Vetting the Venue

The reception venue is the pillar of your big day and as the starting point of any planning process, the venue can affect budget, design and other vendor selections.  Too many times, I've seen a couple’s seemingly dream venue become a nightmare because the right questions weren't asked prior to laying down that big non-refundable chunk of change we call a deposit.

So many of these heart and budget breaking scenarios could be avoided if the venue is vetted correctly.

Availability: Don’t put the cart before the horse

PLEASE do not book your ceremony location before you book your reception venue – or vice versa. Begin that search process simultaneously.  Whether the ceremony location is non-religious or if you're looking to book a church or temple – start there first. Most religious ceremony locales require 1-2 meetings with the Priest, Pastor, Rabbi before they’ll even share available dates with you.  It super stinks when you've booked one with a deposit but then the other isn't available on that same date!

All-in-one versus Open Box: Apples are not oranges

If you have several venues on the table that you are considering, make sure you are comparing "apples to apples".  For example, one venue may be an "all-in-one" where it's the venue, the caterer, the equipment rentals and the bar; while the other venue is an "open box".  This, for example, would be a loft or perhaps a Barn.  With an “open box” scenario the cost will appear cheaper; however, you will be tasked with taking care of all those aforementioned logistics on your own.  Before signing a contract, know what it will cost to bring in that catering equipment and how much it will cost for catering itself, how much rentals will be, etc.  More often than not, the "all-in-one" scenario may appear to cost more at the outset but come final invoice time, the “open box” is actually more expensive due to rental and delivery needs.  Also, your vendor needs may be different between the two.  For example – "all-in-ones" tend to have an onsite coordinator to help you through you planning process, bringing down your need to hire a full fledged planner while the alternative requires much fore-thought and moving pieces – causing the need for a full planning package.  On the pro-“open box” argument, these situations tend to more flexible time options…allowing you longer party time or set-up time.  Make sure you are comparing the same time lengths!! Get it?  Apples…oranges…hehe.

Outdoor Tented Events: The undercover budget sucker

There's something so romantic about a tent wedding.  It usually means there is an immense connection to the surrounding land for the couple or family – perhaps a beach, a grand estate, a particular field that has the perfect amount of Queen Anne's Lace.  Whatever the reason, at the outset of this planning process, it seems like a no brainer! $4-5k for a modest tent, then add chairs, tables, caterer...boom!  NOT SO EASY – there are many aspects of a tent wedding that can be overlooked and can have a drastic effect on budget.

What about power?  You'll hear from most caterers –  "you can drop us in the middle of a field and we can serve a 12 course dinner" – which is totally doable for a caterer with things such as propane and proofing boxes (all of which will be added to your final rental bill). But…what about the power for tent lights and your DJ?  If you're not near a power source, you'll need a generator.  CHA-CHING.

Port-a-Jons, very important items, in addition to electricity need a water line OR a water tank fill – both costing hard earned moolah.  There are so many choices in regards to portable bathrooms – executive trailers, single no power, even handicap stalls.  Just be sure to incorporate them into your budget!

If your tented event is on an expanse of land where the parking is far from the reception site, which is far from the ceremony site, you may need to look into golf carts or small shuttles to transport guests from parking to where the action is.  CHA-CHA-CHING.

Speaking of parking…is there parking available at that remote field that overlooks the best view ever?  If using an open meadow or field for parking be sure to look for any obstacles that might get in the way of a car or a bus entering or exiting.

Know What's Allowed: You know what they say about assuming...

Different venues have different allowances and restrictions that may be governed by the building codes, city zoning, or even just personal preferences of the venue owner.  The hot ticket items here usually include candles, noise and signage, among others. Do not just assume all things are allowed.

Here are some questions to ask:

Are there restrictions regarding real flame?

May we have a band or a DJ?

May the DJ/band use your in-house sound equipment?

Is there a time that the music must stop or have volume lowered?

Are we allowed to put any signage outside of the venue?

Are guests allowed to be outside the venue during the event?

What are the restrictions in regard to decor? For example, may we affix things to the walls or ceiling?

Hidden fees: Scour that contract!

There can sometimes be surprise costs or hidden fees that are plainly written into your contract but may not be visible to your never-done-this-before eye.  Be sure to look out for the following:

Capacity bumps – perhaps you signed for a 100-guest event but there may be a possibility of your guest list growing to 150 or higher.  Confirm there will be no rate hikes based on larger capacity numbers.

Electricity/wifi- if you believe you'll need outlets or wifi - best to suss out if those two items are included in your existing pricing or if they are additional.

Garbage removal or cleaning fees – will you be responsible for removing all garbage and/or will there be an additional fee to do so?  Also, will there be a cleaning fee tacked on the final invoice?

Insurance/licensure: triple-uber check and discuss the insurance and also licensing requirements.  If the venue allows you to bring in your own alcohol, don't assume that they don't require you to obtain a liquor license.  If they do…you need a caterer to supply that.  Which means they have to sell you the liquor.  Which means in a round about way, you can't bring in your own liquor…unless you find a shady caterer.  Which means CHA-CHA-CHA-CHING.

Ambiance, Lighting and Climate Control: There's nothing sexy about "on or off"

There are so many beautiful venues out there.  But what's the use of having a beautiful venue if it's not lit so your guests can see you tie the knot or what they are eating for dinner.  Be sure to ask about the lighting!  Some really amazing places only have overhead lighting that is either "on or off" making the room way too bright or way too dark. That’s not sexy.  If this is the case, you may need to bring in a lighting company to help supplement – if this is a thing, be sure to "supplement" your budget accordingly!

Ask the venue to show you the lighting as it will be on the night of.  Especially be sure to investigate your ceremony lighting.  Your guests want to see you get hitched!

Along with lighting and ambiance, be sure to consider the temperature of the room or space. Is there air conditioning? And if so, how often does it get serviced?  Will there be an AC tech on call on the day of the event?

On the other hand, if your event is in a winter month - is there heat?  If the heat is steam - do they have control over it in case it gets too hot!?  The most common months to have uncomfortably hot weddings are actually January, February, March - when the steam heat for the building is blasting but there's no way to control it!

Force Majeure vs. Refund: The contract nitty-gritty

This section comes with a disclaimer. I am not a lawyer and cannot be held accountable for any legal issues that arise in your contract process.  Ok – done – read on!

Once you've decided on that perfect locale for your nupt's you'll inevitably request a contract. 

Will you, complete your due diligence by checking the contract for the correct date, timeframe and correct guest minimum?  Make sure not to sign a contract at your expected guest maximum and remember to pay close attention to the force majeure and cancellation clauses.

Force majeure is there to protect the venue against not being able to perform due to uncontrollable circumstances due to acts of god, war, weather, spontaneous combustion, etc.  Be sure that it also protects you with language stating there will be at least an opportunity to mediate and come to a mutually beneficial reimbursement arrangement.

If there is a cancellation clause – it will more than likely deem your deposit forfeited if YOU cancel.  Yeah…that’s understandable…so…get insurance!  However, what if they cancel?  What if they wake up one day and decide that they no longer want to be a wedding venue?  You’re F’d! – unless there is a something protecting your deposit.  Don’t go overboard!  But ask for language protecting you against change of heart by the venue – aka – full return of deposit.

So…there you have it!  When you’re vetting the venue be sure to do your due diligence.  Don’t rush into it until all your research is done.  It could mean the difference of thousands of dollars!  Thousands of dollars, which in my opinion would be better spent on a honeymoon. third course, or a baller bridal suite!









Managing your vendor relationships

They are your lifeline when planning the biggest event of your life.  They can make or break it.   They are the most important relationship you will need to maintain throughout the wedding planning process (aside from your fiancé of course!).  They are your vendors.  And though you are paying them for their services - there are some simple things you can do to ensure a smooth and amicable process.  The WORST thing that can happen (and it has) is that you're on horrible terms with your photographer or DJ on the day of your event.  Nobody wants that drama - save it for your Mama.  No, really, your mom will probably be a nervous wreck on the day of your event- save your energy!

Anywho. Let's talk about how to manage and maintain a great working relationship with your vendors that works best for you, your budget and the kick-ass wedding that's gonna put your cousin Rhonda's (who announced her wedding a week after yours) to shame.

Set yourself up for success from the start

The start of your relationship with your vendor is at the initial inquiry. Not only are you vetting the vendor for cost, style, ability, capacity, etc - BUT they are also vetting YOU in your ability to be a human being and not a nightmare.  Basically making sure you’re somebody they can spend the next year working with quite closely, even hopefully developing somewhat of a camaraderie. For example, you may find an amazing venue that you must absolutely book but if you rub whomever is reading that initial email the wrong way - you just bumped yourself way down on their response list.

A few tips for the initial inquiry...

As much as you might be on a tight budget (and rightly so) - don't mention that in your first attempt at communication!  Imagine reading this sentence:  "We're on an incredibly tight budget and looking to keep costs down as much as possible".  If I'm a vendor, that's not gonna make me jump up and say " Oh yes! Let me get back to you right away before all the other 100 inquiries I got today".  Keep that info in your back pocket and save it for negotiations after you've already won them over with your sparkling personality.

Know what you want.  Be prepared, clear and concise.  For instance, if you're contacting a florist, know what blooms you're looking for or at least color palette.  Know how many boutonnières, bouquets, centerpieces you need and have a BUDGET (a wha?!?!??).  Otherwise, your response will be very surface, estimated, and probably inaccurate - taking up much of your time emailing unnecessarily - time you could have spent getting to know the guy/gal that you just got engaged to.  You do have to be married to them for the rest of your life after all.  Better be sure to be sure.

So you've narrowed down to the top 3 possibilities.  Congrats!

Here kicks in The Negotiation Process

Compromise is the core of negotiation.  There will undoubtedly be compromise on both sides of the contract.  Be sure you know going in what your absolute "must haves" are and the items that you can do without or which can wait to see what the final guest count is and how it will affect your budget.  We all have million dollar dreams on a dollar menu budget - we just need to be realistic and make the most of what we can spend.  i.e. You want the filet mignon but you can only afford the minute steak so let's try to settle on the NY strip.

Kill 'em with kindness.  These vendors more than likely pour their heart and soul into their profession and view their work as art.  Try not to put them on the defense by dismissing the value of their work during negotiations.  Perhaps, start your initial attempt with detailing why you've contacted them and what you like about what you've seen/heard about their product.  "Butter 'em up"!  So when you ask them to lower their quote, they feel like you value their work regardless of what you’re asking and ultimately this approach will help you to get to where you need to be.  Remember, they're artists.  They're sensitive.  When making the ask for a discount, try using something to the effect of..." My budget is really ‘xyz’ but I'd really love to work with someone of your caliber and talent - is there anything that can be done to get to my budget?"... as opposed to..."I think 'xyz' is ridiculous for that amount of flowers when I can go to whole foods for a 3rd of the price".

Ok you've booked them.  Now what.  

Now you're in a relationship with your vendor

Communication, as with any relationship is key - but do it on paper. Whether you wanna believe it or not, you've got Wedding Brain.  You're going to make stuff up in your head.  You might not think you're crazy...but you are.  I promise you are.  How can you not be?!?!  Planning a wedding is ALOT.  So...get everything in writing so you can reference back once you've come to your senses.  Email is your best friend BUT be careful not to get yourself into an email Ping-Pong match that's just going to leave everyone confused.  Use ONE email chain for the duration of the relationship and consider leaving an email window open for a week, adding your questions as they come and then sending one lump email instead of 80.

Be a united front at meetings.  It’s the WORST when there are too many cooks in the kitchen and your planning meetings with your vendors are wasted with conversations that sound like “I dunno know, what do you want to do?” or “I was thinking it would be better that we do…”  Yes, I’m talking about parents and friends and PARENTS (I mention them twice especially if they are paying for your event because if they are doing so, you must consider their opinion). Whomever you’ve identified as your planning team, have a pre-game powwow as to where you stand on the issues you’re about to address with your vendor.  Many vendors charge by time or by meeting.  Make the most of that time and come with decisions already made between the planning team.  Otherwise, you could risk suggestions and opinions from the vendor that will cost you more moolah and more anxiety.

Remember, you hired them for a reason.  You did hire your vendor because they are a professional in the field.  If you’re unsure about how to approach a situation, ask their advice and then trust it.  More than likely this is not their first event and they’ve seen whatever scenario you're worrying about several times before; you are paying them to foresee obstacles and circumvent them.  Get your monies worth and trust your vendor.

In the’s YOUR wedding:

So, in complete opposition of my above point, it is YOUR wedding after all.  Be firm in voicing your wants and opinions.  When you feel strongly about something - don't be wishy-washy about it.  Sometimes, vendors can hijack a wedding if allowed (and I’m talking about live bands here among others).  I mean it with all the kindness in my heart towards these incredibly hard working people, but if you don't want dance sets in between meals then don't have them! If you want 3 readings in your ceremony instead of the recommended 2 - do it!  If your vendor doesn't agree then they can give you your money back and move along.

When you hire a professional they should not only live up to their website and fact sheets but take the reins and guide you through the process.  When you can find that right groove between professional respect and "let's be friends after this" with your team it will push your event off the kick-ass ledge.  Your cousin Rhonda will be shaking in her something borrowed and something blue!