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Awhile back, I got an email from the florist that did our wedding flowers. She said she has a client who is getting married at the Inn where we got married last August, and she had some questions. I, of course, was more than happy to give out my contact information, because have I mentioned I LOVE to talk about weddings? Even better when I can talk about our wedding. We all know people like to talk about themselves, and your wedding day is hopefully one of the best days of your life. (I know, I know… it’s not about the wedding day, it’s about the marriage. But STILL. Our wedding was the best. It was so so much fun.) So doy, I am happy to relive as much of my day as possible and brag about how great it was.
Jesse and I ended up meeting up with this bride-to-be and her fiance over beers to chat about our experience at the venue. After introducing ourselves and chatting a little bit, it was like this:
Bride-to-be Mollie: pulls out her typed up questions on a sheet of paper. “Haha, I feel so silly, but I brought some questions”
Kelly: “Oh, don’t worry… I gotcha beat” pulls own giant stuffed wedding planning organizer binder out of giant purse, and slams it on the table. You know. I brought it just in case.
Anyway, they turned out to be super fun people, we had a great time talking wedding, drank more beer, ordered dinner, and 4 hours later I was wondering a. why I’m not a wedding planner, and b. what the hell was I doing out past my bedtime on a worknight. Oh well. WORTH it! Our new found friends expressed several times how grateful they were that we took some time out of our day to answer their questions and give them advice, and I couldn’t have been happier to help. It made me think back to the months, weeks, and days leading up to our big day.
We did not have a wedding planner, and from the time we booked a contract with our venue to the day we got married (about 14 months), our point of contact at the inn changed four (yes FOUR) times. Not to mention, they hired a new chef, general manager, increased their prices and changed several policies. I’m usually a pretty calm, reasonable person. But if anything was going to push me toward bridezilla territory, finding out once again that our coordinator was no longer with the inn, less than 30 days out from the wedding was it. The one thing that put us at ease that last month was meeting face-to-face with our DJ. He had done numerous weddings at the venue, had previously tended bar there, and knew the place inside and out (as much as is possible when they seem to change their minds on policies on a weekly basis). He had even DJed for a wedding at the same location just three weeks before ours, and it had gone mostly to plan – until the unruly manager on staff that night decided to shut the party down early. The entire wedding party was left with no choice but to move to a bar downtown.
My point is not to terrorize you with horror stories. Luckily for us, our DJ knew what to warn us of, advised us on questions to ask the newest event coordinator and explained how everything would setup and run. In the end, the changes at the venue turned out to be almost all positive. Everything came together perfectly wedding weekend. Phew. So my first piece of advice would be to find someone that is familiar with the venue – whether a vendor or a previous bride – and find out how their experience was. Ask your venue for references, ask your vendors, ask around town. Chances are you will be able to find a friend of a friend or acquaintance that has been through this before, and they’ll probably have some invaluable nuggets of advice and lessons learned to share, specific to your venue.
If you have a venue picked out and you’re not sure where to start with questions, or if you’re meeting with a couple of different venues, I thought I’d share some of the topics that you’ll want to cover… and a few that you might not think of without having been through this before! So, here goes: My list of 28 questions that you need to ask your wedding venue. I’ve also put these together in a free printable pdf with room for notes – available at the bottom of this post!
THE BASICS – CEREMONY AND/OR RECEPTION VENUE QUESTIONS:
1. Is our preferred date and time available?
2. Do you book multiple events on the same day or weekend?
3. What are your rates (rates for different days/seasons?), deposit requirements, and cancellation policy?
When you are ready to sign a contract, be sure the rates and terms are clearly defined. After we booked our wedding, our venue doubled their ceremony and reception fees, but our price was honored because we had signed an agreement early on!
4. Can we set up a payment schedule? When are full and final payments due?
5. Is there a limit to number of guests?
6. Do you provide chairs for the ceremony? Tables and chairs for the reception? What do they look like? If different chairs are desired, are we able to bring in outside rentals?
7. Do you offer any included services (such as an officiant, day-of-coordinator, ceremony music, setup and tear-down, etc) and are there additional fees associated?
8. Are there time limits/requirements for setup and usage of the venue/area? Are there any overtime fees or cleanup fees?
9. If the venue is outdoors, is there a back-up option for inclement weather? Will the back-up space accommodate the same number of guests?
We got married at the end of August. We also live in Wyoming. So it rained the day before, and snowed (SNOWED.) the day after our wedding. Because we’re awesome (or just lucky!) the weather cooperated perfectly, and we were able to hold both our ceremony and reception outside as planned. I just about went into Bridal meltdown about 5 minutes before walking down the aisle. The wind came up, clouds rolled in, and people were covering their heads with jackets to fend off the incoming sprinkle. GOOD JOKE WYOMING. It calmed down, and so did I. Which is a good thing, because the room the Inn had for “plan B/shit weather” supposedly only accommodates 50 people, and we had about 120 guests. So that would have been… interesting.
10. Who is our main point of contact for coordination up until the wedding, and day of? Will this person be on site during the wedding?
Be sure to get preferred method of communication, phone number/email address, and typical schedule for your contact – so you know when they are working and can be reached. A second point of contact is a good idea as well – in case there are any changes in staff, as we found out the hard way.
11. What additional staff will you have on site day of the wedding? Are there gratuity fees?
12. Is there a place for the bridal party and/or grooms party to get ready prior to the ceremony? How about an area to wait just prior to the ceremony? What do the logistics look like for ceremony access/procession/etc.?
Another thing you may not think about initially is lighting and color in the room where you plan to get ready. My sister got married at a historic hotel, and the room she had booked for the bridal party prep was painted a dark orange.
The photographer commented that this warm color works well for photos. She had photographed other weddings in one of the other rooms with blue or green walls, which she said reflects an awful greenish tone on skin in photos. Obviously, photographers love natural light, so a space with windows is a plus.
13. Are there any restrictions on decor? Can we hang decor, tape, tie, nail, stick into the ground, etc? Specific locations in mind?
14. Do you provide any decor, flowers/planters, aisle runner, etc., and can any unwanted decor be removed?
15. Do you offer catering and/or bar service for the reception? If so, is it mandatory to use your services or can we bring in outside catering or drinks? Is there a corking fee?
16. Do you have photos of previous ceremonies or receptions, and/or references to share?
17. What is included in your written contract, and can we review a sample?
WEDDING VENUE QUESTIONS FROM A SAAVY BRIDE:
18. Are pets allowed on the premises? If so, where, and what are options for the day of?
Unfortunately, pets were not allowed at our venue, so Reagan had to kennel it up. If you’re a dog lover, you’ve surely swooned over photos like this (Borrowed from my awesome friends Kylee and Cameron):
19. Are there any noise restrictions or limitations on bands and/or a DJ?
We were told early on that Saratoga had a City ordinance against noise past 10:00 p.m. However, the options around that were explained differently to us several times throughout our planning (and the venue’s several different coordinators). First it was that we could continue the party outside, but had to turn the music down to a reasonable level. Then it was that we would need to move the DJ and party inside to the bar at 10:00. THEN (two weeks before the wedding) I was told that we could not continue the party outside, we could move our party into the bar, but the DJ could not play in the bar because the bar remains open to the public. WHAT?! I put my foot down on this one, and was able to negotiate an exception to this “rule”. I (nicely but firmly) explained that from the time we booked, we had discussed hiring a DJ for the entire night, and this was the first time I was being told that our music would have to stop at 10:00. The newest coordinator finally agreed to make an exception so that we could move the party, and the DJ, into the bar from 10:00 until midnight. We did have a few random bar-going party crashers, but the more the merrier! We had a blast!!
20. Are there limited times to use the ceremony space for a rehearsal?
21. Is there space available for wedding party and guest parking? Any time limits or restrictions?
22. Is there an option for early check-in/early set-up and use of the facilities?
If you are using the ceremony venue for preparations, you will want to allow yourself plenty of time to get settled into the space and enjoy some down-time with your closest friends and family before go-time. Since our wedding was at a resort, we requested and were granted early check-in the Friday afternoon before the wedding. This allowed us to greet some early guests, enjoy a couple drinks and pool time before we got all prettied up for our rehearsal and dinner.
23. Do you offer any discounts for group functions/hotel rooms/wedding weekend activities? Is there a minimum quantity or minimum stay?
Our venue offered the second night’s stay free to the Bride and Groom. We also blocked out all 50 hotel rooms at the Inn for the night of our wedding, with the intention that all of our guests would stay. Guests had to book and pay on their own, and any un-booked rooms were released 30 days prior to the wedding. A 15% room discount was offered to our party because we were booking the group function. Be sure to get this – and any other terms – in writing. We had one or two issues where our guests were told there was a minimum 2 night stay for the weekend, which was not what we had agreed to. Again, a phone call resolved the issue. Sometimes there is miscommunication between staff.
24. When do you need a final headcount for food, seating, room reservations, etc.?
Side note: Somehow we filled 49 rooms, and one unfortunate couple that we did not know ended up getting a single room for the night. We chatted with them the next morning at the pool as we were picking up some glasses/bottles (oops) from the late night pool after-party, and they seemed a teeny bit peeved. But hey – it’s my wedding, sorry not sorry.
25. Do you offer options for lighting, space heaters, fans, etc?
This is important especially for an outdoor reception. We had some tables under a tent, and some tables next to the tent in an open grassy area. The only tiny complaint we heard was that it got a little chilly and dark at these outer tables, maybe around cake-cutting time. So we promptly got everybody up to dance their butts off. Be sure to ask if lighting is adjustable, if the your venue offers additional up-lighting for your head table, dance floor lighting, etc. Or heaters if it might cool off!
26. What tables can we use, and what are the sizes?
I didn’t think about this when we booked, or even on our second trip out to do a food tasting. So I ended up writing a few emails (more like novels) and holding several phone conversations to cover all of the questions I thought of in the middle of the night. If you are any part Type A, and you’re trying to plan for seating charts, centerpieces, table runners, guest books, desserts, and DIY decorations, you will understand that TABLE SIZE MATTERS. Here is a list of the tables we used:
- Dinner tables – (17) total 6′ diameter rounds, 8 people per table
- Sweetheart table – (1) 3’x4′ rectangular
- Guest Book/Gift table – (1) 8′ long buffet table (about 29″ wide I think?)
- Appetizer table (for cocktail hour) – (1) 8′ buffet
- Water station table
- DJ equipment table – (1) 8′ long buffet
- Dinner Buffet – (2) 8′ long buffets
- Cake/Dessert table – (1) 8′ long buffet
- Portable Bar – Not a table, but oh so important.
And speaking of bars, you might want to think about:
27. Where are the restrooms located? Which restroom locations will be available for the party’s use?
Really, Kelly, restrooms? Yes. You need ’em. And, there is wedding decor for EVERYTHING:
28. What activities are in the area?
If guests are traveling for the wedding weekend, you may want to include some information on recommended restaurants, places to visit, activities, etc. Maybe you want to organize a golf tournament for the guys, mani/pedis or spa prep for the ladies.
And that, my friends, is about all that I can think of for must-ask wedding venue questions! As a thank you for reading and subscribing, this list is available in printable pdf below, without all of the commentary and with plenty of room for notes.
Any questions that you would add?
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