What to Ask Your Wedding Venue - The Complete Guide
So you have decided to tie the knot... and now the excitement of planning the wedding begins! One of the first things to settle (maybe the very first) in the planning process is “Where will we have our wedding?” Once you have chosen and booked your favourite venue, everything else will be planned around it.
What should you look for in a wedding venue? What questions to ask and how to compare offerings? This article aims to give you a step by step guide to viewing and booking wedding venues.
No doubt you will be browsing the internet and asking friends and family for suggestions. But before you start making a list of suitable places, there are a few important decisions you need to make about your wedding:
Do you want a civil ceremony, or will you be married in a church? If you want a civil ceremony, then very likely you will find it most convenient to have the wedding ceremony and reception in the same place. So you will be looking for venues that are licenced for civil ceremonies.
How many guests would you like to have at your wedding? While the exact number of guests may not be known at this stage, you need to decide whether you want an intimate wedding or a large wedding. And will your number of guests be different in the evening? You need to make sure that your venue can accommodate your maximum number of guests.
How important is it to you to have exclusive use of the venue on your wedding day? Not all venues can offer exclusivity to their wedding clients. Large hotels, for instance, will not close their doors to guests who do not belong to your wedding party. Some venues offer exclusive hire as their typical service, while others will offer it as a option, at an extra charge.
Will you need accommodation for yourself or your guests at the venue or nearby? Some venues offer accommodation on site. Or they might be close to a hotel or B&B that they will recommend with confidence.
Add to this list any other points that are absolute essentials to you. Anything that could be a deal breaker, be sure to check before committing to a viewing.
Once you’ve thought the basics through, an online search will elicit a list of venues that are likely to fit the bill. Some venues will have the answers to the questions above published on their websites, as well as photo galleries and videos, to help you get a feel for each place.
Your online research will yield a short list of potential venues. The next step will be to contact each of them.
What to Ask Wedding Venues Before Deciding to Book a Viewing
First of all, you need to establish if the venues on your list have availability at the time when you want to have your wedding. This may well be the opening question when you first make contact with a venue, unless some of the basic questions (we listed above) have not been fully answered by browsing their website.
One other point you might want to check early is the price, to make sure that you are only viewing venues that broadly fit with your budget.
Understanding the pricing structure of wedding venues
The way prices are structured can vary from place to place. In order to compare venues, you need to understand how each of them calculates their prices.
Some venues show their pricing online or via online brochures, whereas others prefer that you request their brochure by filling in an online form. A number of venues don’t provide brochures at all - when you enquire they insist that you visit before they will disclose pricing information. In this instance, there is still a way to get pricing information, by joining a social media group - of which there are plenty! Other brides-to-be in your area will be happy to share pricing information about venues they have visited. Or you might be happy to schedule a viewing and wait to get the pricing details at a later stage.
How do wedding venues structure their prices? Some venues offer packages that include the venue hire fee, wedding breakfast, drinks package and evening food.
Other venues offer venue hire only, but they may have a list of recommended suppliers for you to choose from. Always check if you have to choose from their recommended supplier list or whether you can bring in a supplier of your own.
Here are a few pricing questions to ask venues before or during your viewing:
What items does the venue hire cover?
Are there standard packages? If yes, what exactly is included in a package?
How flexible are the packages? Will you be able to mix and match items from different packages? Is there a list of optional extras and corresponding fees?
What is the increment in a package cost for each guest you might want to include?
If there items that are important to you, which you cannot see included in the packages, ask the venue to specify their cost.
Once you have established that a venue has availability and you are satisfied that your basic criteria are covered and the pricing fits your budget, you are ready to book a viewing.
The Viewing - What to Ask When Touring a Wedding Venue
A visit to a venue is your chance to find out if you really like the look and feel of the place.
Here is what to expect at a wedding venue tour:
Your host will show you all the areas and facilities that you and your guests will be using during your event. He or she will be ready to answer your questions and will be also asking their own questions, aiming to understand how you envisage your wedding.
The person who will be showing you around is likely to become your point of contact thereafter, should you decide to use their services. The introductions are a good opportunity to check that this is the case. These are the questions to ask:
Are you the person we will be talking to if we decide to organise our wedding here?
Will there be a second member of staff ready to cover for you at time when you may not be available?
As you tour the venue, you will get a feel for how good the communication with your host is and how helpful and approachable he or she is.
During the viewing, you will begin to get into the details of your wedding planning. There are many points to cover, and addressing them all in detail is likely to continue after your first visit.
We will try to get close to a comprehensive list below.
When exactly will the venue open and close for your wedding?
This is different from the guest arrival and departure time. You will want to access the venue before your guests, in order to make your preparations. Also, at the end of the day, some time will be required to dismantle the decorations. Here is what to ask:
What time will the venue open for us?
Can we and our suppliers have access the night before? If you are planning to have elaborate wedding decorations, make sure that the set up time allowed by the venue is sufficient to get everything ready.
What time does the wedding reception need to finish?
How much time will we have to clear the venue after the guests have taken their leave?
Are we required to do any of the cleaning before we leave the venue?
The exact duration of your venue rental is an important part of your discussions with your host. Make sure to come to a clear agreement, as the events your venue will commit to immediately before and after your wedding can shorten the interval during which the space is available to you.
What exactly is included in the venue service?
Questions to ask:
Is catering included in your services?
Do you provide the wedding cake inhouse?
Can you provide bespoke decorations for our wedding?
Is the wedding disco included?
Who will be responsible for cleaning the venue after the wedding, the venue or the client?
Is the venue covered by public liability insurance?
As you explore these questions, it will become clear what other suppliers you will need to bring in. Check how these suppliers can best work together with the venue. Here is what to ask:
Do we have to use your list of preferred suppliers or can we choose our own?
How can our suppliers get access to the venue?
Accessibility and Convenience
As you are making your first visit to the venue yourself, you will be able to assess how easy the place is to find and the quality of the roads near it. Once on the premises, these are the points you will need to check:
How well signposted are the facilities inside the venue? Will the guest be able to find the car park easily? Is the signage adequate?
What is the maximum number of cars the carpark can take?
If you want to bring in some of your guests by coach, is there parking and room to turn for coaches?
Are there good arrangements for disabled access? Is there disabled parking? Toilets for the disabled? Can disabled guests access all the important areas?
How many toilets are there? A minimum of 4 toilets for each 100 guests is a good rule of thumb to follow.
Do you have facilities for babies and small children?
Do you have quiet spaces available where people can take a break away from the busyness of the celebrations?
Immediately before the wedding
Questions to ask:
Is there space for the bride and groom to freshen up and get ready?
Is there a place where the hairdresser and makeup artist can attend to the bride?
If you are planning to have your wedding ceremony at the venue, here are the questions you need to ask in advance:
Do you provide seating for the ceremony?
Are you flexible with regards to the time when we schedule our ceremony?
What is the changeover plan when moving between the ceremony and reception room?
What is the back-up plan if it rains?
Do you have a PA system in the ceremony area to play our chosen music?
Food menus and serving arrangements
Do you offer catering in-house?
If so, do you cater for different dietary requirements, such as vegetarians and any allergens?
Are crockery and linen included in the price?
Can we choose our own table settings and decorations?
How large are the tables you provide?
Venues that offer catering will have a write-up of their menu options and prices, either printed or electronic. You will need a copy to ponder over menu choices and get your family’s thoughts about it.
Drinks and bar arrangements
There are a variety of options when it comes to serving drinks at a wedding venue:
No corkage venues let you bring your own drinks.
Other venues will allow you to bring your own, but will charge a corkage fee, to cover their costs of storing or chilling bottles in advance, staff serving the wine, use of the venue's glassware and potential breakages.
Many venues will only serve drinks purchased from their own bar.
A few venues combine different policies, e.g. you can have a no corkage arrangement up to the end of the wedding breakfast, after which the venue will serve only drinks from their bar.
Make sure you understand the drinks regime and prices before committing to a drinks menu or bar arrangement. If there is a corkage fee, try to work out the total cost of your wedding drinks, as sometimes using a corkage regime can end up being more expensive than buying all your drinks in house.
When buying the drinks from the venue, there are several ways to pay for them. A certain amount of drink can be included in the venue’s packages e.g. a glass of wine served with the meal. Depending on your budget, you might also wish to treat your guests to a drink or two of their choice, which they can order at the venue’s bar. If the budget is tight, you can simply let your guests know that the bar will be open for them to buy their own drinks.
One way to treat your guests to an extra drink of their choice while keeping control of the total cost is to agree a token arrangement with the venue. Each guest receives a token, which they can exchange at the bar for a drink of their choice.
If you are purchasing drink packages from the venue, here are the questions to ask:
What alcohol packages do you offer?
Is there flexibility in the drink package? E.g. replacing alcohol with non-alcoholic beverages, beer instead of wine etc.
To understand how the bar works:
Please give us all the costs associated with hiring out your bar
Is there a minimum spend?
Can we set up a bar tab?
Are you able to operate a token arrangement?
If the guests pay at the bar, is the bar card or cash only?
The wedding cake
Making a wedding cake requires specialist skills, so many venues leave it to experienced cake makers. They might be able to recommend local confectioners with the right experience. Even though the cake is not provided in-hose, most venues will be able to offer the cutting utensils. Questions to ask:
Are you able to provide a cake stand and cake-cutting utensils?
Do we pay an extra fee for using the venue’s cake cutting utensils, or is this included in the venue hire price?
If you require a certain style of knife and server, to match the design of your wedding cake (e.g. modern, rustic or traditional) ask the venue what style(s) they have.
Is there a disco included in the wedding venue hire?
Do you provide any other in-house entertainment?
Is it possible to bring a live band or DJ to perform?
How large is your dance floor - how many people can use it at a time?
Do you provide the sound equipment and speakers in the wedding reception area?
Find out about any restrictions in using the venue
Do you allow confetti in any part of your venue?
Are fireworks allowed?
Are there any noise level restrictions?
Price and the payment process
For how long can I provisionally hold a date? The policy will vary from venue to venue: Some will let you hold a date for free until they get other interest; others will ask you to pay a refundable or non-refundable deposit in order to pencil your preferred date in their calendar.
How do you structure the payment schedule?
How much is the deposit?
When is the balance due?
Is VAT included in all the prices the venue has quoted?
What is your cancelation policy?
Besides asking your questions, also tell your host how you envisage your wedding and what is important to you. They will be asking their own questions and try to work out how they can customize their service and make the venue work for you.
Making Your Booking - What to Look for in a Wedding Venue Contract
Once you have settled on your favourite venue, you will want to secure your preferred date as soon as possible.
Before you sign the contract, make sure that arrangements you have discussed with the venue (verbally or by email) are accurately reflected in the formal document.
The contract should clearly specify:
The date of your wedding and your access hours to the venue
An itemised list of services that the venue will be providing to you
The areas and facilities you will be entitled to use during your event
The number of guests (including the bride and groom) the venue will host on your wedding day. Make sure the contract allows for some flexibility in the number of guests, as the final number may change as the day approaches. The venue should specify the additional price to be paid for additional guests.
Total fees, the payment structure and due dates
Cancellation terms and conditions
Provision for unintentional damage of the venue facilities by any of your external suppliers or guests at your wedding
Proof of the venue's public liability insurance and alcohol licensing
If there are any other terms that you have agreed verbally and you want to set in stone, ask the venue to add an extra paragraph to your contract.