Saturday, May 10, 2014

How Do You Choose a Venue?

The place where your wedding will take place is a choice that usually begins broadly, with a region in mind and then focuses down. For most, cost factors in. Availability of your chosen venue can be an extreme issue if you are not planning far in advance. One of the most significant parts in making your final choice will be the size of your wedding. And probably the choice of your venue will very much set the parameters for the rest of your costs and even for the number of guests you may invite.

So let's explore venues. A rose is a rose is a rose, but a venue might also be a kitchen and a chef, or it might be a meeting hall in need of decor, or it could be a place so lovely you need little else to set the scene. What the venue offers beyond the place for your celebration can matter greatly. For practical purposes, this means that a more expensive on-the-face-of-it venue can sometimes save you thousands of dollars in added costs, or the cost you see may be the tip of the iceberg.

With a tent, you can transform certain otherwise not so glamorous spaces.  But with a tent, you will need to rent the entire infrastructure for your party, possibly right down to a generator for electricity. The main reason you see so many lavishly decorated wedding tents is that the tent is the way to provide sheltering space for your large party, if you are not going to rent a ballroom. The tent gives you flexibility as to date, decor, and view that you will not have with a ballroom.  And on the subject of ballrooms, many are not all that elegant. Those crystal chandeliers you see in wedding albums are more likely to be rented items hung in tents than what comes with the hotel. One major upside to the ballroom is the temperature control. If you are not having your wedding where the temperature is in the mid 70's to mid 80's, you might need an adjustment to keep your guests comfortable.

Many venues surprisingly enough will not come stocked with those items you most need for your event, and this can add massively to your per person cost. Most venues will come with per person charges as well as venue charges, as every place setting and plate of food carries additional cost. And yet, on the wedding sites we frequently see couples hoping to put together an elegant wedding for 200 people for under $50 a person. Sadly, tables, chairs and linens will gobble up most of that budget. So, is it even possible? The answer is yes, but… you will probably have to redefine "elegant" unless you are borrowing all those accessories from a kindly source who happens to have 200 matching elegant chairs. We can see a beach pavilion with picnic tables dressed in white cloths, with hanging lanterns, within that budget.  Oddly, on this island in the middle of the ocean, weddings of couples who live here tend to fall into two categories. One is the 30 person wedding, held on an estate or at another sort of oceanfront venue, and the other is the 500 person wedding held in a park or stadium. Hawaiians are not shy about stadiums for family events. No caterer, no tablecloths. Everyone brings food, and drinks kava. But, if you want a sit down party, and your budget is trying to be as small as possible, you too may decide to forgo tablecloths.

Indoor or outdoor?  Most couples have a strong preference, and for outdoors, will need to consider what kind of weather might be anticipated. Will you risk no shelter in event of rain? Do you have a back up plan to the lovely outdoor seating should an unseasonal storm blow in?

Here on our Hawaii island, choices are many, but there are some considerations that you will not run into in other less isolated places. If your wedding is planned during the wedding season or during holiday times, if the venue you choose does not come with chairs, tables, and linens, you must plan far far ahead, as the vendors of those items get spoken for a year or more in advance. This is of course is not a consideration in an elopement style wedding.

Instead of well defined seasons in Hawaii, we have altitude changes. Summer is year round on the west side of the island, with "summer showers" in the spring. Summer is at sea level, where there are luxurious rentable houses on the water, resorts, and fine restaurants. Spring happens at about 1000 feet, pretty much all over the island. In some areas, it brings mists, and lush tropical environments. Coffee farms are found at this elevation, and spreading estates with gorgeous grounds. Fall is almost a state of mind on this island, an idea of a time and place where the tree leaves change colors and fall to the ground. If you like the warm toasty aspect of fall, you will like the upcountry of Volcano, where you can have a fire going any time of the year. But the foliage of fall is replaced by the Jurassic essence of the rainforest, emerald green and often dripping wet, or misty and mysterious. Winter on this island can be complete with snow, and a January wedding in Waimea may give you a full view of Mauna Kea crowned in white, and be cool enough for velvet and tuxedos. A formal occasion in Hawaii with formal western attire like suits and ties is best planned for a cooler altitude, like Waimea.

When thinking about a venue, if you have budget in mind, it is well worth your while to find out what comes with the venue, and what you will need to bring in.  If you are having a wedding celebration for 30 people you can expect to pay $1000 for ordinary, very plain table settings including the seating. Any place you will be renting a tent, you will most likely be renting the seating and linens. Expect to pay another $1000 for a very plain undecorated tent. Draping and simple lighting is likely to cost another $1000, and if your decor includes specialty lighting and table flowers, candles and table runners, expect to spend another $1500.  For that $4500 you could rent an oceanfront masterpiece of a home, and bring in flowers for interior decor. You may still need the table and chairs, but the tent? Not always, but sometimes. Specialty lighting? Your choice, perhaps $250 to $300 in exterior lights, nothing more.  If your party is 200 rather than 30,  look what happens to your costs for renting linens. Have you seen the bohemian style wood table reception, out under trees strung with lanterns, mix and match china and cutlery, vintage glasses of all shapes?  Now you know where that comes from. Yes, your ten best friends lend you their stuff, and you bring on the paper napkins or buy the dollar kind, because if you go for the $3 kind, it's already $400 extra dollars.

Here is where our coffee plantation venue begins to become very interesting. Not only is it truly gorgeous, but it comes with shelter, a dance floor, a sound system, specialty lighting, and very importantly your own wedding designer. Let's not use "planner" - it sounds so office like. The person who will put together your wedding will take your ideas and weave them into exactly what you wish.  Spectacular? Yes, we will even bring in sparklers if you want. Exotic? Oh yeah. Elegant? How about crystal chandeliers and mercury glass candle holders, with fountains of orchids?

So how do the prices compare, venue type to venue type? Restaurant dinner costs will tend to be about half or even a quarter of catering fees. You will be asked to pay an automatic gratuity almost everywhere, and that is 20%. This gratuity charge is not usually a part of an elopement package, but is to be expected if your small wedding party exceeds six. Cost of decor goes way down, as you can almost always go with whatever the restaurant offers in the way of lighting, and your tables require whatever attention brings the party to the level you wish. The least expensive table decor you can use is a combination of the bridal bouquet and the groom's maile lei as a runner, a white table cloth, and a few candles.  Expect to pay a little extra for the service of prepping the table for you.  If you want an elaborate setting, remember that your wedding provider will love to do this, and will also need to cover costs of finding the things you want, set up, and removal. Expect to pay anywhere from $300 on up for this service, remembering someone will have to make two trips - one to set up, one to take down. If it is more than a single table, you may need the help of two people to get it all done in the time frame the restaurant will require. Even at this, your costs for decor are going to be a fraction of what you would spend decorating a tent.  There are however few restaurants on this island that will handle a wedding of over 50. Daylight Mind in Kailua-Kona, the restaurant with the view above, is one of them, and yes, you get your own wedding specialist to put it all together for you.

Resorts typically have the highest fees in the scale. We recently priced out a private dinner for 30, served oceanside, at a mid-tier resort, the kind where an oceanfront room is $200 a night. $8500 was the cost, plus the 20% gratuity. Generally speaking, you can expect costs of a similar celebration to rise accordingly at resorts with more expensive rooms.

So how do you choose a venue when you are 3000 to 6000 miles away, and all you have to look at are a few photos online? The very best way is with the help of someone who knows what is out there, and understands your sensibilities, and your budget.

We are Mahinui Hawaii Island Weddings