Choosing a Venue

Chicago's First Lady
Angela Renée Photograph

Once you’ve compiled a guest list and determined your budget, the most important step in the event planning process is selecting a venue. Chicago is blessed with an embarrassment of riches, playing home to a vast range of first-class facilities. These venues are as diverse as Chicago itself, offering everything from dazzling city and lake views to bucolic green landscapes to urban-chic interior design. Here’s a look at some memorable locations and what you should know when scouting them out for your functions.

“Hotels are a lot more flexible than you might think,” shares Amanda Belton, assistant director of catering at Ritz-Carlton Chicago, 160 East Pearson Street. “Many come in with assumptions that they have to set the room one way or can’t customize menus and none of this is true. The Ritz-Carlton is happy to make events as customized as the client would like.”

Christine Smith, marketing manager of Palmer House Hilton at 17 East Monroe Street, says if you dream it, they can achieve it. “However, the hotel is historic so no permanent changes may be made to the structure,” she informs. To give you an idea of what you can do, the Palmer House recently hosted an Indian wedding where the couple “installed a water wall just behind them for their vows, and the room itself was bathed in blue uplighting with linen and centerpieces to complement.” Fun fact: “In 1870, a gracious groom named Potter Palmer gave his bride a glorious wedding gift called Palmer House with one-of-a-kind ballrooms and ornate décor,” shares Ms. Smith. “No other wedding venue offers such a legacy of romance, and the Palmer House Hilton can be your ‘something borrowed.’”

Greg Hyder, director of catering at The Peninsula Chicago, 108 East Superior Street, says, “We’ll do anything the client’s budget allows.” But if budget is a concern, Mr. Hyder offers this trade secret: “Prices can be negotiated when clients are willing to have an event on an off-peak night or during an off-peak season. Be prepared to have alternative dates.”

TrumpWhen booking an event at Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago, 401 North Wabash Avenue, Director of Catering and Conference Planning Cyndi Roppolo Rosenberg says, “Guests may utilize our Cadillac house cars, which is a nice touch for any type of event, and floral arrangements throughout the hotel can be customized. For example, the featured flowers and colors of a wedding can be incorporated into the arrangements found throughout the hotel, including in the lobby and entrance to our restaurant Sixteen.”

Reserving space at a hotel for a wedding makes planning more seamless since all the components of the event are in one place. “Holding your wedding at a hotel is so convenient and ‘turnkey,’” observes Mr. Hyder. “A hotel has virtually everything you need for your event. If your event is held at a venue other than a hotel, brides will have to rent a number of these items and hire a caterer, audio/visual company, florist, et cetera.” Ms. Smith agrees, saying the Palmer House provides “accommodations, health and wellness options at Balance Spa & Fitness, and a history of distinct Chicago culture and romance, all located in one place and steps to Chicago’s top destinations.”

Lighting is critical. “Proper lighting can change the dynamic of an event,” explains Ms. Rosenberg. “At Trump Chicago, we work with an in-house audio/visual company to create something an outside vendor may not.” Another key component is décor. She recalls, “A recent wedding laid white carpeting throughout the ballroom to reflect the signature colors, and a dramatic centerpiece hung from the 24-foot ceiling to create a one-of-a-kind ambiance for the evening.”

The advantages of booking a hotel are similar for corporate events and fundraisers. However, Mr. Hyder says, “The extra advantage is that clients have a lot of room to grow their meeting if necessary. For example, if a client has a pop-up need for a meeting room, a hotel would most likely be able to accommodate this request.” Ms. Belton adds that corporate clients want to create an unforgettable experience for their guests, and “utilizing a hotel with amazing amenities, creative food and beverage options and audio/visual options are most important. Working with a hotel that’s flexible and creative is and will continue to be very important for [corporations and non-profits].”

Ms. Rosenberg says that by working with Trump Chicago’s dedicated catering/event specialist throughout the planning process, corporate clients are guided to design an event reflective of what the company or organization stands for. Bonus: “Our partnership with Wendella Boat Tours allows a group to organize a creative and fun post-meeting outing on the river with the tour boats docked just steps from the hotel.”

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