When organizing an event, you are confronted by many decisions. Choosing a venue is the one decision that will have the largest impact on your event. The date of the event, catering options, and attendees’ pleasant experiences … all are partly affected by which venue you select.
Does this sound a bit intimidating? You don’t have to feel that way. Here are some guidelines about when to make decision, what to consider, and how to do better.
When to Start Looking for a Venue
The earlier the better. Once you have a good understanding of the following 3 things, you can begin your search for a venue: budget, estimated event size, and space requirements.
Book a venue at least 4-6 months in advance so that you will have enough time to plan other critical things, such as catering, event brochures, an websites.
What to Consider When Searching for a Venue
You’ve probably already considered this. For a local event, you may be looking for a venue within a reasonable distance from most attendees’ homes or places of work. If many attendees will be traveling from out of town, a venue near the airport or their hotels will be beneficial. In whichever case, don’t forget to consider traffic, transportation, and parking options.
Would you like to reduce the chance for your attendees to be late? Provide them with a mobile event app, which is essentially a standard these days. With GPS maps, driving directions, and parking/shuttle information at their fingertips, your attendees will feel relieved. If the venue is within a large campus or institute, maps with pins especially help a lot. For events with exhibitions, posters, or parallel sessions, interactive indoor maps will help attendees conveniently navigate.
Does the venue have a parking lot or valet parking? A venue with a parking lot is what dreams are made of. If that’s not the case, are there parking lots nearby which attendees can access and use? If there is no parking available, you’re not completely out of luck as you have a few alternatives:
- You can reserve nearby parking lots for your attendees and either include the cost in the ticket prices, or have attendees pay when they park.
- Take a look at Uber and Lyft discounts offered for events. You can negotiate with them to set this up and distribute the promo code to your attendees.
- Provide a way for attendees to share a ride or a cab with each other. It would also be a good chance for them to interact with each other. An event app like Whova provides a bulletin board (i.e., Community Board) and a group chat feature to help on this. Get more information here.
- You could offer valet parking for the event, even if the venue doesn’t. Providing a valet may be essential if the event is an upscale event such as a gala.
3. Capacity and Minimums
- What’s the capacity? You’ll need to know the room capacity of the venues for a few reasons. First, 500 people (if it is your estimated event size) can’t comfortably fit into a room with a 250-person capacity. And second, there are fire and safety codes that the venue has to abide by.
- What are the F&B Minimums? If your venue offers food and/or beverages and sets a minimum food and beverage spending amount (known as an F&B minimum), ensure that the past F&B records from the previous events are in line with the minimum. If you estimate much more F&B spending than what the venue requires, it means you would be a good customer to them. Negotiate whether they can provide complimentary service (e.g. upgrade Wi-Fi or A/V support) in return if your spending reaches a certain level.
- How to make adjustment based on attendee feedback? It is important to be able to make an informed adjustment for a size of a room or F&B right before or during your event. You can easily headcount or collect instant feedback through live polling on an event app, which save you time and money. Here are 85 event survey questions and live poll examples in ready-to-use templates.
4. Services and Amenities
- Does the venue have a kitchen and can it provide catering to your event? If so, often a venue will waive the facility fee and only charge a down payment along with the cost of food for each attendee. Those venues without kitchen facilities may have a partnership with a food provider that you’re required to use. You may want to check their food in advance. If it is not good enough, it can create a negative impact on your attendees’ experiences. So, either go with a venue that serves great food or allows you to bring in outside food vendors.
- Does it have tables, chairs and linens you can use? If a venue has these items, you can save a great deal of money and effort by using what they have, assuming it matches your theme and ambiance.
- Does it have a setup/clean up crew? If you’ve found a venue which provides a setup and clean up crew, rejoice! This isn’t always the case. If these services aren’t available you’ll need to build your event team or find volunteers.
- Does it have AV capabilities? Some venues have a built in audio-visual equipment for you to use, and others will require you to bring that in yourself.
Even though you’ll be finding your venue early in the event planning process, you’ll still want to have a rough idea of what types of activities you’ll be including, the amenities you’ll require, and the needs of your team and the attendees.
While narrowing down your selection, get an illustrated floor plan of each venue, and walk through your favorites at least once, making note of important things such as where the outlets are and where AV equipment is or can be located.
The layout and floor plan will greatly affect a few different aspects of your event:
- Flow of traffic Think about the flow of traffic through your event. The kind of flow you’ll want will be different for each event. What areas will be high traffic at the event? Registration? The auditorium doors? Keep this in mind when choosing your venue, realizing that how you setup the tables and decor will greatly affect this as well.
- Event activities If you want to have keynote speakers at your event, you’ll either need a stage, or a spot to place a rented stage. Will you need a demo area? Will there be a bar?
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Pay special attention to the existing decor inside the venue. What style is the architecture and what does the building’s interior convey? If you’re holding a gala, you’ll likely need different venue accommodations than you would for an expo. The less the ambiance matches the desired feeling of your event (upscale, high tech, etc.) the more decorating you’ll need to do to make up for it.
According to BizBash, some venues won’t even do business with you if you don’t have insurance. Amy Hallquist-Hamric, president of Hallquist Insurance Agency agrees with BizBash. “There are several venues that require a certain amount of liability as well as them named as additional insured for the event,” states Hallquist. “Typically you can ask your general liability insurance agent for this endorsement for your event. It is also a great idea to START EARLY in planning to have this added as well as to have all of the wording required, address, etc., prior to contacting your agent.”
Accessibility refers to the possibility that everyone, especially those with special needs, can access the building and its amenities. Before you can answer this question, you’ll need to understand who your attendees are and what their needs are.
You’ll probably know whether there will be children at your venue, but you may not know if there will be individuals with other special needs. In this situation, reviewing recent events hosted by your organization may give you a sense of this.
Have you ever attended an event at a venue that was so loud, it was hard to hear others, causing you to strain your hearing and lose your voice, all in one night? That’s caused by poor acoustics. Acoustics is just a fancy word for how sound travels through the venue. A low ceiling will make the venue seem cozy, but it will make it louder if it’s packed. Alternatively, a large warehouse-style venue will result in echoes, or what architects refer to as “reverberation”.
10. Cost and Flexibility on Event Date
Being flexible on the event date can be a great way to negotiate with venues. They may have open dates on their calendar that they want to fill. By providing 2-3 date options, you are more likely to get discounted pricing.
Although, acoustics aren’t the be-all end-all of your event, there are things you can do to improve them such as making good use of patios outside the venue or, as Armstrong Ceilings states in their articlewritten for the American Institute for Architects’ website, you can use acoustical clouds or canopies.
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How to Search for a Venue
Finding the right venue for your event can take up quite a bit of your time. Thankfully there are a few shortcuts to help you save time:
- Contact the area’s local Convention & Visitor’s Bureau to inquire about venues that best suit your needs.
- On event listing websites, such as 10 times, eventful, etc., find similar local events to yours and see where they host events.
- Use an online tool, such as Peerspace, Unique Venues, EventUp. They help you parse through the many venues to find the one right for you.