First Comes Love, Then Comes Venue Hunting?!


So you said “Yes”

No matter if you are bride or a groom, everyone has envisioned their wedding day at some point. From gilded golden archways that spill into a candlelit aisle, to reclaimed wood beams that frame wildflowers and natural linens, that day started as a vision somewhere.  

But wait.

No one said there would be just as many decisions required to build and furnish a house, as there would be to say I do.

We understand.

So where do you start?

Well it all needs to happen somewhere, right? So, let’s start with the venue.


The Basics of Wedding Venues

In Chicago there are two major categories of wedding destinations; hotels and venues. From the Drake Hotel and Union League Club, to the Bridgeport Art Center and Chicago History Museum, there is no shortage of options to float over the floor during your first dance. However, there’s another, often overlooked, differentiator between the locales: on-premise vs. off-premise.

What is on-premise?

On-premise venues refer to venues in which the food is prepared on site. Think hotels, private clubs, restaurants, banquet facilities, and even some of the cultural institutions like the Shedd Aquarium. These venues generally are able to offer you more finite wedding “packages,” many of which include in-house equipment, like tables and chairs. On-premise venues will often provide the bar and may include staff as a part of your per person price. On-premise venues generally will come with an F&B (food & beverage) minimum or tag on a mandatory gratuity or service charge.

A Service Charge? Where does that go?

More often than not, a service charge will go towards staff gratuities and taxes. When working with a hotel it’s important to establish early on what the standard service charge of the property may be. There’s nothing worse than budgeting based on a published menu or package price, only to be surprised when the actual bill is going to be 20% - 25% higher.

If the property does have a service charge, another important thing to note is if that service charge covers gratuity. If so, confirm with your catering manager or salesperson if the expectation is that you would add any additional gratuities on top of the total charge. Think of this being similar to going to a restaurant with a large group and finding that a standard 18% gratuity will be added to parties of 6 or more. For exceptional service, you may tip beyond that.


What is off-premise?

As you might guess, off-premise is somewhat the opposite. Think a converted loft venue that can be transformed into a Soho House fantasy, or a park district venue that does everything from public programming to garden weddings. Off-premise venues, a lot of the time, will allow you to choose your caterer, may or may not have tables and chairs for you to use (or if they do, you may prefer not to use them, just saying), and may even allow you to provide your own liquor for the bar.

It takes a village

With off-premise venues, you can expect to be reaching out to a few more partners to execute your day. With more partners, comes more meetings, more logistics, and sometimes more room for details to slip through the cracks.

At an on-premise venue, by comparison, you will typically be working with one Catering Manager who handles your menu, room layout, staffing, equipment, and sometimes even lighting. In the world of off-premise, you can expect to work with someone who represents the space (a Venue Manager), your main catering contact (who will typically handle staffing) and may even have a third-party equipment provider that will be bringing in specialty furniture or rentals. There’s also potential for a lighting crew (which may be coordinated through your décor partner), or a vendor hired to provide some drape or fabric panels.

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All of these vendors will be in addition to your more commonly referenced wedding vendors which apply to both on-premise and off-premise venues: Wedding Planner, Florist/Decor Provider, DJ or Band, Photographer, Videographer, and Bakery.

What Wedding Venue Is Right for You?

So where do you start? While style is always a driving factor, something else to think about is the amount of decisions you will want to make. We’ve sat through a tasting with a caterer that has erupted into an argument over the flatware pattern for an off-premise wedding. While the argument was never about the pattern on the fork (we kid you not), it was only heightened due to the amount of decisions that had to be made.

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Off-premise venues are often times a blank slate, allowing you, as the incredible visionary you are, to mold and transform the canvas into your own personal work of art.

Now if that last sentence just made your heart flutter, and a wave of anxiety washed over you, maybe off-premise is not the way to go. We are not saying you can’t turn the ballroom at the Four Seasons into something that is truly unique and incredible (if you are interested look up Oprah’s going away party, pretty astonishing to see the before and afters), but even so, you are generally a little bit more limited in your selections.

We are lucky enough to live in an incredible city that allows us the luxury of having every type of venue available to us. There’s no one right way to choose the place you may be taking your fiancé’s hand in marriage and dancing the night away, but hopefully a little knowledge leads to power in weighing the options.

As always, we’re here for you, with services ranging from month-of coordination to full service planning, and everything in between!

Happy hunting!

Photos in this post are courtesy of Erika Mattingly Photo / Tim Tab Studios / Ben Elsass Photography / Emilia Jane Photography / Elizabeth Greve Photography

2018 West Loop Wedding Walk

Written by Niki Gubernat

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the first-ever West Loop Wedding Walk and it was such a delight! The concept behind this fun event was: 11 West Loop venues opened up their doors for the afternoon. You hopped on a luxury bus or trolley that waited for you outside each venue, ready to take you to the next destination. At each venue, you found a handful of Chicago wedding vendors set up and ready to talk to you and hand out their information. We even got to sample some amazing food and drinks while listening to great music!

My tour started off at Loft Lucia. Once those elevator doors open up, you walk right into a sunlight filled open space! Beautiful bar on one side of the room and a wall full of glass doors on the other side of the room - those doors take you out to a huge terrace. I could see that terrace space filled with people for a cocktail hour on a warm, Chicago summer night. Back inside, just a few steps down, takes you to an even bigger open space. The smell of fresh wood fills the room – the wide-plank wood floors all polished and inviting. The exposed metal ceiling, marble-faced bar, modern drum lighting and brick walls give this loft a true industrial, city feel. 

We hopped on a XL Transportation luxury bus right outside of Loft Lucia and headed off to our next stop, The Lakewood. Let’s talk about that bus for a second: a sleek, black Mercedes Sprinter, black leather seats, TV, WI-FI, bar and a restroom in the back! Got to love that for those groups stuck in some Chicago traffic!

As you walk into The Lakewood, the elegance of the all-white room & the high, exposed-beam ceilings grabs your attention! The grey-washed cement floor (which matches the grey exterior of the building), adds a nice touch of contrast to the space. Large, square windows all around, brings in just the right amount of natural lighting, but doesn’t take away from the glow of the romantic spherical chandeliers. There is definitely a lot of chic that happens there!

Next stop, The Publishing House, you little gem, YOU! I actually had a hard time leaving here. I couldn’t get enough of their eclectic décor, done so fabulously that it can inspire every type of taste. The Publishing House has three floors, 11 bedrooms, a library, a fireplace and grand piano in an open seated area. There is a media room, and they offer a cooked-to-order breakfast every morning in their kitchen, which is also located in their main area. In need of some wine & cheese? The Press Room (on the 1st floor) has got you covered. Oh, need some beautifying? Solo Salon is located just next door and has an extensive list of services they offer! Don’t feel like going there? They can come up to you! My mind was spinning at how perfect this place is for a bridal party to stay and get ready on the wedding day. You could even have the rehearsal dinner here the night before! So many options! I can’t wait to book a night at this place and just have a Chicago stay-cation!

Up next, Ovation! The owners here did some serious thinking about what a space needs for a great party! The sound system at this venue will knock your socks off. They even have a movable DJ booth – they did not mess around when it came to making sure the music will be heard clearly throughout their huge space. Still looking up at those speakers? You won’t miss the huge fans either! Another well thought-out aspect for when the room fills up with major body heat, from all that dancing! The exposed brick walls and ceiling beams, along with the wood-faced bar, brings a rustic feel though out the space and I’m just loving it!!

The last venue I had a chance to visit was Ignite Glass Studios. This is an art-lover’s dream right here! You first walk into a showroom filled with beautiful glass art and can also head around back to the “Hot Shop” for glassblowing demonstrations – I love when a venue has something extra for guests. You have the option to head up to the rooftop, hang out in the main event space, or enjoy their urban garden. Yes, a beautiful grassy area, in the middle of the city, with awesome city views. The perfectly strung café lights give a soft glow to the event space and the urban garden. You will also notice their unique glass sconces amongst the all-white backdrop in the main event space. (Shout-out to Jordan’s Food of Distinction that was set-up there, providing the most light and refreshing lavender-infused vodka cocktails! Amazing!)

Since I had a hard time leaving the venues I did visit, it didn’t leave me enough time to visit the rest of the venues that took part in the West Loop Wedding Walk: Great Central Brewing Co, Room 1520, Moonlight Studios, Loft on Lake, Prairie Production, and Morgan’s on Fulton. I am coming for you next year!!

This was the first official West Loop Wedding Walk and they are already starting to plan the next one. You HAVE TO experience this in 2019!

Chicago is full of wedding events to attend every month – various venues will hold wedding shows where you can find everything you will need for your wedding all in one room, but what if you don’t have the venue yet? Reach out to us at Clover Events and we'll help you find the perfect venue for your big day!