How to Conduct a Site Visit

Event Planning: How to Conduct a Site Visit

Professional Event Planners are experienced in choosing appropriate venues for a variety of events, but occasionally non-professionals find themselves in a position in which they are expected to plan an event for their family, friends, and occasionally for the office.  These kinds of events typically include, but are not limited to: bachelor/bachelorette parties, birthday parties, bar/bat mitzvahs, baby showers, and retirement celebrations.  For non-professionals, the planning process can be confusing and daunting (luckily, I'm here to help!).  Once a novice party planner has chosen their top two or three venue options, conducting site visits will help them make a final and informed decision on the venue.  Below is a handy "How To" guide to conducting these site visits.

Step 1:  Do your research.

Visit the venue's website to see photos of the event spaces.  Ask yourself if the style and décor of the event rooms match the mood of your event and style of your guests.  This determination will necessarily be subjective, but try to step outside of your own preferences.  Don't choose a venue because you personally like the style; rather, make your choice based on what is appropriate for the event and the guests.  For instance, if you are planning a birthday party for a lively young group, a private dining room in a colorful and festive restaurant will most likely be a great choice.  On the other hand, when planning a retirement celebration, the guests may prefer a quiet, elegant venue; an event space in unique building (such as a library or museum) or a more upscale restaurant may be appropriate in this case.

The venue's website should also contain information on how many people its party rooms can accommodate.  Check these numbers to see if your group will be a good fit; you don't want to be in a room that is either too big (the party will feel small and poorly attended) or too small (not all guests will be able to join you).

Check out the venue's location.  Is it easily accessible for your guests?  Is there public transit nearby?  Is it an area with available street parking?  Is the surrounding neighborhood interesting?  If your guests may choose to have an after-party, also check the area for nearby pubs and bars or other entertainment venues. 

Finally, find the Event Manager's contact information.  With this, you're ready for the next step!

Step 2: Contact the Events Manager of the venue

Some venues have more informative websites than others, but all leave some information off of the website.  To get this information, you need to call the Events Manager (sometimes called the Events Coordinator, Sales Manager, Catering Manager, etc).  Contact can be made by phone or via email; this is up to you.  I find that email correspondence is more useful because you have a written record of questions and answers to which you can refer later.  This is your chance to see if you work well with the Events Manager and also to get a good idea if the venue is a good fit for your event.   

Be sure to ask the following questions (some of this information may be contained on the venue's website; choose the questions that are appropriate for your level of knowledge about the venue):

  • What private or semi-private spaces do they have?
  • What are the capacities of the spaces?
  • Are there any room rental fees?
  • Do they have in-house linen?  What color is it? (This applies more to non-restaurant venues; linen rental can get expensive, so you want to know about this right away.)
  • What are the food and beverage minimums for the space?  (This usually applies to restaurants, not other venues; the minimums vary with day of week and time of day.  A Friday night will have a higher minimum than a Wednesday evening, for example.)
  • Does the venue provide any audio/visual equipment?  Can they play music in the event space?  Are there additional charges for audio visual equipment?
  • Is signage for your event allowed in the lobby/foyer?  If you're interested in a private room, your guests may need some helpful signage to find the party.  Some venues prohibit signage but offer alternatives.  Ask about any accommodations that can be made to help guide your guests to the event.
  • Are restrooms accessible from the private space? Watch out for situations where guests from another party have to go through your party to get to restrooms, where restrooms are not ADA accessible, etc.  Ideally your restrooms are near your event space and easily accessed by your guests.
  • Does the venue provide a parking lot? Is there valet service?  Are public parking garages nearby?  What are the rates?

This information will give you a better idea if the venue is a good choice for your event.  In addition to making sure that the cost of the venue is within your budget, you want to be sure that your guests will be able to easily travel to the venue, find the party from the main entrance, fit comfortably in the event space, and remain comfortable throughout the event. 

Step 3: Visit the venue

Set up a date and time with the Events Manager to visit the event space (don't just drop by unannounced; events may be taking place at that time and you won't be able to conduct a good site visit).  If you will be visiting several venues before deciding on where to hold your event, it's a good idea to bring a camera and also to take notes at each venue.  The photos and notes will help jog your memory later when you're trying to compare the pros and cons of each venue.  Be sure to request permission to take photos from the Events Manager, as some venues restrict photographs. 

When you arrive at the venue, take a moment to check out the surrounding neighborhood and double check the research you conducted earlier.  Does it seem friendly?  If your event will last until the late evening, do you get the feeling that your guests will be comfortable exiting the venue and being in the neighborhood late at night?  Are there things to do in the neighborhood for any guests who may choose to continue their day or night out?  Was the venue easy to get to?  Was it easy to find parking?

When you have greeted the Events Manager and they are giving you the tour of the event space(s), try to visualize your event taking place there.  Check out the furniture and ask the Events Manager what kinds of different setups they can do; they should be able to provide you with examples of how the venue has accommodated events similar to yours.  If you are visiting a restaurant and you think that your guests may fill the entire dining area, ask the Events Manager what the buyout cost would be to reserve the entire restaurant for the exclusive use of your group.  Remember, buyout costs vary with the day of the week and time of day, so you may be able to get a lower buyout price if the time or day of your event is flexible.  Also ask if they are willing and able to provide a custom menu for your event, as dietary restrictions and the guest of honor's preferences may determine in large part how successful the event is.

If you are visiting a non-restaurant venue, be more specific in your questions regarding setup.  Ask where buffet tables are typically placed, where a bar table works best, where a welcome or check-in table can be placed, and where a DJ or band may be stationed.  Ask what furniture they have in-house (seating tables, chairs, etc.); generally, event venues have enough furniture in their inventory to accommodate typical events, but in some cases you or your caterer may be required to rent furniture independently of the venue.  Also be sure to ask if the venue has an exclusive caterer or a list of preferred caterers; the catering options available to you may affect your final venue choice.

For all venues, ask what coat check services are available.  Sometimes this service is complimentary while at other venues you may need to rent coat racks and hire an attendant on your own.  Weather is always unpredictable, so it's best to know what your options are if the forecast calls for chilly temperatures, snow, or rain.

Finally, if your venue is also your caterer (most often the case with restaurants, but also occasionally the case in other venues), check on any special deals they offer that your group can take advantage of.  If there is a room rental fee, ask if this can be waived if your group commits to spending a certain amount of money on food and beverages.  Also be sure to ask if any discounted pricing is available (due to the current recession, many venues and caterers are offering deals to attract business).

At this point, you will have successfully completed your site visit!  Be sure to thank the Events Manager for their time, and if possible, let them know when you expect to make a decision on which venue to use for your event.  Send a thank you note or email to the Events Manager a day or so after your visit, and remember to follow up with them even if you don't choose to have your event at their venue. 

Finally, it is a good idea to plan out your questions ahead of time and bring a list of them with you to the venue, especially if you have never conducted a site visit before.  I've conducted many site visits for my career and still find a discreet notebook with pre-planned questions to be extremely helpful!

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