Wedding Venue Checklist
Having drawn up a short-list of potential wedding venues, it’s time to pay them a visit. But before you head off blindly into the lion’s den (for that is indeed where you are heading!), arm yourself with a printout of our crucial questions to ask a wedding venue. It will enable you to discover all the fees and conditions that might apply if you book the venue and demonstrate that you are not the atypical, ‘green behind the ears’ couple in the early stages of the wedding planning process!
Make A Provisional Booking
Before you inspect a venue it is essential that you ask for a provisional booking to secure your wedding date. This simply holds the date for you, usually for a week or so, and allows you time to book a viewing and consider your options. There is no charge for doing so and most venues will permit you to do this, however there are an increasing number that won’t hold any dates until you physically attend a viewing. Beware – this is a highly effective ploy to reel you in, get you on-site and then hard sell the property to you by stressing an urgent need for you to make a quick decision due to the interest shown by other potential clients in your preferred wedding date! Unfortunately you are not going to know if they really do have other couples interested in the same date as you. But it is a decision you should be prepared to have to make if push comes to shove.
Remember, It’s A Two-Way Business Negotiation
The first meeting is the best time to raise all the most important, probing questions to ask a wedding venue. The in-house coordinator will be keen to secure a new booking and will be far more compliant and willing to compromise at this stage. Understand that it’s a 2-way negotiation and there are likely to be a number of points that the venue will be willing to move on in order to secure the booking, even if their website, brochure or T’s & C’s suggest otherwise.
TOP TIP: play it relatively cool – if they know you love the property and are close to booking, you are less likely to secure any extra concessions that might otherwise be available.
Start by asking for clarification of all potential fees and charges that might apply should you book the venue. And take brief notes of all the important points. Sometimes there may be a number of undisclosed fees that only become apparent after you have booked, with the excuse being “oh, I didn’t realise you wanted a late licence/early access/to provide your own alcohol… you should have mentioned it!”
Important Costs to Clarify
Some of the most important and significant fees that couples often fail to fully appreciate or factor into their budget include:
- Late licence fees: if you intend to party until 1am, late licence fees can add hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of pounds to the venue hire fees. These are not usually negotiable but it’s best to know the costs ASAP so you can budget accordingly.
- Likewise the cost of a 3 course menu… this is going to eat up a sizeable slice of your wedding budget (excuse the pun) so it is immensely helpful to have an accurate idea early in the planning stages about how much the food is going to cost.
- The price of champagne, sparkling wine and house wine: there are plenty of venues that have very reasonable venue hire fees to attract client’s interest and look to recoup their money through other means such as over-priced drinks. A bottle of house champagne might be £45 in one venue and £80 in another!
- Ask if corkage is an option – this allows you to source and supply the wine whilst the venue/caterer serves it, for a fee of course. Opting for corkage can again save hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, but corkage fees do vary considerably.
- Ask how much the canapés cost – again these can be eye-wateringly costly and increase your bills by hundreds of pounds.
- The price of drinks behind the bar – a free bar can be very expensive!
- If there is accommodation onsite, find out if there are a minimum number of rooms you have to take on the wedding night and clarify how much the rooms cost per night. If you are expected to book and pay for bedrooms consider asking if the venue will allow your guests to book and pay for the bedrooms directly as opposed to you footing the bill.
TOP TIP: Getting a grip on such costs early on not only leads to better financial management of the budget but also helps to reduce stress!
Other charges you might incur are:
- Ask about guest and supplier parking – is it free or chargeable. Can cars be left overnight without charge?
- Late leaving fees can for obvious reasons leave a sour taste in your mouth. Often hidden in the small print they may be applied if guests have not vacated the premises on time. Be warned.
- Security fees are also usually hidden in the T’s & Cs – some venues expect you to hire their security for the duration of your wedding, whether or not you want or need it!
- Cleaning fees, such as if a guest is physically sick onsite or knocked over a bottle of red wine on a carpet. It all adds up.
- A menu tasting is essential as it helps you to decide upon your preferred meal. It will be prepared and cooked by venue’s caterer. Many venues and caterers incorporate the cost into their menu or package fees but some choose to apply these fees separately, as if a menu tasting is an optional extra that might not be needed! If so, what’s the charge? How many people can attend? And does it include sampling the wine and champagne too?
- Your suppliers, notably planner, photographer and cinematographer will need a meal on the wedding day. Find out how much the venue charges for supplier meals.
- Child menu prices are also helpful to know.
TOP TIP: Be aware that your venue and catering costs will account for an eye-watering 40-60% of your TOTAL wedding budget.
Other Factors To Consider & Questions to Ask a Wedding Venue
Aside from finding out about costs, you also need to clarify a host of other important points as follows:
- Find out if there are any other weddings or events at the venue on the same day as your wedding. If there are, ask to see where they will take place and assess how they might impact on your own wedding.
- Wet weather contingency plans – where will the drinks reception take place if it’s raining? Most venues will have a suitable plan in place, utilising an additional internal room or suite. It’s worth asking if they have a gazebo or marquee you could use for free if it’s raining. And beware if the wet weather plan involves ‘turning a room around’ – what happens is that after the ceremony and during the drinks reception the same room is cleared and the tables and chairs are laid for dinner. See footnotes.
- Check if there is a recommended supplier list you have to use. This can drastically limit your choice of suppliers. Moreover, such lists can be extremely lucrative for the venue since many only recommend suppliers who pay them a commission for being recommended in the first place. Just be aware.
- If you can bring in suppliers of your own choosing, ask if there are any charges for doing so. For example, venues who allow you to use your own caterer might recoup their losses by charging extortionate fees for using their kitchen.
- Check if the coordinator you are meeting with will be your sole point of contact at the venue throughout the planning process. It’s important that you are compatible and get along, for obvious reasons.
- Then find out if they will also be the coordinator on your wedding day. Will they cover the entire day or only part of it?
- Ask how long they take on average to respond to questions via email. Also ask how easy they are to get hold of during the day by phone or email. Getting them to commit to a timeframe early on helps to ensure they prioritise your communications moving forward.
- Ask if items can be delivered to the venue and stored securely for free a few days prior to the wedding if necessary, and then collected a day or two after the wedding if required, for free.
- Ask about access times on the wedding day – the earlier you and your suppliers can access the venue on the wedding day the better.
- Also find out about post-wedding access times – you and your suppliers may need to pick up various items after the wedding.
- Can you access the venue the night before to start setting up? It’s helpful if you can!
- Real candles, tealights and naked flames, are they permitted? Are there any limitations?
- Loud fireworks, are they permitted?
- Is confetti permitted onsite?
- Are there any limitations on moving furniture around if you see fit?
- Ask to inspect the bathrooms.
- Do they have a cloakroom your guests can use? Inspect it if they do.
- Do they have a secure private dressing room you can use for changing, or for some quiet reflection on the wedding day or for storing wedding gifts?
- Check to see who is responsible for cleaning up at the end of the night. If additional fees are applicable, how much are they?
- Can the venue be used for a rehearsal a week or so prior to the wedding, at no extra charge?
- Ask to see the standard chairs and tables, cutlery, crockery and linen. Ask if any upgrades are available and get prices.
- Do you or your suppliers need a certain level of public liability insurance in order to hire the venue? Unfortunately some venues cut their overheads by passing on the cost of event insurance to those hiring the property rather than pay for it themselves.
TOP TIP: Take plenty of photos/film clips of the venue interior and exterior for reference.
- Once you have covered all these points you should ask the venue coordinator to put together a tailored quote based on your projected requirements. The quote will account for your chosen number of guests, catering and venue hire, as well as any other fees that might be applicable to your circumstances.
- Ask about their deposit and payment terms. And if it helps, also ask if you can set up an interest free monthly instalment plan.
- Then ask them to email you the minutes of the meeting so you have it all in black and white. Note you might need to chase them up for this. Or if there is a lot of information and you want to be thorough and get things moving quickly, it might be better for you to draw up the minutes yourself and email them over for the venue coordinator to agree to and sign off.
- Finally, before you depart the meeting ask for a copy of their booking form with terms and conditions. Then read it thoroughly on your way home just to make sure you haven’t missed anything!
NOTICE: the aim of this checklist is to highlight the most important factors that couples often fail to consider. We have therefore assumed you have familiarised yourself with the venue’s website/brochure and have an understanding of the basics such as:
- the venue’s style, location and accessibility
- room layout and capacities
- if you will be required to ‘turn a room around’ (note: lots of small and some medium venues only have one large internal room that they use for both the ceremony and dinner and dancing, ie after the ceremony the room is cleared and the tables and chairs are laid for dinner)
- music and dancing policy
- if dancing takes place in the same room as dinner or in a separate room
- local accommodation and transportation
POST PARTNER: International wedding planning website Wedding Wire have put together a host of other useful tips that are worth checking out here: www.weddingwire.co.uk/wedding-tips
For your convenience a printable copy of our wedding venue checklist is below: