How to Visit a Wedding Venue

There are essentially two phases to choosing a venue for your wedding reception. Start by getting input, from friends and online. Read reviews. Get rough price estimates. When you’ve narrowed down your search to the top two or three venues, do a site visit to each of them, so you can actually start visualizing how your reception might look there. Here’s what to ask while you’re there.

How long will you have the room(s)? Typically, a venue will set aside 8 hours, including time for vendors to load-in and load-out. Know how long you’d like your reception to be, and make sure the venue includes ample loading and setup time in its final price quote.

Will you have access to the room for a ceremony rehearsal? For how long, and when?

Will your vendors have access to a loading dock? A dedicated elevator that’s not being monopolized by the venue staff? Are there cramped hallways that will make loading difficult? Do vendors have to carry everything up a flight of stairs? Vendors generally know the difficult venues, and many of them charge extra for hazardous loading experiences or long waits for elevator access. It’s better to know the obstacles up front, rather than be unpleasantly surprised later.

How’s the lighting? Do the room lights dim for dancing? You need to ask, because you’ll probably visit during the day, when the lights aren’t on. If you see any fluorescent lights, find another venue.

Is the room adequate for your power needs? Your DJ needs power. If he provides dance floor lighting or uplighting, he’ll need more power. A photobooth needs power. And your photographer needs to plug into an outlet for his/her flash. Make sure there are enough conveniently placed outlets, so you don’t have lots of extension cords draped across the room or secured with ugly gray duct tape.

Is the kitchen area adequate for your caterer’s needs? If your venue is preparing your meals, it’s not an issue; but if you’re hiring a caterer separately, ask the catering company whether it has worked at your venue. Your caterer may need to pay a visit, to ensure that it can work in the space provided.

Does your venue provide tables and chairs? Ask to see them. Don’t assume they’ll be elegant Chiavari chairs, or chairs with colored covers. The venue may provide only cheap folding chairs as part of its basic rental agreement. Others may cost extra. Know what you’re getting.  

Does your venue provide audiovisual equipment, projectors, screens, etc.? If you plan to show a video or photo montage on the venue’s equipment, be sure you produce it in a format that works on that equipment. Be sure the venue will have someone who can run it. Be sure the venue has a backup, in case a playback device or projector doesn’t work.

Is your event the only one in the room on your wedding day? No one likes to wait outside the room for half an hour because an earlier event there ran late, and the staff hasn’t finished setting up the room for your event.

Where will your guests enter? Is the entrance handicapped-accessible? Are there alternative entrances for disabled guests? Is there a coat check at the entrance – or at least coat racks? Does the venue require a security guard at the entrance, and is his fee included in your rental fee?

Does the venue limit alcohol consumption? Some venues serve only beer and wine, no mixed drinks. Some — especially municipal venues — don’t allow alcohol of any kind. If you wish to bring your own drinks, ask whether it’s permitted.

Are there limits on your décor? Some venues prohibit sparklers, or confetti, or candles. Others may not allow those big hanging orb lights you want to bring in and have someone set up.

Are there sound limits? If it’s an outdoor venue, local ordinances may require you to turn down the volume at 10pm, just as the dancing is starting to heat up.

Are restrooms close and accessible to all guests? If wheelchair-handicapped guests must negotiate a flight of stairs to get to the restroom, perhaps the venue isn’t right for your event.

Are there hotels nearby? Does the venue work with those hotels to offer complimentary shuttle service?

What will you owe the venue if, God forbid, you have to cancel? Ask to see a rental agreement that lays out everything clearly and openly.

Above all, don’t feel that you’re putting the venue out by asking so many questions. You’re going to spend a lot of money on your venue, and you’re entitled to know exactly what you’re getting. Once you’re satisfied, seal the deal.

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© Fourth Estate Audio, 2015 – Jay Congdon is president of Fourth Estate Audio, a professional Chicago DJ and Chicago Wedding DJ company.  

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