When it comes to real estate, you know the mantra: "Location, location, location."
For choosing a venue for your wedding reception, however, there are many more factors to consider.
We asked two Lawrence wedding planners - Carmen Hocking, of A Beautiful Wedding, and Ashley Winters, of Red Door Event and Design - for their suggestions.
One of the first steps involves scrutinizing the list of items the venue provides, Hocking said. For instance: Does the venue provide linens? Does it provide tables and chairs? Does it have a staff responsible for cleanup? These are all questions that need to be asked.
"Finding out everything that is included in the price by a caterer is important," Hocking said. "Some caterers will provide the tables and chairs - others will not. And other venues will supply the tables and chairs but will charge a fee for setting them up."
Winters said there are two things guests look for in a reception: good music and good food. Spring for the tastiest food, prepared to please a general audience, she said.
But while you're sifting through the menu, learn how many servers - if any - the venue provides, Hocking said.
"Knowing how many wait staff he or she is going to have per 50 guests is going to play a huge factor in how easily the evening flows," Hocking said.
Some venues don't offer wait staff, making the couple responsible for setup, serving and cleanup. Other venues provide staff, for a cost, but do not clean up after serving.
Some places are very ornate and require no decorations because they already provide an appropriate atmosphere, Hocking said. Others are drab and necessitate a personal touch.
Winters suggests couples be inventive when choosing a venue based on decoration possibilities.
"Don't be limited to what has been done there before," Winters said. "There are ways to make things more creative and fun if you are willing to think outside of the box."
Find out specifically what hours you're getting the venue.
"You need to allow enough time for the decorating staff and cake designer to come in to make the place look beautiful prior to the start of the wedding," Hocking said.
It's also crucial to learn whether the venue is hosting more than one event per day at that site.
"That would be a huge factor determining whether you have it there, " Hocking said. "It will determine whether you have enough time for decorating prior to your event."
The venue will only be accessible, typically, for an entire day. That's why Winters agrees with Hocking about the importance of booking a venue that only has one event per day.
"Make sure you call and reserve the venue as soon as you've set your date," Winters added. "You need to make sure it's open and make sure that's the only wedding they have that day."
The main difference between local venues is building capacity. It also is the main factor influencing price. If the number of guests is high, the price can increase as well, Hocking said.
Selecting a venue capable of seating guests comfortably is important, Winters said.
"A wedding should be about guests as well as bride and groom," Winters said. "Look at the space the venue provides for you closely. You want people to have a good time."
Also, Hocking said, when considering the number of expected guests, look to see whether the venue provides adequate parking.
Lighting is important because it influences the quality of pictures. Hocking said an important question to ask is whether the venue has dimmer switchers. Couples usually enjoy having the ability to control lighting, particularly in order to diminish its appearance during dancing.
Winters said to ask if candlelight is an option. Many couples, she said, like to have lit candles during dinner, but some venues prohibit it.
The contract protects the bride and groom - and the vendor.
"Every single item that's in the cost that you are quoted needs to be stated in the contract," Hocking said. "The contract needs to include a detailed agenda stating those things for you, so there are no questions about what is included."
For instance, the majority of venues provide dance floors but charge fees to use them. (Usually $150 - the price varies among venues.) Stipulations like that will be included in the contract. It should also contain the amount for the deposit, and costs for items like linens, tables and chairs.
But before signing anything, look closely at the cancellation policy, Winters said. Sometimes canceling forces couples to hand over deposits.
Some venues price quotes based on the number of guests, while some just have a flat fee. Prices range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
If the venue doesn't supply a bartender, you must go to the courthouse and get a one-day liquor license in order to serve alcohol at the reception.
"You can't pop the cork of that bottle, beer or wine, if you don't have your liquor license," Hocking said.
Contact the Douglas County Courthouse and inquire about attaining a one-day liquor license if you plan to serve alcohol but the venue doesn't provide a bartending staff, Hocking said. But be careful, because some venues prohibit people from bringing alcohol in from outside sources, forcing customers to purchase from them.
"Mainly those places would be a facility, such as a caterer who owns his own venue," Hocking said. "Of course, you have him as your caterer, you purchase alcohol through him, and he provides the staff for that."
Another thing couples tend to consider is selecting a venue within walking distance to the hotels where family and friends are staying. Oftentimes guests fly from other states, and getting a rental car is an added expense to the already hefty travel bill.
When all is said and done, Winters said it's important to remember that family members are active participants of weddings, too. As such, she encourages couples to think of them during the planning process.