Thursday, December 16, 2010

Choosing the right venue

I recently wrote an article on the importance of choosing the right wedding venue for a great website called Chicago Wedding Venues.  This site offers photos submitted by some of the city's best photographers of wedding venues in the Chicago area (city and suburbs).  How many of us have been turned off by the website photos of a certain venue only to visit in person and be wowed?  If you're in the market for your ideal wedding venue, definitely check the site out! 

You can read my original article here on the site, or see below.  I hope you find it helpful!  What are some of your favorite venues in the Chicagoland area?

The Importance of Choosing the Right Venue

After selecting your life partner, your choice of venue is the most important decision you’ll make during the wedding planning process! The venue defines your event style:  formal or casual; soft and romantic, or bright and cheerful.  It will even determine how well your other vendors can do their jobs: the lighting affects your photographer, your band or DJ will thank you if your dance floor is placed among your tables instead of at the far end of the room, etc.  Once you have the perfect venue the stage is set for all of your other planning decisions.  I’ve included here the major aspects you should consider as you begin your search.

Budget  Don’t just compare rental fee to rental fee—consider what is included.  Some venues come with tables and chairs for your use while others include the use of the space only.  Those rental items certainly add up, so make sure you’ve gotten the whole story.

Capacity It is equally as uncomfortable to have one hundred guests seated in a ballroom intended for five hundred as it is to try to squeeze 300 guests into a room with the capacity for 250.  All venues have a max capacity that they will likely have on their website or in their information packets, but one of my favorite questions to ask a venue coordinator is what their ideal number of guests is in a room—enough to fill the space but not feel crowded.  Before you begin with the search have a good idea of your invitation list (and remember to account for the 10-25% of your list that will decline). 
 Logistics  If you plan to be married at a location other than the reception venue, think about how your guests will get from one place to another—will you provide transport or are you expecting your guests to drive themselves?  If you are holding the ceremony on-site, will it be outside?  If so, have a contingency plan in place ahead of time that the venue staff, your caterer, and all others involved are comfortable with.  Plan to hold the ceremony in the same room as the reception?  Make certain you have a place for your guests to have cocktails while the room setup is changed over.

Style As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, your venue sets the tone for your event.  If you have always wanted “country chic,” dragging hay bales into the Marriott Grand Ballroom won’t do the trick.  The same goes for trying to create a romantic and opulent feel with the stark clean lines of the Art Institute Modern Wing.  Let the space guide the décor—don’t force it!

Feel Don’t ignore that little voice in your head!  If your gut tells you “this place is the one,” go for it!  At this point in your planning almost nothing is set in stone, so allow yourself the luxury of changing your original ideas about wedding date, guest count, and style to match with your dream venue.

            Aside from these categories, there are some other characteristics to avoid in a venue as you are learning about each venue.  I am personally not a fan of the venues where multiple events will be taking place at once.  No matter what the catering manager says, you CAN hear the music from the other party, and it is incredibly awkward when your soft-spoken grandmother begins her pre-dinner blessing while Get Low is blasting from the other room. 
            Read reviews of the venue on Yelp, Wedding Wire, and other rating sites.  If you see couples talking about hidden fees or impossible-to-deal-with venue contacts it may not be worth the trouble.  By discounting both the highest and lowest rated reviews you should be able to get a pretty good read on the average couple’s experience.
            Finally, as important as it is to use a good feeling to allow yourself to choose a venue you might not have otherwise, if you get a bad vibe from a venue, head the other way!  Instincts can be a powerful indicator of the way you’ll feel spending one of life’s most important days there.

            Below is a list of some of the questions I hear a lot from clients as we enter the venue selection process.

1.     What is included?  This can vary greatly from place to place.  Make sure you get a complete list of everything the venue has for your use so you can take stock of what you’ll have to bring in.
2.     How long will we have to set up?  Most venues allow you an hour or two on either end of your rental period for setup and tear down.  Anything beyond that can cost extra.  These details should be listed in either their information sheets or on the contract.
3.     Where will my guests park?  If your venue is in the city parking can be a major factor in your guests’ experience at your wedding.  If there is not a lot specifically intended for the venue, ask about valet or nearby lots that can be rented.
4.     Are there any rules applying to my on-site ceremony?  Some venues have rules about use of candles, where food or beverage can be consumed, or even whether or not religious ceremonies are allowed!  If you plan to hold your ceremony on-site, ask these questions first.  You wouldn’t want to be surprised after it is too late.
5.     Does the venue keep a preferred vendor list?  If you have your heart set on a specific cake vendor, florist, or caterer, ask if the venue has any mandates about who is allowed to work in their space. 

            It is so tough to decide on a favorite when each venue seems to be “perfect” for a different couple.  I’ve given my favorites here in three categories: 

Traditional and Romantic:  Any of the Chicago Cultural Center’s three spaces are perfect for creating a classically beautiful wedding environment.  You can’t go wrong with the ornate ceilings, Tiffany Domes, and cultural significance (it was formerly the Chicago Public Library) of this stunning space.  Plus, its central location means your guests are within walking distance of many of Chicago’s major attractions like the Art Institute, Millennium Park, and Symphony Center.

Funky and Eclectic:  You won’t have to worry about anyone calling your wedding “ho hum” if you host it at Salvage One!  Your guests will spend the cocktail hour wandering amongst Salvage One’s architectural salvage and furniture finds (they can even purchase something if they fall in love with it!).  Or, on a nice day send them out to mingle in the courtyard with the bathtub waterfall and altar surrounded by a moat.  The upstairs holds the band or dj, dining tables, and one of the largest bars you’ll find this side of Clark Street.  Just before wedding day, walk around the store with Salvage One staff so they can move your favorite pieces up as part of a lounge setup! 

Natural Beauty:  Garfield Park Conservatory is a natural haven on the west side of Chicago.  Your guests get to enter through a tropical rainforest as they head into the reception room inside the conservatory.  In the summer, ceremonies are hosted on the Blue Stone Patio just outside of the desert exhibit and overlooking a grassy knoll.  And, any areas of the conservatory they missed going to and from your wedding sites guests can explore throughout the evening.  Lower your wedding’s carbon footprint by encouraging guests to arrive by public transit—Garfield Park Conservatory is just steps away from the Green Line’s Conservatory/Central Park stop!
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