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  • Alexis Alvarez

Here's Everything You Need to Know Before Choosing Your Wedding Venue: An Interview with Shaun R

We chatted with our friend, Shaun Rajah, Associate Director of Catering at The Drake Hotel, about the process of selecting the perfect venue to host your wedding. If you haven't had the opportunity to meet Shaun, he is not only ridiculously talented in orchestrating exquisite events, but he's also a blast to work with and loves his job and his clients. This post is long, but a true treat!

Photo Credit: TWA Chicago

What do you think is a couple's most common thought process regarding selecting a wedding venue?

Shaun: "Choosing a wedding venue might seem like a task consisting only of liking a space or not, but in reality there is way more to consider than that. Walking into a venue where you just dropped off your car at the entrance, are greeted by the door man and the Director of Catering who know the property – is always a great way to start!"

What are some of the first questions you are asked by couples?

Shaun: "Some of the most common questions asked by many are: 'How many weddings are held here on a day?' 'Who will be here helping me the actual day of the wedding?' 'Will you be there?'"

How do you respond to those questions?

Shaun: "Yes, I will be there and I work my travel schedule around my brides but you may not understand my role. To start, regardless of how many weddings there are, a place like The Drake is known for it's luxurious evening affairs, women donning in gowns and glitz and glamorous affairs, balls, and exquisite weddings. At The Drake, we pride ourselves in providing an outstanding level of personalized service. Personally, I don’t double book so my bride is my priority, but multiple events in a day does happen. Having two ballrooms, smaller compared to some other properties, yes, but even though there may be two events at time but you will always be the only bride in your ballroom."

One question we get quite frequently as planners is "do I still need a wedding planner when my venue has a Coordinator/Catering Director/Planner, etc onsite?" How do you respond to this question, as the Associate Catering Director to arguably one of the most renowned hotels in the country, with an award winning support staff at your disposal?

Shaun: "You need an Event Planner or at minimum, at least a Wedding Day Coordinator. Their task vary from mine and having an additional help on the day of will clearly help to ensure a smooth transition. Keep in mind, you want to enjoy the evening and not worry on who is taking the gifts up to the room, that the schedule for the makeup and hair is completed – whose first, last, etc.

Never the less, this is just some of what planners do:

  • Establishes a timeline for accomplishing tasks

  • Establishes a timeline for the wedding day- reception/dinner, make-up and hair schedule, transportation

  • Walk through at event venue

  • Create specific timeline for wedding party

  • Coordinate décor and design and assure proper and timely execution

  • Work with all respective vendors- provides information to load in/out, establish expectation, priorities, set up needs

  • Guest list formatting, place card, all day off creative aspect

  • Manage all moving pieces of the event: Direction of vendors, attend guest needs and inquiries

  • Trouble-shoot challenging situations

  • Late Night Wrap: Return Items to Bridal Suite prior to end of service. Here, the planner is also in charge of the gift box.

Yes, you need a planner."

What are some things couples should consider before booking their venue?

Shaun: "Logistics

  • Prepare a guests list (rough idea) prior to selecting a venue to ensure the venue will fit the guest count

  • Handicap accessible especially if immediate family need assistance

  • Indoor versus outdoor (alternatives if weather doesn’t permit an outdoor wedding)

  • Easy access from ceremony to cocktail reception and dinner – guest get lost very easily so a smooth transition will save time and get everyone in the space

  • Valet accessible – to make it as convenient as possible via the main entrance

  • Bathroom access

What is included?

Full service hotel venues offer everything from table and chair rentals to linens and catering supplies, while a select service venue most of the time only offers you the space and it is up to you to fill in the rest. This means you will be responsible for booking all of the vendors for the wedding day.

Style & Feel

Does the venue hold a special connection In your heart? Was your mother married in the space and you want to keep the tradition? The Drake fits a classy Chicago-style wedding. Where opening the doors to the Gold Coast reminds you of Versailles. Many couples think that they don’t need to decide on a wedding style early on, but I think it is one of the most important decisions because you might be able to save on decorations and decor if you select a venue that suits your wedding day style."

What are the things you want to tell every couple reading before they book their wedding venue?


  • Do you have any construction or landscape changes coming up before my wedding?

  • Do you anticipate any changes to the venue before the wedding day?

  • Pricing: Ensure pricing is listed in the contract so the increase in price would not affect your budget. Kids, for example, pricing should be lower than adult guests. Additional hours of bar service and options should be listed, for example, by consumption or all inclusive packages should be offered.

  • Flexibility with meal courses and examples should be included in contract. For example, to remove the soup course and to utilize that course portion for an additional appetizer

  • Room blocks: Ensure a room block is included and doesn’t have an attrition- this applies when you have a high food and beverage minimum.

  • Complimentary rooms should be noted in the contract

  • Early Check in: While check in time can’t be guaranteed, an early check in request should be made for the bride, groom and parents of both

  • Taxes, gratuity and service charges: Understand that this is standard practice. Additional gratuity is discretionary

  • Outside Food & Beverage: Outside food and beverage is not permitted at our venue and a hold harmless will be required to bring in signature late night dishes (all due to liability and city regulations) and an additional gratuity will apply

  • Gift Bag Delivery: Confirm pricing for gift bag delivery."

Thanks so much, Shaun, for all of this insightful information! To learn more about the world class Weddings at The Drake and to schedule a tour, contact Shaun Rajah HERE.

Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner?

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