No matter how difficult the economy gets, there’s one business that won’t ever go under: the wedding industry. It’s not unusual for brides and grooms looking to find the best locations for ceremonies and receptions to start their search years in advance. Many say that if they wait until a year before the date of the nuptials, their top pick already will be booked. That said, if you’re looking to join an industry that is virtually recession-proof, you won’t find a better bet than a beautifully decorated wedding reception venue. Choose a great location and you’re off to a terrific start. But before you start making decisions about food and beverage packages, there are a number of tasks you first must check off your to-do list. Work your way through each of these and you and your reception hall business will live happily ever after.
Items you will need
- Licenses and permits
- Vendor relationships
- Banquet furniture
- Linens, dishes, glassware and serving pieces
Visit reception halls in your area to assess how these businesses are run. Compare their event packages, room setups, hospitality amenities and auxiliary facilities like powder rooms, offices and small meeting areas. Survey each facility’s square footage and figure out the maximum number of people legally allowed to occupy the space(s) at any given time. While you’re observing operating styles, come up with ideas for making your reception hall stand apart from the crowd.
Draft a budget. Estimate your monthly expenses for rent or mortgage, utilities, taxes, insurance, equipment, supplies, provisions, staff, advertising, maintenance and other business necessities. Double that figure. It’s always better to overestimate than to find yourself short just of cash as you’re starting to build your business.
Secure financing. Unless you have enough cash to underwrite the many facets of your reception hall and keep it operational for one year, shop for a loan. You may qualify for government assistance if you fall into a special category like minority owner. Banks, investment brokers, venture capitalists and credit unions offer a variety of terms, conditions and repayment schedules.
Build, purchase or rent a building large enough to house big events. If you’re starting from scratch, hire a contractor to draw up design plans and oversee the hiring of laborers, decorators and subcontractors. Listen to recommendations from the decorator you choose. He or she will know the best way to mix and match colors, wallpapers, fabrics, lighting, carpet, dance flooring and restroom amenities. If loading docks are small and cramped, revamp them to allow for efficient deliveries.
Apply for licensing and operating permits. Each state has its own licensing requirements covering the facility, liquor, food and operations. The process is time-consuming and will require inspections in some cases. You must procure and post an occupancy license to verify the number of people allowed under roof at any given time per your local fire codes.
Decide between purchasing and renting linens, dishes, glasses and flatware. Most banquet hall owners choose the second option. Weddings are “color-coordinated.” Finding room to store linens in every color of the rainbow comes under the heading of impossible. Inventorying complete china and crystal setups for 500 people means devoting an entire room to storage and if items break, finding replacements could be a headache. Finally, washing and ironing linens can be time- and staff-consuming. Linen services deliver exactly what you need, then remove all of it to be sanitized at their facility.
Purchase furniture. Commercial tables are manufactured to be sturdy, portable and expandable. You will need an assortment of round and square tables, chairs, buffet tables, decorative elements like silk or real trees, plants and other fixtures. Take your decorator along when you visit wholesalers specializing in furniture for hospitality venues.
Hire staff. An experienced reception hall manager can whip everything into shape for an owner and make it look easy. Find one with the expertise you lack. Hand over the job of hiring to that person since she or he will be supervising staff once you open. Pay particular attention to new hire documentation. Bringing illegal immigrants on board is never a cheap option. Government sanctions and fines for employing undocumented workers are stiff, so make certain everyone you hire is legally able to work in the United States.
Prepare event packages. Start out by mirroring your competitors in terms of menu choices, bar options and extras like wedding cakes. Offering per-person packages at set prices kicks the planning into high gear and after you’ve tested the waters, you can begin to design your own combinations. You’ll be working with frenzied moms-of-brides and angst-ridden brides and grooms, so muster your patience and good humor.
Set up co-op arrangements. Get up close and personal with those who can bring you a steady stream of business. Local churches, synagogues, wedding planners, bridal shops, invitation and tux rental shops plus event planners can offer you a huge base of clients from which to glean bookings. Your referral program may offer an discount or bonus to people suggesting your facility if they end up booking with you.
Expect routine inspections and be prepared for them. The health department will monitor your kitchen and restrooms. Fire inspectors are likely to check emergency response systems. Equipment, like a defibrillator, might be mandated by your city, so stay on top of these important steps. Always have a maintenance person on call 24/7. Burned out light bulbs in the women’s restroom during an event may require only your expertise, but if the power goes out, you’ll need a pro—fast. Finally, don’t forget to arrange for snow removal services in cold climates and lawn care specialists to keep your hall’s exterior looking as beautiful as the interior.
One of the best ways to promote your facility is by exhibiting at bridal shows early in the year. For a modest exhibit fee, you can spread the word about your services to hundreds—perhaps thousands—of brides.
During the off-season, when wedding traffic is slow, promote your facility as the ideal place to hold corporate events, reunions and other large gatherings.