What does it take to build a great venue relationship? Ever wondered how the venue staff sees things? While event planners work incredibly hard to dazzle their clients, the venue coordinator and other staff are busting their butts too.
We thought it’d be fun to share their perspective on the day of the event. If you wanted to get on the preferred vendor list of a venue, this is the way to their hearts.
If you’ve explored ThymeBase’s event planning software, you’ve probably seen our Jenna Phillips in a video or two. She’s our in-house hero, our Chief Event Planner, and all-round event expert. But she’s also the Director of Private Events for 16 on Center, a collective of Chicago venues. In her position, Jenna often oversees more than 30 events each month.
Check-in with the venue coordinator right away
The key to a solid venue relationship starts by checking in. Jenna says, “the first thing would be to intentionally check in with the venue.” There are a few reasons why this is a smooth move.
First, it’s just good manners. The venue wants to get to know you, and you want to build a positive venue relationship. The venue wants to know how they can help make the event special.
Jenna says, “I would much prefer that people proactively seek out the point of contact and start on a good note.” Jenna and her team want to know what your task list looks like, and make sure you don’t get in each others’ way. “Let’s keep the communication open.”
Then there are technical concerns. Each venue has spaces and places, some of which are open to you, while other areas are closed.
“A lot of times, people just walk right in and start setting up, and we’re like, ‘No, that’s not how this works.’ You can only give so much information ahead of time that you can expect somebody to really download and understand. And 90% of the time they’ve probably just read it before they showed up. Or they don’t truly understand the way that we function and the order in which things need to happen for us to be able to execute appropriately. There’ll be things that people might not get or know without being told. So especially from the venue perspective, it matters a lot to set those boundaries and expectations.”
Discuss Changes to the Event Timeline
Then there are the changes to the event timeline. The venue wants to know any last-minute changes. Sounds obvious, right? I mean, everyone wants the perfect event.
“Something has likely changed,” Jenna says. “The timeline has changed, and I would want to know that. I want my stage to know that. But if the bride told her planner about a special request, she’d have told the wedding planner. It’s up to the wedding planner to tell me that.”
Jenna explains that her team does their utmost to be on top of things, even if the planner isn’t using event planning software (like ThymeBase, hint, hint.). They want to know if seats need to be reserved, or if they need to refrigerate your florals or your wedding cake.
“We do our best to not have to ask any questions and expect them to let us know when updates happen.” So when the planner checks in first-thing when they arrive, the venue appreciates it. Everyone feels in control and can be confident in executing.
The Venue Relationship Fails If The Event Planner Doesn’t Communicate
Each venue has specific protocols. “For example,” Jenna explains, “we have rules on where we are and are not allowed to store equipment, including personal artifacts of the client. Specific in-times and out-times, set up protocol, elevator protocol.” Because one of her venues is 120 years old, there are some rules to preserve the character of the building.
Your planner venue relationship will blossom when you respect their space.
While this sounds obvious, Jenna says, “You wouldn’t believe how many times I have to say, ‘All that stuff that you just set up, you need to move it.’ But had they had a brief conversation when they arrived, it could’ve avoided so many issues. But at the end of the day, it’s, I work in hospitality, and I want everyone who enters the doors to have a good experience. And that includes vendors.”
So, check-in with the venue’s team. They want to help you wow your clients.
The Venue Sets Up and Breaks Down
“So as the venue, one of my primary concerns is the set up of the space. Sometimes we have a ceremony on-site. We have to set up the chairs and the aisle and the stage and then flip it into dinner. Sometimes we just set up straight for dinner.”
Jenna goes on to explain that because they worry about set up, and quick-moving set changes, they need to think a few hours ahead. While planners do too, some vendors might not. So the venue relationship improves when you communicate clearly with your vendors what any of the restrictions and changes might be.
Venues Manage A Large Staff
Beyond considering the setup of the space, the venue worries about staff in-times. Depending on the event, this can be three to four hours before the event starts. So they’ve got people coming in that need to be checked in and told what they’re going to be doing.
The venue coordinator, especially if catering is on-site, is like a general, directing who folds napkins, who polishes silverware, who handles the candles.
“We have the bar that’s starting to come in and set up and get their things going. We have a lot of times a chalk artist that shows up that needs to be doing the chalk art. We’ve got multiple vendors starting to load in during those hours before the event starts. The main thing is controlling the movement.”
So how does this impact an event planner? Well, the venue team appreciates your help in getting things right, before things go wrong. When you see how crazy their work is, and they know how stressful your tasks are, you can band together to ease each other’s workload.
Does The Venue Need The Planner On-Site All Day?
Not really, no. Jenna told me that, in her experience, the best vendors are pretty self-sufficient. They also have enough people on-site, like herself, or the logistics manager, and then stage and production crew. “So no matter who the vendor is, whether it’s a band or a florist, one of us can gracefully get them where they need to be and show them the ropes.”
Of course, sometimes, the event planner can’t be there before the vendors arrive. Jenna says, that’s cool, “as long as we have enough vendor information.”
So planners, please share as much information with the venue as possible before the event. Your venue relationship depends on it.
How Should Event Planners Communicate With Venues?
The venue relationship is underwritten from the timeline they receive from the planner. The venue wants to know what time the vendors will be arriving, and they’ll expect everyone to be on time.
“We include that information on our internal timelines, and a good planner would put that on theirs as well. Usually, we use our own written timeline alongside the one that a planner sends us.”
Why two timelines? Well, it allows the venue to make sure that its staff can execute their internal tasks on time and align with the planner’s expectations. Sometimes, timelines won’t align, and then communication flows from the venue to the planner. But first, the venue needs to know what the planner expects. And that means detailed event timelines.
“It’s a pretty symbiotic relationship,” Jenna says, “between the vendor and the coordinator. There is a lot of information that the venue needs from the coordinator/client, and probably more information that the coordinator needs from the venue. When they show up the day-of, it’s mostly the planner coming to us about what they need from us and where to go.”
When The Event Begins, The Venue Truly Gets To Work
Jenna tells me that “once the event starts, that’s the breakaway point where we’re like, okay, it’s on now. We’re going to do our job, we’re going to do what we promised we would do and we’re going to kill it.”
The planner handles the individuals, the venue handles the action.
“It’s up to the planner to make sure that the father-of-the-bride knows when his speech is. I’ll have a microphone ready. But I’m not going to approach the maid of honor and make sure she’s sober for her speech. That’s the planner’s job. I’m going to make sure that these 200 people are fed beautiful, delicious, hot food. That’s my priority.”
So When Do Things Wind Down for the Venue?
“After dessert, it’s just a dance party,” Jenna says. “There’s not usually a whole lot more production to worry about. No more points of activation. Just an open bar and an open dance floor.
When dessert, aka the end of food service, happens, that’s when we’re breaking down the kitchen, doing the dishes, checking in with culinary and cleaning our space, and getting ready to close right after load-out happens.”
And leaving things overnight? Not always possible.
“We need to leave that room pristine because more than likely we’re having 900 people in for a sold-out show the next day. So there is no question of leaving stuff overnight.”
Venues And Event Style Sometimes Clash
Jenna stresses that while sometimes the venue’s rules seem overly strict, there’s a logistical or legal reason for any restrictions.
“A Lot of venues will not allow open flame, and a lot of people are disappointed by that. But our space is a historic landmark building. It’s a high risk to have 200 tea lights amongst tables where people are passing family-style trays back and forth.”
And then there’s the glitter and confetti. Jenna says, “it is pervasive. It gets everywhere. It just spreads, and it never goes away. So we just don’t allow that.”
What Can The Planner Do That Will Make The Venue Love Them?
“The biggest thing that a planner can do is watch the client’s personal belongings like a hawk. Their gifts and the card box and the bride’s shoes that she took off, or whatever it is.”
Jenna explains that “We need somebody else there sometimes to jump in and help with things like that. Just handling all those details is a big thing.”
So that’s it. So if you’re a planner looking to build a positive relationship with venues, just do the following. Check-in when you arrive, communicate the changes and take great care of your mutual clients.