By Amy Geiszler-Jones
From museums to rustic barns to lush gardens to Mediterranean- and French-inspired interiors, when it comes to venue options for wedding receptions and even ceremonies in the Wichita area, there’s a plethora of choices.
“It’s really expanded in the past five years,” says Ronni Johnston, owner of Perfect Touch Custom Weddings. Wichita’s only wedding consultant accredited by the Association of Bridal Consultants, Johnston has been planning and officiating weddings for the past 15 years.
New to the scene in the past five years include places like Villa Luna, a west Wichita, Mediterranean-styled event venue created by former Willie C’s restaurant owner Bill Rowe; Noah’s Event Venue, a national chain of event centers that opened a facility in the east Wichita Waterfront development; Distillery 244 in Wichita’s Old Town warehouse district; The Venue at Madison Avenue Central Park, a former school gymnasium that the city of Derby renovated into a rental space; and Kansas Star Event Center in Mulvane.
They join popular venue sites such as Botanica, The Wichita Gardens, which added two new sheltered rental spaces in that time frame with the opening of its Lotus Hall and Pavilion; Abode Venue in Wichita’s Douglas Design District and a host others, such as area museums, the French courtyard-themed The Ville at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Andover, Prairie Pines and Eberly Farms in the northeast Wichita area.
Botanica, the location of about 150 wedding events both inside and outdoors annually, is already booking receptions for 2019, with the 2018 calendar being already one-third booked, according to Jamee Ross, director of development.
At Kansas Star Casino, one ambitious couple has already booked the venue for 2020, according to Lana Keay, sales manager for the business’ event center.
“Most people plan between six to 18 months in advance,” says Keay.
Many venues are serving as both the location for both the wedding ceremony and the reception, say event venue coordinators.
“The biggest draw we have here is that we can handle the ceremony and reception all in one place,” says Ross, from Botanica. Some couples may opt for a outdoor ceremony in the garden’s main meadow and then book either the Lotus Hall or the Terrace Room, its original indoor rental space.
While several indoor facilities are now adding landscaped outdoor spaces, often for photo shoot options, many Wichitans would probably agree with Ross’ assessment of Botanica’s 17 acres of gardens: “There are lots of indoor facilities but none have quite the beauty that we have for outside spaces.”
Making the wedding more of an event, rather than a ritual full of convention and tradition, is becoming popular, too, says Kyle Filiatreault, Abode’s general manger. He witnessed one wedding that had more of a party atmosphere from the beginning, with a short break to conduct the ceremony. At another, the couple chose to seat the guests at tables, while the ceremony was conducted on stage, to make it easier to accommodate the following reception.
Being an all-inclusive space that can handle everything from lodging to rehearsal spaces to the reception is why many couples are choosing to hold weddings at the Kansas Star Event Center, says Keay.
“You can make it more of a weekend event and extend the party beyond the ballroom,” Keay says, with other entertainment and dining options to keep the wedding party and guests busy. “You get a whole lot more than renting a venue.”
Tips for renting a venue
When couples hear that a popular wedding venue like Botanica, The Wichita Gardens is already one-third booked for 2018, they may think their first course of action when planning a wedding is to book the venue.
That would be a mistake, says Ronni Johnston, who’s been planning and officiating weddings for the past 15 years as owner of Perfect Touch Custom Weddings.
“Every wedding couple must know three things before they start planning: approximate head count, budget and three – no more – priorities,” she says, emphasizing the must. Without those three elements, couple run the risk of going over budget, finding a space that either is too large or too small and not getting what is most important. For example, one of her clients deemed their preferred venue as being the most important, so they pared down their guest list to keep in line with their set budget, rather than find a different venue.
With those three elements in mind, here are some tips from Johnston and area venue coordinators on finding the right location:
• Before looking at a potential location, research – either online or through a phone call – a facility’s entire financial costs, such as security deposits and what costs are inclusive or extra, such as wait staff and bartenders, extra spaces such as bride’s and groom’s dressing rooms, furniture, linens and more.
• Ask about policies regarding vendors. For example, at the Kansas Star Casino, the only outside food allowed is the cake. Although it’s the home of Blue Moon Catering, Villa Luna allows open catering, for example.
• Understand the scope of rental hours. If your rental ends at midnight, the event should likely end at 11 p.m. to allow for cleanup.
• Understand how you plan to use the space and how that affects guest capacity. “Most weddings lose 25 percent of the available floor space to head tables, cake tables, dance floor, display tables and more,” Johnston says. Ask the venue coordinator for samples of floor plan setups or photos. Once you’ve determined the guest capacity and are contracted for a certain amount, don’t plan to squeeze in another 10 to 20 people because even a small number will alter the configuration you’ve agreed on.
• Don’t just look at the venue space, but look at the kitchen, dressing rooms, chairs, tables and bathrooms. Check out the backgrounds of locations that have photo opp potential, like where the cake or head table will be situated. Ask about storage space for your items, like boxes, and locked space for gifts.
• For outdoor ceremonies, ask about the Plan B options.
• Be prepared to put down a deposit, usually 50 percent, to secure your location.
• Don’t fall for what Johnston calls the line item tap. If one venue costs $2,000 less but you end up spending more to acquire other things, like furniture, linens etc., you may spend more in the long run.
• Finally, read the entire contract and understand cancellation, security deposit and other policies.