I am a big fan of checklists. It helps me organize my thoughts besides acting as a reminder.
I think the 3 main determining factors are:
2. Type of event
3. Number of guests (most hotel venues required you to have a minimum number of confirmed guests to use their ballroom and this can differ quite greatly)
This is my checklist (modified) for when we were scouting for the venue for our wedding banquet:
1.1. Within city?
2. Banquet room
2.1. Size of room (width, depth, ceiling height)
2.2. Obstructions in room?
2.3. Position of stage versus route of bridal march-in
3.1. Review of food? Quality/Quantity/Menu
3.3. Drinks included? (Free-flow softdrinks and mixers/ beer/ wine/ cocktails/ corkage)
3.4. Drinks menu
3.5. Pre-dinner tid-bits (canapes, fondue, breads, chips, nuts...)
3.6. Desserts/ Cake
4.1. Number of service staff
4.2. Plated service?
4.3. Frequency of plate change
5.2. Centrepieces and other decoration
5.3. Stage backdrop?
5.6. Seat covers?
6.1. Hotel room
6.4. Giveaway items
6.7. Rooms for helpers
6.8. Rooms for out of town guests
6.9. AV equipment (projector, technician, microphone, amplifiers...)
6.10. Bridal march-in ideas
6.11. Food presentation
6.12. Room for tea ceremony (including tea set?)
The package standard would most likely include:
- One (or two) nights stay at the hotel with breakfast
- Supper for 2 after the ceremony
- Wedding invitation cards (not inclusive of printing) for 60 - 70% of confirmed number
- Free-flow soft drinks and mixes
- Centerpiece and floral stands
- Seat covers
- Dummy cake with real top tier
- Champagne or sparkling wine for "champagne pouring"
- Door gift item
- Chocolates or fruit cake
- Complimentary car park vouchers for 20 - 30% of confirmed number of guests
- Complimentary food tasting of selected menu for 8 - 10 persons
Slightly better deals also comes with
- 1-barrel of beer
- Waiver of corkage for wine and/or hard liquor
- Complimentary wine depending of number of tables confirmed
You can try to negotiate for:
1. Free flow beer/wine
2. More hotel nights stay (especially if they are only offering 1)
3. 100% invitation cards
4. Better giveaway item
5. Waiver of corkage
6. Free-table (especially if you are signing at a bridal show) if you are booking a lot of tables
7. Room for helpers
8. Change some items in the menu for a slightly more expensive option
9. Better/more flowers in the decor
10. Some tidbit items for your pre-dinner drinks
Another word of advice, contact the hotels yourself to get a quote. Often, if you get the quotes second hand, you cannot really be sure it is the most updated. You should also go and view the venues you have shortlisted (bearing in mind that most venues have a minimum number of guests prior to confirmation). It is sometimes the small things that matter like, how you are treated by the wedding coordinator or how the room smelt like the first time you enter (I've viewed a room where they hadn't aired it after an event and it stanked of stale beer/wine). Of course, it also boils down to your budget. But that's another post.