So you've got a budget and you've set priorities and you have a list of venues with availability and costs and you've seen what you can possibly and realistically choose for your venue. All that’s left now is to just show up, look around, and make your deposit, right? Hmmm...Not quite.
I highly recommend if you want to make the best possible decision (a well informed decision), you’ll probably want to do a formal, pre-scheduled venue site visit. (Or, if you really can’t because you live in Never-Neverland, at least a question-filled phone call.)
Wedding Reception Site Visit
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. Remember how we warned you about venues talking "up" how many people they can hold in the room, we meant it....it's real. So go see it in person. Please.
When I go on site visits, I like to take pictures and get measurements and work up layouts for my clients. This ensures we can both visualize the event actually happening in this space laid out they way my client wants. Photos and site visits allow me to compare and contrast the different venues and allows me to remember details :)
Remember how it was kind of overwhelming at first when you had tons of places to research and create that spreadsheet? Do you really want to visit ten different venues? I'm pretty sure it only creates more of that overwhelming feeling. I recommend choosing your top 3-5 and scheduling visits with them. Worst case, you may need to do some more, but usually you have some favorites and it’s best to start with them. And please, just like your dress and like we mentioned in a previous post, do NOT look at venues out of your budget...it only creates heartache.
I will admit, some people cannot do site visits (despite my protestations). IF that is the case, I recommend researching on wedding websites like New Orleans Bride or New Orleans Weddings and The Knot and Wedding Wire. You can also ask the venue for references of past couples so you can talk to real couples that used the space. Then, trust your gut. If you're not quite feeling it...don't do it. Or get your wedding coordinator to go on the visit and take the pictures for you.
But let’s assume you have the time, you’ve narrowed it down to your top choices, 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. WALK THROUGH AN ACTUAL EVENT. WHERE ARE YOU ENTERING? WHERE ARE GUESTS ENTERING? IS THERE A 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?
4. WHAT SORT OF LIGHTING IS INCLUDED IN THE VENUE?
I would highly recommend asking your photographer for his/her input on this tid bit of information. Can they take great photos in your favorite 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.
5. 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?
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. ARE THERE VOLUME RESTRICTIONS?
Some venues (and areas of New Orleans), 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.
10. 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?
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. DO THEY HAVE PARKING?
In New Orleans parking is a hot commodity. Is your guest list an "older" crowd that will need to be able to park close? Will security be on hand to monitor parking if it is provided?
15. DO THEY HAVE A LIST OF PREFERRED VENDORS?
You do not have to work with those vendors, but knowing they have worked with your venue before does provide some kind of comfort so you may want to check them out.
While you're there, keep your list of priorities in your head. What were those initial questions you asked about size and location and transportation and decor. Those questions will keep you focused on what you really want and whether the venue truly meets your needs. You may feel silly asking those questions again, but asking them ensures you find the best venue for your event. Believe me, it will be worth it in the end :)
If you have any questions or need some help choosing your venue, give us a call or shoot us an email. We love checking out both local and unique venues in the New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana area.
It's Your Time Events, New Orleans Wedding Planning & Design