Tips from the Pros: Event Venue Ideas with Maria Belcher of the Clay Center

The Clay Center photo by Ampd Photography

The Clay Center photo by Ampd Photography

You’re engaged, now what? Book your wedding photography. Book your venue. Lock down your stationer! We sat down with Maria Belcher, an event coordinator at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences, to find out what couples should look for when it comes to their ultimate wedding venue. Her answers may surprise you!

Rock Paper Sisters: Thanks for joining us today, Maria. Tell us a little bit about you. How did you get started in venue event coordination, and what do you love most about your job?

Maria Belcher: Venue event coordination was new to me when I came on board here at the Clay Center, but I was very familiar with the planning and coordinating because I had previously worked for Misti Sims of Little Black Dress. Venue planning is just one of many aspects of the event business, so having that well-rounded approach to planning and coordinating helped me out tremendously when I started here. No matter what part of planning and coordinating I have been a part of, my favorite part is always the clients! You get to work with so many wonderful people, often during one of the most exciting times in their lives. I love getting to help people’s visions come to life for their big day!

RPS: You definitely bring great experience to your role! When brides are seeking venues for their wedding and/or reception, what are some questions they should ask?

The Clay Center by Ampd Photography

The Clay Center by Ampd Photography

MB: That is a wonderful question! I think that a lot of couples get overwhelmed when they start thinking about a venue. My first suggestion is to start with the venue! Your caterer, florist, and guests all need a place to go, so start thinking about that sooner rather than later. We easily book a year out (and even two years out for the big sought-after dates like May and September) so getting on a venue’s radar quickly is so important. On the flip side of that, I don’t want to rush a couple through that blissful start to their engagement period. That time in your life goes by so quickly, and I think some couples don’t make the time to sit back and just enjoy being engaged! Get your venue squared away and then take a step back to think about the details and enjoy making those decisions as a couple. But in order to book a venue, here are the questions you need to ask yourself and then questions for your potential venues:

Questions for the couple

·         What kind of feel do we want for our wedding? Elegant? Farmhouse Chic? Etc.

·         How much do we want to spend on the venue? (keep in mind that this could fluctuate depending on what venues have to offer…some venues may be more expensive but have all of the tables and chairs you need, where you may have to supply those items at others)

·         Do we want our guests to have to travel?

·         Do we want our ceremony and reception to be at the same location?

Generally, when you address those questions you have your pool of venues narrowed down to a few that you can go out and start visiting!

Questions for the venue

·         What rooms do you have available and what are the fees for that room?

·         What does the room rental fee include?

·         Tables, chairs, linens, lighting, AV (like microphones, etc) If not, what are the additional fees for those?

·         Do you have a coordinator that I would work with leading up to the wedding day?

·         Is that same person on site for the actual day? If so, how long do they stay?

·         Can you drop off any décor items early and when do you have access to the room(s)? Do you just get it for the day of or are you able to come in the day before?

·         Do you have an exclusive caterer or approved vendor list?

·         Ask about convenience for your guests. What kind of parking is available for guests? Are there elevators and ramps available and conveniently located?

·         How late can the reception last? Does the venue have a strict curfew?

RPS: Such helpful questions for couples to get started! Along those same lines, what are things that brides should be looking for in a wedding and/or reception venue?

MB: My biggest wish for a bride is to find a venue for ceremony and reception where they are able to enjoy their wedding day! I always feel so bad when I give a tour to a couple and their family, and the mother of the groom or the sister of the bride has a horror story about sweeping the floor at the end of their own wedding or having to run around tying chair sashes on 30 minutes before guests are supposed to arrive. Even if you’ve decided to have a more DIY approach to your wedding to help save costs, select a venue where the staff is on your team! You can still have your dream wedding and enjoy it too! We want you (and your family!) to be able to take a step back and enjoy the day!

RPS: Yes, absolutely! As a venue coordinator, what are some of the most frequently asked questions you receive?

MB: After the question about available rooms on a couples preferred date(s) the next question is always about food.

·         Can we bring in our own wedding cake?

·         Do we have to use your caterer or do you have a list we can choose from?

·         Do you supply everything from the water, coffee, tea, to the soda, beer, wine, and liquor?

·         How are drinks billed? Do we pay for everything up front or are we charged based on what our guests consume?

We have an exclusive catering contract here at the Clay Center. What that means is that all food and beverage with the single exception of the wedding cake (or whatever specialty dessert the couple wants; donuts, cookies, pies, etc.) has to come from our catering company. While this may seem at first unappealing, I can assure you that it actually takes so much of the stress and work off of the couple. You are essentially working with a turn-key venue. We have everything here from the chairs and tables, to the linens and glassware, and the staff to take care of it all! You still get to have the tastings and menu meetings, but you don’t exhaust yourself by setting tons of appointments with potential vendors. We all have a meeting in the beginning to give a tour and answer all of your logistical and food/beverage questions.

RPS: That sounds like a great benefit for the couple! When looking at potential venues, what should couples plan to budget for space rental?

MB: You can expect to spend anywhere from $500-$3000 for a room rental for a wedding. That range is so wide because what the space rental fee includes can vary so much. A $500 room rental may get you the space, but you may have to bring in your own sound system or you may have to bring in your own tables and chairs. That’s why it’s so important to ask the follow up questions to a fee structure!

RPS: Great advice to ask about the fee structure. Are there any specific trends you see emerging for weddings in 2018?

The Clay Center by Ampd Photography; Stationery by Rock Paper Sisters

The Clay Center by Ampd Photography; Stationery by Rock Paper Sisters

MB: I love all of the moody colors that I’m seeing for 2018 weddings. Magentas, plum, and red all blended together, copper paired with hues of blue, navy and dusty rose, deep red and champagne. I love the combo of eye-catching colors and metallics!

I’m also seeing more interesting ways to incorporate flowers in to their big day. Traditional arrangements are nice, but I love when a couple goes outside the box and include “installations” in their décor. Like a statement giant circular backdrop for a ceremony, or a boho-inspired grouping of hoops with greenery woven around them.

One more! I love mixing the shape and sizes of tables…it keeps your guests eyes travelling around the room in a reception and breaks up the repetition of having the same exact table with the same exact centerpiece repeated 20 times. Get creative with the layout for your big day!

RPS: These trends sound INCREDIBLE! What are one or two pro tips that you want every couple to know when it comes to finding the perfect venue for their wedding day?

MB: Don’t be afraid to be up front with your budget. You know how much you are comfortable spending on your big day and when you find out how much a room rental is, consider how much that will leave for your other expenses. If it’s more than you were initially willing to spend, see if you can make an adjustment in another area or see if your venue has other offerings that could help alleviate some expenses you thought you were going to have to take on. For example, some venues may have a stage and microphones in house that you could use or maybe you could have your cocktail hour in the same room as the dinner and dancing portion of the evening to help save money on an additional space rental. Get creative!

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The Clay Center by Ampd Photography

The Clay Center by Ampd Photography