How to start an event venue: the 6-step guide

If you are a sociable person – eager to please, meet new people, and help make the bonds that often come from sharing great food, drink and the vibe – and you want to use that passion to start a business, you might be ready to start an event location.

Katie O’Reilly is the Senior Business Development Partner at Kenmare Catering and Events, which operates the Germania Place site in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast. She says her business was born out of her love for people.

“I come from a family of lawyers and I just didn’t want to do this,” says O’Reilly. “I have a passion for food and people that started very early on – that was my heart. So my point of view after graduating from college was that I wanted to throw parties, organize events and meet people.

With O’Reilly’s help, we’ll take you step by step through how to start an event location.

Before starting a business, it is important to educate yourself on the challenges and requirements necessary to be successful. The same is true when trying to figure out how to start an event location. Research the viability of an event venue in your market.

Find out about local requirements, such as a permit to sell alcohol. Understand the costs associated with launching an event space and create a budget. Determine who will be your target market. Learn about your competition. Then put all of this information into a business plan.

When doing this research, consider contacting professional organizations such as the National Association for Catering and Events or the Wedding International Professionals Organization. These organizations can provide you with advice and resources as you create your game plan.

While you can control everything else in your space – how to customize it, what type of events you want to host, what food to prepare – your building and location will be an integral part of your business.

“The location is huge; it always makes a difference, ”says O’Reilly. “Here on the Gold Coast there are people around us who love food and have the budget to afford it. The neighborhood is nice, people love to visit, people can take a cab out of here – it’s even a block from the beach. If you have people from out of town, you want them to be in a neighborhood where they feel comfortable, familiar. While there is certainly a trend towards this rustic setting these days, for us everyone loves what we have – mum loves it, daddy loves it, grandma loves it.

O’Reilly found the location of Germania Place when her husband found himself working on a deal for the place, which the couple considered to be underdeveloped and under-sold. They decided to use their years of experience and the wealth of their contacts and use the place to start their own business.

“Since some documents were already in the works for the site, it only took a few months to put all the contracts in order and close them,” says O’Reilly. She notes that this was not the typical experience; transactions for similar spaces normally take longer.

After what is likely to be a heavy investment in your venue – rent and overhead are often by far the biggest costs when running a business – there may not be much left for you. equipment, such as tables and chairs or silverware. It’s common, says O’Reilly, and she advises starting slowly in this category.

“It wasn’t until fairly recently that we bought our own equipment,” says O’Reilly, noting that she took over Germania Place in 2006. “China, cutlery, linens: at first you can’t buy that stuff. Restaurants already have it, but venues don’t, and that’s a huge expense. And as much as you can ask for a deal, companies that rent linens and the like offer the same deal to caterers. “

“We also had to fit out our kitchen. We have started to rent small equipment, some of which have been refurbished. We took our time to renovate the space because you see the things up front that you need to manage and plan. If something breaks, how can we afford to keep it running until it’s fixed? ” she says.

Overall, it took years before O’Reilly felt comfortable buying only certain items, like platters and glassware. After you get your hands on the place, there are simply more urgent costs that need to be addressed immediately and consistently: the fixed costs of the business.

These are just the most obvious costs to the business – others are less defined and vary by building, including what codes you need to manage and what the health inspector requires.

Other “costs” to consider when trying to figure out how to start an event venue are less about buying certain items or hiring a number of people and more about promoting.

“The best way to promote your business is to network and get involved with other people in the industry,” says O’Reilly. “You have to keep leaning on yourself and showing people who you are and what your skills are – you can’t sit in a dark space and expect people to show up. “

“For us, the next step is to let people know about my culinary talent,” she says. “I’m starting a web-based identity for myself – – because my clients ask for it and you have to listen to this.

Beyond in-person networking and showing off your prowess online, there should also be money in your venue’s actual exposure – hosting parties and events that showcase your abilities, and why. the next big wedding or corporate event should be at your venue. “You have to get people to eat your product before they’ll agree to pay for it,” says O’Reilly.

When it comes to billing your customers, you’ll need to follow the same model that most other businesses do – get in line with the rest of the market.

“Know your competition. Who are you against? What do they offer? Go to the other places, take a look, see what the market is and when you start, price yourself a little lower to get people to your place first, ”says O’Reilly. “Make a little less profit, then you can build and start charging more when you’re established. “

O’Reilly says she recommends sites that are just starting to book whenever they can and worries about reaping the expected profits later.

“If you have to take less money but you still have someone there, you still get the money. To show creativity. If I am dark, I earn nothing and I have employees who earn nothing. So you need to continue to generate all the types of cash flow you can, even if your profits aren’t where you want them to end up. “

But as a benchmark, O’Reilly says his Saturday night dining fee is $ 5,500 for six hours – noting it’s a bit below the market – and includes tables and chairs. But the packages offered by the place allow flexibility in prices.

“The Silver Package is $ 109 per guest, the Platinum Package is $ 129, and the Diamond is $ 149. Everyone brings more food, more courses, and what we call luxury list items. These are the things you come across in your planning that you didn’t know you wanted at first, like a champagne toast, a doorman greeting guests. It gives the customer purchasing power, ”says O’Reilly.

The last thing to keep in mind when operating an event venue is that your goal is to make sure everyone has a good experience. However, a good experience can vary considerably depending on the clientele and the nature of the event.

What will be required of your venue depends on the events – weddings are easier to plan, although corporate events can vary widely in terms of entertainment provided, decorum, and even costumes to match guests to a theme. But Germania Place’s menu is incredibly expansive and customizable, all the while being mindful of what makes the most economic sense.

“We are savvy buyers and we know our ingredients,” says O’Reilly. “You have to watch for trends and be aware of seasonality, spend and where we would pay extra to ensure the customer has this highest quality item. “

Wasted food is also a big topic of conversation for staff, who sometimes have to create dishes when they are unsure of how much will be consumed.

“We design items that can be stored and reused later, like braised meat that can be re-braised and turned into a product for the next day,” says O’Reilly. “But it’s your night to ask me anything.” I call it the “When Harry Met Sally” concept, because people are afraid to be demanding and ask what they want, but I create for you. “

Whether you’re looking to open up an event space that hosts weddings, concerts, or corporate and non-profit events, the end result is that you’ll be in charge of the party every night. If you find joy in bringing happiness to people, that shouldn’t be a problem. O’Reilly has one final tip for anyone looking to break into the industry:

“Make your product as promised, if not better,” she says. “Make sure you are aware of it and get involved. If you are an artist, you have to control your art.

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