There are five key things that an event planner looks for on a venue visit. Here, in her own words, events guru, and hospitality consultant Liz Taylor of the Taylor Lynn Corporation, shares her thoughts and experiences of the top five things to look for on a venue visit. Ideas channelled from years of working with venues both here in the UK and internationally.
Nearly always the first task on the list when organising an event is to secure the venue. You may have scoured the internet for the ideal place to welcome your guests, had recommendations from colleagues in the industry, drawn up a shortlist and even made some initial enquiries.
Yet there’s only so much you can gauge from word of mouth, a website and even a virtual 360 ° tour. Recceing a venue in person is hugely important in your final decision. There are certain functionalities and experiences that you simply won’t discover unless you visit in person. And what about that all important gut feeling?
Visiting venues is something we do as a matter of course as event planners. We see tens of hundreds over the course of our careers, and as with anything that you do repeatedly, there are certain tricks of the trade that you pick up along the way. Details to look for, elements of the event to have in mind and red flags that show you this is a place to avoid. These are things you can only get a feel of when visiting in person.
But first, there is some preparation to do before you plan your trip….
Ahead of any site visit it’s important to get clear on exactly what your ‘non negotiables’ are within your event, and in turn from your venue. As a matter of course you should already have considered the purpose, aims and objectives of hosting the event, so refer to these now ahead of visiting your shortlisted venues.
Think about exactly what you need from your venue and prioritise each aspect. Perhaps outside space is high on your agenda, or you may need a room that is set up to deliver in a certain way acoustically. Your event might demand multiple rooms and break out spaces. You may have a lot of travelling guests and simply can’t be without onsite parking or integral accommodation. Or it could be that making a wow impact on arrival is essential – cue sweeping tree lined driveways, dramatic staircases, and historical period frontages.
Whatever it is that your event simply can’t function without, have them front of mind so that you’re less likely to be swayed by effective salespeople giving you the five-star treatment on visiting.
Keep Time on Your Side…
You also need to start your search in a timely fashion. Not only because venues are booking out well in advance now, but also so you have time to visit each venue at different times and occasions. I never book a venue without first attending an event there so I can see first-hand the levels of service and attention to detail.
When dealing with a new venue, I will visit at different times of the day and for various occasions. Dinner. Coffee. An overnight stay. Some will be scheduled. Some impromptu. I will also ask the venue about events that are coming up and be sure to attend one as a guest to get the full experience. How the event flows, how the staff deal with being under pressure, these kinds of things will become evident under my watchful eye.
So, with all of this in mind here’s to my list of top five things an event planner needs to consider on a venue visit.
- Does the venue match the client brand values?
Not something that springs automatically to mind for some event planners, however choosing a venue that’s aligned with brand values to me, is imperative. Take for example, if your company is a vegan clothing designer, yet you choose a venue famed for its steak menu. Then there’s an obvious clash.
I’ve used an extreme example, but it is important that your venue has a natural synergy with your company. Shared values will mean there’s no dispute over aspects of the event that are important to you – like keeping with a certain budget or working sustainably above and beyond anything else.
Your brand is one of your biggest assets, partnering with a venue on an event should be treated no differently to any other brand partnership. That’s how affiliation marketing works.
So, ahead of visiting, make sure you are au fait with your company’s defining brand values and draw up a list of questions that will eke out whether the venue has a similar outlook. If your company has recently rebranded or you’re trying to reach new audiences, then it’s even more important. Match your venue to where you want to be rather than where you are today.
2. Where is the WOW
There are many ways in which a venue can wow and it’s not just about aesthetics! Period properties are of course still very popular venues for those brands that want to bring in an element of history and heritage. Huge floor to ceiling windows that bathe a room in natural sunlight, exquisite cornicing and period details, original vaulted ceilings and of course those impressive treelined driveways that I’ve already mentioned. We’re lucky to have so many to choose from in the UK. And they certainly will deliver wow.
Yet again this goes down to brand message and what you’re trying to achieve. If your brand is aiming for a younger more cutting-edge audience then it might a totally different type of wow factor that you’re looking for.
Is the venue brand new? Does it have a killer view of the city below? Is the audio-visual equipment the best that money can buy? Is there a sporting angle, an experience or a celebrity link that will reach out to your audience? Perhaps your venue is all about the catering. A Michelin star restaurant or destination dining experience will certainly stay in your guests’ minds for year to come.
One thing is for you sure, when you visit in person, if you feel the ‘wow’ then it’s likely that your guests will too.
3. Location and logistics
This is getting down into the nitty gritty. The practicalities of an event, but arguably the most important. Very often during an event we’ll be transporting large sets, bulky sound and lighting equipment or dramatic décor installations. It’s heavy, impractical to move and expensive. You don’t want to have your team lugging this type of load up fifteen flights of stairs or from a car park three blocks away because there is no access from the street.
Think too, about the flow of the event. Where do guests arrive? How do they move through the venue? Is there a way of controlling the crowd and getting them to where you want them to be? Are there multiple bars? Are you likely to lose half of your party to another location, taking with it the atmosphere?
If you’re bringing in a band or guest speakers from abroad, think about how far the venue is from the airport for entertainers. You must consider all these logistical issues before committing to a venue. Some will have solutions if your heart is set, but the practicalities are just as important as the feeling. Head and heart.
4. Service with a Smile
The main reason I will visit a venue in advance of any booking is to find out if the hospitality staff have the hallmarks of quality that I am looking for. Impeccable service is always high on my list of non-negotiables because it’s what my clients are used to. They won’t stand for anything less. I find if a venue is new there are often teething problems, so it’s especially important to visit in this scenario.
Food served in a timely manner. Service with a smile. A team that will go above and beyond. If they’re already in place, your event will be much easier to deliver. I have on occasion brought in my own team of serving staff because I’ve felt a venue lacking, but I’d much rather use the team that knows the space and a venue that has similar standards to my own. High.
5. Transformation potential
Sometimes you will visit a venue and get a feeling that this could be the one. It might not be quite how you perceived it. There could be old fashioned carpeting, old school furnishings but occasionally it’s important to see beyond that. Look at the shape of the room, the position of the windows and the access (see above notes on location and logistics). If there’s potential, then don’t write it off due to a few aesthetical issues. Carpets can be replaced, walls painted or partitioned (I’ve done this on many an occasion). What’s important are the things that can’t be imitated elsewhere.
Similarly, some venues are sold on their transformation potential, some of the old warehouses for example are a blank canvas just waiting for your imagination to be imprinted on them. If this is the case, you need to look at expenses and invest in production. Be sure that your budget fits your vision.
About Liz Taylor
Liz Taylor is founder and CEO of the event planners, the Taylor Lynn Corporation, and has been at the forefront of the UK event scene for over thirty years.
www.tlc-ltd.co.uk │ Twitter: @taylorlynncorp │ Instagram: @taylorlynncorp │
You can read about Liz Taylor’s biography ‘Taylor Made’ here