Picture this: it’s the day of your event, and you need to move a large piece of equipment up to the space. You measured the dimensions and checked online to verify that the freight elevator was large enough to hold it.
But there’s just one problem—the elevator itself is large enough, but the door to the elevator is not.
That’s exactly what happened to Shantel Young. Young is a production manager at Convene, but at a previous job with a venue, she learned just how easy it is for things to get overlooked when you don’t ask the right questions.
Her client needed a custom ice cream cart in the space. According to the elevator dimensions, it fit fine, but the elevator door was narrower, and that cart wasn’t going anywhere.
The solution? “We had to carry it up two flights of stairs,” says Young.
Lesson learned: Ask the right questions.
“Site tours are important so you can fully understand the flow and scope of the space on an everyday basis,” says Young, who has been in the events industry for over seven years in Miami and New York. “What may appear as small obstructions featured on a floor plan could make or break the intended outcome of your meeting.”
Your site coordinator can’t read your mind—they won’t know what you need unless you ask about it. So before you head over to tour your event venue, bust out that legal pad and jot down these must ask questions.
Whether the space is big or small, it’s important to know how many ways in and out there are. This is especially true if security is a top concern for your event.
“Some groups have higher security requirements than what is standard, often with guards at each entrance,” says Young. “If there are dozens of entrances into the space, like a convention center, that is going to raise your security costs and considerations.”
Even small spaces can have lots of entry points, so don’t simply rely on pictures or square footage—ask!
Have you ever been to a show on Broadway? The theaters are beautiful, but they’re cramped and ancient, which means toilets are at a premium. Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than during intermission, when the entire audience descends on these tiny bathrooms.
“Knowing exactly how many bathrooms—and toilets in those bathrooms—there are at the venue will help you plan breaks better,” says Young. “If toilets are limited, you’ll know to plan more frequent breaks, so all your attendees don’t have to try and go at once.”
This may seem like an obvious question, but besides just knowing if your group will fit, you’ll want to know how much room there is for your program to grow as well. A room may be just big enough for your group, but that leaves you with no room for extra RSVPs. It may not be a deal breaker, but it’s definitely something you’ll want to keep in mind as you tour a site.
Unless you want to find yourself carrying a heavy ice cream cart up two flights of stairs like Young had to, make sure you get every detail possible about shipping, receiving, and storage for your event.
Most importantly, Young says to over-communicate. “You definitely want to communicate with your onsite team about what’s coming and when. They’re here to help you!”
Make sure you have a clear understanding of what can be hung where, and if certain decorations are prohibited by your venue.
“Glitter,” says Young. “Many venues won’t allow glitter as a decoration, just because it’s so difficult to clean up.”
Other decorative matters to keep in mind: are there any special clean-up fees if you hang things on the wall? Some venues may charge a fee to spackle and repaint a wall if anything is hung on them or causes damage.
Last week, I went to a planning meeting at a hotel. Also sharing the event space with our group was a tattoo exhibition. Among the attractions were piercing and tattooing booths, as well as a large swing set up in a conference room where volunteers could be suspended from their piercings and… well, I think that gives you enough of a mental image.
Understandably, that might not be a crowd you want your group of clients sharing common space with.
But even another group of guests with fewer needles might present a problem you’ll want to be aware of —your competition.
“Competitors often don’t want to share venue space on the same day,” says Young. “Bank of America likely doesn’t want to host their training session in the same venue at the same time as Barclays.”
Most modern venues should, of course, comply with all ADA regulations for accessibility, but if you know guests will need specific arrangements, it’s good to find out from the venue in advance what can be done.
“We once hosted the holiday part for National Organization on Disability, so we let the building team know that there were going to be lots of people using the ADA elevator downstairs,” says Young. “That allowed them to make sure everything was ready before guests started to arrive.”
Some venues get strict about what vendors are allowed to work in their space, so it’s good to clear that question early on. Sometimes, they can simply recommend vendors that have worked in the space before and are familiar with how everything works. “At Convene, we have preferred vendors we can recommend and vouch for, but clients are certainly welcome to use vendors of their own choosing.”
Different venues have different rules about canceling and rescheduling events. Check your contract for a force majeure clause and make sure you understand it clearly.
Some buildings will require any vendors working in the space to provide a certificate of insurance. That’s not something you want to spring on your photographer when they show up just before your event.
Of course, some permitting situations are more extreme than others. “Back in Miami, I had to use a crane to bring a car into the pool deck of our property,” says Young. “We had to shut down Collins Avenue to get it in there, so there were definitely some permitting and insurance issues to iron out there!”