Finding a selection of reception sites to choose from isn't as difficult as some may think, even for a bride who might be in a tight budget. As I've said before and I'll say it again, its not about how much money you spend, but how you choose to spend it that counts, from a lavish hall to an home reception you can have an awesome party!
Reception sites fall into two basic categories. The first includes facilities that provide food, beverages, the wedding cake, tables, chairs and all of the other basic equipment you'll need for your special day! Some examples would be: hotels, restaurants and catered yachts.
The second type charges a rental fee that does not include a full array of additional services. Please be advised that such places will expect you to arrange for food, beverages, linens and possibly chairs and tables too. Good examples would be: clubs, halls, parks, museums and private homes.
Now that you can mentally picture these two types of reception sites, we'll move on to the important questions and considerations you'll have to make with each, in order to select what's right for you and that's within your budget.
Reception Sites: private clubs, hotels and restaurants.
These facilities have a primary business that occupies most of their time and that brings them a lot of revenue. To fill the empty gaps in their schedule, they often times make themselves available for special events, such as weddings and handle them with relative ease. Usually, they will coordinate all phases of the reception.
Before booking one of these commercial facilities, I suggest you inspect the room or location where the reception will take place. Here's a list of questions to ask yourself and the staff you'll be meeting:
Do you get a good feeling when entering the room?
Does it carry a lingering odor of stale tobacco smoke?
Will it comfortably accommodate the number of invited guests?
What does the cost include?
Does it include the wedding cake?
What are the beverage and liquor fees?
What is the charge per drink for an open bar?
Is there a corking fee if you provide your own champagne?
Do they charge extra to pour coffee?
Does the price include the cutting of the wedding cake (usually charged on a per person or per slice basis)? If there is a separate cake-cutting fee, the staff should serve the cake to everyone.
The above is a small sample of questions to ask when visiting potential reception sites. Don't be shy about asking a lot of questions, the facility staff must give you answers to these and to any others you might have. Another good set to include are the following:
What equipment is included in the standard rate?
What would be considered extra?
What additional equipment will you have to rent?
Are there any restrictions on the use of the facility? What are they?
Will they add a service fee on top of the total cost? Is cleanup included in the service fee?
Are decorations and flowers charged separately, if the facility provides them?
If the wedding reception is planned during the holiday season, will you be able to use any decorations that will already be in place?
What is the maximum number of guests the site can accommodate, seated and unseated?
Do you have to guarantee a minimum number?
When do you need a final guest count?
Is it a smoking or non-smoking facility?
Is there a local noise ordinance that might affect the type of reception you are planning?
Does the reception site have a required ending time?
Is the facility adequately heated? Air-conditioned? It's important to make your guests comfortable or they won't stay long at the reception.
What is the standard service staff-to-guest ratio? For example, a typical buffet requires one staff person per 15 - 20 guests. A sit-down dinner requires one for every 10 guests. Make sure sure the staff-to-guest ratio adjusts depending on the type of meal served.
Ask them to show you pictures of their buffet spread. Does it have "eye appeal"? Look at the pictures carefully, because photos can be deceiving. For example, is the beautiful floral centerpiece shown in the photo included in the buffet package?
These next questions are a MUST ask for all reception sites. Does the site carry liability insurance in case a guest is injured during the reception? Does the insurance cover accidents resulting from "driving under the influence" (DUI) violations after leaving the reception?
If your wedding reception isn't the only event taking place at the time, how will the facility ensure the privacy and ambiance your party will need? For an example, if there is a dog show in the room next door, you won't want to listen to the barking all throughout your event. What signs will they have to make sure guests find their way to the right room?
How Many cars can the parking lot accommodate? Is there a charge for parking? Are guests allowed to leave their cars in the lot overnight if they decide to take a taxi home? This is great information to know about, when you'd like to encourage your guests to be safe and avoid drinking under the influence.
How soon can vendors have access to the facility for delivery and setup?
Are guests allowed to throw rice, birdseed, and rose petals? Blow bubbles?
Does the contract contain an escalation clause that gives the reception site the right to raise quoted prices in accordance with the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) at time of final payment? Please make sure to read the fine print!
If you should happen to come about one of these in a contract, my advice is for you not to sign it. One of the advantages of booking early is to lock in a price. It's up to the reception site to set its fees high enough to cover inflation.
What type of payment do they accept? Cash? Check? Credit card? What is the payment procedure?
So now that you know the basic questions to ask these reception sites, its important for you to know that sometimes you can run into a problem with these commercial locations in that, they don't hesitate to ask a bride to move the date of her wedding or accommodations when a more lucrative event asks for consideration. These reception sites can be offered $100,000 for a corporate event, compared to $5,000 or $10,000 for a wedding reception, so the temptation is very strong indeed. As a result, they will offer you discounts and other perks to entice you to make the switch. So if this should happen to you, don't get upset, try to use it to your advantage to negotiate a better deal, this might be the budget break you were hoping to have after all!
Reception sites: churches or temples.
This is a convenient option for a few of reasons, you can have the wedding ceremony and reception can take place within the same location making life a lot easier on you, there will be no need to book an additional site and this could save you some money, additionally, your guests will be very happy to know that they won't be having to commute for the party. On that note, check to see what type of hall or social room they make available for receptions. Some questions to ask are:
What are their fees? Be sure to ask about the equipment they provide, such as chairs, tables, linens, china, silver and flatware. You also need information about their policies on serving alcoholic beverages. This information can differ from denomination to denomination, so be sure to ask.
Is any type of music on their restricted list?
Can your own caterer be hired?
Is there a time by which the party must end?
These are good general questions to ask these reception sites, but again, feel free to expand on the list as you see necessary and fit to do so.
Reception sites: home or garden.
Ah, the beauty and simplicity of a home or garden reception is a wonderful option if you are interested in having a casual party during the Spring/Summer months and its especially good for those on tight budgets. However, unlike hotels or restaurants that are all inclusive, there are special considerations to be mindful about as you plan your big bash with a home or garden location. Here are a few things for you to keep in mind:
Is the location large enough to accommodate all the guests? You need a detailed list of all rental equipment that will be needed. Check the prices carefully. Are the kitchen and bathroom facilities adequate? As tempting as it might be to have family and friends bring food (pot luck-style), I highly recommend hiring a caterer instead.
Will the caterer need to bring in portable ovens?
Will the existing wiring support the added usage of electricity for outside lights and possible heaters? In selecting any reception site, but most importantly a home or garden setting, it's wise to provide a sufficient number of electrical outlets for the caterer and band. Don't forget fire extinguishers.
Will there be access for persons with physical disabilities? Not all reception sites are equipped for this, so its best to ask.
Will adequate parking be available, or will you need to contract for valet service? Hiring a service will be a courtesy both to the guest and to the neighbors who will not appreciate having wedding guests' park in their driveways. Make sure the valet service is insured!
Is there an acceptable alternative in the event that bad weather makes the garden or backyard unusable? If the wedding is on a holiday weekend, will the tent need to be booked months in advance? Waiting until the first storm clouds appear just won't do it!
Another thing to be aware of, is that you need to inform whoever is hosting the reception that between four and eight vendors will need to evaluate the site prior to the reception day. The homeowners must be willing to accept this temporary "invasion" as part of their offer to host the event.
Since it isn't everyday that a wedding reception takes place at home, you should consider writing a note to the surrounding neighbors, warning them of the extra traffic on the streets and noise, especially if a band will play outdoors. Let them know how long the reception is expected to last, by doing this, you'll be helping to maintain the peace and ensuring a good time for your guests.
Taking these precautions, will go a long way towards preventing problems that might otherwise occur. Once you have all of the facts from all of your potential reception sites, you are ready to compare the costs of the different locations. Take into account the rental fees, food, beverages, parking, gratuity, set-up charges and the cost of rental equipment, such as tables, chairs, canopies and whatever else you will need to ensure the success of your party.
As you can very well see all of the reception sites we've discussed have very good potential. All you need to do now is, to determine what kind of location suits your personality, needs and available budget. Take your time to explore your best options, weigh the benefits, then plan it thoroughly and you're sure to have a wonderful celebration!