Finding a wedding venue that's the right fit takes patience, a lot of research, and flexibility in terms of which rules you're willing to accept. Occasionally, you'll find yourself in the contract process and faced with potentially troubling terms you didn't see coming. Rather than sign on the dotted line without addressing these concerns, it's best to heed your instincts and know when to speak up.
Trust your gut.
If you find a contract term that seems strange, make note to discuss it with your venue manager so that you can fully understand the related details. A one-off odd rule could be something that's been added to a contract following a bad experience. However, if there's a collection of rules that seem out of the norm, this could be a red flag suggesting that the venue is hard to work with. In this case, it might be helpful to ask the venue for a recent wedding reference so you can contact them and chat about their experience.
Know your deal breakers before you get a contract in hand.
It's important to start your venue search armed with as much information as possible. Otherwise, you'll end up visiting too many venues and you'll find yourself overwhelmed by the countless options. Make a list of deal breakers before you even start your search and stick to them. For example, if you know you're not willing to book a venue that requires guests to arrive in shuttles, don't bother visiting the venue. The likelihood of you changing your mind on something like that (which could add a few thousand dollars to your wedding budget) is low and not worth wasting your time.
Recognize rules that serve the venue and not the client.
Know when to speak up and negotiate rules that serve only the venue and not the client. For instance, a small vineyard might offer only two white wines to serve at your wedding and state in their contract that there's a $25 corkage fee for bringing outside bottles in. By using this guideline, they're able to compensate financially for the loss they'd take by not making red wines in large enough quantities to sell to wedding clients. They're essentially banking on the fact that you'll settle for serving white wine only and thus increasing your spend at their venue. While you might not have much luck negotiating this out of the contract, you might be able to find a way to get the corkage fee lowered or get a discount on white wine if you agree to purchase a specific quantity of cases.
How to handle rules that seem harsh but are pretty common.
Requiring a generator, specifying an early end time, a ban on smoking, and rules against live music may seem excessive, but they're actually quite common. Most of these types of rules are built around the venue's permits and insurance, as well as what their county or neighbors allow. Unless you have reason to believe the rules are not standard for the area, we'd recommend against trying to use any of these factors as tools for negotiating.