Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Venue In's & Out's #3 - Selecting a Raw Space

Our Venue In's & Out's series is back with the third of four installments designed to help you avoid a few common mistakes that can potentially cost you a pretty penny (find our previous two posts on the topic here & here).  Today's topic is selecting a raw space in lieu of a full-service venue.  For my New York readers, when you read "raw space", your first thought is probably one of the many loft/studio venues in Manhattan or Brooklyn, but the truth is, even a tented lawn or converted barn falls under the description of "raw space".  For today's purposes, a venue will qualify as a raw space if...

- the venue is not a dedicated private events/dining facility
- the venue sometimes/maybe is used for another purpose (photography studio, barn, pool, etc.)
- the rental of some event equipment (tables, chairs, etc.) is required
- a third-party caterer is (99% of the time) necessary in order to feed your guests

I've had many a bride (and friend alike) who fall prey to the lure of a raw space - they are a blank canvas for your wildest design dreams, they aren't your "typical" locale (as in your guests won't have attended three other weddings there) and, at first blush, the relatively low flat fee they quote you seems really economical.  "$3,500 for the space?  Great!  So what's next?"  Oh, just about everything else you'll need to throw a party, from the big stuff like tables and chairs and dishes and table linens and napkins and a dance floor to the "wait, I have to rent that too?" items like salt and pepper shakers, toilet paper and coffee spoons. 

We haven't even touched on the possibility that there's no professional kitchen in the loft/barn/tent of your dreams, and you'll therefore be renting portable stoves and speed racks and bus tubs and all the other gadgets your caterer will need to feed your crowd (unless you've already decided you're only serving booze and snack foods, in which case you can disregard the part about the kitchen, just don't forget the red dixie cups and beer pong tables in your master budget).

Now this is not to say that I am anti-loft space.  Just this past week my bestie Beth and I attended a fabulous rooftop cocktail party at this raw space, and we had a wonderful time.  But most of the brides I know either don't have unlimited budgets & therefore don't and can't spend thousands of dollars renting teacups, and if they are lucky enough to have a mega wedding, they choose to do so in a landmark venue that reflects their budget, like the Waldorf or the Plaza.   

If you do have your heart (& budget) set on a raw space, be sure to discuss the following topics with the venue before committing:

- how much setup and breakdown time you'll have
- what the load-in details are (i.e. is there a big freight elevator for your caterer and DJ to use or will they be carrying their stuff up four flights of stairs, which they will then charge you an aggravation fee for, although they won't call it that on your invoice)
- what the additional charges are (cleaning, garbage removal, security staff, etc.)
- where are the bathrooms, what do they look like, and are they exclusive to your wedding party (this is huge for any venue you select.  Never sign on the dotted line without checking out the loo)
- are their any sound ordinances for the location
- what equipment is included in my contract (and be sure to get this in writing)
- what are the electrical/power capabilities of the space (as in, will your DJ's speakers blow a fuse, and will you be required to rent a generator)
- what are all the other additional fees we can expect to encounter
- do you have a reference/former bride who I can speak with about her experience

Now I certainly hope your head isn't spinning, but I'd rather you think of these things before you dive in and get stuck with having to learn the answers to these questions the hard way, as in when the bill comes in the mail. 

If you are in search of a raw space for your wedding, sometimes working in an unorthodox direction can help you secure a fantastic venue without too much headache - work backwards and start with your off-premise caterer.  Oftentimes, established caterers will have preferred relationships with venues that don't have a culinary team on site.  There are a few benefits to letting the caterers scout a few options for you - one, they will most likely recommend venues where they have worked before (and presumably have had good experiences), so you won't be reinventing the wheel.  Secondly, because the caterer wants to secure your business, they might negotiate on your behalf with the venue in the hopes that they can secure your event for themselves as well as for the venue.  Clever, no?

The takeaway is that yes, raw space weddings can be extraordinarily unique and creative and memorable, but they can also end up costing more than using a full-service venue, so just be sure you're seeing the forest for the trees when comparing the expenses needed for a loft space compared to that of a venue before signing a contract.

Our final Venue In's & Out's post will be about additional charges to be aware of when scouting potential venues for your wedding.  Stay tuned!

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