Bare bones wedding venues, also called off-premise locations, are very popular for Santa Barbara and Ojai weddings. These venues have little to no infrastructure built in; many don’t even have electricity! It’s very common to have wedding venues in the area with no bathrooms, and that require a full catering kitchen to be built on site. What’s interesting is that estate or backyard weddings are also considered bare bones in that you have to create the infrastructure yourself. Other examples of off-premise wedding venues specific to Santa Barbara include barns, ranches, beaches, and wineries.
Many people think these types of bring-it-all wedding venues are great because, well, you can bring it all! Surely it will be less expensive to have rentals brought in and hire a food truck than work with an all-inclusive venue, right? Not to mention, you have more creative freedom in a space where you literally have to bring in everything from rentals to flowers to lighting.
I absolutely LOVE these types of wedding venues because I do have more professional and artistic freedom to create something that is exactly what my couples envision. That being said, it is a LOT more work that most non-professionals realize (and most of you already expect there to be a lot of work involved, I’m sure).
So, here are 5 things to know before booking a bare bones wedding venue.
1. Go with the best rental company possible
Sometimes I feel like a broken record when I talk about rental companies, but it’s for good reason. I have worked with all of the major event rental companies (and most of the specialty rental companies) in Santa Barbara, and there are only a few that I will book for my couples. In fact, I’ve dealt with so many inconsistent rental companies that I’m adding to my contract that you have to work with a company that I recommend.
Envision this scenario: you are getting quotes from rentals companies and it seems like a no brainer! Company A is offering chairs for $12.95 each, while Company B has the same exact chairs for only $8.95. Both have a delivery fee, but they are fairly similar. What a deal! You sign the dotted line and order 200 chairs from Company B for your wedding ceremony.
Wedding day comes and you find all 200 chairs for your ceremony stacked in the parking lot (plus 30 tables and another 200 chairs for the reception, 3 bars, and a ceremony arch that you added on because it was still going to be less than Company B’s original bid). The thing is, Company B never told you that it was an extra $1.50 per piece to place throughout the space, even though you gave them a layout. All their fees include are drop off and pick up – which means that if the rentals aren’t stacked and placed back in the parking lot after the event, you’ll be charged a pretty hefty fee that you weren’t expecting.
Well, who is going to put all those tables and chairs out? Surely not the “day of” coordinator that you hired. So, instead of getting ready and enjoying the morning before your wedding, your wedding party and family members are tasked with putting all furniture out.
Sounds fun, right?
This is probably one of the biggest “secrets” (put in quotes because it’s not really a secret, just not something widely known) that wedding planners know. And it’s exactly why you want to go with a reputable rental company that is clear about their policies and responsibilities.
There is no doubt that you would have paid more to go with Company A, but you would have gotten a lot more support, honesty, and clarity about the process. Your ceremony chairs would have been placed with exact precision (my preferred rental companies literally take string to ensure straight lines and consistent space between chairs). The arch would have been set up level on the ground, and the bars would have been examined for any scratches or chunks missing. Obviously if a piece wasn’t up to standard, they would replace it or fix it on the spot.
I can’t tell you how many weddings I have had where a client booked the rentals themselves, and while I confirmed that everything would be set up, I still would get to the wedding venue and find stacks of chairs in the loading dock. It’s more work for me, yes, but it’s also more work for the client. Because I can’t set up furniture, which means that it’s their responsibility to make sure everything is set up before the wedding can begin.
Go with the best rental company out there. See their products in a showroom, meet with them in person. And tip: hire a planner (more on that below), because they might even be able to get you a discount on your order.
2. Ask for Technicians to be On Site
This is an option for a lot of services that are required on bare bones wedding venues, but one that isn’t always offered up front (and yes, it is an extra fee). For example, your production (lighting and electricity), rentals, and bathrooms should have someone on site at the time of the wedding. This way, if the bathroom floods or a string of lights goes out, the technicians/attendants will be able to get it resolved much quicker than if someone had to be called.
3. There’s No Such Thing as “Too Much Electricity”
Well, I’m sure there is such a thing as too much electricity, but not when you need to bring in your own. There is definitely such a thing as not enough electricity, however.
If you are looking at a venue, especially ones that haven’t had weddings before (i.e. your parents’ backyard), you’re going to want to have extra generators. You might THINK there’s enough power, but that’s not something you can always know until it’s too late.
One of the worst things that can happen at a wedding is losing power. As a planner, I haven’t had to deal with this since my early days (because I now know what to ask about generators), but this was after a bit of trial and error. It’s important to ask every vendor what their power needs are, and then communicate that to the production company to make sure that you have enough to go around.
4. Be Ready for Multiple Days of Set Up
Honestly, if your venue requires that you set up and break down on the same day as your event, things are going to get stressful and expensive. It may sound less expensive to keep things to one day rather than pay extra to add on additional days for set up and break down, but it won’t be in the long run.
You want to set up the day before if possible because it gives everyone time to ensure that all production is ready to go. If you try to get it all done the same day as the wedding, there’s a likely chance that everyone will be scrambling to finish up before the first shuttle arrives. Not to mention, many vendors will charge extra to strike after the event, rather than wait until Monday so that they can come back during the day.
5. Hire a Wedding Planner. Please.
Obviously you knew this was coming, but it’s a really important point. I have planned dozens of weddings where there is no infrastructure at all at the venue. We’re talking dilapidated barns in the middle of nowhere, expansive estates in the hills above Santa Barbara, and receptions for 200 in the fields of wine country. Needless to say, these are just five small pieces of advice for planning an off-site wedding. The reality is, a legitimate planner knows exactly what goes into planning a wedding of this type and caliber. We have already experienced every mistake that can be made and know how to fix it. You’re already spending a fortune on your wedding, so hiring someone to help with not just the day, but the process as well, is a small price to pay for a smooth wedding day.