Martha Jo Katz has directed social events for some of Atlanta’s biggest hotels, with a resume that includes The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta, Swissotel and InterContinental. Since 2011, she has worked as an event site selection consultant.
“Planning an event should be an enjoyable element in the simcha journey, as well as a guidepost to avoid common mistakes or later regrets,” she counsels. “I found the most important part is finding the venue, so after retiring from many years of being director of social events, I assist clients in finding their venue and give them referrals for vendors.”
Below, Katz lays out a roadmap to ensure that your event runs smoothly. Find out where to place the bar, who pays for what and how to have that difficult conversation.
Jaffe: What about the Jewish formula that the groom pays for liquor, rabbi and band?
Katz: The old days are gone, and new times bring in “Nothing is out of the question!” It all depends on the circumstances of the families. Most of the time, the bride pays for the wedding and groom pays for rehearsal dinner … but there are many exceptions in our current age. Some families split it down the middle … other where groom’s family paid for everything. The answer to that question is anything goes.
Jaffe: Where should I have my event?
Katz: First things first. Decide on the area of town you seek. Chose three places in that area. Draft a guest list to estimate the size of the area versus capacity, if seated or buffet or stations.
Jaffe: How do I pick a date?
Katz: If your date is flexible, give the venue three dates. If not flexible, you narrow your chances of booking a preferred space. Most Saturday nights book faster than Sunday evenings. Check previous weather on the dates to gain an upper hand on weather patterns with clues not to book something outside if it’s a very hot or very cold in weather history. Always have an alternative space for an outside event.
Jaffe: What should I ask before signing a contract with an event specialist?
Katz: There are several items that you should consider when signing contracts. Whether you’re working with an event specialist or the venue directly, I have 25 questions that should consider:
1. What are the food and beverage minimums? If not reached, can I add food and beverage to reach it? If rental, will it be waived if I hit my food and beverage minimum?
2. What time will be allowed for a florist to set up?
3. Do you provide staging for a band or DJ and is it complimentary or is there a charge?
4. What is the maximum number of guests pre-function for cocktail reception?
5. Ask the caterer to send a menu package and proposal for food and beverage costs, and a customized proposal detailing all costs.
6. Do they have packages that include food and beverage?
7. Are there charges for bartenders, servers?
8. Do I pay for a bottle of wine if one drink is poured if I don’t do a per person price?
9. What is the service charge and tax? Service charges are taxable!
10. What colors, sizes, underlays to the floor linens are provided?
11. How many staff members per guest? How many captains and beverage managers?
12. How many bars per person? Should be one per 75 and ideally located all together in the center of a pre-function for pre-reception, then in the corners of a ballroom.
13. Do you pass wine for the first 20 minutes of an event? (That takes some people off the bars and makes your event flow better).
14. Are bartender fees waived if you hit the food and beverage minimum? What are cancellation policies?
15. What deposit is needed?
16. When is final payment due?
17. What are guest room rates for the hotel?
18. Make sure there is no penalty for guest rooms not picked up by having a cutoff date three weeks prior for a group rate. Put the cutoff date on the save the date card!
19. Can we have a tasting for a seated dinner/and hors d’oeuvres sampling and how many people can attend?
20. Parking? Valet and self? Special rates for events? Will they take a credit card for payments?
21. If in a hotel, do they provide a guest room or suite for the night or weekend of your event?
22. Do they have a list of vendors they prefer? Some off-site venues have certain vendors you must use.
23. Any charge for coat check?
24. Is there a piano available?
25. Do they provide audio visual services? Make sure to get a break down of the charges for each service.
Finally, Katz concludes, “The number one thing in planning is that there are always alternatives, so don’t let something upset you in this process. Sometimes the alternatives are the same or better!”