If you already have a member affiliation, making the decision to host your wedding reception at a club venue doesn't take a second thought. However, even for non-members, club venues make welcoming locations for weddings and other special events. Choose a club venue because you have a personal connection with the club, or just because you like the shape of their ballroom–club venues are a top choice for many couples.
Don't Be Put Off by an Exclusive-Sounding Name
Leo Pierini, board member of the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club (SFIAC), encourages brides and grooms to consider even clubs that at first sound exclusive. "A lot of people have the misconception that you have to be a member here to have an event, and that's not the case," Pierini notes. True, the SFIAC waives certain fees for members, but the venue is open and available to the public despite the specific criteria for membership. "If you have a male Italian relative, get him to join so you can get the discount," Pierini says.
Look for a Building with Character
Many respectable clubs come with their own history. One of the advantages of using a long-standing club is knowing that your event becomes part of a rich tradition. The SFIAC, for example, was established in 1918 and has inhabited the same building since 1936. It is located in the heart of San Francisco's Little Italy neighborhood and enjoys connections with traditional bakeries and other neighborhood businesses. By renting event space in a dignified old building, you ensure that your wedding will be included in a rich tapestry of shared memories and traditions.
Look for Flexibility
Just because a venue is rich in tradition doesn't mean it has to be inflexible or stodgy. Look for buildings that offer you flexibility as a client. The ideal club venue should have different sized rooms for different sized celebrations. The SFIAC, for example, offers clients a choice of a downstairs ballroom that can seat up to 300 and smaller rooms upstairs for more intimate events. Do not let a venue pressure you into renting a room that is too large (or too small) for your party's needs.
Flexibility is important in more than just room selection. If the venue has an in-house catering staff, ask about menu options. The ideal wedding reception location will be able to offer you several menu choices and should be able to take requests, as well. For example, the kitchen at the SFIAC offers a choice between Continental-style dining (such as roast beef and potatoes) and traditional Italian selections prepared with spices from different regions of Italy.
Do you have your heart set on a certain reception theme? Seek a venue that can be decorated easily in your preferred style. The SFIAC is an Italian club located in an Italian neighborhood, but it has happily hosted events with Hawaiian themes, masked Carnival themes, Jewish weddings, Polynesian style weddings, and events for all cultural and religious denominations. Don't let the club's strong sense of history keep you from decorating it in the theme you want. "A lot of places don't like people coming in and redecorating," Pierini observes. "We're open to anything, within reason." Find a venue with friendly and accommodating staff who are willing to work with you to create the event of your dreams.
Just because a venue can't provide everything in one stop doesn't mean you should write it off. Flexibility is about more than providing every option under one roof. If a venue can't meet your special request, they should be willing to help you find a vendor who can. In the case of the SFIAC, Pierini explains, "We don't do wedding cakes. But our planner can connect you with traditional bakeries in North Beach or throughout San Francisco." Book a helpful venue, and everything else will fall into place.
Take Advantage of In-House Event Planners
Club venues often come with in-house talent who can help you create exactly the event you envision. Take advantage of your venue's event planners. Their services are usually included in the price of renting the event space, and they can save you much time, money, and effort. For couples who are planning destination weddings from another city, a local planner who knows the reception neighborhood well is priceless.
"The event planner is a biggie for us," Pierini says. "We've learned the hard way that you can't just book a room and send someone a menu for something as special as a wedding. Hopefully, you only do your wedding once. We understand that." The event planner can connect you with local talent. If you need something the venue doesn't provide (such as a wedding cake), the planner can give you options of local bakeries that already come complete with good references and reputations. A well-established venue has connections with good vendors who can provide everything from music to special decorations.
For couples and their families who are feeling frazzled by all of the details that go into planning a wedding, having an event planner who is already familiar with the venue and the local area can be a huge stress reducer. Ask the planner any questions that spring to mind, such as specific considerations that should be taken with the limitations and strengths of your particular venue.
Finding the right venue is an extremely important part of the wedding planning process. Your location, after all, will determine the mood and atmosphere of your event as soon as your guests walk through the door. But finding the right venue goes beyond the day of the event–when you work with friendly, helpful management, the entire wedding planning process goes more smoothly. Finding a venue you trust to help you create your once-in-a-lifetime event is essential for emotional peace of mind.
The San Francisco Italian Athletic Club is located in the heart of San Francisco's Little Italy, North Beach, overlooking scenic Washington Square Park. Its rooms are available for wedding receptions, rehearsal dinners, anniversaries, corporate events, class reunions, or retirement parties.