I think that the best thing we did was hire a wedding planner before we seriously started looking for venues. I had tentative dates in mind, so I did reach out to the venues in the area that could hold a 500+ people capacity right off the bat. I had a list of places that were and were not available on my own, but when it came down to picking the venue, it was nice to have Dan and Victoria with us.
Prior to hiring a wedding planner, Chaitan and I did have some appointments with venues downtown, but unfortunately apart from the price the major issue was, that both the Westin and Renaissance hotel did not allow outside caterers. The one thing we liked about the Renaissance was they were willing to make us Indian food, but the chef was Italian, so we weren’t sure how that would go over. It was nice to imagine a wedding on the Chicago river for a few seconds though.
After touring a few places including Waterford, we decided to narrow our choice down to the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling. We really liked Waterford, but we wish that the hotel accommodation was a little different than their current situation. Being lifetime platinum Marriott members, my husband and I stay true to the quality and standards at Marriott properties.
If there is one piece of information you take away from this post, let it be this: ASK FOR EVERYTHING YOU WANT BEFOER YOU SIGN YOUR VENUE CONTRACT– BECAUSE IF YOU DID NOT NEGOTIATE SOMETHING PRIOR TO SIGNING THE CONTRACT, THE HOTEL WILL NOT CARE AND THEY WILL NOT DO ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR NEEDS.
Here is a simple example- the week of our wedding we decided to confirm the napkins for the reception, because we were told that we can get a solid color napkin for free while we toured the venue, BUT this was not explicitly stated in our contract, and they decided to tell us this only included white napkins, so unfortunately navy blue napkins cost us $1 each days before the wedding, because at that point it was just a drop in the bucket and we weren’t about to have white napkins that would stick out at the tables. Ultimately, you are better off having everything, including small details like napkins, on your contract rather than having a situation like ours.
We also were not told that they have a strict vendor list for items such as cold sparklers, and the company they had on their preferred list was double in price then the fair market value for the same service.
Here are some things to remember when negotiating a venue contract:
- Room block rates as well as guaranteed rooms (some hotels do attrition where you are responsible for the rooms that you guaranteed if they are not filled)
- Check in and check out times for the room block- see if they can automatically do late checkout and guarantee early check-in for a percent of the rooms
- Hospitality suite (hours of check in and check out) this is a room you want available before normal check in so guests can grab food if they arrive before their room is available
- Ask for a preferred vendor list and see what their rules are about vendors that are not a part of their preferred vendors- the Westin did not give us a list and we were notified of this information almost after putting down a deposit for a non preferred vendor months after signing the venue
- Ask them about their staffing and food management (the hotel staff and kitchen are responsible for bringing out the food and organizing everything appropriately on the buffet)
- If the hotel offers a shuttle service that your guests are planning to use make sure it is discussed in advance- our hotel had a free shuttle within 5 miles and our original garba venue was <5 miles away, however when we told them we were planning on using it they informed us that it wasn’t available and gave us some excuse as to why we couldn’t use it
- Suite upgrades- if you want to have the bridal and complementary parents’ suites upgraded have that in the contract. the hotel wouldn’t give us the penthouse suite the night of our wedding even though it was available
Overall, I think that signing the Westin contract was the most annoying and painful contract out of everything we signed. The hotel was not very accommodating and there was a lot of pushbacks in everything we asked for, which according to our wedding planners, were normal asks. I am glad that despite their behavior, we are still true to the brand, and we will always go with Marriott and affiliated partners. Another couple that got married there about 6 months before us, told us that the whole process with the Westin was rocky and the communication with the event coordinator was frustrating. After we signed the contract, there were so many things we had to get on their back about after the fact- like giving us an extra room the night before the wedding for people to hang out in/ have dance practice.
While we finalized our wedding venue, we knew we couldn’t have our garba at the Westin because they had another event on Thursday night, so we had to think outside the box for that. We wanted to keep it in the same area so that our out of town guests were in the vicinity of the venue. We got very lucky and decided to go with the Shri Swaminarayan Temple Wheeling, ISSO of Chicago. The decor was already decided for this venue when we realized that our RSVPs for a Thursday night event were much larger then what we expected, so we had to look for another venue closer to the wedding then we would have liked. Again, we got lucky and we were able to find a venue around 10 minutes from the Westin, Hanuman Mandir of Greater Chicago. The only caveat about this was, we would have to let them do our food, and there wouldn’t be a formal tasting before the event- ultimately this ended up being okay in the end, and we were able to have food stalls like we wanted.