“Plan a wedding,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said. Like many others, I do not have a single clue what I am doing when it comes to wedding planning. I’ve relied heavily on friends who know the ins and outs, and what I thought would be the most enjoyable part of the process has turned out to be the least. I’m talking venue hunting.
Seeing venues is fun, so I don’t mean to hint otherwise. The problems lie less in what you see, and more in what you don’t. While the limit does not exist for questions you should be asking when touring venues, here are some must-ask queries with answers that may surprise you.
1. Do You Have A Designated Ceremony Area?
If you plan on hosting your ceremony at a different location than your reception, you can skip this question. If you plan on hosting onsite, do a little digging about the venue offerings for a ceremony. For starters, can they host the ceremony? If they can, is there a designated area for the ceremony? I recently toured a venue, and when asking if I could host a ceremony on site the host replied “yes”. I asked to see the ceremonial site and they then pointed to a small patch of makeshift grass between two parking lots. While it took physical restraint to not gasp and/or laugh, it was seriously eye-opening that even the most beautiful venues aren’t always what they seem. The other kicker is the ceremonial fee, which is a self-explanatory fee for hosting your ceremony on site. According to WeddingWire, the average cost in the US is $600, but for big cities like NY and LA, expect something closer to $2,000.
2. Do You Have A Bridal And Groom Suite On Site?
I’ll be the first to say the bride is the *most* important on the wedding day (bridezilla in the making here), but I want my groom to be treated like a king as well. I was shocked to see how many venues only had one wedding suite, which meant only one of us could get ready on site. My fiancé is irrationally laid-back and would get ready in the parking lot if he had to, but not all couples are comfortable with a single-suite venue. While it may seem minor right now, it’s important to think about what getting ready offsite day-of means for the person who chooses to do so (renting a hotel suite, renting a large car or limo for wedding party, etc.).
3. Can I Bring A Hair And Makeup Team To The Bridal Suite?
THIS is a question I can’t believe I had to ask at venues. To me, a bridal suite was an obvious getting ready location for myself and my bridesmaids. However, I quickly learned this is not always the case. Some venues do NOT allow you to physically get ready in the suite. They must arrive with hair and makeup done, with no outside vendors allowed in to help prepare the wedding party. Personally, I am really looking forward to getting ready with my bridesmaids all together in the bridal suite, and then waltzing out the door and into the ceremony, so this was an important ask in my book.
4. What Are The Different Rates?
I semi knew this was a “thing” going into venue touring, but I was honestly shook at how drastic the price differences were between “on” and “off-peak” months, Friday/Saturday/Sunday, and time of day. Most venues break down their pricing first by month, with May, June, August, September, and October being the most popular (and therefore, the most expensive) months. From there, choosing your day of the week also dictates the price, with Saturday being the most expensive. AND FROM THERE, the time of day further influences the pricing. A daylight wedding (typically 12pm to 5pm) is often discounted, whereas an evening wedding tends to be more expensive (typically 6 or 7pm to 12 or 1am). So, be warned that Saturday night wedding at sunset in summer WILL impact your budget more than you want it to (I’m talking double the price of a Sunday daytime wedding in April).
5. Where Do The Extra Fees Go?
Venues with in-house catering will charge a per plate fee which covers the guests’ attendance and dinner/open bar. Venues who allow you to bring outside vendors will often charge a flat venue rate. But one thing common across the board is the added 20-25% “service charge”. What is this, you may ask? No, it’s not to compensate the waitstaff, the bartenders, or the cleanup crew. It actually typically goes towards any collateral damage (broken plates, carpet stains, etc.), and the rest goes into the owners’ pockets. If, on a venue tour, you ask what the fee goes to and you hear “it goes back into venue upkeep”, be aware of what this *really* means. It may bother you, or you may be fine with it. If you ask about the service fee going toward service and you’re told that the waitstaff makes “regular minimum wage” instead of “servers minimum wage”, just note that you will be tipping another 20% on top of your 20% service fee and 8.875% tax fee (and a potential cleaning fee). Just to put this in perspective, if your wedding is $50,000, with the fees, cleaning, and gratuity, you’ll actually be spending about $75,000. I know, I was just as shocked as you are rn!!
6. Do You Require Chair Rentals?
Add this to the list of questions I didn’t know I had to ask. For reasons unknown, I assumed with a wedding venue came chairs and tables and normal seating arrangements. For many venues (especially those with in-house catering) this is true, but not for all. Some venues require chair rentals for the space, and this is what I call annoying. Add it to the category of “fees I never thought I’d have to pay.”
7. Do You Require Preferred Vendor Use?
If you have specific vendors in mind ahead of time, this question is an important one for you. Most, if not all, venues have a list of preferred vendors—vendors they work with often, trust to work in their space, and recommend to their clients. Choosing these vendors often come with perks such as no plate fee for the vendors working the wedding, no insurance cost, and the obvious (and best) perk, discounts. That being said, some venues require you choose a vendor from their lists (this is especially true for flowers and DJs) and is something to confirm before falling in love with a venue or outside vendor.
8. How Many Hours Are Included In Rental Space?
This question is semi self-explanatory, but an important ask. How many hours are “included” is a polite way of asking can I come in early? Can I stay late? Will there be more fees for those extended hours outside of my actual party? How long is my actual party? Get those answers and avoid those fees!
9. Is Parking Available And Included?
Oh hey there, another fee. Parking on premises isn’t always included, but when it is, you can guarantee it comes with a fee. There are often different “levels” to this parking fee. Typically, couples can choose to play a lot flat fee which allows their guests to park for free, but park themselves. There’s also the option to have the guests pay for parking, which feels really reasonable to some and really jarring to others. But, if you’re feeling fancy, there’s also the option to have a valet service for all guests driving in, and this is where it gets pricy. Worth it? Only you reading this can be the judge of that.
10. Do You Offer A Planner?
While some people choose to go the route of planning their own wedding in full (me), others (people smarter than me) go the route of hiring a planner. Planners have pros and cons—pros being the fact that they know what they are doing, cons being that they often work with specific vendors and venues and may be biased with their recommendations. But, the most ideal situation (in my eyes) is finding a venue you love that assigns you a planner to help handle the rest of the arrangements. This person works specifically for your venue, so they know every single issue you may run into, and therefore are perhaps the most powerful point of contact throughout the entire process. It’s good to know if your venue offers a person to help, how far out they begin helping you, and if they are included in your package.
While there are an infinite amount of obvious questions to be asked, these are the questions you don’t want to forget about. Happy planning!
Images: Abby Savage / Unsplash; GIPHY (10)