Choosing a Venue – Asking the Right Questions

Nov 21, 2014 | Adult Parties & Events, Bridal and Baby Showers, DIY Kid's Parties, Parties, Weddings | 0 comments

Chuck E. Cheese Birthday Party


One of the first things you must decide on when you’ve decided to host an event is venue.  Whether you’re planning a kid’s party, a wedding, or a family reunion, you need to know WHERE you’re holding this affair.

When planning all our events, including 2 weddings, choosing the right venue proved to be the most difficult  decision we had to make.  The venue had to fit our date, guest count, budget, and most importantly our expectations.  It was time consuming and at times frustrating.  We learned many things about fees, service charges, rules, and more.  Some venues are more flexible and others, so it helps to know what your expectations are.

When looking at venues you need to keep your budget, guest count, and date in mind and know the right questions to ask.  It’s helpful if you list them in the order of importance as you may have to compromise on one or the other to secure your venue.

If your party will be at your home consider the following:

1.  Can your home and/or backyard accommodate your guest count comfortably?
2.  Does your neighborhood have ample parking?
3.  Will your neighbors be okay with the extra noise and traffic your event may create?
4.  Do you need to rent anything to accommodate your guests?  Tents, tables, chairs, linens, etc.

If you’re considering hosting the event at a restaurant, ballroom, banquet hall, country club, etc. these are the 2 most important questions:

1.  What do venue fees include?  Tables, chairs, linens, decor, audio visual equipment,  security, kitchen facilities, clean-up, event insurance, guest parking,  etc.

2.  What are the venue requirements?

  • Must you purchase food and beverages from them or can you bring your own caterer and bartenders?
  • What is the service charge and what do they cover?
  • Can you bring your own cake?
  • Can you use your own vendors (photographer, DJ, entertainment, etc)?
  • When and how can you reserve the venue?  Some venues will only reserve dates up to 6 months before the event, others require more time for popular dates.  Most venues require a deposit upon reserving, deposits may be non-refundable.
  • Guest parking – Is there ample parking?  Is there a charge and who is expected to pay it?  Some venues will charge you for parking, it will be added to your final bill, others charge guests who use their parking lot.

Beware of “FREE” venues, most of them will require that you purchase everything from them and will add service fees plus tax to your purchases.  Fees and taxes can add up to almost 30% of your purchase.

It may be cheaper to pay a venue fee of $500 and bring your own vendors  than going with the FREE venue that requires you to use their catering, linens, DJ, photographers, etc.

Assuming you have a 100 guests and the venue’s caterer charges $50/guest.  Your bill will come out to $5000 PLUS service charge of 20% or more (most venues charge anywhere from 21% on up) PLUS tax.  Service charge alone will be $1000.   So do your math!

We’ve held events in many types of venues.  The easiest of course is at home where you have free reign and are limited mainly by space.

Backyard Halloween Party



Bridal Showers at our home

Here is a brief run down of what we’ve experienced in other venues we’ve used.

Community Centers/Halls  –  These by far seem to be the most flexible.  Some will require that the person renting the facility live in the community or be a member of the organization renting out the space.

You can usually bring your own food, drinks, and vendors.  Most have kitchens for your use, but not to cook, just for warming food you or your caterers brought in.  Some may not allow alcohol consumption on the property and may require you hire security for larger functions.

They usually include tables, chairs, and some audio visual equipment you can plug mobile devices to.  You must however bring your own linens and tableware.

Rental fees will give you set-up time where you can decorate as long as you follow their rules, i.e. no nails on walls.  You will also be alloted clean-up time, there will usually be a fee if you fail to clean up properly.  Check with the facility for a list of all their rules and regulations before you sign a contract or leave a deposit.


“Arabian Nights” Welcome Dinner at our Community Center

Restaurants –  Many restaurants have private party rooms that can accommodate different sized functions.  All restaurants will require that food and beverage be purchased from them.  Most do have catering or banquet menus and will work with you to customize it to fit your needs.

All restaurants will add a service fee to the entire bill, service charges can run anywhere from 15% – 20%+.  Sales tax is added to the entire bill, meaning the service charge is subject to tax as well.

Functions at restaurants will of course include everything needed for food service.  Many will include a simple centerpiece on each table.  Many will allow you to bring in your own decor including specialty linens, centerpieces, etc.  Some may allow you to bring your own cake and even your own wine, although a cake cutting fee or corkage may be charged.

If you’re hosting a large event, one that will take up the seating capacity of the restaurant, you might be able to negotiate a buy out.  As a rule your event date can not be during peak season and busy nights.  I recently negotiated a buy out at a waterfront restaurant in Kingwood, Texas.  I worked directly with the owner who designed a special menu that included 3 courses and beverages for a Sunday evening function.  I got the charge down to $5000 including service fees and taxes for 100 guests.  Unfortunately my mother decided to hold her party elsewhere.

Some restaurants, Chuck E. Cheese, Dave & Buster’s, Farrell’s, to name a few,  are ideal for hosting kid’s parties as they have entertainment and activities for the guests.  They usually have reasonably priced party packages that you must purchase from them and provide party hosts to keep your guests entertained.  Most of them usually allow you to bring your own cake.

Hosting your event at a restaurant allows you to enjoy your own party.  An added plus is no cooking and clean-up!

Chuck E. Cheese allows you to bring your own cake

Hotels, Country Clubs, Resorts, and other “traditional” venues  –  These types of venues usually have more requirements and all add service charges.  They will almost always require that all food and beverages be purchased from them and that you use only their approved vendors for music, entertainment, cake, specialty linens, decor,  and photography.  Some may be more flexible than others.

These types of venues are basically all inclusive and offer different packages and will work with you to fit your needs and budget.  You will more than likely be working with their event  planner which helps make planning less stressful.  Just remember that the service charge and taxes can account for almost 30% of the final bill.

If your planning an event away from home these venues will make it easier. Their event planner can help you not only with the event, but with guest accommodations and activities as well.  You and your guests can stay at the hotel or resort where the event will be held.  Many hotels and resorts offer special room rates for event guests, after all selling rooms is their main business.

Wedding at The Mix in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Resort, Las Vegas

You should also know that most venues who require you purchase food and beverages from them make the biggest profits off your bar tab,  drinks can run about $5+ per non-alcoholic drink and $10+ per alcoholic drink, cocktail, or wine. Most places have several beverage options which can be beverage packages, hosted and non-hosted bars.  Some will charge bar set-up fees or require a minimum guarantee for no host bars.

Alternative Venues – If you want something “different” you may need to think outside the box and consider alternative venues such as parks, museums, barns, and even zoos.  Thinking out of the box generally involves more work on your part; you may need to arrange for equipment rentals and caterers among other things.  It can give you more flexibility and may work better with your budget.  However it doesn’t necessarily mean a big savings, it may in fact cost you more.  As a rule I’ve found that an alternative venue doesn’t mean cheaper, it just means that you can get more for your dollars.  That 20%+ service charge can be used towards better food, decor, and other extras you may have on your wish list.


Wedding at a Cultural Park on the Beach


Birthday Party at the Community Park



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