You’ve recently gotten engaged. A venue and date have been chosen for one of the biggest days of your life. Now what? You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?

In the best case scenario, you only get married once and it’s a pretty good assumption that you’ve never thought about any wedding details before now. Overwhelmed with options? Inundated with inspiration? It happens to every bride-and-groom-to-be. Many choose to hire a professional wedding planner who knows what to do when and how. Unless you have a ton of free time on your hands to do all of this yourself, I highly recommend hiring someone.

If a planner isn’t an option, the new series is going guide you in ways to work most effectively with your wedding vendors. Let’s start where most planning starts: The Venue.

Where you get married sets the stage for the rest of your wedding plans. It likely provides you with a date and level of the event’s formality. Before you make any decisions, ask a million questions.

You may want to ask the venue for a sample contract before you sign your own. You can then view what the average wedding reception costs are for that venue. READ THE CONTRACT! You’ll hear this from me a lot. Everyone’s busy and no one takes time to read anymore. But the contract with your venue spells out so many of your wedding day details that it can’t be ignored.

SPACE: Although your venue will most likely give you the facts on how many people your space will hold, it is important to ask if they are considering the deejay or band size, cake table, gift table, etc. It is easy for them to say that they can fit 10 tables of 10 people into a room, but will there be room for anything else?

TAX & FEES: Ask about administrative fees. Administrative fees are usually established to cover staffing costs for the night and are usually a percentage of your total food & beverage costs. Be sure to ask exactly what they cover. Also, make sure you know what will be taxed and how much tax is associated with certain items.

TIME: Ask how long you have the space. If a venue requires that you and your guests be out of the room by 11:00 p.m. but you want your reception to last until midnight, most venues charge you a fee for that extra hour. Also, ask what time your vendors will be allowed to bring in their goods. This is important when considering vendors’ time restraints.

PARKING: Do not assume that parking is included in your cost. Most venues charge a fee for their valet service as well as their parking garages.

MINIMUMS: Your venue will probably give you some information on the food and beverage details up-front, but extra costs are very likely when dealing with food and alcohol. If your venue does not give you the food and beverage minimum up front, you need to ask for it. It is important to know if the required minimum is not in your budget. Also keep in mind the minimums are for food an drink only, not linens, table rentals, etc.

SERVERS: Venues can charge another separate flat fee for waiters, bartenders, and attendants for various things such as manning the coat check or stationary hors d’ouvre tables.

BAR: If you are having an open bar, check into bartender fees and what is stocked at your bars. Some venues only stock beer, soft drinks, and wine. If you want hard liquor or brands that they do not stock, you may wind up paying extra. Also if you are interested in having your bar based on consumption, which means a tally of drinks is kept by the bartender throughout the night and you pay afterwards based on the total count of drinks, make sure your venue allows it. Don’t assume a champagne toast is complimentary.

First and foremost, make sure that outside vendors are even allowed. Some venues require that you use their “approved” vendors because they have relationships with them. So if you were hoping that your cousin could be your photographer, you better check to see if that is allowed.

Meals: Most photographers and band or deejay members require that you provide them a meal at your wedding. Most venues have something written into their contracts to ensure your vendors get a meal. Ask about the price of these meals and factor that price into your budget.

If you have visions of 300 votive candles twinkling at your reception, be sure to ask if open flame is allowed. Some venues allow open flame only if a fire marshal is on site during the event. Yes, you have to pay for the marshal to be present.

HOUSE SUPPLIES: Venues have linens, chairs, china, etc. on hand and included in your cost. Ask to see them to make sure they fit with your vision. If not, consider renting exactly what you want.

FIXTURES: Some venues will not remove anything from the space for your reception. So although the taxidermy bear in the corner sets the mood for their everyday atmosphere, if you don’t want it at your reception, ask if they are able to remove it beforehand.

Find out if there are any other events going on at the venue on the night of your reception. Although they can’t really guarantee that you’ll be the only event there that night, if there is another event going on, it’s important to ask how that will affect your guests. For example, ask whether or not your guest will have their own bathrooms or whether they have to share them with guests at another event. Also, if you are not at a hotel, you may want to ask whether a bridal suite or area will be provided to you so that you can change if needed or fix your dress throughout the night.

If you are working with a coordinator or sales person that the venue has provided, ask if they will be there for the duration of your reception. If you have a problem during the reception, you want to make sure you have someone there who knows the details of your reception plans to help.

It may seem that there are a lot of questions to ask, but by asking, not only are you avoiding surprises, you are showing the venue that you are a serious customer and that they should treat you accordingly.

I’d love for you to join me in creating this new series. Send me your most challenging questions and I’ll call on my arsenal of experts to get it answered for you.

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