It’s not always easy to know what to ask for or how to negotiate for what you want before signing a contract with a venue for your event. Here are some tips to help ease the process. Use this as a guide when planning a wedding, bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah, sweet sixteen, christening, baby’s first birthday, 50th anniversary or other milestone event.
Chemistry with the Catering Manager, Sales Director or booking agent — does her/his personality seemed suited to yours? This is so important. If you sense friction in the initial meeting, don’t ignore your instincts. It will not get better with time.
Responsiveness – are your calls and emails being promptly returned? This is critical — untimely responses are a sure sign right out of the gate that there will be problems later on.
Flexibility – how willing is the Catering Manager to adjust menu offerings to accommodate any budget or dietary considerations? If it is not possible to customize a menu or work within your budget (regardless of size), then this, is not the place for you.
Vision – can you imagine having a successful celebration in the environment offered?
Reputation – what have you heard? Does the positive outweigh the negative? Pay attention to comments like “poor customer service, ill-prepared food and inadequate staff.” These are red flags and worthy of further investigation if, and only if, it’s a place that is on the top of your list.
Space – is it adequate for your needs? Don’t try to fit your event into a space that is too small or not configured the way you’d like. Unless the venue has moveable walls, the space is the space. You are not going to change a room that seats 200 into a comfortable space for 350.
Curb Appeal — Is the location clean, well-kempt, and updated? If the exterior is crumbling, it’s a sign that this is not a well-cared for venue. Do you want your guests pulling up and noticing chipped and peeling paint, weed infested landscaping or cracked and crumbling concrete? Of course not.
Are soft drinks and coffee included with the meal?
Can we bring in our own dessert?
Are there any discounts or coupons out now that we can take advantage of?
Do you provide linens?
Will you waive a room fee or minimum food/beverage charge?
Is the deposit refundable? What is the cancellation policy?
When is the balance due?
JUST A COUPLE OF “WATCH OUTS:”
When a catering manager is unwilling to negotiate and says “this is the best we can do,” the message is “we don’t want/need your business.” There is a venue out there for everyone so that is your cue to leave and not come back. Trust your inner voice. If a warning light starts to flicker at the early stages of planning, pay attention. You may not even be able to pinpoint what’s bothering you, but you can be sure that something is not right. Oh, and one more thing. If you are told that you “must have a soda bar all night for the kids” you might want to run in the other direction. Paying $4.00 extra per child for the privilege of letting them pony up to the bar all night is unnecessary. Most places will negotiate lemonade, iced tea and soft drinks.
Finally, be upfront about your budget. Don’t assume a venue/restaurant is out of your price range…you will be surprised, especially in this economy, what you can negotiate for. Remember, be fair, the banquet hall is in the business to make money but would like to earn your business and book your event.
One last bit of advice: don’t be afraid to ASK for what you want. Good luck.