Don’t sign that venue contract! At least, not until you’ve read it and are sure you understand what it says… and what it doesn’t say. Once you sign, you’ve agreed to those details. So, does the contract cover everything you want and need — without sneaking in anything you don’t need or want? Is the language clear? Ambiguity can work against you if something goes wrong.
A venue contract is a legal agreement. The venue’s goal is to protect itself from scheduling problems, damage, and various forms of liability. You need to protect your organization and your event. That’s why a contract for even a relatively small function can be extensive.
11 Things to Look for in Your Venue Contract
- Booking details – This includes venue name, address, specific space(s) being used, dates and times including load-in and load-out. You should have the authority to approve any room changes in advance. The contract should spell out what assets you will be using that belong to the venue such as HVAC, kitchen, lighting or sound systems, amenities such as parking, valet service, etc.
- Services provided by the venue – Either catering or in-house AV. Vendor exclusives can cost more, and you’ll be working with people you don’t know. If you’d rather bring your own teams, negotiate that into the contract and make sure you aren’t paying for both. And, speaking of catering, can your attendees bring their own food/beverages? (This is more likely an issue with outdoor events.)
- Cost – What exactly is included? Will you be subject to overtime or other unpredictable expenses? Look for hidden fees such as administrative costs. And make sure the contract stipulates which services are subject to automatic gratuities (and the amount).
- Along with cost, the contract should set out the payment schedule. Do you have to pay a deposit? By when? Are there other interim payments required? When will the remainder be due?
- Revenue guarantees – You’ll have to stipulate numbers, for attendee capacity and/or food and beverage. The contract should reflect the low end of what you expect, because you’re guaranteeing to pay for that minimum. You can increase numbers as the event gets close — negotiate that window down to just a day or two, if possible. Along the same line, there should also be an attrition clause that allows you to reduce your minimums up to a week before the event. The usual allowance is between 10% and 20%.
- Damages – What if you or an attendee damages the property during your event? Know your liability. Does the venue require a damage deposit? If so, how and when will it be refunded if all is well?
- Insurance requirements – You will probably have to show proof of insurance. What coverage does your venue require? Must they be listed as an additional insured party on your insurance certificate? (Your insurance provider may charge you a fee for that.)
- Décor restrictions – Either types of things or placement. Will you have to pay to fireproof anything you bring in?
- Noise restrictions – Typically for outdoor events.
- ADA compliance issues – Some older hotels, etc. do not meet all these standards, and that could affect your guests. Know what the conditions are, especially for wheelchair accessibility.
- Cancellation clause – If you cancel, you’ll probably have to pay something anyway. How much is negotiable? Try to get the cancellation timeframe down to 30 days prior to the event.
- Force majeure clause – Sometimes Mother Nature or some other unforeseen disaster cancels your event. If this happens, you should be totally off the hook. You should also be the one to decide if you want to reschedule or not. If your event will be outdoors, the contract should state what will happen in the event of a weather problem.
Nothing makes an event go smoother than peace of mind. Knowing what is in your venue contract and that you negotiated those details wisely is the best possible foundation for your production.