We are currently on the very long drive back from the most epic wedding in the South of France!
The stunning chateau venue required careful, precise planning and preparation, along with a lot of woman and man power to bring everything to life from scratch. Whether it’s simply a self-catering holiday let or a marquee in a beautiful meadow setting, a ‘dry hire’ venue requires a very different approach to planning and often styling too.
Attention to detail and a sensible focus on logistics is required in order to pull off the perfect celebration without any hiccups. It’s important to remember that you may not have everything you need already available on site, as you would at a hotel or a venue which offers packages and an in-house team, for example.
So with that in mind, I thought I’d share with you my top tips for what should be considered if you are thinking of or have already booked a dry hire venue for your big day. This is a thorough piece and includes lots of pointers and suggestions – but please don’t let this put you off considering a dry-hire venue. Dry hire venues offer a fantastic opportunity for those couples who really want full control and flexibility over their wedding venue. Let’s dive in…
It’s a common misconception that you will save money hiring a field/meadow/private home or other blank canvas space for your wedding or event. Often it is considered a budget-friendly option as the initial venue hire fee will be lower than most, but it would be a mistake to think that going dry hire is an ideal solution for a low-cost wedding.
There are potentially many additional requirements when starting completely from scratch at a venue with potentially no staff, furniture, suitable lighting and sometimes toilets etc. It’s really important to factor these things in when calculating your overall budget and being sure not to forget anything which may have otherwise come included as standard within the hire cost at other venues.
The costs can, if left unchecked, take you by surprise, and outsourcing these things separately isn’t necessarily cheaper overall. That said, the dry hire option absolutely does enable you to put your own personal and creative stamp on your wedding day with much greater ease, and often provides flexibility for you to work with suppliers of your own choice (rather than the ones a venue may insist you work with).
Unlike a hotel or all-inclusive style venue with a team of staff, you will probably need to organise this separately, either via your caterer or sometimes by yourself or with your wedding planner’s help via an agency or similar.
I recommend you consider the staff hours required across the entire event, not just for waiting tables, but for laying them, washing up, serving from the bar, clearing waste and carefully re-packing any cutlery, crockery and glassware you may have hired.
Try to be as clear as possible about each person’s role. The lines can often become blurred at a dry hire venue, between what the catering team should be doing vs your coordinator if you have one vs any outside staff and other suppliers. It’s vital that this is predetermined and that all involved are on the same page for everything to run seamlessly. This is something your wedding planner would be able to ensure, delegating appropriately and avoiding a case of ‘too many cooks’ or worse still, any nasty tasks ending up being left to you on your wedding day.
You will probably need to hire in most things at a dry hire venue, so tables and chairs, cutlery, crockery, glasses, a cake stand, props, décor and so on.
Think about what your venue does/doesn’t include before you commit to booking and consider if you can afford it. Consider the hire terms of each item and if companies are offering delivery only or setup also. Some key things to consider at this stage:-
- Who will actually put the furniture and everything else in place if they don’t?
- Is any styling included?
- Are the caters bringing trestle tables to work from and huge plastic washing up bowls or do they expect you to have sourced these?
- Will they need a catering tent with an oven and refrigeration if you’re planning a marquee wedding or is there a suitable kitchen on site already?
- Do you have enough chairs for the ceremony and your meal, or will they need moving from one space to the other during your drinks reception?
4) Setup & De-rig
One of the key things to find out from your venue is about access. Generally, you will have a little longer to get setup at a dry hire venue, with some dry hire venues even allowing you to begin set up a few days before the event itself. Hooray!
Ask how long you will have to dismantle everything and clear the site following the wedding day too and ensure your wedding planner is aware of how long you might need them to manage the preparations, and uninstallation, and that this has been factored into their quote. Is someone on hand to remove all props and décor at the end of the night or very first thing in the morning if the venue expects this? Who will return all the hire items?
Is there a team on board for any heavy lifting or ladder climbing? It’s the last thing you’ll want to be doing on the wedding day itself and if your bridal party have said they are willing to help, will they still feel like this on the day? Do you want to handle the prep in the days leading up or would you prefer to relax and enjoy the social elements of the days prior to your wedding day instead? Who will be overseeing the turnaround of venue spaces mid-event if required?
Check to see if there is clear, designated parking area at your venue. If not, it is key to make clear where both suppliers and wedding guests should unload and leave their vehicles. Trust me, it’s a touch frustrating when there are unsightly cars parked all over the place when you’re trying your best to get those pre-wedding set-up shots for Instagram 😉
See if an usher, coordinator or member of staff will take on the role of directing cars to park in a certain spot and make sure they stay on top of this. It’s often difficult to stop any slipping through the net if someone is trying to do one million other jobs at the same time, so it’s always a good idea to give someone reliable this one and only job if it’s important to you to keep certain areas clear. A sign often helps!
Will your venue need portable toilets hired in? Are you happy to provide something basic or will you prefer luxury? Consider the cost. Where will they go? Is there a suitable discreet location, which is still practical for guests to access and easy to find, with appropriate lighting at night and access to power? Is there an option to have an attendant to keep them clean and tidy and replace loo roll?
7) Lighting & Power
Lighting can have a significant impact on the ambience and vibe of your event and obviously has practical advantages too. Think about any areas that will need lighting for safety and also what kind of vibe you’re after for your party. Would soft, warm festoon lighting for a late al fresco wedding meal lend itself well to creating your desired atmosphere? Is mellow candlelight your thing? Will the band or DJ be supplying lighting for dancing or will they need you to look into this on their behalf? Will you have any food stations or other areas of interest that need lighting to draw guests over to them?
Does the caterer and band/DJ or anyone else need power? Will you need a generator, how much will the fuel cost and will you have enough supply? Who will be responsible for this if something goes wrong? We would always highly recommend having a technician present or on call for the duration of your event, just in case!
Signage is a fun and fabulous way to communicate easily with guests, directing them to certain areas of the venue or give instructions where needed.
It’s no secret that we love to commission bespoke signage for our couples. It’s one of our favourite things to design and it often makes a fun, personal keepsake, whilst again also serving a practical purpose as well. Dry hire venues where everything may be more spread out with no obvious directions already provided will often be in need of it most.
9) Waste Removal
Will the caterer be removing waste from the venue? Just food waste or recycling etc. too? How about flower waste? Will the florist be returning to uninstall and remove flowers or is this your responsibility to take care of after the event? Check what’s been included in the quote from your floral designer. What are the requirements of the venue in this regard?
We plan a lot of destination weddings in warmer countries and at these in particular, ice for cooling drinks always seems to be an issue. Can ice be delivered and is there somewhere to store it? How quickly will it melt if it’s hot and drinks are being served in the sun? Is there ample fridge/freezer space at your venue or will you need to hire in industrial equipment or have your caterer bring along a refrigerated vehicle? Is there space in the fridge for your cake designer to leave your cake until it can be placed later, if the outside temperature is not conducive to buttercream!?
So there you have it lovelies. I have tried to be as helpful as possible using my knowledge and experience of working at many dry hire venues myself.
Working as part of your own team (your husband/wife to be, your friends, relatives) makes organising a dry-hire wedding more fun and enjoyable. Most of the time you’ll find people really do want to help with wedding prep – they take pleasure and feel the honour in being appointed with a role for such an important day. But if support from friends and family is going to be a challenge for you, you could always consider hiring a wedding planner. Just saying 😉
The very best of luck to all of you planning your own dry-hire wedding!
Love H x
All images are the work of Helaina Storey Wedding Design and each photographer has been credited.