The Wedding Whisperer’s How To: pick your caterer /reception venue

When it comes to choosing your venue and/or caterer, your first question will most likely be:
Are you available on [wedding date]?  But once you’ve got that established, what should you ask next?!

I’ve complied a [not very short] list of the questions you should know the answers to before you confirm your booking.  You don’t necessarily need to ASK all of them, but here’s some things to keep in mind when you’re making your choice:

It’s a good idea to research at least 3 options, even if you have a clear favourite. If possible, arrange at each option to meet directly with the person with whom you will be liasing for your planning. You should be able to establish a good rapport with the event coordinator or host, and feel confident that they can orchestrate your event to your requirements.
If you’re selecting a venue, visit the space so that you can get an idea of how much room there is, whether the decor will compliment or clash with your colour scheme, etc.

COSTS: Even in the early stages, you should be able to get a ballpark figure to compare costs. When you’re asking for a ballpark quote, make sure you use the same numbers at each venue, of course!

Questions to ask include:

How are the charges calculated? Is there a set fee and/or a per-head charge? Maybe I’m cheely, but I reckon it’s always worth asking whether there are any criteria [day, date, party size etc] that might attract off-peak or discounted rates.
Is there a discount or surcharge for a significantly large or smaller than average number of guests?6036
How long is your booking for? Is there a time limit on your celebration?
Is it possible, and/or how much will it cost to extend that deadline, if required?
Are there any regulations in place regarding noise level, sale/consumption of alcohol, etc?

Exactly what is included in the charges?
What is NOT included? Some quotes will include everything, down to table decorations. Some quotes won’t even provide tables!
Will the meal be a set menu, or will guests have an option of entrees, mains and desserts?
How do they cater for with guests with special dietary requests?
Are any drinks included in the price? [Often not alcohol, but what about juice, or tea and coffee?]
Can you supply your own wines, or must you have the house brand? Can you bring in personalised wines or specialty liqueurs? Is there a corkage fee?  Do you need to provide a bartender?

Who does what? Are you able to arrange some of the details, and/or comparison shop, or are you required to use the suppliers recommended by the venue?

Once you have a written quote, are prices subject to change?
What is the policy for deposits and cancellation fees?

Specific to choosing a venue: If possible, have a look at photos of other recent functions at the venue. Ask specific questions about what you see: “Is THAT included in this quote or is it extra?”
Are you able to decorate the venue and/or gardens?
What are the options in extremely cold, wet or even hot weather? Is there adequate shelter from sun, wind or rain? Does the venue provide additional heating or cooling if required? May you set up a marquee?

What is the time-line for set up and pack down? How early can the decorators, florist, musicians, techs, etc get access to the venue to start setting up? What is the deadline for removing any decorations after the event?
What is the absolutely latest that the last guest will have to be gone by?

How much of the venue space will you have access to?
Can guests use any surrounding garden areas?
What is the policy on rice, confetti, etc.
Will you have sole use of the venue, or will it be open to the public, or hosting another group elsewhere on-site?
If it is a multi function site, how private will your function be?
And how well will your function be signposted? [you don’t want your guests turning up at the wrong wedding breakfast!]
When fully placed, does the set-up allow for ease of movement for elderly or disabled guests?

What are the toilets like? Seriously. Go and have a look at them. Remember it’s these seemingly little, unimportant things that will build or detract from your event as a whole. If not for the sake of your guests, then for the fact that the bride’s gonna need to use the ladies room at least once.
Will there be sufficient parking for all your guests [and any suppliers’ delivery vehicles]?

Ha! And, I’ve just noticed that all of these questions don’t make any real mention of the specifics of what the actual food is like! sigh.

I know, when you lay it all out like this, it seems a tad OCD, and yet… Your reception is a very improtant component of the event as a whole. Asking the right questions at the beginning of the process will help you to choose the best venue for your requirements, and help you have the best wedding possible!

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