Two weeks ago, we talked about how to start your wedding venue search, and what research you should do to help narrow down your options. Let’s assume you’ve done that. Now you’re ready to decide between your finalists, and bringing this grueling wedding venue search to an end. Hooray! All that’s left now is to just show up and look around, or just call up to see what dates are free and write a (gulp, how much again?) check, right? Well. Not exactly. If you want to make sure that you’re making an educated decision before handing over a chunk of change, you’ll probably want to do a formal, pre-scheduled venue site visit. (Or, if you really can’t, at least a question-filled phone call.)
But wait—what the hell is a wedding site visit? A site visit is a brief walk-through of a potential venue, usually with a representative or sales person associated with that venue. The site visit allows you to actually see the space itself, ask more detailed questions, and frankly, make sure that what you’ve seen and read online is for reals. Much like those hotel rooms that look spacious and luxurious online but end up being teeny tiny closets, venues are businesses and they’re going to do whatever they can to make themselves look great online. So go see it in person. Please.
Because these site visits take time and effort, I generally recommend narrowing your venue site visits to your top three choices. Worst case, you may need to do some more, but usually you have some favorites and it’s best to start with them. As I mentioned in my previous post, please please please don’t do a site visit with a venue that doesn’t fit into your budget. You’ll just torture yourself and nobody needs that.
It’s worth mentioning that some people aren’t able to do site visits, despite my protestations. Perhaps you’re planning your wedding from across the country, or your schedule is just too busy to fit it in. In that case I recommend asking the venue for references of past couples so you can talk to real couples that used the space. I also recommend you trust your gut regarding the photos and details online (if it seems too glam to be true, it probably is)—or ask the venue for more details, such as additional photos, actual floor plans with dimensions, etc., to reassure you that you know what the space is really like.
But let’s assume you have the time, you’ve narrowed it down to your top three, and now you’re ready for the actual visit. Here is a checklist of wedding site visit questions you should be armed with at each venue:
1. How many hours are included in the rental? The average hours needed are two hours for load-in, and one hour for load-out. Make sure that the remaining hours are enough for your event, and if not, find out how much it will cost to add hours (if the venue offers that option). The average venue rental is eight hours (three hours for load-in/load-out and five for the event).
Side note: Assume that people will arrive for the ceremony thirty minutes prior to the invite time (the time listed on your invitation). Therefore, load-in needs to be complete two hours before guest arrival, not the invite time.
2. Is a ceremony rehearsal included? If so, how long is the rehearsal, when does it usually take place, and how far in advance can you book the time?
3. Discuss load-in and load-out. Is there a loading dock? An elevator? Ask if there are any specific difficulties or challenges at this venue. Sometimes the building is old and has a tiny elevator, meaning load-in takes a lot longer. Sometimes there isn’t one at all, so the rentals company will charge more to carry things up and down stairs.
4. Where are the entrances and coat check? If your wedding is during a cold or rainy season, do they have a built in area for a coat-check or do they provide coat racks? Also consider where guests enter—some venues have multiple entrances and you may prefer one over the other. Some venues might also have security concerns (ask about whether a security guard is required, recommended, and included in the rental fee). This is also where you want to consider accessibility issues—if you have older guests or guests with disabilities, will they have any trouble entering and maneuvering around the facility? Is there an alternate entrance for those guests, if necessary?
5. What sort of lighting is included in the venue? Is it dimmable? (Very important! Romantic and dim lighting: GOOD. Fluorescent, corporate lighting: BAD.) Lighting is often forgotten since most site visits are during the day, but many events are in the evening.
6. Ask about electricity. Vendors often pull a lot of power from the building. Make sure you have a sense of whether outlets are scarce or if there’s plenty of power to go around. It’s also helpful to note where the outlets are located to help you later determine your layout (for example, the photobooth can go in that corner, but only if they provide a ten foot extension cord).
7. Where are restrooms located? Are they easily accessible or do guests need to use stairs or an elevator to reach them? Are they wheelchair-accessible?
8. Where does the caterer set-up? Some non-traditional venues which have been turned into wedding venues don’t have a catering kitchen. Make sure you’re okay with the location, set-up, and logistics.
9. Are there alcohol restrictions? Some venues don’t allow red wine or dark liquor. Others require special permits (that sometimes will be provided by the caterer—so ask who normally provides them). Still others will allow you to provide your own alcohol as long as it’s served by the caterer, while others won’t allow it at all.
10. Are there decor restrictions? Lots of venues don’t allow confetti or other small items to be thrown. Others have open flame and candle restrictions, as well as sparkler restrictions. If these things matter to you (you were dying to do that sparkler exit) best to know now and let that inform your final decision.
11. Are there volume restrictions? Some venues, especially outdoor ones, have restrictions on what can and can’t be played at certain hours and in certain spaces. It’s a bummer if you have the space until 11pm but your party has to end at 10pm since that’s when the DJ needs to stop playing.
12. Does the venue ever do more than one event on the same day? If the venue is large and has multiple spaces, or if it’s a non-traditional space such as a theatre, it’s important to know what else, if anything, will be going on in the venue. How will guests know where to go and how will the venue keep others out of your space? Will you get the attention you need from the venue staff?
13. Does the venue provide any equipment? Sometimes venues have tables and chairs available to clients, or A/V and lighting equipment. Be sure you SEE the chairs (some of them are hideous… just saying), and ask the venue if they have an equipment inventory list that they can share or email.
14. Ask if they have a list of nearby hotels that they recommend. This can help you make those transportation decisions later on, as well as start researching group rates at nearby hotels.
15. See if you can get a sample contract and be sure it includes their cancellation policy. It’s not fun to think about, but wedding cancellations can and do happen. Make sure the contract is clear on that issue and that you’re comfortable with their language.
And again, while at the site visit, revisit some of those initial questions you asked yourself when doing online research! Those questions will keep you focused on what you really want and whether the venue truly meets your needs. Will you feel silly unfurling your enormous list of questions? Maybe. Will those questions ensure that you find the best venue for your event? YES. It’s worth it. So tell the venue manager to get comfortable, and rattle off those questions proudly!