Generally, I work alongside many couples with limited budgets for their big day. When I say limited, I am talking $10,000 or less. These weddings have a vibe that is casual, cozy, and simple. One of the most cost-effective spaces can appear to be your local community center, a rotary club, or some other historic building owned by historic preservation. I have been a coordinator in these spaces long enough to know that they can be exceptionally sentimental to the couple but can be a frustrating nightmare logistically. Overall, I am happy to coordinate in these unique places, as I know they are a good option for couples on a limited budget. I enjoy working with Ms. Sally, the volunteer venue manager, but it takes more continuous communication than you think. If your wedding is in a venue in a place similar to this that genuinely provides only the space, here are my top three "must-know questions" before you book.
1. How long do you have access to the space? This question might seem basic, but I can't tell you how often a couple sees the price is swooned only to find out that it is a 5-hour rental. They can extend it a couple extra hours to set up in time, but at the end of the evening, they require the whole space to be clean and clear. Rental companies will usually charge an extra fee to come and pick up during that "after hours" time slot. So you went from a "wow" price to….(1) well now I need an extra hour…(2) well I need to pay the rental company additional to pick up and drop off at a specific time…(3) we don't clean the space, but you can pay an extra fee and our maid service at the club can do it…So what once was a great price now looks like…a budget buster.
2. Who manages the venue throughout the evening? This might seem like another fundamental question, but no one stays on site more often than not. No one is there to refill the paper towels in the bathroom, take out the trash, have a mop ready for the third time Uncle Steve spills a drink on the dance floor, and be sure the tables and chairs are set out how you like…etc. If there is no person to do these things, you as the couple are responsible for "leave it exactly how you found it."
3. Do they have any "venue-specific requests/rules?" This one is SO IMPORTANT because I have heard it all! I know to ask the most obscure questions because I've seen the couple fixate on making the space work and develop MAJOR selective hearing in the planning process. For example, many of these spaces are old or run by an elderly group of extraordinary humans that will say, "That's just the rule," and you must deal. Here are some examples...
"You're not allowed to move the tables."
"No real flowers the oils from the petals ruin the floors."
"We don't provide you any supplies like bathroom soap, trash bags, paper towels,
scissors…Those are the clubs."
"We don't clean."
I was the Day of Coordinator for a wedding where the bride had this beautiful vision for the florals she wanted for the tables. I said, "I have been to that club before, and they don't allow real flowers." She was shocked and said they never told her, but they did, it was clear as day in the contract, and she had lost the deposit on a large flower order she placed and had to settle for faux flowers. It ended up being the thing that made her so upset the whole rest of the planning process. Why would they not allow real flowers, you ask? They stated that the oils from the flowers ruin the natural hardwood floors...yeah, I know...but that was their reasoning.
4. Are there any fees/stipulations to getting back the security deposit? Many of these spaces will make you put down a security deposit for any wedding day damages. Some places use this as a HUGE opportunity to blame the wedding on venue damages already there. It's like when you go to rent a car, and you make sure they take note of every ding and scratch before they hand you the keys. Because many of these places are historical, they have rules where they will keep the deposit for everyday wear and tear or maintenance things: Scratch on the floor, a door knob that won't turn, kitchen tile is loose on the counter, window use to close and now it doesn't…you get the idea.
The scratches on the floor were what almost got one of the couples I coordinator for. These tables they had at the venue must have been 50 years old. At the end of the evening, we were told the tables needed to be put in giant rolling carts for storage. We put all the tables in the cart. When we tried to roll them back under the stage, they were so heavy I asked texted the event manager at the venue, "Do you always store ALL the tables under here?" She said yes, so I pushed the carts under the stage like she asked me to, and the wheels left scuff marks. I told the couple, so they were aware, and the venue tried to CHARGE THEM. I called the venue manager and said that the equipment they provided and the method for storing them were on them, not negligence by the couple.
These spaces can work out GREAT for a couple with a genuinely flexible mindset. If they have a great connection with the community that runs the venue and a realistic understanding of all the jobs that will cost them extra, these spaces work out great. Just know that you are truly just paying to rent a room. This room might have nothing, no supplies, no humans to help, and a whole scroll of rules. The last thing you want on your wedding day is to save money on a space that ends up "nickel and dime'n" you to not be able to enjoy the day. Having a coordinator familiar with the venue and venue manager could be the difference between joy or frustration in your wedding planning process.