Wedding venue and catering secrets from a wedding industry insider

April 25 | Guest post by HeatherB
Questions to ask your wedding venue
Original photo by Jaanus Silla, used by Creative Commons license.

Okay, I admit it, I'm part of the Wedding Industrial Complex — I work at wedding venue selling the dream day to couples who want something special. I'm that person who non-chalantly tells you it's going to be $3000 to rent the building plus $110/person for food (though inside my head I'm screaming HOLY CRAP $3000 IS SO MUCH MONEY).

I'm also an Offbeat Bride. I was on this site EVERY day when planning my wedding and regularly posted updates, comments, etc. I made my own invitations and centerpieces, I played Rock Band, and had a reading from Winnie the Pooh.

As an offbeat member of the wedding industry, I wanted to share a couple of insider tips for finding a venue and caterer.

  1. Ask all of your questions. Trust me: your venue has had unique events before, or at least unique questions. Yes, the coordinator may look at you like you're a little off(beat). But do you really care as long as you have your questions answered? If you want to have fire dancers perform at your wedding, that's the kind of thing the venue's going to have a pretty definite answer on (I'd say no at ours, but inside I would be thinking BUT THAT'S SO SUPER AWESOME CAN I COME PLZ?).
  2. Ask for a discount. Guess what — venues want your business. They especially want your business during their off months. Think you know what the off months are? Guess again! Our particular venue offers discounts in December through April, July, and August… if you ask. We don't advertise the discount, but if you ask, a lot of venues will offer.
  3. Ask if the packages are flexible. We have an exclusive caterer with four pre-made menus. But most venues and caterers with pre-made menus are flexible. If you're on a budget, give them the price you can afford and see what they can come up with. You'll be surprised what a good caterer/venue can come up with for $25/person.
  4. Ask if you can bring your own booze. In some states this is against the law and your venue/caterer will say no. But in many states it's totally okay (as long as you have a licensed server). Buying your own beer and wine is WAY cheaper and you can get exactly what you like to drink. We had a couple who were super into beer and wanted to bring their own and I said absolutely, no problem (but inside I was like GOOD BEER IS SO MUCH MORE DELICIOUS THAN BAD BEER YOU SHOULD HAVE A BEER FOUNTAIN OF AWESOME). Once again, this is not something that will be automatically advertised to you, you have to ask for it.
  5. Ask when you can come to decorate. A lot of venues will only do one event per day. Others will only do one event per weekend (like mine). If you can come in the day before to decorate, you can do a lot of stuff yourself without having to stress the day of the wedding. Also, ask what you can decorate. Some places are super strict and some places are like, "You want to rent two dozen trees and put them around the rooms so it feels like you're in a forest — do it!" (I did this at my wedding — it was awesome. I would also say yes to a bride doing it at my current venue.)

As a venue, we love our offbeat, DIY brides. You provide us with opportunities to see what our space can do that we would never have imagined possible. But we aren't psychic and we're not going to assume that you want an offbeat wedding, even if we suspect that you might. We're going to give you the same spiel that we give every other bride.

So ask. Ask us if we can do what you want for the price that you want. You might be surprised to find that the girl in slacks and a conservative top telling you about how great that staircase is for photos is really a cosplaying, sci-fi watching, faire-attending, Rock Band-playing, Offbeat Bride like you.

  1. Good advice. As an insider, I'm curious – what do you consider to be a reasonable discount to ask for? 10%? 50%?

    3 agree
    • I would ask for 20%, that way you have 10% to fall back on.

      9 agree
  2. This is a bit of a silly question…Our venue charged us a gratuity. Am I supposed to tip on top of that? I am not talking about fabulous service…so far the service has been dreadful. But if the service is average…am I supposed to tip on top of a mandatory 15% gratuity? Thanks!

    2 agree
    • I'm in the service industry (restaurants, not weddings, but similar gratuities apply) – if they are already charging you a 15% gratuity, you absolutely do not have to tip on top of that. If their service was awesome, I'd say definitely tip an additional 5%, but if their service is truly dreadful, then forget it.

      4 agree
      • Agreed. Our venue charges a flat rental fee and we don't expect gratuity. Our caterer includes 18% gratuity in their cost structure. If you feel that your coordinator or members of the staff went above and beyond for you, by all means give something additional.

        2 agree
    • I would also ASK about their policies. I say this with complete honesty….
      I was a bartender for venue. Not all of the "gratuity" goes to the servers as tip. In our case 20% gratuity was charged and only 5% was divided by the servers. The house took the other 15%, which makes it a fee, not gratuity. (I'll save my rant for another day.) I've talked to others who get NONE of the gratuity.
      This may be terms of your employment. But I will warn that unethical employees at my venue added extras on to the bill just to get their tiny "gratuity" to be higher mostly at open bars where people did not tip cash. I have every intention of advising my servers that "I will tip you handsomely just don't jack up my bill."
      Call me crazy but I would prefer to just give them a dollar rather than be overcharged $15 to gain a dollar for a better tip.
      Sorry if this sounds negative, but I thought it was worthwhile knowledge.

      8 agree
      • As a server I never see a dime of the gratuity they charge. I have worked for 4 different companies and this has been the case at all 4. A few weeks ago the person hosting the event tipped my husband extra and then told him he left 20 percent extra for all the staff to split and we didn't see a dime of that either. It makes me want to go back to my venue where our wedding was and tip everyone because I assumed they were tipped out of the gratuity I paid, but most likely they were not.

  3. I'm saving about $4,000 by having our wedding in the off-season. It's absolutely worth it to me. It'll be July and hot outside but if your entire wedding and photos will be done inside than does it really matter if it's 95 degrees out?

    3 agree
    • Our wedding will also be in the 95 degree heat, but instead of doing everything inside, we decided to have it as a pool party. We eventually went with the venue that was the most excited about having our party there, even though it leaves a little to be desired, pretty-wise…

      It wasn't worth it to us for all the raised eyebrows. We can decorate a room, but we can't cover up or abide someone's disapproval, especially when forking over a huge sum of money to use their space. But it did really take us being totally honest and asking wacky questions… And now they're all stoked about the pool party wedding. Even the older woman who confided in me just how angry she would be if her own daughter jumped into the pool in a $5000 dress. I confided back how my dress only cost $200… As ugly as it may be before I attack it, I love my venue.

      8 agree
      • Holy crap mermaid dress pictures will be so ridiculous awesome! And you could have a secondary super cute bathing suit and maybe sew some tulle to the back like a little train and now I want to get married again so I can be you!

        10 agree
  4. I just couldn't get past the many times I got told (you're right, very non-chalantly) "Oh yes, it's only $3,000!" We ended up going with a very large conference room at a state park. Rehearsal dinner space, ceremony space, reception space all for a whopping total of $600. It's just going to require a lot of decoration. But now that I know that April may be considered an off-month… I'm totally going to ask the lighting and decorating people about discounts! Atmosphere is so important to me, but I don't want to bankrupt myself either.

    I have to ask though: please for the love of pete, can we see pictures of your own personal venue filled with rented trees? I squealed out loud when I read that. I am bent on making our inside space feel like an outside space as much as possible (allergies and fears of stinging insects are preventing the outside ceremony I thought I wanted), and renting trees? That. Sounds. Amazing.

    8 agree
    • I'm pretty sure that "oh, $3000 isn't that much money" thing is part of the spiel. It puts the bride and groom at the disadvantage, having to ask about money because they aren't rich enough for the venue. Since a lot of a wedding is looking more expensive than it actually is (in the WIC mindset, anyways), it's gotta be easier to get a bride to spend more if she thinks that's the usual amount, or even a cheaper tag than she'd get elsewhere.

      3 agree
      • True. However, when our venue opened up to weddings we did a lot of research on similar venues in the area and priced within that range. So to a certain extent, it is "normal"… that just doesn't necessarily mean inexpensive. My obb tag name was ebonaskavi, I can't remember if I posted any pics of the trees though!

        1 agrees
      • Part of selling anything is making the customer believe they're getting a good deal, and acting like the price is totally normal and no big deal is a big part of that. If you look shocked at the idea of spending that much it says that it's a lot of money to spend.

        I used to tell people £45 for a new video game was nothing really – that's a night out in a club and here you're getting X hours of entertainment without having to leave home. (X being anywhere from about 10 hours for single player shooters to…well I've clocked over 3,000 hours in certain RPGs over the years.)

        Meanwhile I was furiously revising my budget and wondering what I could justify cutting to afford that same game because I knew damn well that for me, and probably them too, it was a lot to spend on a game.

        2 agree
  5. Although we're having our wedding in a popular month (May) we're getting a big venue discount by going for a Sunday. The way our venue prices it is one price for Saturday, and a lower price for any other day of the week. So asking if they offer discounts for non-Saturday bookings is definitely something I would recommend.

    1 agrees
    • There's a difference between asking if a vendor offers a discount for off-season and asking for a discount. If you're dates are flexible then I think it's great to see if the prices are lower at certain parts of the year. But be careful of asking for a discount for the sake of a discount. I know alot of freelance workers who deal with this every day, and seriously EVERY client wants a discount. The people I know who do freelance work (photographers and performs primarily) have their prices set where they are for a reason. A honest contractor doesn't jack up the prices just because you've said the word wedding. Typically it's what they need in order to keep their businesses running.

      8 agree
    • Sorry didn't mean to respond to yours. meant one above!

      • Right, I don't plan to ask for a discount just for the sake of it, and I agree that that's a bad practice. I'm just curious to know if April is considered off-season (I had assumed it was a heavy wedding month, which is why up to this point I hadn't even considered asking) and, if it is (as the article here says some vendors consider it to be), if they do off-season discounts. I didn't mean to imply that the vendors we're looking at are dishonest or jacking up prices unfairly – quite the contrary, if I felt that way, I wouldn't have picked them!

        But, at the same time, I don't think there's anything wrong with asking "Is our date during your off-season?" I just meant to appreciate and take the advice of the article; I didn't mean to sound like I wanted a discount for the sake of it or that I wanted to scam the venue. Sorry if it came off that way!

        1 agrees
        • I think it depends your area and even venue to venue. Most places I looked at in Toronto had "off season" discounts for January-March, but a few included April. Almost everyone had reduced rates for Friday and Sunday weddings, too.

          1 agrees
        • It doesn't hurt to ask a venue what their off months are and if they offer a discount during them. Not all venues in my area offer discounts in April, but some do. It's worth it to ask :)

    • Oh yes, it is definitely worthwhile to ask your venue if they have different rates for different days of the week, and depending on how flexible you are, different times of day. With some venues it's less expensive to have a morning/early afternoon wedding.

  6. This is awesome! I think it's a great reminder that people who work in the wedding industry aren't always the enemy! I have friends who are photographers and caterers, and performers, and they all are just dying for those offbeat brides who will give them a chance to do something that's different from the 1000 weddings they've already done! Even vendors who aren't necessarily excited by your cosplay wedding still want your business. I think when we go in without our defenses up we're much more likely to be successful.

    6 agree
  7. You've sold me on the beer fountain idea. A fountain of Sierra Nevada would be awesome.

    9 agree
    • oh Chico love!!! All our beer has to be Sierra Nevada! The locals would hang us otherwise!! <3

  8. I COMPLETELY agree that you have to ask. If you don't ask you'll never know. I'm planning my wedding right now and have gotten considerable discounts with each vendor. I think the key is knowing what the middle ground is for you and the vendor. I don't want to tick them off by asking for too big of a discount. A ticked off vendor (if they accept your low ball offer) probably won't here there with bells on if you know what I mean.

  9. Your internal monologue is made of awesome sauce and win. If I lived in your area, I hope we'd be friends.

    4 agree
  10. I worked for several years at a venue, we always had about 4 weddings a day on the weekends and usually one every weekday night. Not every place will let you decorate beforehand, you may have to just drop off centerpieces and favors and the staff sets them up when they change the room.

  11. WHOA WHOA WHOA

    You can RENT TREES?

    My mind is blown. I have to see if I can find any tree-rental options near me. I WANT THIS.

    4 agree
    • We called a nursery near our venue that sells trees and asked if we could have some for a couple of days. They dropped them off and picked them up. We just got some fabric to wrap around the plastic buckets that they come in and they looked great!

      5 agree
  12. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for posting this. As the events manager of a popular wedding venue, it blows my mind the things clients assume or expect, as well as the things they dont ask about. I would rather spend 2 hours with someone answering their questions, than 10 minutes and have an uninformed client. THANK YOU AGAIN!

    2 agree
  13. I love this post! And I totally agree! The reason my fiance and I hired one day-of-coordinator over another was because she had experience in multiple areas of the WIC.
    However, in my venue search I noticed it was harder/next to impossible to get off-season discounts with public/state facilities. And I assume that is because most public venues are really inexpensive to begin with depending on the venue.

  14. What if a venue requires you to make use of their caterer (i.e., a college making you use their food service…. Yuck!)? I would prefer my family to bring food, potluck style. How should I approach this topic with venues?

  15. Hi there! I am very curious to hear how you would approach the following situation –

    There is a new resort opening in the small city where I reside. Their scheduled open date is 14 days before my wedding date of NYE this year. I have approached them about being their first wedding and am totally ok with being their guinea pig for their new events manager. I also am having a smaller wedding 25-40 people. What kind of discounts would you recommend I ask for or how would you leverage this as a marketing opportunity??

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