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Picking a wedding venue 101

Wow – look at that amazing shot above, from Alexandra and Angus’s wedding at Cecil Green (big thanks to the uber-talented Kristian Holmes of Page & Holmes Photography for capturing this moment)! When picking a wedding venue, it’s super important that it has the right feel, vibe, and price. It can be overwhelming though, which is why Breanne Dodge, founder and lead planner of ThistleBEA has once again graciously sat down with me to give us the best industry advice on everything from contracts to permits to possible pitfalls. Enter your email above to get this month’s downloadable cheatsheet. You’ll get a venue checklist so you don’t forget anything on your venue tours, and a shortlist of Breanne’s fave local venues!

What are some important questions to ask when picking a wedding venue?

There are lots of little things you definitely want to check on when picking a wedding venue that can have an effect on your timelines, decor plans, and budget. For example:

  • Do you require 3rd party insurance? 
  • What time do we have access for setup?
  • What time do vendors & decor need to be out by?
  • What time can guests come in and what time must guests be out?
  • Is alcohol allowed on site?
  • Do you have preferred or required vendors? Some venues will require you to work with their preferred vendors. If they do, check cost and reviews before agreeing to make sure they fit with your budget and vision. 
  • Are there any limitations on the rental? For example, one venue I worked at didn’t allow amplified music in a particular rental room due to noise restrictions on that side of the property.
  • Accessibility issues, especially if it’s a non-conventional location or private residence.
  • Set up restrictions (no glue, no tape, no 3M hooks, etc). If none are listed, ask. It’s better to know upfront than risk being on the hook for damage after. 
  • Anything that is promised to you verbally should be in writing in the contract.
    Request an amendment if it isn’t (and initial it!).
  • A payment schedule, deposit amount, and whether the deposit is refundable. And check for rules around date changes, Act of God clauses, Covid mandates, and cancellations. 
  • A damage and liability waiver. 
  • Extra fees like SOCAN, which is required to play music at your wedding. Both DJs and venues may charge it so check both contracts to make sure you don’t pay for it twice.
  • Smoking and parking rules.
  • Confetti restrictions. If glitter and paper aren’t allowed then flower petals and biodegradable leaf confetti are options. But be careful! Sometimes venues will require that EVERY piece is cleaned up before you leave. Trust me – it’s even harder than it sounds to get every. single. piece.
  • Open flame restrictions if you plan on using candles. 
  • Harassment policies. These cover any type of harassment that threatens the health and safety of vendors or venue staff, including assault, verbal assault, sexual harassment, or acts that intentionally prevent work from being done. If breached, venues can ask you to vacate the premises.
  • Venues often have documents they want filled out before the wedding including vendor documents, timeline documents, etc to make sure they can effectively handle your wedding. 
  • Do they include any bonuses or add-ons, like tables and chairs, linens, or other rentals? If so, do they set them up and take them down or is that on you?

*Don’t worry – our downloadable venue tour checklist will cover all of these points, and more, so you won’t forget to ask when you’re doing your tours!

Speaking of add-ons, do most venues offer décor, sound system, and lighting, or are these things a couple should assume they’ll be taking care of for their wedding?

It depends! All-inclusive venues like golf courses or convention centers will likely have a sound system on site you can use. If you end up picking a wedding venue that doesn’t then you can ask your DJ to help you coordinate that.

Tables and chairs are sometimes provided, which can definitely be easier, but make sure to check them out to ensure they fit your aesthetic. Upgrading them can be pricey, in the range of $5-$17 each. Chair covers may seem more economical, but they usually run about $3.50-$4 each plus 50 cents to your setup team to put them on. For 200 guests, that’s almost $1000. Most people don’t notice the chairs once they’re sitting anyway, so it might not be worth the extra expense.

Many venues allow you to hang lighting or décor, but check your contract carefully for restrictions. One of the services ThistleBEA offers is taking care of setup and teardown, paying careful attention to what can and can’t be done in your venue. We now even offer string light rentals that you can add on to your setup or coordination package to make it even easier – ask your coordinator for details!

If you do need to bring in your own rentals, there are companies that handle this. Check with your planner or your caterer for recommendations (some may have a discount if you book via referral as well).

What red flags should we watch for in contracts?

Have a contract! That’s honestly the biggest thing. Not having one leaves room for miscommunication and costly problems later. If you are absolutely set on picking a vendor or venue and they say they don’t have a contract, then offer to draft one yourself or with the help of your lawyer or wedding planner to make sure you’re protected. Note any pre-existing damage on the venue tour and add it to the contract.

Outdoor weddings are gorgeous, especially around Vancouver! If you decide on an outdoor venue, do you need a permit?

A couple doing their first look at an outdoor wedding venue - a beach.
Heather and David showed how beautiful a backdrop our Vancouver beaches make at their 2018 wedding at Performance Works! Photographer: Amy Teixeira, IG: @amyteixeira

You will need a permit almost anywhere that you have an outdoor wedding that isn’t a private residence, even if it’s just a small no-frills ceremony without a tent or chairs or anything. Check with the city well in advance of your date. You need to make sure you have time to fill out the necessary paperwork and fulfil any requirements to get the permit issued. 

Do NOT try to get away with not having one, especially in popular parks located in residential areas. Neighbours will call bylaw when they see events happening to ensure it’s a permitted event, it’s not worth the risk. Tents also have their own permits and you need to know the rules about putting them up. The fines can be huge, much higher than a permit would cost. 

Public spaces that host a lot of events, like Van Dusen and UBC Botanical Garden, typically have information about what is required that is easily accessible. But, if you are looking at just a local park the information might take some digging. You need to call the city your prospective location is in well in advance of your date to find out their requirements.

Do backyard weddings require permits?

There is no special permitting needed in a backyard wedding. Some municipalities will require a tent permit even at a private residence, but it’s up to the tent company to determine whether to charge for it and they might not. Also, make sure to give a heads up to your neighbors, it’s just the courteous thing to do before throwing a big event. 

What are the main benefits and drawbacks to consider when picking an outdoor wedding venue?

Benefits – they are beautiful! Simple, naturalistic, and they require minimal work (in theory!). They allow for you to have next to no décor, and it can be really nice just being out in the air. I definitely recommend outdoor venues – but you have to have a solid rain plan, even in the summer! 

If you end up picking an outdoor wedding venue that doesn’t include rain plan alternatives, you should reserve a tent, just in case. However, these are NOT cheap, you could be paying 3-5k for a tent you might not even end up using, and you won’t be getting that money back. And again, make sure you know what kind of permitting you need, for both the wedding and the tent.

My venue package includes one of their coordinators. What is the difference between them and an outside coordinator like ThistleBEA?

A venue coordinator (VC) has a difference scope of work than an outside coordinator. VC’s mostly deal with bridal and venue related stuff, which absolutely has value, but they won’t be helping with outside vendors or anything like that.

An outside wedding coordinator, like us at ThistleBEA, will have your best interest in mind. Our job is taking care of YOU and making sure your entire vision comes to fruition. We hold comprehensive meetings with you and go over every element of your wedding weeks in advance. We take care of vendor management, fix problems, and provide timelines for each vendor tailored to them. Helping with the rehearsal, doing setup and teardown and everything in between is also part of our job. We handle all kinds of issues as they pop up, so you don’t have to! We come prepared with kits that can solve almost any problem and we are always on top of things. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with a good venue coordinator, it makes our job easier for sure. But our job doesn’t go away when we have a good VC. 

Is it better to use in-house catering or an outside service?

If the food style, quality and value works for you, using the in-house caterer will be a lot easier. This is especially true if you don’t have a wedding planner as fewer vendors are easier to coordinate. But, if the food doesn’t suit your fancy, and your contract allows it, an outside caterer works too. Just keep in mind that there may be an extra fee (somewhere around 10% of the venue cost) if you don’t use their catering. 

If the ceremony and reception are at different locations, what are some timeline and logistical issues to keep in mind?

Make sure to give enough time for travel, photography and socializing before the reception begins. You might need to hire extra help for setup and teardown to get it done in the timeframe you need. Also, bear in mind if you have a lot of guests from out of town or who don’t drive that transportation might be tricky depending on the location and timing of the ceremony vs reception. Consider offering a shuttle if this is something you think might be an issue.

Ok, you’ve done a lot of weddings all over the metro Vancouver area. If you were picking a wedding venue for each of these categories, what would they be?

Best natural backdrop?

Lynn Canyon is beautiful! And I love having weddings at Cecil Green, it’s almost like a botanical garden, amazing for an outside wedding. UBC Botanical is more affordable, beautiful and less rigid than other botanical garden venues. And at Furry Creek, the ceremony can be held at the first tee at the top of a mountain. Trust me, the view is SO amazing. Sea to sky gondola is pretty spectacular as well. 

Most romantic?

 Cecil Green again! They also work with an excellent caterer, and it’s very romantic because it’s a heritage building. My wedding was at Aberthau mansion, so I have a special bond with that locale!

Best value?

Eagles Hall in Maple Ridge – the catering is SO good! The price is also super reasonable.

*enter your email at the top of this page to get more details on these, and more, venues in our downloadable cheatsheet!

So there you have it! We know this is a LOT of info, so make sure to enter your email to get our walk-through checklist to make sure you ask ALL the important questions when picking your wedding venue. Also, we’re including a cheatsheet on the awesome local venues Breanne mentioned above, so you can add them to your shortlist.

We’ll see you next month for our next featured topic – wedding beauty, attire and self care!

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