Call it stubborn. Call it stupid. Call it what you will, I decided to plan my own wedding.
Like most of my millennial event planning kin, I’m budget-conscious, but I also figured that as someone with knowledge of the event industry, a killer email labeling system, and a propensity for crafts involving hot glue, I could handle this.
So far, so (mostly) good.
The biggest shock to date – aside from how much a floral arrangement costs when it becomes a “wedding bouquet” – has been the number of gaffes I’ve seen committed by so-called event professionals.
In the hunt for a wedding venue, I’ve experienced super stars who are at the top of their game, but have also met some players who haven’t made it out of little league.
So I’d like to share some insight on the event venue search process from the customer’s perspective, which applies if you’re a wedding hall or a conference arena:
1. Be ridiculously helpful.
One property manager sent me a brochure via email that was named [venue].pdf.pub. She had clearly tried to save a Microsoft Publisher file as a .pdf by adding “.pdf” to the end of the file name. This, of course, did not work. It did not open.
When I asked her to please resend it as a .pdf file, she resent the exact same file with a “hope you can open this one.”
Defying her wishes, it did not.
That was our cue that it didn’t warrant even visiting, and it was struck from our list of potential places.
“Be ridiculously helpful” is one of Capterra’s main missions, and it should become yours in the event industry too, or you will lose out on customers like me who don’t want to deal with a hassle.
You need to anticipate your customers’ needs. It’s great to be ready to answer their questions – it’s even better when they don’t have to ask.
And I ask a lot of questions.
Impress me by knowing what I’m most likely to ask and answering it in full. It will win you major brownie points.
Have a website that’s well-stocked with the basic information that anyone interested in renting your event space might ask: capacity, available hours, restrictions on type of event.
If you’re not comfortable publishing your rates (or if they change frequently or are determined on an individual basis), make sure it’s easy to find your contact information or a form to request more information. And, your whole site should be optimized for mobile.
If someone does reach out to you directly, be prepared to send them a clear, professional-looking packet with all of the little details that would clutter up your website: possible event layouts, complete pricing, chairs or other equipment available, and more.
You’ll notice that “helpful” these days also means tech-savvy. Given that the event professionals entering the workforce are younger and at home with the ever-changing digital world, you need to be at their level or they will walk away frustrated.
2. Use your best asset: your previous customers.
I clicked on nearly every one of 850-some venues in the DC-area as listed on WeddingWire. After a while, they all start to blend together. (It doesn’t help that most of them are named some iteration of The Old Manor Estate Mansion House.)
What set places apart were their reviews, be they positive or negative. In this Yelp-ified day and age, it doesn’t matter if you’re planning your big day or looking to buy software, reviews matter.
If a spot had a slew of bad comments, it was immediately written off. I got excited about places with lots of kind remarks. Zero reviews, and I questioned whether the venue had been around long enough or had the experience to pull off the many moving pieces of a wedding.
It may feel like it, but reviews aren’t completely out of your hands. Make sure you have a profile on WeddingWire and The Knot, or for those in other industries, Yelp or TripAdvisor. Encourage your customers (especially when you know you’ve pleased them) to leave a review online discussing their experience. WeddingWire and Yelp have tools to add their logos and link to reviews right from your site – a great way to show off the positive buzz you’ve generated.
3. Follow up and follow through.
One of the most impressive bits of communication along the way came from an unlikely source: local government employees.
I reached out over email to someone at the nearby county office that oversees one of its properties for event rentals. She e-introduced me to the tour guide ahead of time, and filled her in on the pertinent information about our event. The guide arrived for the tour prepared and knowledgeable about us specifically, greeting me by name. Within an hour of us leaving, she sent an email thanking us for visiting and congratulating us on our engagement. Later, when I asked an additional question over email, someone responded promptly to answer me.
We didn’t end up choosing that venue because of the space itself, but if the search had been purely based on customer service, it would have won hands-down.
The flip side came when we arrived at a venue to find a guide who had no idea who we were, what season we were planning to get married in, or how many guests we were expecting – she only knew that she was giving a tour. I had to fill out a clipboard form with the same information I had included in my initial email to the property manager.
Over the course of the tour, we had a few questions that she didn’t know the answer to. She wrote them down and said the manager would follow up with the answers.
I heard not a peep until more than a month after our visit. In that space of time we had not only settled on a different venue, but we had put down a deposit.
Responsiveness, whether it’s answering a planning question or avoiding a major crisis, is how you succeed as a venue.
It’s one of the factors mentioned time and time again in reviews. Even if we’re not bridezillas, those planning an event want to be sure venue staff values customer service and won’t let details fall through the cracks.
Follow-up after you give a tour to your venue. Answer emails within two days, at most. If you say you’ll do something, put a sticky note on your computer, make a calendar event, or use your event management software to set an alert to make sure it gets done.
4. Be up front about cost.
I’m not going to try on a wedding dress that’s outside of my budget, and I’m not going to visit a venue that comes with too high a price tag either.
Don’t encourage me to set up a tour for you to go over pricing then. I will refuse, and be annoyed that you don’t respect me as a customer who is working on a budget. The venue that did that, for the record, was way outside our price range. Spending my time and gas in the car to go and find that out would have been wasteful and aggravating when an email will save us all the trouble.
That also means spelling out all of your costs up front. We visited and liked a place that seemed like it might fit with our plans, until a full proposal sent to us after our visit included a hitherto unmentioned 20% “service fee.” Which, if you’re looking at an $8,000 food and drink minimum (yes this an actual thing and it hurts me), on top of a venue fee, 20% is a large sum of money. It was disappointing, and crossed that venue off the list.
On the smaller scale, if you ask if we’d like wine served with dinner, you should note that wine glasses cost $1 apiece. No one likes surprise charges, so put it all on the table to avoid losing a customer later in the process.
5. Attend to detail.
Some brides love details. Itty bitty rhinestones sewn onto a veil, hand-stamped seating cards, monograms everywhere.
I couldn’t care less about any of these, but when it comes to the budget or the timeline for the day, I’m a stickler for details. I want to know the event professionals I’m working with have the same mindset.
Attention to detail often comes with being helpful and following through, but it’s worth elaborating on it specifically.
You’ll be most appreciated if you listen closely while I’m telling you my vision or (reading closely) when I ask a question in an email. Take notes – it’s what I’m doing about your space, so it’s reasonable that you should do the same about me as a potential customer.
When it’s time to do the talking, be ready to address every question or concern voiced.
I sent one manager an email with six questions (I warned you, I ask a lot of questions), in bullet-point format. She responded to the first three.
Yes, this is annoying, but it also means that I now have to spend the time re-asking my questions, and you have to spend the time answering another email. Both of our time is precious; don’t waste it by being careless.
You could lose more than time, too. In negotiating a price for a venue, the same manager agreed to the terms I offered, which included waiving a fee. A week or so later, when it came time to pay the deposit and iron out a contract, she questioned the missing fee. She hadn’t realized she agreed to waive it, but it was impossible to argue with the email chain. The manager did the right thing in honoring her word, but it’s a mistake that would be all too easy to repeat.
Planning a wedding, just like any event, is full of challenges to be overcome. The venue search shouldn’t be one of them, so do your part to make it as easy as possible.
Got any other venue advice, wedding or otherwise? Chime in in the comments below!
Images by Abby Kahler
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