Finding The Right Venue For Your Chapter

Choosing a venue that works for your chapter can be a critical ingredient to your chapter's success. Every chapter has different needs and every city is unique in what type of venues it has -- below are a few ideas to help you choose a place right for you and your members.

What Does Your Chapter Need?

Start by taking stock of your chapter's needs:

- How often do you meet?

- What is your anticipated attendance? If your attendance may fluctuate, you want to find a venue that won't need to squeeze you into a small area. At the same time, you don't want the venue to be disappointed on your smaller weeks.

- Do you anticipate having guest speakers? If you have speakers, do you want a separate room? A stage or microphone? Make sure the venue knows if you anticipate having a formal program.

- If at all possible, find a venue that's handicap accessible.

- You may want to seek out a venue with a private space, even if one won't be necessary for every meeting. It allows you to do special events at your regular joint.
If you are making use of a private room, consider opening the space up to the general public on any given night that you haven't filled the space.

- You may also want a venue that has a big screen, cable connection, internet connection and audio. This is great if you host parties to watch the State of The Union, debates, etc.

- Does the venue offer internet if your members want to blog or do live-feeds at the event?

Great Features for a Great Venue.
Many of our chapters have found the following elements to be helpful.

- If people drive, make sure there is ample parking.

- Is the venue in a safe area? If people are walking there, is it a safe walk home?

- A venue that has food. Or, if they don't serve food, do they allow you to bring or order food in. Look for a menu variety, weighing differing diets in your decision, and affordable choices. 

- A venue that will allow separate checks to make it easy for members to pay their own tabs. If not, you may need to play bill collector each night.

- Many chapters enjoy buying beer by the pitcher as it makes it easier to share. It's not a deal-breaker, but does your venue offer pitchers?

- Many DL chapters have members who enjoy local beer. Can you find a venue that offers local options?

Venue Red Flags
The following can make it hard to have a DL gathering because they are loud or distracting: loud music, live bands karaoke, quizzes, poker, big ticket sporting events on television. While these can all be fun, they may not help create a welcoming environment for your event.

Making An Ally Out Of The Venue
Some venues will be excited to partner with you. That may be the case from the start, or may be a relationship that can build over time. At the very least, you want a venue that knows -- and isn't opposed -- to what you are up to.

- When speaking to ownership or management be up front about Drinking Liberally being a progressive organization.

- Consider choosing a week night that's slow for the venue. This will be a boost to them and give you more flexibility.

- Consider promoting the venue through the chapter's social media. And ask if they'll promote your events over their social media.

- Consider supporting a local business owner.

- See if you can find a proprietor who shares your values. Opensecrets.org can help you see where the venue owner has donated. Or find a venue owned by someone active in the community, fair to their staff.

- Often, a new establishment may be especially appreciative of steady business.

- Keep lines of communication open with venue management. Check in frequently with management and/or ownership. Share with them the excitement of your members. Let them know if you have special guests, needs or concerns. Consider following up with management/ownership the day after DL meetings. Many chapters have had success with following DL meetings with a short email: "We had a great time. Thank you again. We want to make sure you don't have any questions or concerns before our next meeting on…" This can be particularly valuable early in the life of the chapter.

- Some chapters have had success asking upfront for a 10% discount.

- Always encourage generous tips, thank the servers, send notes to management about how helpful the staff was, ask members to like the venue's Facebook page, etc.

Involve Your Members

- Remember: You may not find an ideal venue for all attendees. It may be too far for some, too loud for others, too expensive or too divey. You can only to the best you can. If necessary, you may want to remind attendees that Drinking Liberally is a volunteer run organization.

- Periodically seek input from your members. Ask them how the venue is. If anyone is concerned, ask their help in finding a new venue.

- If a move is necessary, permanently or temporarily, it's important to keep your chapters in the loop, explain the leadership's concerns, and consider canvasing for suggestions.

Have more ideas for finding a great venue? Email info (at) livingliberally (dot) org or post it to the Living Liberally Leaders Facebook Page.