Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Where's The Party At? Finding The Perfect Venue For Your Bash In 10 Easy Steps

You've decided to throw a fabulous party. Congratulations! If you are looking to go all-out for a special occasion and host your soiree at a venue, you are definitely in for a fun time. Venues come in variety of shapes, sizes, and locations. Some come with in-house catering, tables, chairs, china, glassware, sound systems and lighting systems. They are professionally insured, hold fire permits and have dedicated fire exits and extinguishers placed around the room, so the boring, icky stuff is handled by them – not you. Following our 10 steps below will allow you to look at venues through the eyes of an event producer and will give you a leg up in finding the one that's absolutely perfect for your bash!

1) Think about the types of venues you want to have your event at.  There are so many to choose from and the different types have their own quirks and characteristics about them, which make them great contenders. Hotels are cost-effective because they come with a lot of in-house amenities, like tables, chairs, basic lighting and a caterer. If you have a bigger budget to work with, you can consider a raw space, which is basically a blank canvas with a million possibilities! They’re a bit more costly because of the need to bring in tables, chairs, linens, a dance floor, coat racks, kitchen equipment, staging, lighting, and more. Some of JG’s favorite raw spaces include lofts, large industrial spaces, top floors, castles, caves, and off-the-beaten-path tracts of land. Jot down the basics of your event. This includes things like the number of guests you’ll be inviting, the locale you want your event held in or near, the start and end times of your event, your budget, and specific activities that must happen. This list will be a great tool in starting to narrow down the giant ocean of venues to a small pool.

2) Do your homework! Once you've figured out your specifics, it's time to start researching venues that meet your criteria. For example: do you have a lot of guests coming in from out of town? Looking for a venue within walking distance of the hotel they'll be staying at could significantly shrink your list. Do you have a large head count for the event? Finding a place with a large capacity may be in order. JG recommends at last four feet dedicated to each guest for a sit-down dinner and at least eight feet per person on the dance floor. Browse venue websites for information. Pick up the phone and call to ask for photos, floor plans, rules and regulations, catering info, preferred vendors, and any other information they can provide you with.

3) Stay organized! We're all about binders with divider tabs for everything. Finding the right venue can be a difficult task; there’s no reason to add to the stress with disorganization. The easier you make it for yourself, the more fun you’ll have putting together your festive occasion!

4) Schedule a tour of the venues you've narrowed down. Make sure to give yourself enough time to properly view each venue, ask every question you can think of (see #6 below) and to travel between venues. If the venues you’ll be visiting are OK with it, schedule your visits within a time range (i.e. an arrival time between 2:30–3:00pm) to account for spending too much or too little time at the previous venue on your tour. If you’re traveling by foot, stay hydrated! If you’re traveling by car, make sure to have enough cash on you for parking.

5) Put yourself in the shoes of an event producer. When we walk into a venue, we don't obsess over details like the pattern on the carpet or how the walls remind us of lemon sorbet. With the proper d├ęcor, you can downplay the things you don't like and rock out any space with lighting, candles, flowers, fabric, and just happy party people.  Instead of seeing "what is," we look at the room looking for "what can be." Our eyes quickly scan the room for a few key things: rigging points on the ceilings and walls, power outlets, a stage, and ease of access between the front and back of the house are just a few things that get the gears in our heads to start cranking at warp-speed!

6) Ask a ton of questions! Remember the old saying: "There are no stupid questions?" It holds especially true here. The more information you can gather, the easier it'll be to make an informed decision on the perfect place to hold your party and the less surprises you’ll run into later. Are there preferred or exclusive vendors that the venue requires you to use? You might have to pay plating or corkage fees if you choose to use your own. Are there any in-house services the venue can provide? You could save a lot of money by using their tables, linens, caterer, and audio/visual system. Are there any additional costs on top of the rental fee, such as those for security personnel, staff or managers on-site, cleaning services, power usage, permits, insurance, etc. that you'll be required to pony up? Does the venue have any specific restrictions? Is the room you are looking to rent attached to another room via a wall or air wall? You might want to have the venue manager prove to you that the wall or air wall that separates the rooms doesn’t let in any air or noise from the other room. Are there timing restrictions for amplified music?

7) Be on the lookout for party traps. You don’t want Grandma or your boss having to slide down a fireman’s pole to get to the dinner after cocktail hour. Steps and stairways are simply not nice to anyone over the age of eighteen and are also a nightmare for the wait staff trying to serve trays of hors d’oeuvres or uber-spillable cocktails. If you throw an event in a space with low ceilings, you may as well throw a party at Alcatraz and call it a day. If the venue is stuffy and doesn’t have a lot of airflow, then the only food you should serve is oxygen. And having multiple, accessible, and working bathrooms instead of not enough potties at your event is a beautiful thing.

8) Take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures! If you have a flip cam, record a video tour of each venue. By the end of the day, all the information you will have taken in will be a blur and you will need something to help you remember what you liked and disliked about the different places you've visited. It would also work to your advantage to take copious notes on all the questions you've asked.

9) Review your notes and pictures. Is there anything that stands out to you as a deal breaker? Weigh out the pros and cons of each venue in light of your event's needs. Pay attention to your emotional reactions to a space. These are important little voices to listen to that can sometimes be drowned out by the 50 mph sales pitch being thrown at you by the manager.

10) Review the contract. JG recommends having a lawyer friend comb through the contract before you sign it. Does it specify extra charges, such as cleaning fees, freight elevator usage, electricity drops, security, parking, coat check, and dressing rooms? Are there any provisions that protect you in case the venue reneges on your contract, such as finding a replacement venue for you? Will you be protected if someone gets hurt at your event and decides to sue? Once everything looks OK, sign on the dotted line. 

Finding the perfect venue can be stressful and confusing, but if you follow the above sugJEStions, you will have all the tools you need to easily find the perfect place to throw your fabulous soiree!

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