As event planners, we’re in luck: When it comes to venue sourcing, the market is moving from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. However, that means we have more responsibility. If we want to build great relationships with venues, we need to submit strong event RFPs to venues.
Here are the 6 secrets to getting the event RFP you really want
1. Communicate your own needs
Before you contact venues or send off any RFPs, you need to do your homework. You should already know most — if not all — of the facts about your event. The more accurate the information you can send to the venue, the more precise their proposals will be.
Key details that you should include in your event venue RPF are:
Date, time, and setup/teardown time needed
Tell the venue the dates and times you have in mind. It’s handy to offer backup dates if possible. (Being flexible on dates may help you get better pricing.)
While you don’t need to nail down the day-of schedule just yet, give the venue an estimate of how much time you’ll need for set-up or post-event teardown.
Type of event and general functions
What type of event are you putting on? Is it a conference, a fundraising dinner, a wedding? Some properties have many ballrooms; some may be better suited to a conference than a fundraising dinner.
Depending on the type of event, it might be helpful to lay out what will happen at the event. Be as specific as you can about your space and programming needs. Will you have exhibitors? A general session? A silent auction? And how many concurrent sessions will be going on at once? Will you need an onsite office or storage?
At the same time, ask about what type of audio visual equipment, IT services, and internet is available on site.
How many people do you expect? Can the venue accommodate that many people?
What’s their arrival pattern? For seated dinners, everyone might arrive within a 30-minute timeframe. For a conference, arrivals might happen over a longer period. This helps the hotel understand staffing needs upfront.
What types of meals do you plan on serving? You don’t yet need to know what you’ll serve, but think more generally: Do you want a continental breakfast buffet? A boxed lunch? A plated banquet dinner?
This will give the venue a better idea of the revenue coming from your event. If they do in-house catering, they might negotiate more in other areas.
If you’re getting an event RFP from a hotel, ask about room availability. Will you need sleeping rooms? How many nights, and how many rooms? Do you require regular rooms, suite upgrades, the presidential suite? What is the room price your attendees are comfortable paying? Again, the hotel might give you discounts elsewhere for guaranteeing booked rooms.
History of your event
Has this event been produced before? If so, give historical information on the event, guest room pickup, number of attendees, and the program.
Timing for the proposal
What is your proposal deadline? When will you shortlist the venues you want to visit? How long will it take you to decide? When is the expected contract signing date?
Inclusions an concessions
Are you requesting any concessions? Suite upgrades, waived resort fees, complimentary parking, free Wi-Fi, etc. Decide what you want to ask for, then see what the venues propose.
Logistics of the venue proposal
How would you like to receive proposals from the venues? Do you prefer them digitally or as a hard copy?
Many hotels and venues now use a system for planners view proposal online. If you’re getting the RFP via email, be aware that it might be sent to your spam folder.
(Venues love to include pictures and menus, which make RFPs larger than 10MB. I always tell them only include what I asked for in the proposal.)
As a planner, I can be rather strict when it comes to my event venue proposal requests. If a venue can’t follow simple RFP instructions, I don’t trust them with my business.
2. Be clear about your budget
I’m a proponent of being as open as possible about money with the venue.
For instance, if you know your attendees’ budget for a hotel room is $150, you shouldn’t get RFPs from luxury hotels. It’s unlikely the property will meet your expectation.
The same is true for food and beverage. If you budgeted $95 for a meal, let your venue know that’s your all-inclusive budget — including meals, tax, and service. If you don’t specify this, the venue will offer you a $95 meal without tax and service.
Venues love to share their extensively developed catering menus. To be blunt, as a planner, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.
3. Forget the menus
Many times, these menus don’t meet my needs or budget, and they often seem downright boring. If you want great food at your event, let the hotel know your budget and the style of food or theme you’re looking for. Then let the chef do his or her magic. The chef can work with local, in-season ingredients keeping costs down while still offering an amazing experience to your attendees.
4. Find areas in your RFP to negotiate
There are many ways to save money for you and your attendees. And it all starts with finding areas within the venue RFP to negotiate. Here are a few ideas:
- Waived room fees for meeting F&B minimums: Some venues include a rental fee in the proposal. Most of the time, you can negotiate out of this fee based on how much you’re spending in other areas, like food and beverage.
- Fees for using outside A/V providers: A venue might require that you use their hotel A/V provider, or charge you a fee to bring in an outside provider. You can easily negotiate away these fees! Do you think a venue will risk losing an event over a $500 or $1,000 fee? No way!
- Free hotel rooms: At hotels, ask for free nights, depending on the size of your event. For example, you can probably get one night free for every 50 nights booked. Use these for staff, speakers, and volunteers.
- Waive resort or parking fees: Resort fees are common at hotels — and sometimes cost up to $50 a night. Many venues will waive or heavily discount resort fees for your event attendees if asked. Make sure you understand what you resort fee covers: In a recent venue RFP, we were quoted a $35 resort fee and $50 overnight parking fee per attendee. This increased room cost from $199 to $284 per night.
- Remove attrition clauses: Ask for a higher attrition rate. 20% is common, but we’ve seen much higher. Attrition is the allowance a hotel gives you to not sell a number of room nights without a penalty.
5. Don’t sign without understanding the implications
When you’re done negotiating the event venue proposal, ask the venue to prepare a contract. Once you have it, it’s important to review it in detail.
Your negotiations might not always translate from the salesperson to the administrative person preparing the document. Review the contact details, including:
- Deadlines and event dates
- Payment dates
- Itemized payment amounts
- Cancellation and attrition terms
If you discover an error (I almost always do), reach out to your sales contact to make the amendment. Only sign when you are 100% satisfied with the document.
Remember that while the venue has to hold up their end of the detail, the contract outlines your responsibilities too. For instance, you might be required to fill a set number of hotel rooms or meet a food & beverage minimum (even if fewer people attend than expected. Avoid extra charges by knowing your event well, and build in enough wiggle room to protect yourself.
6. Use the right tools to find venues and manage event RFPs
We are pretty lucky as planners. There are so many tools available that can help us find a venue for no cost.
For instance, Convention and Visitor Bureaus (CVBs) or Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) are great resources. Contact these organizations and ask about their free venue RFP tools (or look for a meeting planner page on their website). The organization will distribute your request to member venues (and other vendors, if you like), and the proposals will start rolling in. You’ll only get info about properties that are members of the organization, so you might miss out equally qualified venues.
What are your considerations when creating a venue RFP? Let us know in the comments or via Twitter at @socialtables.
Al has more than 27 years of international event and meeting planning experience. He has planned events for 20 to 125,000 in six countries on two continents. As CEO of EventInterface he now focuses on providing technology services to planners. Connect with Al on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.