Selecting a wedding venue is often the first big item that a couple checks off their list. Choosing the right venue for your day defines many of the puzzle pieces that will ultimately fit together to create your wedding: your date, where guests will need to book hotel rooms, outfits, decor, food, etc. While touring venues is fun and exciting, it can be overwhelming. What questions do you ask? What things will be covered? What does a typical venue contract outline? We sat down with a two of the country’s top wedding venues (ARIA in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Barr Mansion in Austin, Texas) to get the skinny on what couples should know prior to touring venues as well as 10 questions to ask each venue prior to signing on the dotted line!
Photo by Juliana Aragon Photography
Here are some questions ARIA and Barr Mansion created to help you better prepare for your venue tours!
What dates do you have available?
How many guests can you accommodate?
What services do you provide?
How much does it cost for the space itself and how much are the food and beverage minimums?
What are the additional taxes and fees I may see attached to the rental and beverage minimums?
How long is my rental for?
Who will my main point of contact be and who will be on-site that day?
Who takes care of the linens?
What are the different options for utilizing your space, and how will our expected guest count fit into those plans?
What is the grand total amount we will spend at this venue after all taxes and fees are accounted for?
and here’s the rest of our interview with Aria and Barr Mansion:
For popular venues, how much in advance do couples need to be scheduling tours and booking dates? What does this timeline look like?
ARIA: We are booking about 1.5 years in advance depending on the season. So we will open the opportunity to start booking our 2017 calendar on September 1st of 2015. Then, after the holidays is our busiest… a lot of folks get engaged after the holidays! So while Dec. through April is our slowest event season, it’s the busiest sales season for venues.
Barr Mansion: We see the longest lead times for Saturday weddings during our peak months of April, May, June, September, and October. Those who have their heart set on peak season, but may not find any availability Saturdays can consider taking advantage of our discounts for choosing a Friday or Sunday evening.
Photo by Map + Compass Photography
How can couples better prepare for touring venues?
ARIA: Have a real, sit down conversation regarding how many people you’re going to invite. Make a guest list! All venues will ask you right away, “how many people are you thinking?” It will help you get better information from the venue if you can give them better information about how many people will be occupying the space. Then, consider that all those people on your list will eventually (after you add on appetizers, a full dinner, dessert, wine, taxes and service) will cost you about $100/guest. So for 200 people, $20,000 to wine and dine your closest family and friends is a realistic number. Depending on how you react to that math – you may want to reconsider your guest list. Finally, just like touring a house – decide what’s important to you and your day. Do you want to keep it simple or do you want a place you can decorate to make your own? Are you foodies? Is food going to be important to you – what are the catering options? Is good booze important to you? Are audio-visual components important to you? Are there things you can do without that venues may be offering?
Barr Mansion: Before scheduling a tour, couples should ensure that the venue meets both their needs and their budget. This helps to avoid the major letdown of touring a venue only to find out that the desired date is unavailable or that the venue costs are beyond what the couple is looking to spend.
How do venue contracts differ from other vendor contracts? What should couples make sure to read carefully prior to booking a venue?
ARIA: Again, look at rates and services, but know that with different venues you’re comparing apples to oranges since everyone is set up completely different. I think the best thing folks can do is break each venue’s costs down to a ‘per head’ price point and see where that lands. Otherwise, you may drive yourself crazy trying to make a spreadsheet to compare them all. For example, Abule in St. Paul can be seen as a similar venue, but when you start comparing, ARIA and Abule are very different. ARIA doesn’t have any AV equipment, whereas Abule has all the audio/visual you could ever want. Then again, Abule has 1 in-house caterer, but here at ARIA you can choose from 6 different caterers with different price points – and have the food be something more catered to your style and budget.
Photo by Pablo Laguia
How many times will a venue typically meet with a couple prior to the wedding day? What do these meetings look like?
ARIA: I typically meet the couple about 3 times. The first meeting is a bit of brainstorming, we walk the space, they tell me what they are envisioning or I help them develop a vision if they don’t have one yet, and that’s typically a year or so out. The second meeting is much closer to the big day – about 60 – 90 days out, and we develop their floor plan, start to make a plan for the bar, and layout the timeline if they don’t already have one. Then, finally, we have a 10-day meeting to make sure that we’ve covered all our bases. Typically it’s all based on the final changes of the floor plan and making sure the seating arrangements are done.
Can you give me an example of how venues typically break down their costs? Rental fees, catering, additional hours, etc.
Barr Mansion includes a lot of services in our wedding packages, so pricing is scaled according to the unique variables of each wedding: month and day of the week, guest count, menu selections and style of meal service, and bar service. Fixed costs such as rental décor or furnishings, or additional hours are then added to the total. Sales tax is part of the final invoice, but we do not add any service fees or gratuity.
Photo by Dearheart Photos
At the end of the wedding night, what should couples (or relatives) expect when the party is over?
(i.e., Will there be a final bill to pay right then and there? Will there be any other things that need to be settled prior to the end of the night?)
ARIA: First of all – FANTASTIC QUESTION. My goal is always to aim for the couple to walk right out the door without worrying about a thing. I also want their parents to do the same. It will have been a very long, somewhat over-stimulating day, and it helps when no one has to pack up at the end of the night and load up a car of stuff. A lot of times that means that the florist needs to come back for ‘tear down’ and that someone else needs to be in charge of taking the gifts, guests book, cards, and other personal decor home. A Rental company may need to come back at the end of the night as well.
So as a side note here – I’d like to add: Remember that all ‘DIY’ created can’t be managed by you that day – you won’t be the one to set it up or take it down, so consider that when thinking about ‘doing it yourself’ for certain things – make sure it’s not something that will end up becoming more of stressor than truly helping you.
Barr Mansion: At the end of the wedding night, Barr Mansion couples and their parents can expect to make a quick and easy exit! All payments have been settled prior to the wedding day. Most couples tend to do a send-off, so the bridal party and parents are the ones taking care of final details. We suggest that the couple designate one person in the bridal party to do a final sweep of the bridal suite and groom’s suite. Parents only need to gather the gifts and any other items the couple has brought like the guest book or special signage, and take home the leftover alcohol.
photo by Rob August
So much good insight! One additional tip from our friends at ARIA is to settle on your guest list prior to touring venues. Lucky for you, we’ve got a handy guest list spreadsheet planner that will keep you sane and organized as you decide on your guest list size. I decided to create a guest list spreadsheet and share it with you today! Feel free to download as an Excel spreadsheet, CSV, or save to your Google Drive. You can also share this spreadsheet with anyone, just pass them the link!
Thanks again to ARIA and Barr Mansion for their help in making the venue search process easier to navigate.