November 2016 | By Hala Bissada, CFRE

Location, Location, Location is known to be a real estate agent’s mantra but it applies to event planners as well.

Selecting the venue for your event is one of the most critical decisions you will make. It can impact the look and feel of your event; be a key factor in terms of making your event unique; and is a big line item on your budget.

In addition, the professionalism and flexibility of the venue staff can greatly impact the success of your event.

Choosing your venue should be aligned with the type of event you are organizing and the target audience.

Some important venue considerations include:


Since venue is one of your biggest budget line-items, this is likely one of the considerations that will sway your decision the most. One way to keep your costs down is being flexible on the date and day of the week. Find out if the rental cost is waived if you reach a certain food and beverage minimum. Also, look at items the venue can throw in for free, like staging, furniture, tableware, glassware, linens, votives, preparation of floor plans etc. Find out if there is an event in the room the night before and see if you can piggy back on their set-up to save costs.

Ensure you fully understand any additional costs you may have to incur like security, Socan/Re:Sound fees, custodial/clean-up fees, staffing fees, early arrival/set-up fees, fire-watch etc.

You may be in a position where you have gift-in-kind sponsors like beer/wine/spirits. You will need to check in with the venue to see if they will permit you to bring in alcohol and what their corkage fees are. Sometimes at the end of the day, there isn’t a benefit to bringing in the donated product.

Some venues have a list of exclusive vendors that they will allow to perform work in their venue. There may be fees or restrictions associated with not utilizing their exclusive provider(s) or preferred suppliers.

Find out if the venue is a union or non-union event space. This can impact your costs. A union facility will have additional rules and regulations that must be followed for your event. You will want to ask the facility for their policies and procedures to see how this will affect your event budget. A union facility will have specific labor rates, break times, call minimums and overtime charges. Even if you bring in your own AV or operators, you will still have to use the union labor at least to shadow your team.

Most venues will require you to use their in-house AV for rigging and power. Understanding the associated costs prior to your event is very important. Otherwise you may be in store for a rude awakening when you receive your bill after the fact.

Hala Inc - Unique Venues


The venue size and capacity must be appropriate for your event. You don’t want a room to be too small where you create an overcrowding situation that is uncomfortable for guests or too big a room where it looks empty, under attended and therefore comes across as being unsuccessful.


A convenient location can be a downtown location for a corporate crowd, but for attendees travelling from out of town, hosting your event at a venue near an airport may be more convenient. Close proximity to public transportation and ample parking are important considerations.

Depending on your event you may require a venue with minimal stairs, ramps and elevator access for an elderly demographic or guests with physical disabilities. Alternatively, if your event is a child-friendly event you need to ensure washrooms have changing tables, there is storage for strollers and perhaps booster seats and highchairs.

Depending your event, you may wish to have your venue close to guest amenities such as:

  • Banks
  • Drug stores
  • Gift shop
  • Concierge
  • Emergency services


It is important for you to understand your requirements or at least have a good idea prior to selecting your venue, including the expected number of guests. For example if you are organizing a fundraising gala you made need space for the cocktail reception that can also accommodate bars, a silent auction and other installations, a dining room that can accommodate a main stage, rooms to house and feed volunteers, green rooms for talent, office space for key organizers etc.

Ask venues for sample seating plans and gallery of images from past events that have used your desired layout to give you ideas and a good sense if the space works with the vision you have in mind.

How you lay out your event will affect different aspects of your event. Look at traffic flow and the movement of your guests to make sure how you have created a floor plan that makes sense. Try to envision using the spaces in untraditional ways, especially if you have seen the space used the same way for many events. This can create a wow factor.

Find out if there is another event(s) taking place in close proximity to your space. Make sure it doesn’t conflict with your event especially if some spaces are communal. You may not want to host a black-tie affair if there happens to be motorcycle show in next ballroom over.


Not only does the venue need to be responsive to your needs prior to the event but it also needs to have adequate support staff on site during the event to respond to the needs and requests of you, your staff and your attendees. Venue staff is an extension of your team and they need to represent you well—they can make or break your event. It is a huge red flag if a venue is not responding to you in a timely manner in the initial stages with things like site tours, providing quotes etc.

Hala Inc - Unique Venues


The building’s interior and exterior will be instrumental in conveying the desired feeling of your event whether it is a relaxed feel to upscale and sophisticated. Make sure it matches the style of event you are executing. In addition, an already beautifully decorated room will minimize décor costs.


The services and amenities that a venue offers you is also important. Consider the following:

  • Does the venue have a fabulous chef or do they have a list of preferred caterers for you to select from?
  • If you are bringing in a caterer does the venue have a full service kitchen? If not you will have to incur additional costs for bringing in kitchen equipment and potentially electrical costs if you require special outlets or extra power
  • Does the venue offer tables, chairs, tableware etc. as part of their offering and if so are they usable for the style of event you are executing?
  • Do they have in-house AV capabilities i.e. in-house lighting, staging, podium, audio etc.
  • What do their washrooms look like? Are they easily accessible?
  • Do they have in-house or neighboring parking and what are the costs? Do they have valet services or would you need to bring in that service? What is the cost?
  • Depending on the type of event you are executing good acoustics in the room could be very important. Holding a venue in non-traditional space like a warehouse may be a “cool” factor, but could result in echoes or reverberations
  • Storage Space—do they have space where you can store items like technical cases, or receivables ahead of an event etc.
  • It is important to tour the loading dock at the site visit, especially if you haven’t worked in the venue before. If you have a large AV set-up it will be important for you to know if you can drive your trucks right in or if you will need to use freight elevators. Some elevators will accommodate a certain size truck. Review the load in specs carefully
  • Today, people do not go anywhere without their mobile phones and other personal devices and this is a key way to personally connect with your audience, especially at large events. You want your guests interacting with social media, using event apps, etc. therefore it is important that there is no interruption of service.
  • Interconnectivity for events especially with large audiences has become incredibly important. Make sure your venue can accommodate your needs.
  • Do they have business amenities…fax, photocopying etc.


It is very important to look at considerations related to production. Below are some key factors, not already mentioned:

  • Are there any obstructions in the room that may impact sight lines?
  • Are their rigging points available (spacing, location, weight)?
  • What times are available for load in, set-up and strike?
  • What type of power is available and is it suitable?
  • Where are the fire exits and service elevators?
  • Where can you locate FOH (Front of House—Technical Deck)
  • Where can you run your cables? Do they need to go around the doors?
  • What existing lights are in the room and can they be controlled/dimmed?


Most reputable venues require a certificate of insurance with a certain liability amount, as well as them named as an additional insured. Most are typically $2-5 million. Make sure you understand their requirements.


Creating an event using sustainable event principles has become increasingly important to organizers and their clients. Choosing the right venue can assist you with this endeavour. Venues can demonstrate their adherence to sustainable practices in the following ways:

  • Demonstrate a commitment to water conservation by installing water saving devices
  • Ensure that recycling and compost bins are accessible and clearly sign-posted
  • Use refillable water jugs instead of water bottles
  • LED lighting upgrades
  • Use efficient appliances
  • Use china instead of disposable items
  • Provide organic options like tea and wine
  • Choose seafood items that are sustainable
  • Organic waste is composted
  • Donate left-over food to perishable food charities
  • Electronic paperless check-in/check-out
  • Use whiteboards instead of paper flip charts
  • Emissions from the event offset through the purchase of renewable energy certificates

Hala Inc - Unique Venues


If the event is out of country, especially in a location like the Caribbean where they may not have much infrastructure you will want to take the following into consideration:

  • Does the city have destination appeal?
  • Are their direct flights from various locations? Is the flight a how price point?
  • Do they have the required buildings such as stadiums, hotels, convention centres?
  • Do they have adequate medical services like hospitals and clinics?
  • What is the proximity to the airport?
  • What are their local attractions, culture, entertainment and outdoor activities?
  • Do they have great shopping and restaurants?
  • Does the destination offer something you can’t find in any other destination?
  • Do they have adequate transportation services? Are the roads paved?
  • Are the convention facilities, restaurants and other amenities concentrated in one centralized area for ease?
  • Are the locals receptive to the event?
  • What is the climate at the given time of your event?
  • Is the city considered safe? Is it safe to travel on foot, especially in the evening hours?
  • What are the economic conditions in the city/country?
  • Do they have adequate power/hydro?
  • Do they have WIFI?
  • Do they have vendors you can access or are you bringing in your AV, décor, equipment rentals from another city/country? What are the cost implications?
  • Are there any construction and development projects going on in the destination and how might they impact your event?


Using non-traditional venue space can create a unique one-of-a-kind environment for your guests. It can be considered to be a unique selling point. As event planners we are always looking for ways to differentiate our events, and this is one way to do it.

There are key things to consider when using a non- traditional venue, as it will not have the infrastructure of a traditional venue i.e. existing audio visual, serving staff, kitchen, security, load in docks etc. Below are things to keep in mind.

  • Is the location still easily accessible by your attendees?
  • What is the budgetary impact? i.e. costs for bringing in security, building a kitchen, audio visual requirements, additional power, labour, WIFI etc.
  • Can the venue accommodate all your room requirements? Will you need to bring in additional resources like trailers (production, hair & make-up, green rooms, washrooms), tenting etc.
  • Is there ample parking?
  • Do you have ample time for set-up and tear-down given the venue may need to be operational by a certain time?
  • Will you need to store existing furniture, equipment etc.
  • Will you require waste management services?
  • Who will you need to work with from the venue? If there are multiple divisions you will need to develop relationships and buy-in.

This article was originally published in the November 2016 issue of Canadian Special Events Magazine.

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