor, your expectations of capacity might be different from theirs. Make sure you ask both questions.

-       Size of dance floor – It’s also important to know how much space the dance floor will have - we’ve all been to the wedding where the dance floor was too small to accommodate all who wanted to give their twinkle-toes a little spin on the dance floor, and similarly, you don’t want the dance floor to be too big either. You want a nice balance of enough room for everyone, while not making the dance floor look empty by having it be too large for your party. The general rule of thumb when it comes to sizing your dance floor is to ensure that you have 3 square feet per dancing guest. This allows enough breathing room for all who like to boogie down, and won’t eat up too much of your reception space.

-       Are Linens included? – Ask this question, and don’t forget to also ask their colors and whether there are any upcharges for certain colors. Sometimes, catering halls keep certain colors stocked (standards like black, white and ivory), but need to rent out any other colors that you’d like. Make sure you know what colors you want to use, and whether or not they will charge you more if you ask for a color that they don’t have in storage.

-       What do the chairs look like? – It’s important to see, and sit in the chairs as well. Find out how comfortable they are, and how they look (will they need chair cushions or covers?) to make sure they’re perfect for your guests. And if you determine that you’d like chair covers, find out if chair covers can be provided by the venue, and whether they come at an extra cost (ask about colors on these too!)

-       Is Up-Lighting included? – A big trend in weddings lately has been to utilize lighting instead of additional decor to brighten up the room and give it a color that would look great for your event. Some venues offer this for free; others can rent lighting equipment for you (or you can rent it on your own). Find out if there is a charge associated with them providing this for you, as it can really save you a lot of money with decor.

-       Pin Spots – You’re already going to be spending time and money on obtaining beautiful centerpieces for your guests’ tables - make sure that your venue can help to highlight those with pin-spots. These are tiny spotlights that can be adjusted to point directly at your centerpieces, to give them a nice glow. It also produces great ambiance within the room.

-       Audio / Visual Equipment – Many couples choose to display a photomontage or short video at their weddings. Make sure your venue has the equipment to support this for you, and find out if you need to hire an A/V professional to handle this for you. Your wedding coordinator may be able to manage it, or someone at the venue may be willing to do it for you!

-       Tip Jars at the Bars – This is a matter of preference. Some venues allow tip jars to be on the bars at your event. Others ask for you to provide gratuities to your bar servers. Either way, it’s important to know which approach your venue takes, and whether you’ll need to budget a little extra for bar service gratuities.

-       Valet Parking – Does your venue provide it? Does it cost the guest anything? Or is it an extra charge for you?

-       Preferred or Required Vendors – Some venues have strict rules about the florists, lighting vendors, and other wedding professionals that they’ll allow into their venue. Find this out upfront, to determine if your preferred vendors are on the list, or if there is flexibility in who they’ll allow to work with them.

-       Vendor Meals – Don’t forget about your other wedding professionals - your DJ, Photographer, Videographer, Coordinator etc., all need to be fed at your wedding. Find out what your venue charges you for vendor meal pricing. They will often offer a price break on these meals for you!

-       Location of restrooms and whether they are shared with other events onsite –  It’s important to know whether you’ll have to share restrooms with other events. The venue may provide small baskets of toiletries and amenities to guests, or they may ask if you’d like to do it yourself. Find out if you’re sharing the restroom with another event that evening – perhaps the other couple would like to split the cost of these items for you, if you’re sharing the space!

-       Can they accommodate pre-cocktail hour arrivals – If you’re planning on taking photos between the ceremony and the reception, you’ve probably allocated a bit of a time gap in between those two events. Your guests may use this time to check into their hotels, explore the local area… or even just show up early to the cocktail hour! Find out if your venue can accommodate early arrivals by offering them champagne, bottled water, soft drinks, or anything like that. For some venues, they will of course accommodate. Others may not be able to. It’s important to know what to expect here!

-       Deliveries / storage before event – Find out if your venue can take and store any décor items for you, before the event.

-       Overtime charges – At the end of the party, you may possibly find that some of your guests are having too good of a time to end the night! Find out if your venue is flexible with the end-time of the event, and if so, what those overtime charges might be. Better to be prepared and offer your guests a little extra time, if they want it!

To make it easy to remember, here’s a short recap list of the items that you can print and bring along with you to the venue:

-       Maximum Seated Capacity

-       Size of dance floor

-       Are Linens included?

-       What do the chairs look like?

-       Is Up-Lighting included?

-       Pin Spots

-       Audio / Visual Equipment

-       Tip Jars at the Bars

-       Valet Parking

-       Preferred or Required Vendors

-       Vendor Meals

-       Location of restrooms and whether they are shared with other events onsite

-       Can they accommodate pre-cocktail hour arrivals

-       Deliveries / storage before event

-       Overtime charges

Happy Planning!