In my tenure as director of social events for the Swissôtel, Ritz Buckhead and InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta, I realized the most frustrating thing for clients was finding their venue and not knowing the questions to ask.
Before I look for space for a client, I inquire about general facts, such as expected attendance, dates, if they require hotel rooms, and the area of the city they are most interested in. From there, I can determine where to send them for a site tour. I like to introduce a client to the person at a venue, so they feel more comfortable for their first visit.
Here are my tips for finding your perfect space:
• My No. 1 advice is to be flexible both on date and venue unless it is an assigned bar/bat mitzvah date, birthday or anniversary. Being flexible with dates makes it so much easier to find a venue of your choice. Once you find a venue and a date, the rest of your event process will fall into place.
• Remember, NO date is going to be ideal for all your guests. You have to select a date that is good for you and your family. Say you are sorry they won’t be able to attend and move on.
Know Your Numbers
• Don’t waste your time going to a venue that won’t accommodate your numbers or is entirely too large or one that does not have any of your preferred dates available.
• If you want to have 200 guests at your event, then you should figure to invite about 225 to 230 people. Yes, there are rare times when a larger percentage will RSVP “yes,” but most of the time, the dropout rate is about 8 to 15 percent. And be prepared for a few last minute “I am not able to attend” calls from guests who had RSVP’d they would be there.
Take a Tour
• Remember when doing a site tour, you may not see the room set up for an event, so visualize the room. It may be set up for a meeting or an event with décor that is not your taste. The walls, floor and ceiling height will remain the same, so look at the things you cannot change.
• Don’t visit too many properties. If you pick three that will accommodate your numbers, are in the location you desire, and have dates (note: dates, plural, NOT date, singular) that you would like, then you will be able to eliminate and come to a decision easily. Most people know right away if a venue is something they love. Again, visualize. Remember the color and pattern of carpet changes when the lights are dim, and tables cover a lot of the space, and guests are standing on it.
Cater to Your Guests
• Always think of your guests when making a decision on a venue. It is the polite thing to do. If you have a lot of out-of-town guests, my recommendation is to look at hotels for your event. An off-site venue will require you to provide transportation for your guests. Taking the elevator home after a party sure is convenient and your out-of-towners will love it. When considering a destination wedding, think about the cost for your guests to attend.
• If selecting an off-site venue and you have a lot of out-of-towners, try to find one convenient to where they are staying. You must always ask off-site venues what they provide. Some will have tables, chairs, and bars, but many will require you to rent them or have them brought in from a vendor.
• Get a guest room rate for booking 10 or more rooms per night, cutoff date for making reservations for a group rate, and make sure for social events there are no fees (attrition) if guest rooms are not picked up. If you need rooms for a Friday and Saturday, ask for shoulder dates at your group rate (Thursday and Sunday) in case your out-of-towners want to come in early or stay late.
• Inquire if there are huge groups in the city for the dates you are considering. If the city is sold out and lots of people are in town for an event such as Super Bowl, your room rates will be higher if you even can find rooms, and it will be difficult to find a venue because of corporate buyouts.
Hotels provide many of the amenities and set up accommodations for your event. When doing a site tour at a hotel or any other venue, ask about:
• Tables: Size, how many people they seat, their linen choices, if they have high boys for a cocktail hour and cocktail rounds for reception style set up.
• Bar: What their bars look like, how many bartenders they provide for your number of guests.
• Service: How they service a seated dinner and /or a buffet or stations with number of servers. Ask to see their china, and silver and glassware. How much setup time they allow for décor, and whether they have table numbers if you are doing a seated dinner.
• Stage: What type and size staging they have for a band or DJ or wedding ceremony.
• Dancing: What type dance floor is provided. Most hotels provide a dance floor at no charge.
• Extras: Ask if they provide a coat check for bad weather, and the cost, and whether there’s a piano you can rent if you desire that during your event. Most places have photos for you to review too.
Be sure to inquire about their deposit and cancellation fees. The other fees would be chef fees for stations, if required, bartender charges (many are waived with a certain amount of beverage consumed).
• Off-site venues sometimes charge for a dance floor, back bars, tables and chairs.
• Off-site venues that require a caterer to come in will have rental fees. And caterers have certain fees too.
Food and Bev
• Ask the food and beverage minimum, the taxable service charge and sales tax percentage. Most venues that do their own food will waive room rental when there is a F&B minimum.
• If possible, keep the bars together, either in the center of the space for cocktails or if a reception-type event. There are no long lines when it is set up properly. If having a seated dinner with a cocktail hour beforehand in a pre-function area, then inside the room bars can be separated.
• Best tip EVER is if you are planning an outdoor ceremony or reception, insist on an alternative space for bad weather. Yes, it does happen!
• Once my client selects a venue, I recommend they hire a professional event planner to assist with the rest of the planning and be with them for the event. Hire someone that fits your personality. It is well worth the money.
Most importantly, when looking for a site and planning an event, remember there are alternatives to everything. It should be a happy time, and if something is not exactly what you envisioned, listen to the professional, and many times the alternative suggestion will turn out to be better! Celebrate and enjoy!