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Consider Catholic venues for receptions

OXNARD, Calif. — On a Saturday afternoon in July in 2015, a torrential rain came down on an outdoor wedding at a stylish venue north of Los Angeles.

When the soggy wedding party and their guests tried to move the reception to an indoor structure on-site, they were told they couldn't because the "inside venue" wasn't in their contract.

Enter Padre Serra Catholic Church, a few miles up the road. It so happened that Padre Serra's parish hall was empty, and parish officials, when apprised of the situation, were more than happy to accommodate the bedraggled wedding group, which — accompanied by the ready, willing and flexible caterer — reconvened at the church. And a good and dry time was had by all.

Not every reception requires such last-minute scurrying, but it does address the need for prospective couples to scout potential sites carefully. And parish halls or Knights of Columbus facilities can be, for many, an attractive option, especially if cost is a factor (and it almost always is; hotels and restaurants can charge 50 percent or more above a parish or Knights of Columbus hall).

On the other hand, these Catholic institutions may offer limited assistance regarding personnel to assist in setup, serving, security and/or maintenance that hotels and restaurants generally provide. In other words, the logistical aspects of wedding receptions can be just as important as cost, and failure to address them beforehand can mitigate any cost savings.

The following factors are essential in determining whether to hold your wedding reception at a Catholic facility:

— Time of day (and year), and expected length (how many hours). Six months (or more) in advance is a reasonable time for making a reservation, and often required. Depending on location, it also helps to know what events may be taking place at the parish (especially during first Communion or confirmation time) or in the area at that time. If you're getting married on St. Patrick's Day, will streets near the reception hall be blocked by a parade?

— Expected attendance. Anything more than 200 may present a challenge for small parishes or small halls. Look not just at the size of the room, but at the size of the parking lot. And know whether the facility charges a flat-rate fee, or by the number of guests.

— Accessibility for guests, especially the very young and very old, and especially at night. You want your guests safe and able to negotiate walking to the hall from a parking lot, and/or climbing stairs or steps.

— The nature of the reception. Is it a full-on dinner, or simply cake and champagne? Where will it take place? Who's bringing what? Does the facility allow alcoholic beverages? Who serves them?

— Food and beverage suppliers. Some facilities require using a contracted service; if so, research that service, especially its quality and reliability. If the food is coming from another source (caterer or homemade), give everyone involved an accurate picture on what they should expect regarding facilities for food prep and storage, and when they can begin delivering or preparing.

— Atmosphere, such as decorations, flowers and music. A parish hall may not have a glamorous ring, but any facility can be made to look like a wedding wonderland. Know, however, what you can or must do on your own, and what may be accommodated or prohibited. Lighted candles, for example, are romantic, but they can also set off fire alarms. And 20-piece orchestras take a lot of space.

— On-site facilities, such as parking, restrooms, dance floor, bar, ovens and refrigerators (which not all parish halls have). A simple diagram showing these, plus light fixtures, electrical outlets and emergency exits, isn't a bad idea to have handy.

— Personnel needs, especially for maintenance. You may or may not have family and friends who willingly step in to set up, decorate and take down chairs and tables, clean up the kitchen and take out the trash. Knights of Columbus halls often provide a bartender, a role best filled by someone independent of the wedding party, for obvious reasons.

— Payment schedules, such as deposits for security, insurance and/or damages. Anything that involves money needs to be established and made clear before signing a contract — and contracts are made to be read, not negotiated after the fact.

The bottom line: Do your homework. Again, Catholic parish sites, Knights of Columbus halls and even local Catholic high schools or colleges can be excellent, faith-connected options. But they are not free and — like selecting the right mate for life — they require due diligence by every couple seeking a memorable wedding day, rain or shine.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017