Here's the thing about scouting wedding venues that you have to remember: they are not only trying to sell you, but they are trying to sell you when your emotions are at an all time high. This is a totally dangerous combination. So when it comes down to it, as romantic and amazing as the whole process can be, underneath it, it's like any other sales process where you they will give you the fairy tale, and bury the nitty gritty until after you sign on. So before you sign any contracts, make sure you're not drinking too much of the koolaid and ask these 7 questions. You'll not only get the full picture, but you'll leverage your negotiating power. Ultimately, booking your wedding will come down to contracts, and like all contracts everything is negotiable.
1. What Can You Offer Us? Is This The Best You Can Do?
I know it feels a little funky to get all business-like with your wedding vendors, but it's helpful to click into business mode every now and then, especially considering how much money you're spending. The more specific you can be in your asks, the better. For example, we're getting married at a hotel so we specifically asked for 3 free nights and for the room rental fee to be waived. They gave us the free nights and while they didn't waive the room fee, they did slash its price. Personally, I feel like if you're bringing a certain level of revenue into their property, you should get as much in return as possible.
2. If our guest count, and thus budget, increases, can you give us anything further?
We did not ask this until later in the game and I wish we asked from the outset! I underestimated my guest count by at least 75 guests! Had I known that we would be spending thousands of more dollars on our food and beverage budget, nevermind the revenue we were bringing to the hotel in overnight rooms, I might have been able to get more.
3. What Events Do you have going on the weekend of our wedding?
If your venue has multiple event spaces, it is really key to know how much of the property and staff you will be sharing with another event and where any other events will be located. You certainly don't want to be battling for attention, service or noise control the day of your wedding.
4. What will I have to rent?
Holy god is this an important question. Rentals -- even napkin rentals -- are not cheap. If you can come to the table with even a little bit of your vision (or what is not part of your vision) that will be super helpful in your negotiating. I didn't factor in that our venue's tables, chairs and tablecloths were not going to work with the look and feel of our wedding. My sister had her wedding at one of the most high end resorts on the Cape and she was thrilled with it, but in the process she was a little shocked that it did not come with anything-- she had to rent the tent, tables, chairs and plates -- it was nearly as much work as a backyard wedding.
5. Are there any hidden fees?
I asked this question upfront and the Sales Director laughed, but then she came out with some tough info: our venue comes with TWO taxes- state taxes and resort taxes. Most venues will also have minimums you must meet for food and beverage and for waitstaff's hours. Make sure the grand total, not the initial quote, still works within your budget.
6. Where do bands play from?What does THE dance floor look like?
If you're like me and dancing makes or breaks a wedding, get this questioned answered asap. I've heard more than a few stories about venues' quirky sound and space limitations where the band is placed on a balcony, in a side room, or even outside the tent... If you're spending thousands on music, the last thing you want is a disconnect between the band and your dance party. Make sure the band's placement doesn't change with headcount too- some rooms configure totally differently based on your party size; an increase of even 10 guests can affect the layout dramatically. I also found out well into the process that our venue's dance floor is totally beat up while my sister found out the day before her wedding while it was being installed that the dance floor they rented was too small for their final headcount.
7. What time do we have to shut it down?
This is so key, especially if your venue is in a resort town or neighborhood, where you may have to be out as early as 10pm. Knowing the end time will affect everything from the time you book your ceremony to the effort and money you might allocate for an after party.