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Choosing a Wedding Reception and Banquet Facility

It's time to look for a banquet facility. Most clients end up deciding on a particular banquet facility for two specific reasons – they like how they were treated by the banquet sales staff and they fall in love with the facility when they walk through the doors. Those are both great reasons for going with specific venues. Here are some other things to consider when shopping for a banquet facility that may have drastic impacts on the success or failure of your wedding.

The bar should be in the same room as dancing. Having a separate bar area will only lead to splitting your guests into separate areas and that is never good. If the banquet facility has more than one event running at the same time – how is the sound proofing between rooms? What type of event is in the next room to your wedding? A 50th anniversary or another wedding is ok, but if it's a high school prom, you may want to rethink your choice. If you are having a DJ and the next room has a band, that also should be taken into consideration.

Your wedding cake should be located in an appropriate area in the room – it should not be set in front of mirrors (photographers have a hard time with that) and it should be accessible, but not in a place that can easily be bumped by one of the children as they run around your reception. Of course, when it comes time for cake cutting if the banquet facility can roll the cake to the center of the dance floor – that's even better. Everyone can see, and the cake can be quickly removed afterwards.

A well trained banquet staff will take care of certain details for you – they will be there to guide your wedding party during introductions. Someone will be assigned to take your flowers from you and the wedding party after you are introduced. For introductions, there should be a clear (and straight) path wide enough for two people to walk arm in arm to the dance floor and to the head table. If you visit a banquet facility – you should look at the layout and see if you and your partner can walk together through the tables and onto the dance floor. You should imagine the room filled with guests and people standing around each table and chairs pulled back from the tables as they will be during your entrance.

Typically, a well run facility will assign server(s) to the head table and possibly the family tables and they will be your contact person throughout your reception. Ask if that head server will be in the room the entire night or if they will be leaving after dinner.

Another thing to look at is where your entertainment will be setting up. Is it near the dance floor? Where will their speakers go? Many banquet facilities do not leave enough room for a typical DJ to setup in. Many even expect the DJ to setup their speakers so that they have to project music across a couple tables worth of guests (your grandparents won't like that as that is typically the grandparents table). If you have a large number of people in your wedding party, you might want to tier the head table to allow for more access to the dance floor for your DJ and their sound gear. Stand where the DJ will be setup. Can they see the cake? Can they see where you will be introduced from and the head table for introductions? It is best if your entertainment is setup along one edge or at the corner of the dance floor (not 20 feet back from the dance floor).

How fast is the meal service? There are too many facilities that are slow at serving the meal. Your 7-12 wedding will get less than 2 hours worth of dancing. Ask your DJ about the speed of service. Yes, you do not want to rush your guests eating, but you also do not want to make them wait 30 minutes between each course either. If your guests are just getting desert at 10:30 pm, the chances of having a great time dancing becomes very difficult. With only an hour and a half of dancing, you might get 30 songs to dance to.

Other things to consider when checking out a banquet facility – if your reception is over at midnight, can the music play until midnight or do they force the entertainment to end at 10-15 minutes prior? This is becoming more and more common for area banquet facilities. A banquet facility should not run on "bar time" as we typically refer to the practice of bars making last call and ending early to push patrons out prior to the top of the hour. We've even seen high end banquet facilities turn on the lights 10 minutes prior to scare away guests. Strip clearing tables is also a common technique that facilities use to push guests away early. The staff would come around and clear everything off of the tables – all glasses, centerpieces, etc. This is a subtle way to force guests to leave. This is unacceptable. A good facility will wait even 10-15 minutes AFTER the contracted end time before they start clearing. This is proper etiquette.

In closing, yes it is important to fall in love with your facility. The feel has to be what you are looking for (romantic, beautiful view, old world charm, etc.) and you should be treated as if they are really interested in your business and your ideas. There are other logistic things to pay attention to and question before your sign on the dotted line. If you're just not sure, call a local wedding vendor (photographer, videographer, disc jockey) and ask them what their experience has been with a particular venue. Ask what to look out for (slow service, lack of staff, etc.) and make sure you get everything in writing from your facility. If they promise to do something for you – it should be part of the contract.

Rob Alberti, After Hours Disc Jockey Service, MA/CT/RI

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