Choosing The Right Venue For Your Event

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Happy New Year!

Let me start by wishing everyone out there a happy & prosperous 2015!

2014 was a good year here with lots of happy customers and some absolutely fantastic discos! 2015 is already off to a fabulous start, so I for one am already looking forward to finding out what the year has in store.

For this article I wanted to focus on some advice for finding a great venue for your event. Not just from the perspective of a wedding DJ or mobile disco service, but as objectively as possible.

I have been an event manager & promoter since long before I mixed my first tracks together, so I have picked up a few tips along the way that may be able to help.

This time though, I wanted to move away from wedding receptions and wedding entertainment advice and focus a little more on other events and celebrations. If you are planning a wedding reception there is a whole host of advice out there, but not much for planning other events.

Whilst the advice here will dtill be suited to booking a venue for your wedding reception it will equally be suited to a birthday party, engagement party, leaving party, Christmas party or indeed any other kind of party. Who needs an excuse anyway?

Location, Location, Location
DisconorwichblogimagelocatonWithout any shadow of a doubt, the most important factor to consider when sourcing a venue for any event that you want people to actually turn up to is the location.

Most people that book venues for the first time think of the nearest village hall or function room and get straight on the phone. It may turn out that this is the best option, but you need to consider a few things first.

Where are your guests coming from?
If all of your guests live within walking distance of each other, great – keep it local. Otherwise you will need to factor in transport. Most events involving a mobile disco also involve alcohol. Can people get there without driving?

  • How close is the nearest train station?
  • Are there any local taxi firms?
  • What time do the local taxi firms run until?
  • How many taxis do they have available?
  • What time do the trains finish?
  • Are there any reasonably priced hotels nearby for those travelling a distance?
  • If so, could you get a deal from the hotel that you can offer when you send invites?

Some people will need to drive so make sure that any venues you consider have plenty of parking close to the venue. On street parking on an already packed street will just cause frustration.

More people are likely to attend and enjoy themselves when they get there if they don’t have to worry about getting home afterwards. Many hotels will offer you a great deal if you can fill all their rooms for the night. They may even have a decent function room with a late license that would make things much easier.

I have had to give stranded people a lift to their hotel in the past because 100+ people have left a venue at the same time in a village that has just one or two taxis. Some forward planning can avoid a disappointing end to a great night.

As a quick note, you should always check that the postcode that people use for satnav actually takes you to the right place. Don’t assume the one on the venue website will.

You may also want to look at the cost of hiring a minibus to take people into town when needed. If all those who plan to use it chip in, it may even work out cheaper than taxis.

In many cases the best venue might be a little way from home. It may be near to motorway links or a main station with late trains. It may even be in another part of the country. Put your guests first and work from there.

Who are your guests?
Are they likely to turn up late and stay late or turn up early and leave early? Most people fall into one category or the other.

If your guestlist includes a large number of parents and children, they are likely to be ‘earlies’. Most family events fall into this category. Parents are in parent mode when they have kids with them. They can’t relax properly and will want to get the kids home. Factor this into your plans and it isn’t so much of a problem. Start early and finish early. The few stragglers that want to keep going can make other plans.

If you have a guestlist that is made up of people who love to stay out late, there is no point booking a venue that calls last orders at 11pm. Night people will just be getting going at around that time and many of your guests will become so fashionably late that they don’t actually turn up.

If you have a guestlist full of ‘lates’ make sure that you source a venue with a late licence or give enough notice for them to apply for a temporary events notice. There is a limit on how many can be applied for each year and venues do not want to waste them. Make sure the venue knows how many very sensible but terribly thirsty guests you will be bringing.

If you have a real mixture of guest, it can be good to arrange something for the children early on. This can give the adults chance to catch up properly before things really get going.

How many guests are attending?
I will tell you a secret; probably not as many as you think! Somewhere between 50-70% of the people who tell you that they are definitely coming are likely to actually come.

No, it isn’t because you are a bit smelly and they never really liked you anyway (well, probably not). There are a whole host of legitimate reasons why people can’t make it. Plan the event with that in mind and you won’t be left disappointed and out of pocket.

There is nothing worse than a huge venue with a few people in it and a very disappointed host. Unless you are having a sit-down meal, always underestimate attendance.  Go smaller (or more intimate if we are marketing), not bigger. You probably don’t need as much room as you think.

Whilst factoring in required venue size, consider this: The problem with lots of tables and chairs at a party is that people use them. You need enough to help out those who might need a sit down from time to time – that’s all.

Less tables and chairs = more mingling, more dancing, more drinking, more new friends, more fun.

Particularly at events with a mixture of people who may not know each other very well, insecurity will draw people into their safe little groups in corners and there they will stay. If they can do upright, keep them that way as much as possible. You will have a better night, I promise.

Supplier considerations
With most events you will need the services of some suppliers. You may even wish to book a mobile disco (oh... hello there).

Generally, people will book a venue first and then book suppliers. This is probably the right way to do it, but you need to factor in a few things.

Loading/Parking/Access
DiscoNorwich Blog - No Loading SignWill any of your suppliers need to load anything heavy, large, or awkward into the venue? Disco equipment, catering equipment, venue decor, drapes, photobooths, sweet carts, dancefloors...

Whoever is bringing these things is likely to check out the venue before giving you a price or even quoting at all. If they have to park across the road, on a meter and carry everything up three flights of stairs, you are going to have problems and things will get complicated.

Most event suppliers need immediate access to the venue. That means parking directly outside the entrance. This is really important if you want your pick of suppliers and you want things to run smoothly. If your supplier can’t get close enough to the venue, they can’t supply you with anything.

  • Ground floor
  • wheelchair access
  • reserved/allocated parking or loading directly outside

It is the holy trinity of supplier access happiness.

Space
Whilst booking a venue with just enough space is better, make sure enough is enough. I need around 4x3 metres to set up my mobile disco and other suppliers will have their own requirements. Get at least a rough idea before you book your venue.

Access times
You will need to factor in access times for suppliers. Don’t guess, ask. It normally takes longer than you might think. Anything involving catering should definitely be given a priority check.  A full mobile disco setup with DMX controlled lighting can take up to 3 hours to get installed properly. Everything that goes in, needs to come out too. Too often suppliers (particularly mobile discos) are left to deal with disgruntled venue managers who are waiting to go home.

Power
Having enough power is vital for larger or more elaborate events. You will need a venue with a good multi-phase supply. Plenty of power points around the room is great too. If you have disco equipment, ovens, lighting, air-con, bouncy castle, hog-roast etc all on the go, you are going to need plenty of go-juice. Check requirements with suppliers if there are any concerns after speaking to the venue.

Ambient light
If you are having the sort of event that you are likely to book a mobile disco for you will want to reduce and take control of ambient light.

When holding a party in the winter this is usually not a problem. It is sometimes dark before it gets light in this country.  It is however worth checking that there are no restrictions on turning the house lights off or at least down. Although it is rare, some have the lights all on one switch or claim it to be dangerous not to have all the lights on full-blast. 

If your event is in the summer and is mostly catering for ‘earlies’ you need to take action.

Does the venue have windows? Does it have blackout blinds, shutters or curtains that can easily be operated? By controlling the light, you control the atmosphere. This is why my moodlighting & uplighting services are so popular. It will certainly have a negative impact on atmosphere if you have an indoor event with too much ambient light.

Ceiling height
It may not seem important, but the right ceiling height can make a difference – particularly if you have a small number of people. Rooms with high ceilings will often need more sound equipment to get a great sound. Rooms with ceilings that are too low will make people feel claustrophobic and will limit your lighting options. Somewhere around 4-5m is the ideal height for a typical private function.  Certainly no lower than 3 metres. Once you start getting over 200 people, a little more height is advisable. This will help to keep the guests cooler.

The Bar
Does the bar have enough of a range of drinks and is there a minimum spend as part of the hire terms? What are the drink prices? What time does the bar close? How may bar staff will you have? All these questions are worth asking. Overpriced drinks, slow service and poor selection will hinder the success of your event.

If there is a minimum spend, ensure that you check till receipts at intervals throughout the night. You can then encourage guests to buy more drinks instead of being left with the bill at the end. If there is another bar on-site that is better stocked than yours or even just closer to the toilet, ensure there are plans or allowances in place to account for this. If your guests spend enough money, but at the wrong bar, you may need to meet the shortfall.

If you are supplying your own drinks, be careful about how licensing laws apply to your situation. Most venues will advise you on this, but you don’t want to end up in hot water.

Sound limiters & smoke alarms.
Light use of a hazer or smoke machine will have a fantastic effect on the disco lighting at your event. A large number of venues restrict their use because they set off certain types of fire alarm which will alert the fire brigade. This may leave you liable for a call out charge. Check the type of smoke alarms at your venue and check if they are happy with the use of haze.

If your venue has a sound limiter and you are having more than a small tea party, I would add that venue to the ‘probably not’ list very quickly.  When a council makes a sound limiter a requirement of a venue licence, it is usually the last option before the licence gets revoked. This means that venue managers are very cautious about noise.

Whilst there are some limiters that aren’t too sensitive, most don’t allow for a decent level of music and conversation. Many can be set off by conversation alone and most mobile DJs won’t work venues with sound limiters. When they trip, they stop the power supply to the equipment. Aside from it being very frustrating, it can cause damage to the equipment. It is usually best to steer well clear of sound limited venues.

Smokers
Are there any outside areas suitable for smoking? This isn’t too much of a problem in the summer, but in the winter it can make a difference. Shelter & heaters etc will be appreciated by your smoking guests. If venues have neighbours they may also be very strict about groups standing outside the venue chatting at night. Check to be on the safe side.

Costs
Most private venues will charge you a fixed fee for the hire of the venue, but some may offer the venue free if they supply the bar. If you are expecting a large number of guests, venues are more likely to be flexible with the price that they offer. Be honest about your expectations, but remember that you are the customer.  If you are bringing paying guests, venues will want your business. Don’t be scared to negotiate to get the deal that is right for your particular circumstances.

Remember to check the terms regarding any damage deposits that are required and what your rights are to dispute any withholdings.

Check to see if there are any additional costs that may have not have been considered, some venues may charge penalties for late exits, excessive noise, use of 3rd party suppliers or breakages.

Most venues are fair and straightforward, but it is best to go through the terms with a fine toothed comb to avoid any nasty surprises.

Summary checklist
Here is a quick summary checklist to run though for each venue:

Location

  • Does the venue have good transport links?
  • Are there local taxi companies capable of handling the workload?
  • Are there reasonably priced hotels nearby?
  • Is there adequate parking for guests and suppliers?
  • Does the venue have suitable access routes for the required equipment?
  • Is there a suitable outside area available for smokers?
  • Does the satnav postcode work?

Times

  • Are the available times suited to your guests?
  • Are there suitable access times for suppliers?
  • What are the bar opening and music licensing hours?
  • Will a TEN (Temporary Event Notice) be required?

Internal

  • Is there enough space for all the required equipment?
  • Have power requirements been checked and confirmed as suitable by the venue?
  • What arrangements are there for controlling ambient light?
  • Are chairs & tables supplied and included in the cost?
  • Is there a noise limiter at the venue?
  • Is the use of smoke/haze allowed?
  • Are the kitchen facilities adequate for the needs of your caterers?
  • Are there any restrictions on venue use or decoration?

Costs

  • What is the hire fee?
  • Does the hire fee include the required access times before and after the event?
  • Does the fee give you exclusive use of the venue?
  • Is there a minimum spend to meet on the bar?
  • How much is the damage deposit?
  • Under which circumstances might it be withheld?
  • Are the bar prices reasonable?
  • Are there any additional costs?

Other

  • Who is responsible for cleaning the venue after the event?
  • Will a keyholder be present to allow access or will you be required to collect and drop off keys?
  • What insurance does the venue provide?
  • Is a copy of the terms available to view?

Most venues will be straightforward and fair in the way that they do business but as with most industries, there are some who will pray on the inexperienced and unprepared.

Just a small amount of planning can make the world of difference. The right venue will make the difference between another night out and a fantastic night out.

If you have any questions or need advice, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

All the best,

Rob.

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