Let’s Get Personal: The Truth About Getting Married in Offbeat Venues in DC

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  • June 18, 2014

Last year  I wrote a blog post rounding up some offbeat venues in Washington, DC to have your wedding. At the time my wedding coordination business was just starting out and I hadn’t actually worked at any of these places. I was just going off their awesome pictures and funky vibe – which didn’t really paint the clearest picture of what it’s actually like to get married in these types of places.

Now that I’m halfway through my second year of coordinating, I’ve gotten to work in a few of the venues I listed (and after next year, I’ll have worked in almost ALL of them! woot) and man, have I learned some things.

So naturally, I want to share the things I’ve learned with all of you. Here goes.

Let’s Get Personal: The Truth About Getting Married in Offbeat Venues in DC

offbeat dc wedding blog

[image: Val & Sarah]

Let me first start off by saying that this post is in NO way meant to paint my experience with these venues in a bad light, nor should you all take my words and experiences as the final end all and be all. The point of this post is the inform and educate and share my experiences so that you all may have the best chance at making the most informed decisions when it comes to your wedding planning. This is what I do with my clients – I provide them with options, facts, and my personal opinion, and that enables them to make the best decision, that works for them.

Ok, now that that is over with. Here are some things I’ve learned:

#1. Flexibility is a MUST

When working with offbeat venues you HAVE to be flexible. Like SUPER flexible. How flexible? Well, most of these venues are real, functioning businesses – yoga studios and art galleries. Meaning they are not at your beck and call whenever you want to go visit them for walk-throughs or even rehearsals. They do not have standard times for wedding events (like rehearsals) and so you will have to work around their schedule.

Example: At one of these venues, I had a rehearsal at 10pm on a Friday evening. Would you be OK with that?

#2 The Land of Never Ending STAIRS

Offbeat venues don’t always have all the bells and whistles that traditional wedding venues do, to cater towards an easy load-in/load-out process or your handicapped guests. Most of the venues I listed on that offbeat DC wedding venue roundup have little to no elevator access.

This means lugging ALL of your wedding items (rentals included!) up and down LOTS of stairs. This also means your elderly guests may not be able to attend all facets of your event. Would you be OK with this?

#3 Communication Can be a Challenge

So far in my experience, communication has been a CHALLENGE (like a big risk/issue) with the venue POCs at these offbeat venues. Why? Well my best guest is two-fold. One, chances are the venue coordinator is not a full time coordinator, devoted only to event management. The coordinator probably wears multiple hats at the venue and isn’t at your beck and call, to only answer wedding related questions. Two, most of the venues on that list are new to the wedding scene. Weddings require a LOT MORE coordination and questions and logistical planning than most other events. Think about what goes into an art gallery opening vs a wedding. Weddings just have SO MANY other moving pieces, not to mention the whole emotional factor that goes into a wedding day. Because these venues and their coordinators don’t often understand all these moving pieces, or the emotions attached, things get lost in translation.

My advice here – get everything in writing and write EVERYTHING down. Make sure the contract you have with the venue is EXACTLY what you want and what you need. Do not be afraid to ask questions, often. Also, you need to be willing to deal with difficult situations related to lack of communication and miscommunication. This means misunderstanding, misconceptions, things popping up at the last minute, big changes (with little advance notice) —> ALL things I just dealt with at a recent wedding at one of these venues.

Again, I ask, would you be OK dealing with this? Could your stress levels handle it and are you willing to be all up in #1?

#4 Facilities Are Not Always Wedding Appropriate

This also goes along with #2, stairs. Most offbeat venue weddings are offbeat for a reason – they will lack facilities and amenities that more traditional venues will be equipped with. These means lack of appropriate electrical staging for a band or DJ, strange bathroom setup or location, and even lack of air conditioning!

Yup, you read that right. Some of these venues do not have proper ventilation and A/C dependency for a wedding (ie, hundreds of people dancing, drinking, and milling around). Are you OK with this – are you willing to have your wedding somewhere that might not be so cool in the summer (or maybe warm in the winter?), that might have strange things hanging on the walls (hey, most of these places are full-fledged businesses, not wedding venues, remember?), that might only have 2, 1-stall bathrooms. Again, are you OK with this (or more importantly, will your guests be OK with this?).

I am going to sum this up now, but I might continue to add to this post as I get more feedback from other coordinators, and work at more of these offbeat venues. I want to reiterate again, that this post is not meant to deter you from choosing offbeat venues for your wedding – you KNOW I love me some offbeat, and really these spaces are so much more interesting than the traditional venue, BUT you must be willing to accept/deal with all of the above (and more). So you have to ask yourself if dealing with all this, is worth it to you, on one of the most important days of your life!

I’ll leave that decision up to you.

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8 Comments

  • Rebecca says:

    GREAT post Bree!!! You are SO right, these venues (and many others — thinking of PFI where I know you just had a wedding) have MANY logistical issues that some couples don’t mind, but others would have a BIG problem with! This is really why you need a planner at “offbeat” venues, because the point of contact isn’t the same as what it would be at a hotel or a venue that does tons of weddings — they just don’t have the expertise, experience, etc. to know all of the issues that could come up with a wedding! Thanks for writing this!

  • Taryn Blake says:

    Bree – fantastic post! I think there are many misconceptions -from couples AND venue owners – about what it takes to host a wedding at a non-traditional venue. Having a big, open room does not make it a venue!! Your point about getting everything in a formal contract is so important as little details can get missed. Who is responsible for trash removal? What happens if something gets broken? Do they have enough dedicated parking? How many watts until the fuse blows? (and if it does, do we know how to fix it?) – There’s definitely a fun allure to getting married at an offbeat venue, yet there’s something to be said about the venues who do this every weekend – experience teaches a lot of lessons that are no fun to learn the hard way. And unfortunately, as planners, we’re usually the ones learning the hard way when the venues fall short of expectations.

  • Taryn Blake says:

    And as a second comment – I have a couple getting married in a brewery where the owner told them the max capacity was over 200 (this is his first go with hosting weddings)….. which is true, when there are no tables or chairs in the room! When we went for our walk-through and I did a furniture layout, we quickly realized the true guest count was closer to 140 and the couple was SO disappointed – but had already locked themselves into a contract.

  • Sarah says:

    This is a great post, and all true! As someone who had her wedding at an offbeat venue, I will chime in to say that organization is an absolute MUST, whether or not you have an amazing coordinator like Bree at your disposal. We got married on a farm and had to bring absolutely everything in from off site, and we couldn’t have done it but for our crazy Excel sheets and Google Drive! Some vendors are not used to non-traditional venues either, so I would emphasize the importance of #2 in light of that. The majority of our vendors were amazing and prompt, but not always, so it pays to be a thorn in their sides. Offbeat venues definitely require more work, but the pay off is worth it!

    (also, I believe it’s ‘beck and call’ in #3 :)

  • Andrea says:

    I was pretty determined to get married in an offbeat venue back in 2012. We toured all kinds of places–the Mathematical Association of America, yoga studios, every art gallery known to man–and initially went with a school (I’m now totally blanking on the name) with a rooftop deck in Dupont/downtown. A few months into planning the wedding, we found out that the school was closing and we were out of a venue. With some digging around, we finally settled on Eastern Market’s North Hall, mostly because of its size. And I loved the idea of getting married in such an iconic DC spot.

    But a lot of the challenges mentioned here were things we ran into. Because we got married on a Saturday and Eastern Market is open that day, I had to really twist their arm into letting the vendors come early and begin setting up. They didn’t want us doing anything in there until 5 p.m.

    We also ran into some scheduling problems. We were planning to get married May 13 and signed a contract for that date. A few weeks later, they called and apologized because someone else had already booked that day. I had to call all of our other vendors and see if they all happened to be available on another Saturday. They were, thankfully, so we moved it to June 16. Eastern Market then called a few days later and said that May 13 was free again, and would we like to have it? We kept the June date and ended up getting a pretty big discount because of the runaround.

    I had a hard time communicating with their venue coordinator as well, probably for the reasons you outlined above. She was nice and friendly person, but she wasn’t an event coordinator and I’m sure she had tons of other responsibilities. If I’d read this post two years ago, I’d probably still have wanted to move forward with my offbeat venue dreams, but it woulda at least given me a head’s up about what to possibly expect.

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