The nature of my job brings me to a lot of different event venues.  I often do walkthroughs of spaces large and small to vet them for meetings, parties, or conferences my company is hosting throughout the year.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed – each venue is quite different and have different offerings – but here are a few questions that are helpful to get out of the way before moving forward with a fine-tuned project plan for any given event.

1. What is included?

This may seem straightforward and obvious, but there’s often some tricky nuances hidden in the rental contract.  For example, a new trend with event spaces is a ‘blank slate’ model: the space is yours to do whatever you want, but you need to provide all furniture, staff, and catering.  (On a recent walkthrough of one of these spaces, I asked what was included and the manager told me the power outlets.  Awesome, our big bucks will get us electricity!)

Some things to touch on with this question are:

  • Staff: Will security be provided?  If this is a bar venue or drinking event, will there be a door person to check IDs and maintain capacity?  Will there be anyone on hand to throw away trash or serve drinks and appetizers?  Often, taskrabbits can be employed for these smaller tasks at a low cost, but it’s great if the venue can provide these services, so you can be sure staff know their way around.
  • Number of bathrooms: Depending on your estimated attendee count, you’ll want to confirm how many bathrooms (and stalls) are included in the venue and easily accessible.  No one likes a bottleneck during a break in the meeting at the bathroom door!
  • Cleaning service: Are you expected to arrange cleaning at the end of the event, or is this included?  Or, if it is included, check if there a cleaning deposit or fee in the contract.
  • Coffee/tea: Many meeting spaces provide complimentary coffee and tea service to guests, or for a small fee.  This is a great convenience, and tends to look nicer coming from the venue itself rather than from traveler boxes delivered from Starbucks.
  • WiFi: This is a given at most places, but if you expect a lot of people on computers, you want to check if the provided wireless internet is capable of hosting your attendees.  Many places will charge you to bump the wifi up to a higher bandwidth.
  • A/V: In-house A/V companies are a great offering from a venue, as they are familiar with the space, and it’s one less bulky thing to manage for delivery and setup.

2. When can I load in/out?

Your rental might begin at 3pm, but you have a lot of stuff to set up before the show begins.  Most venues have a dedicated amount of time in the contract in which you are allowed to begin setup and break down afterwards.  How much time you need depends on the type of event you’re hosting and where: if it’s a business meeting at a dedicated meeting space that provides all services, you may not need any load-in or -out time; however, if it’s a large conference or party at a space not typically set up for these types of events, you’ll want at least an hour before start time (I would recommend more just to be safe, if the venue allows it).

3. Are there preferred caterers?

Sometimes, a list of preferred caterers is a good thing, because you don’t have to hunt around for a company to service this part of your event, and the venue already has the caterer’s certificate of insurance, which is often required from outside vendors.  However, caterers on a preferred list are often quite expensive and have a high minimum fee (a headache one of my good friends is currently managing while planning her wedding).

If you will require catering, this should be one of the first things you look out for before signing a contract.  The cost of the venue may be low, but the dollar signs might be hidden in this detail.

4. Can I place a hold?

Just because you’ve expressed interest in a venue does not mean you need to make a decision right away.  This is a stress factor I had to learn to let go of – obviously, if you don’t secure a venue in time for your event, you’re S.O.L.  But it’s just bad business for a venue to give its space to someone else out from under you.  In almost every case, they will reach out to you if another party expresses interest on the same date and time and give you “first right of refusal” before they release your hold.  Don’t be afraid to ask this question to buy yourself time to shop around.

5. Can you recommend anyone for ___?

These places work with a lot of different vendors hosting events throughout the year, so they’ve made connections.  If you have a lot on your plate, it’s ideal if the venue can set up some of the smaller details for you, such as a photo booth, furniture, flowers and decor, catering, and A/V companies.  If you need to pay some extra bucks for this peace of mind, go for it!  Another helpful way to get your wheels turning on how to make your event stellar is to ask for (or simply Google) pictures of previous events at the venue.