Does Your Wedding Venue Have all the Proper Permits?
In my last post I explained what it means for a venue to be permitted, as well as warned you against unknowingly booking an illegal, unpermitted wedding venue. The question is, how can you be sure you or someone you care about can avoid booking an illegal venue? After all, their goal is that you don't find out. Here are some simple tips to pay attention to long before you purchase that champagne for any glasses that will be raised in a toast on your wedding day.
- Look for a website that clearly portrays a venue focused on hosting weddings. An illegal venue often tries to keep a low profile. In fact, they may not even have a website at all. Legitimate venues invest in and advertise their website. A good venue has a good website–one they have put some effort into.
- Do a search for reviews of the venue you are interested in. While Yelp attracts a few warped, self-indulgent opinions, the majority of reviews are true and accurate. There is a good chance an illegal venue has already burned clients. These clients have been hurt, and don't want this venue to victimize future couples. They have posted warnings to prevent you from falling into the same trap.
- Do they do their own catering? Okay, some large, permitted venues do their own catering. They may even have their own legit restaurant, which is great. Do your homework and fully check out the catering. Look at their website and reviews. There are illegal venues out there providing food themselves without the proper permits. I am sure you wouldn’t choose to eat at a restaurant that hasn’t gone through all the necessary health inspections. This could be a risk you don’t even realize you are taking until it becomes evident on your wedding day.
- Don’t consider lovely wedding blog posts to be proof that a venue is legal. Vendors submit those photos, and wedding blogs don’t check to see if the venues are in good standing. Have you noticed wedding blogs feature the pretty, romantic, touching, and amazing side of weddings and nothing else? Unfortunate things can happen at illegal unpermitted venues, but a professional photographer can still do a wonderful job.
- Is the price too good to be true? It is quite costly to be in compliance with the conditions of a CUP. That cost should be reflected in the site fee. If the venue is unpermitted, they have skipped those costs. These venues may tell you the price is low because they are "new and up and coming". It is true that a venue may offer a slightly lower price the first year. Again, search for reviews. You may find they have been around for a while. They know they are getting your booking because the price is too good to be true. That is their big marketing plan. Target clients who want a cheap price.
- Before signing a contract, review it to make sure it is reasonable and fair for both parties. My bride’s friends sadly didn’t even have a contract. People, ANY legitimate professional vendor or venue you hire for your wedding will insist on a contract. Understand that without a contract, you will be making a generous donation to their bank account with NO rights to anything they verbally promise you.
- Be aware of how an illegal venue will effect your liability. As I researched this topic I came across a point made by Supervisor Weston in Penn Valley, Ca that I hadn't even thought of. "Insurance industry standards and common sense dictates exclusion of liability coverage for illegal operation activities. Insurance companies are shrewd in protecting their exposure. You would be taking a great risk in relying on enforcement of a policy agreement based on an activity at an illegal unpermitted location."
- If at any time, after following through on these tips, you feel things don’t add up, go ahead and ask to see a copy of their permit. Like any legal business, they are required to keep a copy on hand. If this were to become a regular practice in order to keep illegal venues from operating, and couples being burned, I wouldn’t mind it at all. Couples on my tours are welcome to take a nice long gander at our CUP. We worked really hard to get it and keep it!
- Don’t have “venue blindness”. Venue blindness is when a couple chooses not to see the waving red flags. Or, they see them and don’t care that a venue is illegal. Perhaps a venue has been operating for years without being caught. That doesn’t mean it won’t be caught before your wedding. Actually, the longer they exist, the greater chance that the won't for too much longer. No matter how perfect or affordable an illegal venue is, it isn’t worth the risk. My bride’s friends will vouch for that. Not only are they out thousands of dollars, they have to deal with this major disappointment, and the additional cost of another venue the month prior to their wedding. That is pressure you don’t want.
Here is what I have found to be true in this industry. It is true for venues and vendors alike. There are no great deals out there. I don’t know who came up with the idea there were valuable deals out there. Did it start with the DIY trend? Or,is it just a way to deal with a budget? When I meet with couples 60-days prior to their wedding and they tell me they booked a vendor I don't know, I ask what they like about them. If all they can tell me about is the incredibly low price, I cringe inside. That tells me it is likely we will have a difficult time working with this vendor, and the couple may be unhappy with some aspect of their wedding, though outside of my control. I believe in the wedding industry you get what you pay for. I would like to see a trend that supports venues and vendors who work very hard and are worth the price they ask. (And all the vendors say, “AMEN!”)
One option is for YOU to DIY the work yourself to earn the savings. Go for it! You will work hard, though it will be a labor of love. Just DIY on projects you can do ahead of time. Don't try to provide a service and try to get married at the same time. It is a bad plan. And yes, I see it. Especially when it comes to flowers. Family or friends who are guests should never be setting up flowers at a wedding. Never. Trust me. It's not pretty. When it comes to weddings, each vendor is made up of talent, labor, equipment, and often ingredients, be those ingredients flowers, food, or craft. Don't approach shopping for your wedding vendors like you do shopping for a car, kitchen appliances, or an airplane flight. There are no deals on value in this industry! Value is worth the cost. If you find a vendor who will cut their cost below the going rate, it just means you are buying a lesser quality service or product, or you have a very generous, professional friend. We see it all too often. Many times the couple is too busy on their wedding day to even know they hired poorly, but we notice. Often we are doing our best to pick up the slack when no one is looking because we care for the couple. And sometimes, we can’t save the day. Often the best way to save money on a wedding is to cut your guest count, have it on a non-Saturday, book a lower, but fairly priced venue, or cut a service. Skip the extras like favors and hire a solid DJ, photographer, florist, videographer, baker, or officiate. If anything in this industry looks too good to be true, it is. There are con artists everywhere, because there are uneducated couples getting engaged every day. Be careful and smart out there!