For anyone planning an event, the first step is choosing the perfect venue. The ballroom is an obvious choice for many because of its convenience (a blank canvas, rooms for your guests, as well as onsite food and beverage) but the biggest challenge with a ballroom is how to turn those four walls and tacky carpet into a beautiful reception space.
I often hear planners say they are always on the hunt for off the beaten path venues because planning events in unique spaces inspires them to be creative. But aside from offering the extra creative inspiration, unconventional venues also come with extra logistics. Even the most experienced wedding planners can make mistakes that can turn the most beautiful private estate, barn or remote location into a planning nightmare.
But don’t let the little hurdles keep you from finding and booking the venue of your bride’s dreams! Just get ahead of the game by adding these 11 items to your planning checklist and rock that unconventional venue.
Read the Contract
While you may not be contracting directly with the venue, as a planner, you know that everything is your responsibility! So, read the contract. I can't tell you how many times I have seen a client and planner miscommunicate about what can and can't be done. Contracts are complicated but don’t make mistakes because the client did not read the contract thoroughly and you didn’t make sure to read it as well. Take the time to make sure that you fully understand the framework of your agreement with the venue before planning out details; the last thing you want is to not be able to execute those amazing details you’ve planned due to rules and restrictions for the venue. Don't make this rookie mistake!
Food & Beverage
A major bonus and one of the main reasons why people seek out unconventional venues for their weddings is the freedom of choosing a caterer. Hotels require the use of their onsite food and beverage services and sometimes it’s just the best option for couples who are looking for a specific cuisine or want something a bit different than banquet catering.
As the planner, it's essential that you make sure the caterer hired has experience at unconventional venues. Is there a kitchen provided? Do they need to build a kitchen? Is there a preferred catering list? Are there additional charges for bringing in an outside caterer? How much time will they need to set up, cook, and break down their equipment? Will they charge a fee for taking the trash? Are they licensed and insured? Asking these questions before booking the venue and hiring your caterer is a must! The last thing you want is to hire a caterer based strictly on a menu before considering all the costs required for them to do their job at the venue you have chosen. Building a kitchen at an offsite venue can cost thousands of dollars and the last thing you want to do is tell your client that they now have to spend thousands of dollars on burners and ovens.
Make sure you ask about set up restrictions! Can you put a tent on the tennis court or on the lawn? Can you put a dance floor on the grass? Are candles allowed? How many hours do you have for set up? Can you get in the day before? How much time do you have to break down? What are the additional costs if more time is needed?
Setting up a wedding takes a small army even at the most booked venues. Double check that you have enough time and resources to pull everything together on wedding day. A tent can take an entire day to set up and break down and if your tent company requires 8 hours for setup and you only have 4 hours, you’d better rethink that dream tent.
One of the biggest cons with most unconventional event venues is the strict 10:00pm cutoff time for noise. While your clients might think they’re fine with having the music off by 10:00pm, what happens if they are having too much fun at the reception and want to extend? Also, ask the venue manager if you are able to breakdown and cleanup past 10:00pm and confirm that you aren’t violating the noise restriction by doing so. Know the Rules!
Most unconventional venues require that all trash that is brought in, be taken at the end of the night. It's important that you clearly communicate this with each vendor or higher a trash removal service to up at the end of the night.
Security Deposits & Damages
Hotels do not typically require a security deposit; unconventional venues do. Know that most off the beaten path venues usually require a cash deposit so be sure your client has the funds available to cover this. And be mindful of damages. A private estate for instance, may have white carpet, soft hardwood floors, antique furnishings, etc. The last thing you want is for a guest to set their glass on an antique table or spill a glass of red wine on the carpet that ends up costing your client their security deposit. Even if areas are open for use, restrict areas that are not necessary for the success of the event.
Parking & Transportation
Hotels or ballroom venues typically offer parking lots and valet (and even loading docks for vendors), making it quite convenient for guest and vendor arrivals. An unconventional event venue may not be that easy. What to consider? Is there ample room for parking either onsite or on neighboring streets to be able to offer valet? If not, is there are nearby church or school where guests can park and be shuttled in? Or is shuttling from a hotel required? Shuttling guests can be a safe and worry free option for your guests and for the venue but make sure to look at all the details before booking your shuttles to assure the transportation runs seamless. If your venue is more than 15 minutes away, do not have one shuttle on loop to go back and forth to get guest to the venue. This can cause delays in the schedule and you will need to consider those guests that arrive an hour before ceremony. Nobody wants to stand in the hot sun with no food, beverage or entertainment for an hour. Have enough shuttles to get guests to the venue on time and around the same time. You definitely don't the want the guests’ first experience of the evening to be waiting around.
For vendors, make sure you know how many vendor vehicles can be parked on site as well as create a detailed load in and load out schedule if the venue has limited access and parking. Having all your vendors arrive at the same time will cause a cluster of vehicles and bottleneck your set up schedule. Plan accordingly to avoid having to pay for additional set up hours or fees from the vendors.
Weather Backup Plan
Most unconventional venues like a private estate or barn are mostly outdoors. While you may have your reception scheduled in the barn, where will your ceremony be if it rains? How far is the nearest restroom and is there coverage? Tents are a great option for a rain back up plan but be sure to make sure it's in the budget.
Same thing goes for the heat. You may plan a beautiful fall wedding and all of a sudden it's a 100+ degrees the weekend of your wedding. Don’t make the guests suffer for style. Plan for umbrellas, fans, and refreshment station.
A hotel that offers catering will handle the cleanup and trash for all the food and beverage related items but at an unconventional venue, more than likely everything that is brought in must be taken out. That includes food, bar trash, florals, and everything else you can think of. Hefty fees can be charged for trash that is left behind so come up with a plan.
Before you start hiring your favorite wedding vendors, make sure to check with the venue and see if there are any preferred or required vendors that must be used. Most venues will have a preferred list for catering and bar or event parking services. Be sure you know all the restrictions in advance and if you are bringing in vendors that are not on the venues list, make sure all of the vendors are licensed and insured as almost every venue requires proof of insurance.
You might think this is obvious but you’d be surprised. Are there bathrooms on site? How many? Are bathroom rentals required? A private estate, barn, and farm venue might not have enough restrooms onsite and require a trailer. Even if there are bathrooms on site, are there enough? We suggest 1 bathroom for every 60 guests. If it's an old venue or on septic system, I strongly recommend 1 bathroom for every 50 guests. If a trailer is required be sure to ask if water or electricity is needed and, if so, make sure to plan the placement of the trailer according to where you can access water and power. Restroom rental companies typically charge more for weekend delivery and pick ups so be sure to inform them of the exact time for pickup and delivery before booking.
Hero photo courtesy Jose Villa