Personally I think the challenge of finding the “right” venue is the number one stressor of wedding planning. Some people could argue it’s finding the “right” dress or the “right” caterer – but the truth is, you need to find your venue before you worry about nailing down anything else. Photographer, florist -hell, even the dress should come after the venue because that venue is going to set the tone of your wedding. You don’t want to show up in a ball gown to get married in a barn. (Don’t say you’d “never get married in a barn”. You never know what could happen. We thought we were going to get married on a beach, turns out we got married at a vineyard. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. BOOK THE VENUE FIRST.)
Searching online can be daunting. There are churches and country clubs and wineries and barns and “wait… you know, the backyard of this Airbnb actually looks kind of cool….I never really considered a backyard wedding, but maybe we should check it out?”
YOU NEVER KNOW.
But it’s important to have a list of questions prepared when you’re ready to tour. There are things that you may not think about as they’re going over all of the catering options and your twinkly lights exit, but knowing whether or not you can bring in your own cake, or if additional insurance is required, are important questions to ask to ensure there are no surprises.
1) “What are your minimums?”
Every venue has a “minimum”. I guess this is their own version of an insurance policy when it comes to the hard work that goes into hosting a wedding. I didn’t know about minimums until we toured our first reception venue and were told they had a “$15,000 minimum on food”. This meant that no matter how many guests we invited, even if it was twenty people and their food added up to $7,000 – we would still need to spend $15,000 to have our dinner there. (This is also a good indicator of what you will likely spend. Typically a venue’s “minimum” is not hard to hit and you will most likely go over. But knowing up front will give you a good indication of the “minimum” amount that you’ll be spending if you choose to book there.)
Ask the venue to create a sample estimate that includes possible miscellaneous charges; such as valet parking, bartender charges, and service charges.
2) “What dates do you have available, and what are the differences in price?”
If you’re locked in to a certain date – meaning you HAVE to get married on a Saturday in June, then by nature your options are going to be more limited. But if you can be flexible, typically the prices can vary drastically if you choose to get married on a Friday (or any weekday, really) or a Sunday. Depending on when you want to get married, venues usually offer discounts in the “wedding off-season” (any month that isn’t May through October.)
Typically even food and beverage minimums are different on different days of the week. Ask about availability, if you’re willing to be flexible on your date, and see what the venue can offer you regarding price.
3) “Will set-up and tear-down be included in our contract?”
Most venues that offer catering will obviously have serving staff. It is unlikely that anyone would ask you to clean up your own dirty dishes. BUT venues have separate rules when it comes to decorations. Most of them will not set up flowers, centerpieces, photos, or anything else that you want to be a part of your big day. Usually that’s on you – however some venues have staff available to help with that.
Ask if they help to clean up after the event is over and find out what they provide as far as equipment/decor (tables, chairs, linens, glassware, etc.)
4) “How early could we get inside to start setting up?”
When you finally book your venue, you will likely rent it for 5 or 6 hours and then tack on additional hours if needed, but don’t forget to ask if set-up time is included in that timeframe. If your bridesmaids and family members are on DIY Centerpiece duty, they’ll want to get in a few hours beforehand to start setting up the decorations. Make sure you allow enough time for them to do that.
It also helps to ask the venue how many weddings they can host in a day. This will help you to get an idea of how early you may be able to get inside. Sometimes venues will even let you come in the night before if they aren’t hosting an event that night.
5) “Do you have a list of preferred vendors?”
Some venues won’t let you bring in outside vendors if they have a preferred list, so be sure to ask if you’re allowed to bring in an outside vendor if you have one in mind. (This includes DJs, caterers, cake vendors, florists, everybody).
With that in mind, sometimes working with the preferred vendors can be in your best interest. These are vendors who have worked with this venue in the past and know the layout of the place and how they work (meaning the DJs know where the outlets are, the florist knows who to talk to in efforts to get inside earlier, etc). Sometimes these vendors will even offer discounts if you’re working through a certain venue.
6) “What is your role on the day of the wedding as the venue coordinator?”
Venue coordinators are not wedding planners. Let me repeat that – your venue coordinator is NOT the same thing as having a wedding planner. Their job is to make sure your day runs smoothly from a venue standpoint (keeping pace with your timeline, making sure the food comes out okay, etc). They are not there to help you with seating charts, beauty emergencies, or anything that has to do with running your personal errands day-of. With that being said – some venue coordinators go above and beyond and are willing to help you out, but don’t expect it.
Find out what emergencies they ARE in charge of and how they plan to respond should something happen. “What is the weather back-up plan? Are there any restrictions on where we can take photos? Do you require additional insurance?”
7) “Is there a bridal suite to get ready in?”
This can help IMMENSELY. On the day of your wedding, the last thing you’ll want to do is have to get ready at a hotel (or at your house, or wherever) and then drive over to your venue. If you can get ready there, take advantage of it. (Not to mention that whole thing about how you’re not supposed to get ready with your groom!)
Find out if there is also a place for your groom to get ready, and potentially a “hang out” area for the bridal party and guests arriving early (parents, grandparents, etc). ALSO find out if that’s an additional charge to rent that space.
8) “Let’s talk catering.”
Does your venue offer catering? GREAT. Now we have a whole new set of questions to ask.
“Do you offer menu tastings? How many people can be at a tasting? Can you also do the cake? Are you able to create a customized menu? How will you handle our guests that have dietary restrictions? Are there restrictions on plated versus buffet in any of your spaces?”
9) “What else do I need to know?”
Venues are great about giving you A LOT of information at once and sometimes it can be hard to digest. But don’t be afraid to ask specific questions, and don’t be afraid to bluntly ask if you’re missing something.
Does the venue require a wedding planner? How much of a deposit do they require to reserve the space? How easy is it to make changes up until the day of the wedding? Are there reviews that you can read from other couples? Don’t be afraid to do some digging!