Read an Excerpt
Space: The First Frontier
In This Chapter
- Narrowing down the wedding site
- Collapsing the great tent myth
- Finding a house of worship
- Scouting spaces by phone
- Interviewing banquet managers and caterers
Quick quiz: Have you and your intended agreed -- or at least compromised -- on the wedding you want? Do you have a preliminary head count? Have you set a realistic budget? Has at least one of you broken down in tears? If not, consider going to Chapter 1 and practicing your exercIZEs.
Where you get married reflects your style, taste, and priorities. Whether you choose a religious ceremony in a local house of worship followed by an old-fashioned reception at home, or invent new traditions some place far away, finding a tie-the-knot spot is one of the first things to cross off your list because the hot spaces (or venues) are often booked a year in advance. In popular resort areas, hotels and other lodgings fill up quickly as well. And, of course, until you know where you're getting married, moving on to other decisions, such as ordering invitations and finalizing the menu, is impossible.
A World of Possibilities
Start with the big picture, narrowing down the location by region, state, city, and finally venue. As we mentioned before, money is power, so you need to take into account who's covering the cost and where they want to have the wedding. Consider also who may actually come (which is not always the same as whom you want to come) and how far they have to travel. Where do most of your friends live? Your relatives?
Tradition favors having the wedding in the bride's hometown over the groom's. But that's not always feasible or desirable.
If neither of you have roots in your present community, you may opt for neutral territory or a favorite vacation spot. However, are you prepared to pay guests' travel costs, or are your guests well-heeled enough to cover the expense? How often are the local airports shut down due to weather? And if you're looking at a resort town, are peak-season costs exorbitant? Often, two cities that appear equal in every other way vary greatly in cost of living. (See Chapter 19 on planning destination and long-distance weddings.)
For planning an out-of-town wedding, a phone book from the local area is indispensable. You can order consumer yellow pages for any city from US West (one of the seven Baby Bells) for $7 to $40. Call 800-422-8793. (You can also peruse Yellow Pages online or on CD-ROM. See Chapter 21 for details.)
If you're planning a religious ceremony, hold off on booking anything until you clear the dates, location, and timing with the priest, rabbi, or minister you want to have officiate. A clergyperson may deem your ceremony plans inappropriate for reasons you never dreamed of such as secular music, contemporary readings, or your "edited" version of the traditional vows.
Should you come upon a church or synagogue within reasonable proximity of your reception, don't expect to be able to just walk in and book it as if it were a catering hall. Many sensitive issues are involved. If you have a relationship with a clergyperson or other official religious authority through your family or as a couple, enlist his or her help in communicating with the powers that be at the house of worship you're interested in.
Elementary, my dear Watson -- researching like a pro
Before you set out on a wild goose chase, spend some time amassing as much material on various locations as possible. As your vision becomes clearer, all these tidbits of information should naturally gravitate to one of two piles: gold mine or utterly irrelevant piffle.
You can find information about wedding sites in a wide range of places, including:
- Books: Places: A Directory of Public Places for Private Events & Private Places for Public Functions by Hannelore Hahn covers spaces from ballrooms to breweries in major cities. Far & Away Weddings by wedding watchdogs Denise and Alan Fields is a must-have for planning destination weddings without losing your shirt.
- Bridal shows: Location vendors display at these exhibitions, which range from huge bridal fairs to invitation-only events at department stores.
- Caterers: Because off-premise locations are their stock in trade, caterers are tuned into what is available. To find a unique space, you might interview caterers for their suggestions.
- Chambers of commerce: Especially useful as a first stop for planning an out-of-town wedding, chambers of commerce can recommend venues, caterers, vendors, and even officiants, though they generally refer only to member establishments. Many send brochures and other information upon request.
- Consumer magazines: Besides the requisite Bride's, Modern Bride, and Bridal Guide, Martha Stewart Living and Town & Country put out special bridal issues. Look for regional magazines, such as Planning Your New York Wedding, Virginia Bride, Mariage Québec, and the like. Honeymoon provides ideas for destination weddings as well as romantic getaways afterward, and Condé Nast Traveler can broaden your horizons. The Canadian magazine WeddingBells and the British magazines Dolce Vita and You and Your Wedding are also worth checking out.
- Internet: Using an Internet search engine, type in the words wedding and planning to access numerous sites (although some are more helpful than others). You can also locate chambers of commerce and tourist bureaus. (See Chapter 21 for addresses to look for.)
- Newspapers: Peruse the wedding announcements in your local newspaper or that of the city where you want to be married. Besides telling where the ceremony is held, they also sometimes mention the reception site.
- Subscription newsletters: Romantic Places, Easy Escapes, and Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report are a few of the specialized publications that reveal little-known and unusual destinations.
- Travel brochures and catalogs: The Independent Innkeepers' Association publishes The Innkeeper's Register, a guide to more than 300 country inns in North America. The Innovanna Corporation publishes Romantic Wedding Destinations, a compendium of companies that provide wedding packages and services in the United States, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. Ask your travel agent for brochures and videos.
- Trade magazines: Locations and Special Events are geared toward the events-planning industry and full of articles, professional tips, and advertisements for venues, vendors, caterers, and other services. Agenda publishes editions for Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, South Florida, Southern California, and Washington, D.C.
Becoming an investigative reporter
Your own attitude plays a key role in your search for an original, magical place to get married. Think of yourself as the Woodward and Bernstein of the wedding set, meaning:
- Be gutsy: Get personal suggestions from people whom you consider arbiters of taste and style.
- Be curious: Perhaps you or someone you know attended a wedding that was stunning, but for some reason -- cost, location, size -- the venue is not quite right for you. Find out what other spots the couple passed up. Their reject list may contain your dream site.
- Be creative: Inquire about unconventional spaces to rent, such as private homes, lofts, museums, galleries, boats, and private gardens. Owners who have never thought of renting out their property may consider it for a wedding.
Setting Your Sites
If you're not going to be married in a house of worship, you need a place to have a ceremony, a cocktail hour (if you have one), and a reception. Your first choice should be a site that can handle all three.
The turning of the room
Finding versatile spaces is not easy. Consequently, you may need to turn a room. This banquet term refers to resetting a room for another function. A space that must double for ceremony and cocktail area requires that chairs be moved and bars unveiled while guests are in the room. If the ceremony and reception are in the same room, guests are ushered to a separate cocktail area while the ceremony room is turned.
An elaborate decor may involve extra labor costs to be expedited or may be impossible to carry off in the time between ceremony and reception. Your decor concept should not dictate the length of the cocktail hour. Sculpting miniature English gardens on each table, for example, may take an inordinately long time. By the time they're seated, some guests may be too sloshed to notice or care whether they have a rose tree or a redwood towering above them.
Ceremony here, reception there
Consequently, even if getting married in a house of worship is not a priority, you may opt to have the ceremony and reception at different locations to avoid any room-turn awkwardness. Doing so, however, means extra expense:
- Fees: A donation or rental fee for the ceremony site.
- Flowers: Some people recommend having the chuppah or altar flowers do double duty by whisking them from the ceremony to the reception. Separate venues, however, can make this practice unwieldy. Compare the cost of additional flowers with the moving expense (if you're not painstakingly moving them yourself as your first act as husband and wife). If the savings are truly significant, make sure that the recycled flowers are rearranged artfully at the reception so guests don't think the florist delivered the ceremony flowers to the wrong place.
- Transportation: Don't automatically think that shuttling guests from ceremony to reception is not your responsibility. Unless your guests are all driving, think what happens when 200 people pour out of a church in a rainstorm with not a cab in sight. Not pretty.
What's more, the timing between the two sites must jibe. If the ceremony ends at 5:30 and the reception space, which is 35 minutes away, will be ready at 6:45 (need a calculator?), don't think you can fudge it. Invariably, your guests will arrive 20 minutes before the space is set -- in time to see the band lugging their amplifiers across the dining room floor. (Horrors!) (For a sample wedding day schedule, see Chapter 18.)
Sorting out your spaces
Two catering concepts worth knowing are on premise and off premise. In hotels, restaurants, private clubs, and banquet establishments, the catering services are in-house or "on prem." For lofts, private homes, museums, galleries, and so on, you need to hire an off-premise caterer. Some of these spaces have lists of caterers they either allow or recommend. Whether you've fallen in love with a particular off-premise space or have designs on a brilliant caterer, be certain they can work together. By the same token, keep in mind that sometimes great food and a gorgeous on-premise space are mutually exclusive. If you feel the food is equally or more important than the space, start by finding a caterer, who in turn may lead you to the space. (See Chapter 8 for finding a great caterer.)
If you have your eye on a private club, you need to be sponsored by a member or a member of a club that has a reciprocal agreement. This can be a catch-22 because often the club won't let you peruse the site without first having a sponsor -- and how are you to find a sponsor without finding out who the members are? In addition to having an in-house caterer, clubs may have stringent or seemingly peculiar rules.
Scouting by phone...
The phone interview lets you preview the service you may receive. Do they return calls promptly? Do they seem flexible or are they more "take it or leave it" in attitude? Do you get a sense they would be happy (not desperate, just pleased) to host your wedding? Are they too busy to talk to you? Condescending? Rude? Evasive?
In the initial phone call:
- Get the name and title of the person on the other end of the phone. (You'd be amazed at how often busboys quote prices and availability.)
- Ask what room(s) are available for your wedding date and time. If another event may be booked in the space earlier in the day, how much set-up time do they allot between events?
- Ask for food and beverage price estimates. (For a breakdown of what those may be, see Chapters 8 and 10.)
Up close and personal
Once you've done your preliminary nosing around, investigate spaces with your fiancé(e), or a close friend whose opinion you trust. Don't take your parents or future in-laws on this qualifying round. You want to have intelligent, researched responses to the possible downsides before they spot them and panic.
Two ways to pay
Catering halls, restaurants, hotels, and banquet facilities often offer space-food-liquor packages, so asking about one without considering the others is almost impossible. The terms to know are:
When you go to see a space, take copious notes. Ask for brochures and to see photos of other events that have taken place there. If none are available, snap a few photos -- but ask permission first because some places consider their layout and decor proprietary information. Do this because by the time you've seen the 12th place on your first free weekend (ha!) you will not remember which hotel had the deep green walls you hated or the fluorescent lights reminiscent of a New York subway station.
Remember, you're still in the preliminary stages; listen to your gut feelings. This is not the time to start thinking about how you could transform a space you basically don't like. If the place depresses you, move on. This reconnaissance mission is exhausting enough without getting into minutia or taking the entire two-hour tour with the banquet manager out of politeness.
Keep a grip on your demeanor. Yes, we encourage you to be an educated consumer, but this is no time to launch into your Ralph Nader impersonation. Behave rationally and professionally, not suspiciously. Try not to display infectious briditis or groomitis. Food and beverage personnel are people, too. And if you wind up holding your wedding there, they will remember you, for better or worse.
In determining whether a space is large enough for various parts of your wedding, take the venue's numbers with a grain of salt. Not that banquet managers would lie, but their job is, after all, to fill spaces with warm bodies. Ask for floor plans and diagrams of table configurations. Whipping out a tape measure doesn't hurt either. Here are some general rules, which also apply to tents:
Ask very specifically about what parts of the space are available. You may have in your mind's eye that the inn's exquisite rose garden would be the perfect place to take pictures, only to find out, the day of the rehearsal, that it's actually off-limits.
Time to play 20,000 questions
You're serious about the space? Time for more questions -- lots of questions! Some apply to hotels and the like; others are useful for a rental space.
- How many people can you seat (with dancing) for A) buffet stations or B) a sit-down dinner? Ask to see floor plans, diagrams, and photos, including photos of events other than weddings to give you decorating ideas.
- What is the square footage?
- How does the space "work"? Where do guests enter? If the venue is in a building via an elevator, is there a doorman downstairs and/or an elevator operator? How are guests directed after they arrive on the floor? Where is the coatroom? Where do they suggest putting the escort card table?
- Where would you hold the ceremony (if you haven't already decided)?
- Where would you serve cocktails?
- How long does it take to turn the room (if needed)?
- If another event is taking place concurrently, how does the manager keep them from running into each other? (Nothing is worse than bridal crossing.)
- What is the space rental fee? How many hours does it cover? Is there a maximum number of hours? When does overtime kick in?
- Must you pay fees for additional rooms?
- Do they offer price considerations for certain times or days?
- Is dancing allowed? Is there a dance floor? Is it built in, a roll-out, or in parquet squares? What is the maximum number of dancers the floor will hold?
- Is there a piano on the premises? Upright or baby grand?
- Is there a sound system in place? Is there a rental fee for it or for additional microphones?
- Might the establishment book other weddings or events before, at the same time, or after?
- What are the acoustics like? Does sound bleed (meaning music and laughter travel from one room to another)?
- If there are glaring problems such as chipped paint, scaffolding, or broken mirrors, will they assure you in writing that they will be fixed by your wedding?
- Are the chandeliers clean and all the bulbs working?
- How does the lighting look best in their opinion? Do the lights have dimmers?
- What is the heat and air situation?
- What are the smoking rules?
- How many bathrooms are there and what do they look like? (Very important.)
- Where can the bride get dressed? The groom?
- Where can you take photographs?
- What are the parking facilities?
- What are the rules about using their vendors -- the hotel's designated florist or band, for example?
- What are the hidden labor costs -- security guards, bathroom attendants, coat check, or union electricians?
- Will the person showing you the space work with you throughout the entire process? If not, who will?
- How far in advance can or must a reservation be confirmed?
- What kind of security deposit is required? By when? What is the refund policy? How long will they hold the space for you without a deposit and will they give you a right of first refusal?
- What uniforms does the wait staff wear? Do they comprise both males and females?
- What is the method of service -- French, Russian, or á la carte? (See Chapter 8 for a lesson in service styles.)
- Does the caterer feel that the kitchen space is adequate?
- Has the caterer worked in the space before?
- What is included in the price (china, glass, linens, silverware, tables, and so on)? What is the estimate for rentals?
- Can the caterer provide references?
- How much and what kind of insurance is required? Does the caterer have insurance and will it cover you?
- Are permits, such as a certificate of occupancy or parking, necessary?
- Is the wedding cake included?
- How many captains will there be? How many servers per table?
- Will they feed your "staff" (photographer, band, and so on) and at what cost?
- Is it possible to have a choice of dishes? If so, is there a surcharge? What's the number of alternate menu items they usually prepare? What about meals for diabetic, kosher, or vegetarian guests?
Many places refuse to hold tastings of their menus for "shoppers," and we do empathize. Producing a meal for two (or four) is both costly and labor intensive, especially for off-premise caterers. We feel, however, that once you have booked the facility or caterer, you are entitled to a tasting, and you should negotiate this up front before signing the contract. If the food is not up to par, you are entitled to tastings until it is (but beware of this warning sign).
As you question a prospective caterer or banquet manager, get a clear idea of the rules regarding drinks, as that affects overall cost and logistics. (For a complete run-down of your bar needs, see Chapter 10.)
There's No Place Like Home
While your sunny little hamlet may seem perfect for a wedding, the only time to really assess its appropriateness is during a monsoon. That said, consider these questions:
- Should a weather disaster strike and you're having the wedding outside, is the house big enough to use as a back-up?
- What is the bathroom and/or septic capacity?
- Where will guests park?
- Assuming that you're lucky enough to have a beautiful day and you will be outdoors, what is the fly and/or mosquito population? Do you need to fog the property?
- How up-to-date and powerful is the electricity? Plugging in a single 100-cup coffee urn can cause an entire house to go dark. Do you have a generator?
- Does your kitchen have sufficient space for a caterer?
- Who is available to receive deliveries of rentals, flowers, food, and so on?
- How much time for set-up and break-down (assembling and dismantling the tent and so on) is required and can you live in your house during it? Who is responsible for putting your house back in order? If you are, do you have time to work miracles before you leave for the honeymoon?
Tents and more tense
Although at-home and estate weddings can be utterly picturesque, that they are simple or inexpensive is a myth. The reason: You usually have to rent a tent. Because most houses lack a ballroom or indoor tennis court that can accommodate row upon row of chairs -- unless you limit the guest list to a handful of deserving souls -- at least part of the wedding must take place outdoors. Putting up a canopy is neither costly nor complicated, but a flimsy awning does absolutely no good if it's raining, freezing cold, or stifling hot. The only way to be absolutely secure is to have a full-fledged tent.
Make sure your property has an appropriate spot to put the tent. If your backyard resembles the Badlands, erecting a tent without flooring is risky. Floors can be prohibitively expensive because of the labor, but here's the conundrum: Not having a floor leaves you vulnerable to potential fiascoes -- off-balance tables and chairs, an uneven dance floor, and, most ruinous, water seepage. A downpour on your wedding day isn't the only weather report you have to worry about. If it has rained recently, water seeps up from the ground, even if the tent is on a hill. Add a hundred pairs of high heels poking divots in the lawn and so much for the verdant expanse that made you decide your home was the perfect spot for the most important day of your life. (Anyone for a little white-water rafting?)
You need an additional tent for the caterer. And where you have more than one tent, you need canopies and walkways between them.
Consider how you will light and decorate the tent. Even if you plan something simple, you're looking at a great white expanse punctuated by glaring industrial tent poles. Disguising all of this can be heart-stoppingly expensive. (See Chapter 11 for tent-decorating ideas.)
Tents generally come in one of three designs, as shown in Figure 2-1:
- Century: Has one or several peaks and can be either a pole tent or frame tent.
- Frame: Supported by a frame with no poles down the center. Also called a clear-span frame tent.
- Pole: Has quarter poles -- that go around the perimeter -- as well as center poles down the middle of the tent. Pole tents must be staked to the ground, which means that they don't work very well in rock gardens or on asphalt.
Heating, albeit primitive, is affordable, but air conditioning is very expensive and energy-scarfing. Anybody who has been to a tent party where the power conked out will urge you to spring for a back-up generator. Just be sure to place it far enough away so guests don't have to shout over the incessant hum. If you are imagining the drama of a starlit sky though a clear tent ceiling, keep in mind that without air conditioning tents tend to fog up and under a sunny sky can turn into hot, miserable terrariums.
Tent contracts are particularly tricky. Suppliers usually erect tents several days before a wedding, so even if you (bravely) believe the weather forecast is so unfailingly positive that you do not want to have the tents erected at all, you must still pay 50 percent or more of the estimated bill to cover labor, on the assumption that the tent supplier turned away other jobs for your wedding. You usually have a 48- to 72-hour window for a final decision (as specified in your contract) regarding whether to connect tents and canopies. For these you usually pay only 25 percent of the deposit if you decide not to have them erected.
The flushing bride
In the category of little-facts-you-never-dreamed-you-would-need-to-know-but-aren't-you-glad-we're-printing-them-here, the toilet situation requires utmost attention. Just like parking, coat room organization, and guest transportation, bathrooms should not be an afterthought. People are often loath to spend money on such an unglamorous detail of their wedding, but adequate and "commodious" toilet facilities are a crucial aspect of hospitality.
When renting portable toilets, keep in mind that each one is good for a maximum of 125 uses. As a general rule, an average person uses the toilet once in three hours. If you have 500 guests for three hours, you need four toilets (500 ÷ 125 = 4). If they are staying for six hours, you need eight toilets.
Designate one set of toilets for men and another for women. Even if the guest ratio of men to women is one to one, have more toilets for women because they, as everybody knows, take longer. At all costs, you want to spare your guests mistaking a long snaking bathroom line for the conga line.
Portable toilets range from rustic construction-site designs to trailers fully outfitted with toilet stalls, mirrors, sinks, and faux marble vanities. Whichever you choose, having tented walkways and a separate lighted tent for portable toilets (especially for evening weddings) makes sense.
Even if you have enough toilets in your house, be sure to double check the septic situation. You often have to drain septic tanks beforehand so that your restrooms can accommodate the number of guests.
Anticipating special needs
If you have guests who are elderly, handicapped, or ill, make them as comfortable as possible. That means making sure the ceremony and reception -- including portable toilets -- are wheelchair accessible and provide transportation when necessary. Because people who can't see or move well can often get left out of the fun, be especially gracious by seating them in places of honor, devoting quality visiting time with them, and appointing someone to keep on top of special hospitality needs.