When booking the venue or location for your wedding you are entering into a business agreement. While the person you are working with is not likely to be deceptive, they are in business to make a profit. Consequently, there are certain aspects you should confirm and get in writing to avoid last minute surprises. Also, when thinking about and comparing costs between different venues, it’s important to understand the details so you can effectively compare costs. (Note: for venue option ideas see 76 Unexpected Wedding Reception Venues.)
I’ve listed 11 questions you should ask, plus two more if you will be charged on a per person basis, before signing on the dotted line. But first, you must know how to “speak the language.” Here are a couple of definitions you should become familiar with.
Wedding Contract Definitions
The Wedding Venue
A venue is the location your wedding or reception will be held. Yours may be both are the same room or facility, when the place provides all-inclusive wedding services. Or you may choose to have them at separate places, in which case you will have two venues. An example of this is when you have a church wedding and rent a reception hall for the reception.
These are the people and companies that do the work of planning and putting on your wedding. The venue is a vendor, as are the caterer, baker, photographer, wedding coordinator, florist, and others.
The Wedding Contract Itself
The wedding contract is a legal document laying out all the details you and the venue staff are each responsible for. You may be referred to as the “client.” Information you should expect the contract to include are:
- The names and addresses of you and the venue.
- Event date(s).
- What, exactly, you have access to during your event.
- Your costs and dates deposits are due.
- Who provides vendors or what vendors are allowed.
- Cancellation terms.
- Liability insurance and security provided or requirements. (Wedsafe has a good FAQ about wedding insurance here.)
- Licenses, if any, provided or needed.
- Their rules regarding alcohol, decorations, music or noise, time you must leave, and anything else the venue finds important.
- Legally binding signatures from both you and the venue manager.
Tips for Your Wedding Contract Questions
Now that you know the terminology, here are those tips for making sure you end up paying what you expected for your big day.
1) Is there an added charge for using my own vendors?
Many times, locations have their own coordinators, caterers, or other professionals they want you to use for your event or included in the cost. It is critical for you to clarify the agreement not only so you know the final cost, but also so you understand which responsibilities fall on your shoulders.
2) Does the price include alcohol or is that extra?
Some venues will charge based on actual wine, beer, and liquor used. If this is the case, the quoted fee will not include those items.
3) Can I bring in my own food, drink, and/or cake?
Even if it is only a room rental, the facility may require you to use certain services they provide. If there are restrictions, discuss the cost of those services and if they are included in the price you’ve talked about. Likewise, if you are buying a package, find out if do-it-yourself is an option for food and beverage and how that affects what you pay.
4) If I do bring my own food, drink, or cake are there extra charges?
The venue may see you supplying certain items as more costly for them. While it’s true they save on what you provide, their people may still be doing some of the work. For example, there may be a cutting and plating charge for an outside cake.In some cases there may be a sort of “privilege” fee beyond labor cost to make up for lost profit. Alcohol is a good example. The venue can make very good money on wine and liquor, so may add on substantially extra, commonly called a corkage fee, just to open containers. And no self-opening allowed!
5) Are rentals included in this price?
Chairs, tables, tablecloths and other adornments may or may not be provided.
6) Are there set up fees?
This could be especially important to make clear if you plan to have both your ceremony and reception at the same venue.
7) Do you do the breakdown and clean up or do I?
This can substantially impact who and how much you pay.
8) Is parking extra?
There may be a charge for guest and/or valet parking, so clarify the arrangement. If there is a charge are you or the guests paying it?
9) If there is an additional service charge does it cover all tips?
Who you should tip can be confusing, so many times the venue will add on a percentage over the quoted price to use as tips for the servers, bartenders, and others. Explore exactly how that works. Does it cover everyone or do they feel it is customary to tip certain additional staff?
10) Is there a time limit and what’s the cost of going over?
There is often a set amount of time you can utilize the reception space (four or six hours is common). The cost of going over on time can be substantial.
11) What are the tax rates and related fees?
These can vary according to the municipality and may include not only state and local sales tax, but hospitality fees or other unexpected taxes as well. Also, clarify which subtotal each fee is based on (total base amount, food only, food plus service, etc.)
If you are charged per person for any piece of the reception, you will want to explicitly understand how they will arrive at the final number. Ask these additional questions to clarify.
12) Is there an additional cost for my other vendors (i.e. the photographer, videographer, planner, and DJ/band)?
Your professionals will need to eat, so it is important to know if or how you need to count them. Should they be in the final head count or reported separately (In other words, if you can get a discount rate for the vendors)?
13. Are there special considerations for children?
Often, the child cost is less than the adult rate, so ask. You will also want to follow up with separate counts before the event and verify they’ve tallied the final bill correctly.
See the Printable Wedding Planning Guide for more on how you start planning a wedding.