She said yes, the ring is on. Now what?
Before setting a wedding date, bridal couples with a specific venue desire for the ceremony and/or reception need to do one thing — confirm an open date and book the venue first.
“Whenever we do tours I hit some main things with a potential bride and groom,” said Jessica Jonczak, who with her husband John own and operate The Barn at Heritage Farm in Dobson. “The most important thing when you’re choosing your venue is availability.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how many emails I get when a bride emailed and they say, ‘I’m getting married on this date, do you have it available?’ No.”
She said she’s had some brides who have gone as far as sending out “Save the Date” cards to guests, only to find out their venue is booked for that date, and they’ve had to change the date. “So before a bride and groom is dead set on a date, they need to check their venue first,” Jonczak said.
“If they’re open to shopping around at different venues, then obviously it’s not that important, but if they have their mind set, I want to get married at this location on this date, they better call first,” she said.
The next step is knowing a venue’s payment process. “How much is put down, and when is the remaining balance due,” Jonczak said couples need to ask. “Are there any discounts? Always ask for a military discount, the worst thing that could happen is they say no, and the best thing would be you might save a hundred dollars. Always ask for discounts, maybe there’s one if you pay in cash, or you’re a first responder or military.”
Another thing to keep in mind is guest count, she said. “Choose your venue based on how many guests you feel are coming. Obviously, you don’t want to pick a venue that will only hold 100 if you are anticipating more.”
Bridal couples should never assume if they invite 125 that only 100 will come and plan for the lesser amount. “We’ve seen where that has happened, and we’ve also seen where 125 has been invited and 140 show up,” Jonczak said. “That’s happened more than once, where they’ve brought family or friends, or people who kind of really wasn’t officially invited but casually were come.
“It happens. We ask how many chairs you want to set out, and then we’ll maybe add five to that number just in case, and there have been occasions where we’ve had to pull 20 more out of the closet,” she said.
The guest number isn’t just important for knowing the number of seats and how many to cater for, but Jonczak said a venue also needs to have extra space for catering tables, a cake table, dancing room.
“Then, with the space, it’s always important to know if they supply tables and chairs, and if so, how many,” she said, noting that some venues don’t offer any and a couple has to take care of renting them, or they may provide so many and extras cost an additional fee.
“I think the next biggest aspect we get a lot of questions about is heat and air,” Jonczak said, because, believe it or not, there are some venues that only have the heat or air on for certain months of the year, no matter the temperature outside, and they will not deviate from that schedule. “Do you have it? Does it cost extra? When do you turn it off and on? Some venues will say, ‘We don’t run the heat between April and September,’ or ‘We don’t turn anything on.’”
She said couples should just assume that because a venue has heat or air that it will be on when they want it to be. They need to ask.
Another item to consider is handicap-accessibility at a location. “You never know. I had brides who were like, ‘I don’t have anybody on my guest list in a wheel chair,’” Jonczak said. “You don’t know between now and a year, because I had a bride getting married and all the girls went out for a bachelorette party and there were in a car accident, and one of the girls was in the wedding in a wheel chair with casts on her legs. How awful would it had been if they’d had the wedding upstairs?”
Bathroom facilities are an item to consider when selecting a venue as well, she said. Whether it is handicap-accessible, or are their even adequate bathrooms and are they inside. “Some places will have port-a-jons,” Jonczak said. “Some will make you rent your own, so always check the bathrooms.”
She said for those considering an outdoor wedding, be sure there is a Plan B. “In case it’s raining or very windy, or it is 104 degrees in the shade, does your venue have an indoor space so you can move over, or do they supply a tent in case of rain. Some will do that, and if they don’t, do they allow you to rent a tent from somewhere and bring it on their property,” Jonczak said.
“Those are probably the biggest most important things,” she said. “Then there are, of course, a few minor things.”
One of those is the availability of a bridal suite, or a room where the bride and her attendees can get ready, and a groom’s room to prepare. “Guys don’t really care, they can get ready in a bathroom, but the girls need their own space,” Jonczak said. “Sometimes a venue will have that, sometimes they don’t. If they do offer it, see where exactly in relation to the venue it is. Is it in a house half a mile from the venue? Is it 50 feet where you have to walk? What if it’s raining, do they supply a golf cart where you won’t get wet when you’re coming over?”
With the wedding likely being the biggest party a couple will ever throw, Jonczak said guest comfort is important. After guest comfort, the next concern should be vendor comfort.
“Some venues will charge vendors to use their space,” she said. “We had a vendor from Winston-Salem call and ask what our working fee is, which is something John and I had never heard of. In most venues around Winston area, they charge a $300 working fee to be able to use their catering room, kitchen, appliances, whatever. So just ask.”
Also, she said some venues have their own vendor list from which couples must choose, and some are open to allow couples to hire their own vendors. “Ask before you put a deposit down and start booking these places,” she said. “That’s real important for alcohol. Does your venue allow alcohol and what are the rules? We don’t carry the permits or licensing, so we make the bride and groom or caterer get the special permits.”
Jonczak said some locations also charge more to the couples if they are having alcohol because of clean up. For The Barn, she said they also hire off-duty officers to provide safety for the bridal couple’s guests if alcohol is being served. Some also have rules about a last call time, so couples need to be aware of that so they aren’t paying a bartender for hours they aren’t working, she said.
“We have learned in the past 17 months that we’ve been open, there are so many questions mainly from caterers and DJs. Caterers always what to know what’s in the kitchen, and DJs want to know what kind of space you have and what kind of plug-ins,” Jonczak said.
“We have created a vendor expectation sheet, and it answers every question they have,” she said. “It lets them know what we as a venue expect from them as a vendor, and that’s really important, because if there’s somebody that comes in and it’s a vendor and they leave a mess and we have to clean extra, that comes out of the bridal deposit.
“It’s one of those things where the bride wants to make sure her vendors know the venue’s rules and expectations,” she said, remembering a time when a paid DJ arrived drinking alcohol and was hammered by the end of the night.
Another thing couples should be aware of is that some venues don’t allow family and friends to help with the wedding for things like servers and other vendor services. “They require vendors to carry their own insurance and business license,” Jonczak said. “We carry enough insurance you can bring in whoever you want, alcohol is the only time we require insurance.”
She said while many venues may have the same, or close to the same, price, be sure to compare the differences in what is offered with those prices. “Just because one venue might be $3,800 and another venue $3,700, well what’s the difference? Does one give you additional time for photographs, additional time for your rehearsal? Do they include plates, glasses, et cetera, so know what you’re getting for your money.”
Jonczak has found that most couples book their venues 13 to 18 months ahead of the ceremony.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.