I feel like I’m always on a never ending search for venues. Before it was for wedding clients and now I’m back at it for an event with the charity I work for. There are so many venues in Toronto of varying sizes, atmospheres and budgets. Many things determine what venue is right for you, but one thing you must be mindful of early on are hidden costs. Everyone knows you have to pay for the food. Some of you keeners may even know that you have to pay a rental fee to use the venue. But what about everything else? Every venue is different in the way they charge and how much they charge. Here are some things to ask or look out for when doing your venue research.

Cake cutting fee

Most venues will charge for a plating fee to serve cake to guests at their tables. This cost ranges from $2-5 per person. It isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds… This cost pays for the staffing to cut and plate the cake, to deliver it to the table, to take the plate off the table and to wash the plate/utensils. When it comes to an event with multiples of 200 or 300 people, this is a lot more work!

An alternative: If you are having a sweets table, venues may serve the cake at the sweets table for a smaller fee or for free if is self-serve.

Taxes and Gratuities

This seems like a no-brainer but it is important to consider the grand total at the end of the day. The venue may quote you $50 per person, but you need to consider how much this will cost after your 300-person guest count is accounted for, plus 13% tax and 15-20% mandatory gratuities.

An alternative: Some venues will give you their per person cost all-in if you pay by cash. Yes, this might mean you have to pay $10,000+ in cold hard cash, but you might save a few hundred or thousand dollars!

SOCAN fee

SOCAN stands for the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada. They make sure that when music is played at an event, that the right people are paid their royalties (composers, authors, publishers, artists, etc). This ranges from $30-60 depending if you have dancing or not.

An alternative: Sorry folks, not really any alternative here except if you forego music altogether… Luckily, this fee isn’t big at all.

Audio-visual equipment

You visit the venue and you love it. You see that they have a built-in sound system and a projector/screen, perfect for your same-day-edit video and live band. You’re already paying a hefty fee for the room rental, so you would assume that use of the AV is included. This is not always the case! Make sure to ask if it is included and what is included for AV. Some venues will charge extra to use their AV system, and every piece of equipment you use is an additional cost.

An alternative: If the venue charges you for their AV, consider finding a DJ who will bring their own sound system that is within your music budget. Many DJs offer a standard package that includes a simple sound system. If you don’t like the DJ package, you can always add in the sound system cost later on.

Minimum spend

Some venues will have a minimum guest count (usually at popular venues) or minimum you must spend (usually at a restaurant buy-out) that you must meet. At an O&B restaurant, for example, the Saturday minimum spend for a buy-out might be $7,000. At a banquet hall, to give you the whole hall, they might require you to have a minimum guest count of 150 so they are guaranteed a certain amount of revenue to make their time worthwhile. If this is the case, make sure that you are comfortable meeting this minimum and agree on it early on.

An alternative: Typically venues that have these are ones that exclusively cater one event at a time, so this is their bread and butter. This also means that they will give you great undivided service. If you aren’t comfortable with a minimum amount you must meet, consider another venue that will allow you to have more flexibility.

Furniture

If you are at a venue that is not a banquet hall (like an event space or gallery), chances are they won’t have every piece of furniture or stemware you might need. This may need to be rented. Some will include what you need in a package but some may require you to rent from their preferred supplier in addition to their rental fee.

An alternative: Find a venue with all that you need already included, so you don’t have to pay for rentals. This is why banquet halls are popular; they are all-inclusive. However you lose the creative freedom in how your wedding will look.

Staffing

This isn’t so much a hidden cost but something that is not often advertised. Some event spaces will charge a certain fee for room rental and a cost for the food, but when your bill comes, it will also include the cost of staffing. Usually this includes wait staff, a supervisor and a captain to supervise the whole thing. Food doesn’t serve itself! Usually this isn’t a huge added cost to the total but it can be a four digit number if you have a large function.

An alternative: Consider banquet halls that include staffing at the all-inclusive per person cost. If you have Chinese catering at a hall where you pay for staffing, consider having 10 people per table instead of 8, so that more people are served with the fewer staff (since staffing is often per table).

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Rebecca Chan is a Toronto wedding planner and day of wedding coordinator providing sophisticated planning for the style-savvy couple. Whether you need planning assistance or wedding day coordination, Rebecca can help you create your dream wedding day. Contact her today, she'd love to hear from you.