November 8, 2011
Maybe it’s your clothing line’s official launch party. Perhaps a fall fashion show. Or an alumni networking mixer, a best friend’s baby shower, a rehearsal dinner, your record label’s first music showcase. Whether it’s an informal meeting or an extravagant black tie gala, you’ve found yourself in charge of coordinating an event that must be flawlessly spectacular and quintessentially memorable. And it all starts with the venue!
While many elements must harmoniously come together – guest lists, invitations, centerpieces, sound systems (the list goes on) – one of the most critical aspects of event planning is venue selection. Location, location, location…Venues in their own right can make or break any event. Ever been to a rooftop function and all you could dwell on was how windy it was? Or have you attended a networking function in such a large area that it felt like no one was there, even if there were 200+ guests?
From private rooms in restaurants to rentable mansions in the Hollywood Hills, the venue you select will be the foundation on which everything else is built. Because of its vital importance, we’ve compiled a few tips to help you find that perfect place for your next important affair:
It’s important to know precisely what you – and your guests – will need from your ideal venue. Do you need a space large enough to accommodate a catwalk? Can the valet or parking garage manage all of your attendees’ cars? From set-up to tear-down and everything in between, meticulously run through the event in your head and write down every minute detail that pertains to your big day. Then check to see precisely what you will need from a potential venue.
“One of the first things I look for in a venue for any event is the flow,” said Henri Myers, Owner and Director of Public Relations, Special Events & Brand Consulting for eM Productions (www.emprds.com). He has put on large-scale events such as the W Magazine/Speedo Axcelerate launch party and the Paper Magazine/Levi’s Style Off Event.
“Does or will the event have an easy flow from start to finish?” Myers continued. “For my projects, I deal with lots of press and media, talent and VIP guests, so check-ins need to be smooth and easily made so that those guests can move on to the next part and take in the entire event experience. Usually after check-ins, consider the bar for cocktails and then where the guests end up afterwards. All must run as easy as possible so that guest can appreciate and enjoy.”
Other venue logistics to consider when planning your event include: capacity restraints, location, event budget and event time frame.
After you have a clear idea of what exactly you will need, it’s time to brainstorm potential locations. Start with places you frequent the most and that you have a relationship with. Perhaps your favorite neighborhood café has a private room in the back that could comfortably accommodate your best friend’s engagement party. Or maybe that corner bar where everyone knows your name is willing to offer stellar cocktail specials for your 5K walk/run fundraiser. And if you’re completely stumped on venue ideas in your area, one great resource is the BizBash website (http://www.bizbash.com), which has a section dedicated to helping you find the perfect venue in nine cities across Canada and the United States.
When brainstorming on venue options, it’s also important to think outside of the box. We’ve all been to business meetings in cold, abrasive hotel rooms with no windows and no personality. Just because it’s business doesn’t mean it has to be bland. And just because it’s social doesn’t mean it has to be done the same way it’s been done forever. Think about themes or venues that have fun ice-breakers embedded into them, such as a wine-tasting, afternoon tea, dance class or a spa day. For ideas on unique locations in the Los Angeles area, try the Chic & Boutique website (http://www.chicandboutiquevenues.com).
Sealing the Deal
So you have the perfect venue in mind. You know what your needs are, and you’ve even gotten creative in what you want from a venue. Now it’s time to seal the deal. When talking with the venue representative, be sure to ask for any specials and discounts that are applicable. In challenging economic times such as these, many venues are willing to work with you, especially if it will boost their business sales. Play up whatever unique characteristics and circumstances pertaining to your event that may help you receive a price reduction: is this event a fundraiser for a scholarship? Is it a non-profit that’s hosting this mixer? Will any portion of the event proceeds go towards a philanthropic endeavor? All of these may help you to get a break on the full amount.
If you’re not an event-planning guru, it never hurts to ask for assistance once you’ve secured the venue. A second (or third or fourth) pair of eyes can see details you may have forgotten or overlooked. Whether she’s the venue representative, a professional event planner or simply a close friend, always have another person on your team. You can find a professional event planner from the esteemed International Special Events Society (ISES) (http://www.ises.com) as well.
During the planning stage and well in advance of event day, make sure that you have clearly expressed all objectives and goals for your event with the venue representative. Both parties must be on the same page with respect to expectations before, during and after the event.
“I suggest asking for a sample menu including estimated costs verses just the food and beverage minimum to give you a true idea of your costs,” advises Mistyka Garcia, owner of Special Occasions Event Planning, which produces every type of event from intimate dinner parties to multiple-day conferences, locally and internationally. “The food and beverage can be misleading at times.”
Your venue contact should also be clear on what items it needs to have ready for your event (tables, chairs, décor, etc) and what type of crowd will be attending. Scheduling an in-person meeting with a venue representative is important to do, and after the meeting, send a follow-up email to recap everything that was discussed. Bring a printed version of this email along with you on the day of the event so that if something isn’t to your liking, you have proof that it had already been discussed and agreed upon. It’s also important to arrive at the location early and to have a plan B on event day. In a perfect world, everything runs smoothly, but we all know we are far from living in utopia. So arrive well before the event start time and plan as much as possible for the unexpected. Know how long it will take for you to set up for your event, whether that’s seven hours or thirty minutes, and then plan to be at the event venue even earlier than that. You never know if at the last minute, the hotel has to move your event to a different banquet room or if the tables and chairs that you ordered are late arriving. Think quickly and be on your toes.
Planning an event can be exciting and watching all of your guests enjoy themselves at your function is the ultimate reward. Selecting a venue can and should be fun. And always remember: “When it meets the parameters of the event, such as capacity and budget, and you get excited about visualizing your event at that location,” says Garcia, “you have found your venue!”