Venues: Making the Right Choice
Choosing the right venue is one of the key ingredients for a successful event. Before you make up your mind, take the time to meet with a venue representative and go armed with a list of questions that will assist you in making an informed decision. These questions will of course need to be tailored to suit the type of event you’re planning; the rooms and facilities that are required for running an exhibition or conference are very different to those for a wedding or Christmas party. To help you on your way, here’s a few considerations that won’t necessarily be a deal breaker, but will help you to make an informed decision:
Do you know the exact date of your event? If you’re tied-in to a specific date, you’ll need to check availability right up-front with the venue. There’s no point in proceeding with your super sleuthing if the room/s are already booked out on the dates you need them. This is especially true when it comes to an event that requires multiple rooms such as a conference that may need to be booked a few years in advance. If it’s a single room event such as a wedding and the room you want is booked out, check if they have other rooms available on the day.
Sounds easy enough. You just need to look at Google Maps to find out where the venue’s located but don’t stop there – make sure you look beyond the boundaries of the actual building:
• Is their public transport close by?
• Is there accommodation where guests can stay following a late-night event?
• Are cabs easily available?
• Are there shops in the local area? Always handy if you suddenly need a chemist, a doctor or even a phone charger that you’ve left at home.
• For conferences and large events, is there an airport close by?
• If a large event, are their local restaurants, cafes and activities to enjoy?
Before you even get to a meeting with the venue, have a very good idea of guest/delegate numbers and the room/s that you’re going to need. This can certainly be tweaked along the way but you’ll still need to have a good grasp on the essential areas that will be required:
• How many rooms does the venue have?
• Are any of them purpose built like a theatre or ballroom that may be perfect for your needs?
• How many people does each room hold, especial given COVID-19 restrictions?
• Is there an area for Welcome Drinks if required?
• Will you need dressing rooms?
• If it’s a conference, will you require a large plenary session room and also break-out facilities?
• Is there a foyer area or similar for morning or afternoon teas or pre-dinner drinks?
• For a wedding you may need a private retreat room for the bride and groom.
Room Capacity vs Seating Configuration
When deciding on rooms, don’t just look at capacity - also ask about the capacity depending on the seating configuration. The type of event will more often than not dictate the seating configuration required. No use the venue telling you a room holds 150 theatre style when you decide later on that you want 150 classroom style – it’s just not going to fit.
The seating layout, whether it be theatre style, classroom style, banquet or even cabaret, will give you a very different result as to how many you can fit into the room. (link to TB blog on seating arrangements). So spend a bit of time on this one and do your homework:
• If you’re going to need to change the seating configuration during the course of the event (particularly relevant for conferences or seminars), does the venue have the capacity to change from theatre style seating into a banquet within a given amount of time. Some venues will charge you extra for this whilst others may not have the staff resources to achieve what you want.
• Will you need a stage and/or a dance floor in the room? Do you need other features that are going to affect the capacity such as a photo area, silent auction tables, pre-dinner drink area or guest chill-out lounge as these will all affect your final numbers.
• Ask the venue if they have floor plans they can give you that shows the different setups; especially ones that include a stage and dance floor if this is a major consideration.
Food & Beverage
Let’s face it, most events will require some sort of food and beverage so make sure the venue offers catering. Once you’ve established this then it’s down to details:
• Do they have their own in-house catering or do they have an external supplier? Whatever their answer, make sure you check out the internet what previous guests have had to say about the food.
• Can you get a copy of the menu?
• Do they have set menus for particular events? For example is there a conference delegate package that includes lunch and morning / afternoon teas? Are there special menus for weddings or even high teas depending on your requirements?
• Is the chef open to changes in the menu if required? You may like the chicken in mustard-cream sauce but prefer it with a salad rather that roasted vegetables so can this be accommodated?
• Can the chef tailor a menu for your requirements? If you’re having a themed dinner, can chef produce catering to tie in with the theme?
• Do they have a package price for 2 or 3 courses and is this based on a minimum number of guests?
• Are they agreeable to having a food tasting so you can select your menu? Does this cost extra and how many people can attend (this is usually between 2-4 depending on the size of the event).
• Does it cost extra to have alternate meals on the night for example one guest at a table gets beef and the next gets chicken? Can you do this for all courses or just the main?
• Do they have a beverage package? If so, what does it include, how long is it for and is there a minimum or maximum number of guests? Also make sure that if they run out of one of the beverage items on the night that it will be replaced with a product of equal quality. No use paying $60 per person for a great package that includes a beautiful Chablis and have it suddenly become Chateau Cardboard half way through the night.
• Is there a corkage charge for weekends or public holidays?
• If you want to bring in your own beverages, what is the corkage charge per head? If you are intending on doing this, make sure you ask the question as corkage can range from anything between $8pp up to $30pp. Unbelievable but true!
Whether you need a DJ for a wedding, just a lectern and mic or a full-on audio/visual set up for your 3 day extravaganza, some form of production is an absolute necessity. To get you started, here’s a few important considerations to take into account and to check with the venue:
• Does the venue have their own in-house production team? If they do, but you want to use another company, are you able to do this?
• If you can use an outside production team, the more information that you can tell them about your event and the venue, the more they’ll love you for it.
• What are the room dimensions and ceiling heights? You can’t have beautiful swags of chiffon drapes wafting across the ceiling if it’s only 4m high.
• Are there sightline problems in the room? Especially important if you don’t want guests sitting behind a pillar or being so far left or right of the stage they can’t see what’s going on.
• If there’s natural light coming into the room and you’re going to be using screens, does the room have black-out capabilities?
• Power outlets and usage – will you require single phase power or are you going to need 3-phase. If 3-phase, make sure they have it. Also check that the venue can run power to where it’s going to be required.
• Acoustics will be an important consideration especially when entertainment or speakers are involved. There’s nothing like being in a room where the clatter of plates drowns out everything happening on stage.
• If you’re going to need to hang anything from the ceiling, whether it be a lighting bar, chandelier or a backdrop, find out if this is possible. And if you’re able to use an outside production company, ask the venue for a floor plan of the rigging points in the room/s.
• Will you require video projection for your event? If so are there built-in screens in the room or will they need to be hired in?
Hours of Operation
Most venues have very specific hours of operation in which they operate. Find out what these hours are and if there are any penalties for going overtime. A venue may close at midnight but often there’s a per-head or flat fee (usually whichever is the greater), that you’ll be able to pay to extend the event by an hour or so. Sometimes the venue is unable to do this due to noise restrictions placed on them by local council, but there’s no harm in asking.
Facilities & Extras
Don’t ever presume! I’m sure you’ve heard that plenty of times before and so it’s the same with venues. You may think that certain items will be provided free of charge or that a stage comes with the room at no additional cost but you’d often be wrong. Here’s a few things to check out that you may not have considered and may also need to be included in both your budget and pre-planning list.
• Loading docks always make life so much easier. Ask if they have one, what are the hours of operation and any other restrictions they have on its use. Also find out if the venue has a forklift for unloading or even pallet jacks. To be able to load-in production equipment or even boxes of flowers for the table makes like so much easier.
• Where is your room/s compared to where the delivery vehicle/s will be unloading your items. Do the crew need to go upstairs or is there an access lift? Are the lifts and doors wide enough to allow for access by trolleys and large items?
• Trollies – often forgotten about but great to know the venue can lend you a couple if they have them so ask the question.
• Dressing rooms – if you’re having entertainment or just need a place for your guest speaker or even bride and groom to chill out, it’s a great addition. If the venue does have dressing rooms, can they be included in your contract?
• Smoking area – yes, people still do smoke so there needs to be somewhere for them to go. Find out where this is and also that ashtrays are provided. Some venues don’t provide ashtrays so you need to hire them in or make alternative arrangements.
• Bathrooms are an absolute necessity and the closer they are to your room the better. Will the guests need to walk 10m or 100m to get to the toilets and will there be plenty available?
• A registration area is particular important for the likes of conferences or any event where guests need to register before entering. Ask if there’s a designated registration area or what’s the best location for setting up trestle tables for the same purpose. For a large conference you may even need to hire in registration desks from an external supplier so make sure you have enough room in the foyer or an alternate location to set these up and also enough space for queuing.
• Some events, such as break-out sessions for conferences and think-tanks, still like to use flip charts. Does the venue have these available? If so, are they complimentary with the room but do you need to provide your own flip-chart paper and pens?
• Cloakrooms are not often thought about but in winter when many guests are wearing coats or it’s pouring with rain outside, a cloakroom comes in very handy. Does the venue have one and if not, where could it be set up? Would they have staff to man the cloakroom or do you need to supply your own?
• Front-of-House Staff are great to have assisting you for an event whether small or large. They can help in directing guests around the venue, checking tickets, assisting with registration or showing guests to their table. If you’re lucky enough to have staff or friends to help you with these tasks then it’s one thing you can tick off the list but if not, consider hiring staff and ask the venue if they have this service available.
• First-aid facilities, whether it be an actual sickroom or venue staff that have a current first-aid certificate, it’s something to be aware of. You hopefully won’t need it during your event but great peace-of-mind to know it’s there.
Quite often venues will have their own room décor that can be provided – sometimes complimentary and sometimes at a price. Even if complimentary, what they have may not be the style or colour of the chair cover that you’re looking for or their table centres may not suit your theme. Find out what they have in-house, what comes with the room and what you’ll need to bring. Here are some of the more basic items to consider and ask about:
• Table and chairs are most likely a complimentary items that are included in the hire but even so, there are venues where they will need to be hired. This could be from the venue itself or from an external supplier but don’t take it for granted and check to make sure. If the venue has its own tables, how many guests can fit at the table and what shape are they? Although the most popular shape tends to be an 1800mm wide round table, some venues have rectangular or even oval tables so if hiring your own, make sure of the shape you’ll need.
• Tablecloths – if it’s a dinner, then most venues provide tablecloths but quiet often you’ll have a limited choice of white or even black. If you want a specific colour, can the venue organise this for you or do you have to source your own?
• Chair covers aren’t usually provided by the venue or like the table clothes, they may have a limited colour selection. As the labour required for chair covers to go on and off can be quite expensive, find out the cost of venue staff doing this. If it’s a free service then great, but always check.
• Table centres can really create the atmosphere in a room and provides a focal point for the table. Often a venue will have a small selection that you can choose from but if it’s a themed event you may have to hire a table centre that’s in keeping with your theme. Check out what the venue can supply and if there’s a cost before going out and sourcing your own.
As many venues have a limited supply of all the additional bells and whistles you’ll need for your event, quite often they’ve teamed up with local suppliers who will be able to help you out. You don’t have to use these suppliers however they usually know the venue and its staff very well and can offer you both their knowledge and a fair price for their services. Depending on the type of event, here’s few suppliers you may need if the venue is unable to supply the service themselves:
• Furniture Hire
• Exhibition stand builders
• Registration service
• Front-of-house staff
• Computer hire
• Transport (local coach company, taxis and transfer limos)
Nowadays everyone wants to drive so a venue with parking facilities is a bonus.
• Is there a parking fee? If there is, are attending guests able to get a free pass?
• As the organiser of the event, do you get any free parking passes?
• Do your suppliers, such as production team, need to pay for their parking or can you get parking passes for them or even a flat fee that’s a discounted price?
• What are the opening hours of the parking area?
• If it’s a large event, find out the capacity of the carpark to make sure there’ll be enough space for guests or delegates.
• What is access like between the carpark and venue. Is it underground and serviced by a lift or stairs? If not underground, is it close to the entrance to the building and is there an undercover walkway which is especially important if it’s raining.
• If underground, what’s the clearance height?
• If it’s a large event that you’re holding and you have trucks waiting to load up at the end of the event, is there somewhere for them to park while they wait?
What Else is Happening on the day of your event?
Whether a large convention centre or a wedding venue, always find out what other events or activities will be happening on the same day as your event. You wouldn’t be too happy if your event is an evening church service only to find that next door the local football club is having its annual awards night.
• Ask the venue to keep you up-to-date on any bookings that may affect yours - both might need the use of the foyer; one for pre-dinner drinks and the other for registration.
• Two events on the same night may also require the use of dressing rooms – hence the reason why you have dressing rooms included in your contract if possible.
• If there are other events in-house on the day, ask what the soundproofing of your room/s are like. Some venues have great acoustic walls between rooms but nothing will stop the sound of a band rehearsal or sound check from intruding into your space.
• Is there any potential building works in the pipeline? They might not be doing any renovations now, but in 6 months’ time who knows what might be happening.
• Consider other events or activities that may be in the local area that could potentially impact on your well planned event. You won’t be happy to find out your guests are unable to park because there’s a local street festival that night and roads have been closed and parking spaces are few and far between.
• Is there’s an event before or after yours that’s going to affect your setup or pulldown time? Big events often go overtime in getting their equipment out so if you’re using the same room and you’re on a tight timeline, this could have a big impact if you have your own crew waiting to bump-in.
• If there is another event back-to-back with yours, check out the possibility of sharing the cost on certain items. For example if they have some great lighting that was brought in for their event, can it be left where it is so you can use it too and both share the expense. If they have a dance floor or stage in place, can you also use the same setup to either cut down on costs or save time in having to reset the room?
To be able to put together your budget, the costs associated with booking a venue need to be accurately assessed. Make sure the following is asked, and taken note of, before signing on the dotted line:
• What is the payment procedure? Is there an initial deposit and then a series of increment payments prior to the event or do they want a lump sum up front?
• What is the cancellation policy? Do you get your full deposit back if you need to cancel or lose a portion of it?
• If a big setup is required, be sure to ask what event is happening in the same room both before and after yours and also what time you have the room from. If you need the day prior to get everything done on time and nobody else has booked the room, ask if they offer a half day rate for setup/pulldown days.
• If you’re planning on using the same venue for an annual event, they may be happy to offer you a 3-year contract at a reduced rate.
• If you need to hire staff from the venue, is there a minimum call time as even if you just need a staff member for one hour to help on registration, you may still need to pay for three hours.
• For a large multi-faceted event, will you be booking out the whole venue or only certain rooms on certain days? It’s sometimes cheaper to book the whole venue rather than 70-80% of it and you then have the luxury of having additional space to play with – but don’t forget to ask the venue what the difference in the cost would be. However if you only want a few rooms, don’t end up booking more than you’ll ultimately need. Once you sign a contract and pay your deposit, you may not get your money back if numbers decline and the rooms will sit there empty on the day while you’re paying for them.
• Are there any surcharges on weekends or public holidays?
Signing the Contract
And when you’re finally satisfied that you’ve found the perfect venue to hold your event:
• Read and then reread the Terms & Conditions – yes, even the small print! Make sure you understand what’s written there and if not, ask someone else to read it for you and explain anything that’s not clear so that you completely understand both yours and the venues obligations.
• Make sure that all additional items that’ve been agreed to with the venue have been included.
• Keep a copy of the contract that’s been signed by both yourself and the venue representative.
So, you’ve finally chosen and secured your venue, signed on the dotted line and ready to get down to the nitty gritty of planning your event. Selecting the right venue for your needs is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for producing a successful event and now that you’ve made that choice the hard work, with a little bit of fun thrown in, really begins.