Think Outside the Ballroom
For couples planning their wedding, the first (and most important) step is choosing the perfect venue. The ballroom is an obvious choice for many because of its convenience (a blank canvas, rooms for your guests, as well as onsite food and beverage), but ballrooms were meant to be one-size-fits-all event space and, because of this, they are so difficult to transform into a one-of-a-kind space for an unforgettable wedding. Because of this, you might be inclined to look for an off-the-beaten-path venue for your stunning soirée. And, while we're all for the idea of a unique venue, keep in mind unconventional venues also come with extra logistics—even the most meticulous couples and experienced wedding planners can make mistakes that can turn the most beautiful private estate, barn or remote location into a planning nightmare.
But, that's no reason to let little hurdles keep you from finding and booking the venue of your dreams! Just set yourself up for success by adding these 11 items to your planning checklist. Read on, and get ready to rock that unconventional venue!
1. The Contract
Take the time to make sure that you fully understand the framework of your agreement with the venue before planning out details; the last thing you want is to not be able to execute those amazing details you’ve planned due to rules and restrictions for the venue. You'll want to know about parking, restrooms, electricity, kitchens, lighting, noise restrictions, time restrictions, etc. Don’t make the rookie mistake of not reading your contract. Take some time to read it thoroughly, keeping in mind your must-have design/decor items while you do. If you're unsure of something, always talk to your wedding planner and venue representatives before signing on the dotted line.
2. Food & Beverage
A major bonus (and one of the main reasons why people seek out unconventional venues for their weddings) is the freedom of choosing a caterer. Hotels require the use of their onsite food and beverage services, so an off-the-beaten-path venue tends to be a better option for couples who are looking for a specific cuisine or want something a bit different than banquet catering.
It’s essential, then, that you make sure your caterer has experience at unconventional venues. Is there a kitchen provided? Do they need to build a kitchen? Is there a preferred catering list? Are there additional charges for bringing in an outside caterer? How much time will they need to set up, cook, and break down their equipment? Will they charge a fee for taking the trash? Are they licensed and insured? Asking these questions (and more) before booking the venue and hiring your caterer is a must! The last thing you want is to hire a caterer based strictly on a menu before considering all of the costs required for them to do their job at the venue you have chosen. Building a kitchen at an offsite venue can cost thousands of dollars—as can breaking a catering contract, so be sure your ducks are in a row before you sign a caterer.
3. Set Up
Make sure you ask about set up restrictions! Can you put a tent on the tennis court or on the lawn? Can you put a dance floor on the grass? Are candles allowed? Are firepits? How many hours do you have for set up? Can you get in the day before? How much time do you have to break down? What are the additional costs if more time is needed?
Setting up a wedding takes a small army, even at the most booked venues. Double check that you have enough time and resources to pull everything together on the wedding day. This means hiring a professional planner as well. A tent can take an entire day to set up and break down, so, if your tent company requires 8 hours for setup and you only have 4 hours per the venue contract, you’d better rethink that dream tent.
4. Noise Restrictions
One of the biggest cons with most unconventional event venues is the strict 10:00 p.m. cutoff time for noise. While you might originally think you're fine with having the music off by 10:00 p.m., what happens when you're in the midst of an epic dance party (duh) and suddenly you have to cut off the music and boot your guests (right as the party got started, no less!). You also want to ask the venue manager if you are able to breakdown and cleanup past 10:00 p.m. and confirm that you aren’t violating the noise restriction by doing so. You don't want to get fined or charged for silly misunderstandings. Ask, ask and then ask again. You need to be clear about the venue's rules so you (and your budget) aren't penalized.
5. Trash Removal
Most unconventional venues require that all trash that is brought in be taken at the end of the night (another reason to hire a planner—you and your new husband/wife don't want to spend your first married night hauling trash from your venue). It’s super important that you clearly communicate this with each vendor or hire a trash removal service.
6. Security Deposits & Damages
Hotels do not typically require a security deposit; unconventional venues do. Know that most off-the-beaten-path venues usually require a cash deposit, so be sure you have the funds available to cover this. And be mindful of damages. A private estate, for instance, may have white carpet, soft hardwood floors, antique furnishings, etc. The last thing you want is for a guest to set their glass on an antique table or spill a glass of red wine on the carpet that ends up costing you your security deposit. Even if all areas are open for use, restrict areas that are not necessary for the success of the event or that you don't want your guests spilling beer and cutting a rug in.
7. Parking & Transportation
Hotels or ballroom venues typically offer parking lots and valet (and even loading docks for vendors), making it quite convenient for guest and vendor arrivals. An unconventional event venue may not be that easy. What to consider? Is there ample room for parking either onsite or on neighboring streets to be able to offer valet? If not, is there are nearby church or school where guests can park and be shuttled in? Or is shuttling from a hotel required? Shuttling guests can be a safe and worry-free option for your guests and for the venue, but make sure to look at all of the details before booking shuttles to ensure the transportation runs seamless.
If your venue is more than 15 minutes away, do not have one shuttle on loop to go back and forth to bring guests to the venue. This can cause delays in the schedule, and you will need to consider those guests that arrive an hour before ceremony. Nobody wants to stand in the hot sun with no food, beverage or entertainment for an hour. Hire enough shuttles to get guests to the venue on time and around the same time. You definitely don’t the want the guests’ first experience of the evening to be waiting around for a shuttle, or waiting at the venue for the third shuttle-load of people to arrive 45 minutes after they did.
For vendors, make sure you know how many vendor vehicles can be parked on site as well as create a detailed load-in-and-load-out schedule if the venue has limited access and parking (this is something your wedding planner can help you with). Having all of your vendors arrive at the same time will cause a cluster of vehicles, which will bottleneck your set up schedule. Plan accordingly to avoid having to pay for additional set up hours or fees from the vendors.
8. Weather Backup Plan
Most unconventional venues (like a private estate or barn) are mostly outdoors. While you may have your reception scheduled in the barn, where will your ceremony be if it rains? How far is the nearest restroom, and is there coverage? Tents are a great option for a rain back-up plan, but be sure it’s in your budget—tents aren't cheap.
The same thing goes for the heat. You may plan a beautiful fall wedding, and all of a sudden it’s a 100+ degrees the weekend of your wedding. Don’t make the guests suffer for style. Plan for umbrellas, fans, and a refreshment station.
A hotel that offers catering will handle the cleanup and trash for all the food-and-beverage related items, but at an unconventional venue, more than likely everything that is brought in must be taken out. That includes food, bar, trash, florals, and anything else you can think of. As was mentioned above, hefty fees can be charged for trash that is left behind, so come up with a plan for trash ahead of time.
10. Vendor Restrictions
Before you start hiring your favorite wedding vendors, make sure to check with the venue and see if there are any preferred or required vendors that must be used. Most venues will have a preferred list for catering and bar, or event parking services. Be sure you know all the restrictions in advance. If you are bringing in vendors who are not on the venue's preferred list, make sure all of the vendors are licensed and insured, as almost every venue requires proof of insurance.
You might think this is obvious, but you’d be surprised. Are there bathrooms on site? How many? Are bathroom rentals required? A private estate, barn, and farm venue might not have enough restrooms onsite and, as such, may require a trailer. Even if there are bathrooms on site, are there enough? We suggest one bathroom for every 60 guests. If it’s an old venue or on a septic system, we strongly recommend one bathroom for every 50 guests. If a trailer is required, be sure to ask if water or electricity is needed and, if so, plan the placement of the trailer according to where you can access water and power. Restroom rental companies typically charge more for weekend delivery and pick ups, so be sure to inform them of the exact time for pickup and delivery before booking.
Hero Photo Courtesy of Joseph Hardin Films & Miller Imagery