From the humblest backyard wedding to the grandest networking gala, every event depends on its location to set the tone. Finding a suitable venue that matches the mood and theme of your event, as well as your budget and logistical needs, can feel like trying to solve a complicated logic puzzle. If advanced mathematics isn't your strong suit, don't despair; there are easier ways of finding the location that's perfect for you.
What Type of Venue?
Different types of events have different needs. A wedding venue reflects the couple's personality, whereas a corporate meeting requires a venue with fewer distractions. Take care to match the ambiance to the theme; a Victorian ballroom for an elegant gala, or a sleek, skyline-view loft for a modern art auction. Decide what kind of experience you want your guests to have, and keep that vision at the forefront of your mind as you visit possible locations.
Common types of event venues include: convention facilities, which will be equipped for large numbers of people, easily accessible from airports, and up-to-date with the latest technology. Conference and banquet halls deal with events on an ongoing basis and will be set up to receive caterers, bands, and more with ease. Hotels usually have large event rooms, and these will offer overnight accommodations as well. Retreats offer a more private setting for meetings, usually with workshops or courses offered. Resorts can handle a large number of guests with luxurious accommodations. Many restaurants have private rooms for large parties, or can be rented for the evening.
Not every event requires a grand setting. If you're planning an intimate gathering with a small number of guests, you can use local parks or beaches for free or a very low fee. Be sure to check with the area's administration before holding an event somewhere public, though. It's not the height of romance for a security guard to interrupt your wedding vows.
If you're planning a destination wedding, keep in mind that your choice of venue may limit which of your guests can attend. Be sure that the location can be easily reached without prohibitive travel costs if you want to be accessible to more family and friends.
Keep an open mind. Even if you have a vivid mental picture of your location already, you might be surprised by how much an unexpected venue can stand out in guests' memories. Investigate local nightclubs, art galleries, museums, theaters, yachts, and even zoos and nature preserves for their hosting possibilities. Many non-traditional venues are now offering perks specifically to attract special events.
On Your Walkthrough
Try to visit when conditions best match the time and day of your event. An event venue that looks great during the night may be dingy by day, or a sleepy weekday resort may be swamped on the weekends.
Whom are you inviting? Your choice of venue can limit the number of guests, and most buildings have hard limits to comply with fire codes. Likewise, a too-large venue will make a small number of guests feel uncomfortable. Not only should there be enough room for the number of guests you invite, but there should be enough bathrooms and facilities to avoid uncomfortable lines. Visualize your party navigating the space. Are the hallways wide enough for wheelchairs? Could uneven ground trip older guests? Will there be a good flow, or are certain areas prone to congestion? The venue's management should be able to provide you with some layout suggestions.
Check the number of electrical outlets and ask about the building's circuits. You don't want the power to fail if your DJ plugs in while your caterer is blending the soup. Also, listen to the room's acoustics. Large, hollow spaces can make music echo, and low-ceilinged spaces can become uncomfortably loud when large groups are talking. Also, check that traffic noise isn't audible from the street. Furthermore, there should be ample parking for the number of guests attending, or you can inquire about hiring a valet. Ask if neighborhood safety is a concern.
Questions to Ask
No matter what type of venue you choose, make sure the venue staff is easy to work with. Even the most pristine beach isn't worth the hassle of an owner who nickels and dimes you to death. In your initial tour, ask questions about the venue's policies and get a feel for how flexible they are. You want to find someone who will go out of his or her way to accommodate you.
Find out about all regulations ahead of time, including opening and closing time and amplified sound curfews. Will you need to put down a deposit? What happens if you have to cancel your event? Are you responsible for damages? Ask about safety regulations and fire codes, especially if you plan to involve candles, pets, or large numbers of people. Does the venue provide overnight accommodations for out-of-town attendees? If any portion of your event will be held outside, are there contingency plans for weather? Is there a smokers' area? Is there WiFi? Make sure the venue doesn't book multiple parties in a day, or that your location will not be affected by other parties if they do.
Who will be there on the day of your event to assist you? Ask ahead of time if you'll be obligated to use the venue's staff instead of hiring your own. Many locations come with an in-house DJ, caterer, security staff, and more. If you use their caterer, are you allowed to bring in outside food? You don't want your mother to have to leave her special blueberry cobbler at the door.
Are you allowed to decorate, or to remove existing decorations? Some venues have strict rules, and you’ll want to find those out before you try to tape or nail anything to a wall. Will you be responsible for renting things like tables and chairs, or does the venue provide enough for your invitees? If you need to rent materials, factor it into the venue's price.
Don't be afraid to negotiate. If the venue is at the high end of your budget, many places will give you a better price if you book them on off-season times of year or days of the week. Be sure to book your date early, though; most venues do fill quickly, especially during peak season.
Remember, choosing your venue doesn't have to be a stressful process. Before you even begin walkthroughs, take a moment to visualize your event from start to finish. Think of your guests arriving, mingling, and leaving. The more clearly you can picture your event ahead of time, the easier it will be to pinpoint exactly which type of venue will meet your needs.