Questions to Ask Your Wedding and Reception Venues

Getting married at Chapel-by-the Sea
or a beach wedding venue?  Know your
wedding venue questions!

As you begin looking for a beach wedding venue and places for a wedding reception, you’ll most likely get caught up in the excitement of picturing your dream wedding!  However, remember that you’re there for business – the business of planning a wedding and/or planning a wedding reception!  It is important to visit each location armed with a wedding venue checklist.  Your checklist of questions will help you determine whether each location you visit can provide you the wedding you’ve dreamed in your head.   After all, noone wants their perfect wedding day ruined by something preventable.

Let’s begin your wedding venue checklist!

Your Wedding Venue Checklist:

  • What will we do if there is inclement weather and/or rain (particularly if you’re having an outdoor event)?
  • If you’re having an outdoor event, when is the decision made as to whether the event will be moved indoors?
  • What is the deposit fee? In our experience, most beach wedding venues (such as resorts and hotels) required at least 50 percent of the total cost as a deposit, with the remaining balance due right before the wedding. TIP: Try to negotiate the lowest possible down payment when dealing with any vendor. This minimizes your financial risk in the case of a cancellation or dispute.
  • What is the refund policy? Ask the manager to spell out the circumstances under which you are eligible to receive a full or partial repayment.  If you receive a contract while you’re there, ensure the contract includes this verbiage.
  • Are there day fees?  These are charges that some resorts tack on for guests staying at a different hotel or resort than the one where your wedding is taking place.  In our case, when interviewing places for wedding reception, South Seas was going to charge us $5 per guest to trolley our guests from the parking lot to our potential wedding/reception location.  Never-mind we would have been spending a minimum of $20,000 just to have our event there.  You’d think they could have thrown in that freebie.
  • Is there a price-escalation clause?  Many of the vendors we met insert this into their contracts to cover unforeseen expenses (food increases, higher demand, etc). If possible, set a cap on the expenditures that can fall under this umbrella.
  • What are the due dates for every payment?  Remember, you’ll need to plan ahead for the time it takes to mail these checks to your wedding destination.
  • Can the payment be made via other means?  Speed up the process via Mastercard and Visa!
  • If you’re potential venue is a hotel and/or resort, can you arrange a special room rate for your guests?
  • Does the venue offer wedding insurance? This will protect you if the venue goes out of business.
  • Is there a list of “Preferred Vendors.”  This is important information, in case you happen to fall in love with a particular florist, cake designer, etc before you pick your venue!
  • Is there ample parking for guests that may not be staying within walking distance of the venue?
  • What dates are available in the month you’re thinking?  Are there any differences in price by sliding your date to different weeks of the month or days of the week?  In our case, the hotel room rates dropped by $100/night by moving our wedding 2 weeks later, and we could have potentially decreased our “Food and Beverage Minimum” by having our wedding/reception on a Friday or Sunday.
  • Does the venue maintain liability insurance?  It is good to double-check this in case something were to happen and/or someone were to get hurt.
  • How much time will be available for set-up and tear-down of the event?  Make sure you coordinate with your vendors to ensure there is enough time!
  • If applicable, does the venue provide coordination services?  What is included?
Questions to Ask Wedding Venue:

  • What’s included in the wedding package rate?  
  • Is the location affiliated with any particular religion?  Will they allow weddings of a different and/or non-religious affiliation?
  • Are any of your ceremony “extras” included – tables for unity candles, sand ceremony, etc?
  • Is there a “getting ready” room where you can touch up your makeup before walking down the aisle?

Questions to Ask Your Reception Venue:

  • Does the reception venue provide their own catering, or do you need to hire an outside caterer?
  • If an outside caterer is required, what facilities do they have onsite for your caterer to use?  Full kitchen?  Partial Kitchen? 
  • If use of a 3rd-party caterer is NOT allowed, does the venue charge a food and beverage minimum?
  • Is the food/beverage minimum flexible based on season (high versus low), and also day of the week (weekday v. Friday v. Saturday v. Sunday)?
  • What tables, chairs, and centerpieces are included?  Are they upgradeable?
  • Will the venue provide additional side tables as necessary (such as cake, presents, and DJ tables)?
  • What linens, dinnerware, and silverware are included?  Are they upgradeable?
  • Are the dinner options plated and/or buffet style?
  • Are there options for dinner “stations” and/or appetizers (such as a cocktail hour)?
  • Can the dinner options be slightly tweaked if there are options that do not sound appetizing to your guests?
  • Does the venue offer dinner options for vegetarian guests?
  • Is there an option to do a “tasting” before making final menu selections?  We were torn on a few of our dinner items and the tasting helped us create a dynamite dinner menu that all our guests were raving about!
  • Are there restrictions on how late your music and/or reception can go?  Some venues had restrictions based on proximity to guest rooms and/or sea turtle mating season.
  • How late can you serve alcoholic beverages?  Can you bring your own?
  • What alcoholic beverages are available?  Can the venue do a “signature drink”?  Are they willing to get your favorite drink (such as a particular champagne) if it is not listed in the beverage packages?
  • Does the venue charge a “cutting fee” if you prefer to get a cake from your favorite bakery? 

A Few Extra Tips:

  • Get everything in writing!  We went back and forth a few times with our chosen venue regarding the wording of our contract.  We wanted to ensure the venue listed everything that was discussed in detail:  archway type, chairs, timeframes, dinner menu, wine/beer/liquor list, and ceremony and reception locations, inclement weather locations, and included decorative items.
  • Take a camera as you visit potential venues!  We took pictures from multiple angles at all the venues we visited.  This really helped us narrow down our choices and helped us envision our wedding as we started deeper in the planning details.
  • Get detailed pricing sheets from EVERYWHERE!  Weddings are expensive and most places charge you a-la carte for just about any and every option.  Make sure you obtain price sheets from all the venues and play with the numbers.  

Thoughts?

Can you think of any questions that I’ve missed?  Is there any particularly questions that you’ve asked venues that you’d like other destination wedding brides to know about?  Leave some comments below!

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Our Second Wedding Planning Trip (March 2010)

Kings Crown lawn at South Seas
Island Resort

So the time came to really get down to business and get some details ironed out for our wedding.  As you may have remembered in my post that “The Decision in In,” we had the tentative go-ahead to start tracking down some costs for the full-out wedding and reception on the island.  As it turned out, March 2010 ended up being family vacation time for my bride’s family.  With the possibility of a southwest Florida destination wedding up in the air, my soon-to-be father-in-law decided we should all rent a house on Captiva Island and visit all the possible venues.  I scheduled the meetings and here’s how it went:

The Venues:

It ended up that the parents of the bride were most interested in seeing the locations at South Seas Island Resort and the Sanibel Collection (Sundial, The Dunes, etc).  When we arrived at South Seas, we learned that some of the pricing had altered since our trip to visit.  We walked the property, checking out all the locations and venues, and talked through availability and basic pricing.  We next moved to Sundial, where we again walked the various properties and went through some basic availability and pricing.

The Details:
I hold much respect for my future in-laws, as they came truly prepared to get their questions answered by the catering/sales managers while on site.  Here were some of the questions they found most interesting:
  • What were all the different locations available for the wedding and reception?
    • Were these locations tied together in a “tiered” pricing system?  In other words, could you only book a particular location for the wedding if you booked it’s associated reception area?
    • What were the backup locations and/or plans for all the outdoor locations?
    • What was the site fee?
  • How many weddings are scheduled the same day?
  • Is there a catering minimum (i.e. a minimum amount of money spent on food and beverage)?
    • Could additional meals count towards this minimum, such as a catered lunch for pre-wedding preparations for the bridal party, or a next-day breakfast/brunch for wedding guests?
  • What is the detail of the contract?
  • When were the timelines for payments, decisions (menu, guest count, etc), and room requirements?
  • What room types could be “blocked”?
    • What was the policy on cancellation of the block and/or unused rooms within the block?
    • Was there a discount applied for guests attending the wedding?
    • Did the number of rooms or nights booked for a stay at the resort affect any of the reservation/site fees?
You get the idea.  They basically went line-by-line, item-by-item determining what was negotiable and non-negotiable.  They also wanted to see how they could customize catering and site options in order to “play with the budget” and control the overall cost of the event.

The Talk:
While I obviously can’t be too detailed on the specifics (I don’t think my in-laws would appreciate it), you can bet there were some serious conversations that followed at the end of our second wedding planning trip.  While my bride-to-be’s parents presented us with two options, the option that we both decided we liked was a southwest florida destination wedding at Sundial Beach and Golf Resort.  We both knew we loved Sanibel and wanted something out-of-the-ordinary that reflected who we are as a couple.   So why Sundial?

The Factors Behind The Decision:

Parents Perspective:  As it were, Sundial was the most flexible in their arrangement of event locations and pricing.  They had a great mix of pre-defined catering packages, but also included a number of items which could be substituted and/or added a la carte.  Sundial also had a lower site fee and catering minimum than South Seas, and offered that we could offset our site fees based on the number of room/nights were booked under our room block.  All-in-all, this seemed to provide the most flexibility to control our “per-plate” expense for the wedding.
Pool Area at Sundial

Our Perspective:  Having stayed at Sundial before, we were well acquainted with the experience the resort provided.  Knowing our friends, and their shared love for fun in the sun, we knew that Sundial would appeal to the young and old alike.  For our friends, there was a pool bar, sand volleyball, pool with waterslide, and on-site sports bar with pool tables.  Oh, and did I mention a pool bar??  For our older friends and family members, there was the convenience of “everything in one spot” – dining, pool, ocean (with beach chairs and umbrellas), hot tub, and the pool bar if they felt inclined for some libations.  Additionally, their stay at Sundial allowed them priority tee times at the Dunes if they felt like playing golf.

Thoughts?
What about your own destination wedding planning experience?   What were some critical questions your parents asked when you were scouting for the perfect wedding location?   What were the key/critical elements to a venue you were looking for when you were trying to find a location for your ceremony and/or reception? 

The Decision Is In!

Happy Day!

We’ve presented all the facts and figures to the parents of the bride!  They are tentatively giving us the go-ahead to start doing additional research on vendors for a Sanibel Island Wedding.  As it stands, we are planning our second trip to Sanibel for sometime in March 2010 to show them all the options before we make the final choice and book the venue!

Why are we waiting so long?  Something we didn’t know but found out talking to all the sales and catering managers:  many of the venues WILL NOT book more than 1 year in advance.   As such, we’ve got plenty of time to go over ideas and research vendors as it we won’t really be able to book our venue for our April/May 2011 wedding until after the trip in March 2010.

As you know, we’re leaning towards Sundial and I don’t want to spoil the surprise of how pretty the resort is.  As such, here’s some pictures of the other wedding locations we scouted for your viewing pleasure!

Walkway to the Beach at Casa Ybel
The Beach at Tween Waters
Thistle Lodge at Casa Ybel
The Dunes Golf Club – Sundial Alternate
Kings Crown Lawn @ South Seas
South Seas Wedding Location