Are you re-thinking your decision to host your child’s birthday party at your house? Have you considered renting a venue? I love to rent cool places for kids’ parties because they can quickly set the party mood and easily compliment a theme. It doesn’t have to be expensive and going elsewhere eliminates having a bunch of guests running around your house. And for some birthday kids, it makes the party all the more special to go somewhere new for their big day, creating even more anticipation. I knew for this Mad Scientist party I’d need someplace to spread out where no one was worried about the mess we were about to make. Viola, a local place with a laboratory feel that often hosts school field trips and scout groups.

Here are 5 things to look for when venue shopping.

(I’m referring to empty, space only venue rentals like a barn, a room at a community center, or the party room at your local movie theater. These considerations can also apply to the Chuck-E-Cheese type places, but it’s not specifically what I had in mind for this post.)

1. How does the venue feel? Visit the venue 2 times, if you can—once during someone else’s party and once when it’s empty. How does the place look and smell? If I haven’t been to a venue before I always have a picture in my head of what it looks like. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised. And sometimes I’m not happy at all. Go check it out before you get your heart set on it and before you put down a deposit (that may or may not be refundable). Take a camera, paper and pencil with you so you can take pictures and draw out a rough sketch of the room.

2. What will the total cost be? Cleaning deposit, a minimum hourly rental? Often really busy venues have birthday parties in and out of there all day long and you won’t have time to set up before hand and clean up unless you book for extra set up and clean up time. And check to see if you are even responsible for clean up. What this boils down to is that you probably need to book 3 hours for a two hour party to allow for set up, early guests, clean up, and late parents. Factor that into your rental cost.

3. What’s included? Empty spaces that you decorate and host yourself allow for more creative freedom. Ask if tables and chairs are available. How about a kitchen? Are there bathrooms connected or close by? What else do they provide? Any helpers?

4. Can your guests find it easily or will you provide transportation? Don’t pick someplace too far from your home and clearly state in the invitation if guests are to meet at your house or at the party place. If they are meeting at your house, make sure you can safely transport all of the guests. If they are meeting you at the venue, include an address, detailed instructions, and maybe a map. And don’t forget your cell number in case anyone gets lost or confused.

5. The fine print. Can you bring your own food? (Most theaters do NOT allow outside food to be brought in for birthday parties, even canned soda pop and cute little goodie bags.) Can you light candles? (Some fire codes restrict this.) Is there a freezer for your ice cream? If you’re renting a hotel room, does the hotel allow birthday parties in their hotel rooms? (Many don’t or they have restrictions, so ask before you reserve a room.)

Despite all of this, I find hosting a party at a cool place (other than a house) to be a fun alternative. And this venue was perfect for the Mad Scientist party. Success.

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