Questions Every Planner Needs to Ask the Venue

Image by Amy Hirschi

When putting together a live event, there are necessary questions that every event planner should be prepared to ask. While they may seem obvious, it’s surprising how many little details can easily get missed.  Don’t be left scrambling – these topics will help your event be well-organized and seamless.

Audio/Visual

A/V has a huge range – from “can we plug in a mic?” to a full studio production.  With a/v and technical needs it’s good to know what is offered and if there is a charge.  Many Chicago hotels have unions that require their in-house a/v or electricians handle any kind of equipment, even for something that seems as simple as a microphone.

It’s also important to understand requirements if you are bringing in any outside a/v.  For more extensive setups, make sure your vendor and venue talk to one another about details like electrical output and rigging.  While a good a/v company will know what they need and should be able to work with your venue to make certain that it all goes smoothly, you as the planner still need to be aware of these kinds of details.

Coat Check & Storage

Regular coat check can be an important detail, especially in colder weather.  It is also important when groups are traveling and may require extensive storage for luggage.  While coat check might be able to accommodate a small amount of additional storage for your team, you will need to understand the capacity of the space, what’s available and if there are fees.  Do not assume you can have items shipped to the venue or stored.  There may also be limitations on how much can be held and for how long. Some locations, including hotels, may require you rent additional space for storage needs.

Decor

It’s good to know what the venue includes versus what you have to bring in.  Are white or black linens provided on tables?  Do you have to rent your own?  Clarify any restrictions on what you can and can’t have at the venue (i.e. open flame candles are a no-no at many places).  Many venues don’t allow things on the walls, and you have to be certain that your decor won’t cause damage to any surfaces.

Guest Requests Outside of What’s Contracted

Guests always say the darnedest things!  If an attendee asks for an item that has not been contracted, have a clear policy on how to address this.  This is usually most relevant regarding food & beverage.  Most places direct the guest towards something similar they may like, or of course the guest may purchase the item themselves.  Make sure you have guidelines in place so the venue’s staff knows how to accommodate everyone in the best way.  

Having designated contact(s) to answer these questions on-site for staff/vendors is important.  In most cases it’s the on-site planner but there may be chains of command staff should know about.  

Load In & Out Times & Procedures

Load In

For load in time, it’s good to be cognizant of what each vendor needs, and to stagger arrival times.  You want to avoid making people move things or having staff waiting around for another vendor.  For example, the linen company can’t put down the table cloths if the rental company hasn’t brought the tables yet.  Think through the needs of each vendor, talk to them about their delivery process & set up windows, and then coordinate with the venue.  Access to loading docks or other entry points may vary depending on the type of equipment being transported.  Often big technical items are required to use service elevators or a back entry as compared to main entrances.  Having an appropriately coordinated entry plan means load in will be as efficient as possible.

Load Out

Most people know when to arrive, but you’d be surprised how often load out procedures are missed or not fully explained between venues and vendors.  This is really important for evening events, because you can not assume that the venue will allow you to keep anything past your event end time or overnight.  Some vendors will come by and pick things up as late as 2am, but others come first thing in the morning, which can cause issues if the vendor is expecting everything cleared out (they may have another event to set up for early the next day).  Do not be stuck trying to call your vendor at midnight because chances are the vendor will already have other pick ups scheduled and may not be able to accommodate you.  

Maintenance & Staffing Responsibilities

Understanding who is handling certain maintenance and staffing tends to be a question for open venues compared to hotels or restaurants.  If you are renting an open space like a warehouse or loft, be clear about who will be changing the trash, keeping restrooms tidy, etc.  Some empty spaces give you only the space, and require you to fully staff the space, or they charge a fee to supply staffing.  Ideally, you want staff from the venue to handle these things, assuming they will be familiar with the building and have a relationship with the venue managers.  They will most likely know more about the building, and be able to easily assist with more complicated needs.

Parking/Attendee Access

How are your guests getting to the venue?  If they are driving, what are their parking options?  If there is valet parking how do they charge for it? Do they have a minimum number of cars you must pay for – can guests pay for their own valet parking? If you’re renting a bus to transport the group, where can the buses stage?  The parking question tends to be more relevant in the city, however some spaces have limited parking or multiple parking lots, and city or not, it’s good to understand where people should be so you can properly inform guests ahead of time.

Payment, Gratuities & Other Fees

There are a variety fees that can be required for an event from room rental, to food and beverage minimums, to administrative fees, staff gratuity and taxes.  Room rental, administrative fees and gratuity are not taxed in Illinois, however, sale of good items like food and beverage are.  Be sure you are clear on how the venue charges, and how fees and taxes are applied so your budget and anticipated expenses remain as accurate as possible. 

Rentals & Preferred Vendors

Many venues have “preferred vendor” lists, which means you can only work with the people on that list for additional needs for your event.  It’s good to confirm whether the venue has any flexibility or additional fees to work with your own vendor or specific vendors like entertainment, etc.  

Safety Protocols

In addition to covid precautions, it’s important to have an understanding of general safety procedures, especially for larger groups.  If your event involves hundreds or even thousands of people, you need to understand emergency plans, security needs, and other protective measures.  

Vendor/Staff Meals

This is one of the most forgotten details in an event.  If you hire a band or photographer, will you offer those vendors a staff meal?  It is important to be clear about this because some of these professionals include a meal requirement for longer shifts, or they may tell the venue they were supposed to get a meal.  This varies widely, but depending on the event, you should consider the needs of those working for you, not just the guests.  This is especially important for events more than 5 hours and general labor laws will apply. While you can encourage vendors to plan accordingly such as eating beforehand, bringing snacks, etc., it is important to know your local labor laws, and consider what you may include during your vendor and staff breaks.

Wi-fi

It’s 2021 – you have to ask about wi-fi.  Is there an open network available to guests?  Is there a separate network for just your team so you have enough bandwidth if you are live streaming or if your team needs to be plugged in for the event?  This information is especially important for hybrid events, but is also helpful in case a guest would simply like to log in.

Regardless of whether internet is a primary component of your event, it’s good to understand what your venue partner offers so you are prepared ahead of time.  Never assume internet is free or that a certain bandwidth is guaranteed.  If you need more bandwidth than what the venue offers, you need to discuss this right away, since the venue will most likely need to make arrangements on their end, if they are able to provide something upgraded for you.

Article written by Jessica Dalka Twitter: @JessicaDalka | Instagram @ChicagoPlanner | linkedin.com/in/dalka


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