You must select a venue and a date as quickly as possible. We strongly recommend that you hold your first festival indoors. Doing an event outdoors makes you vulnerable to the weather and greatly complicates event logistics, as you basically have to bring everything you need.
Possible venues will include community centers, colleges and universities, and event hosting spaces. The first two are much more likely to be affordable than a dedicated event space. If you can partner with an on-campus group (or are one), then a college should be your first choice. They usually have decent facilities and they offer them to student groups at a large discount.
For the purposes of specifying requirements, we’ll assume we’re planning an event where we expect to have 35 exhibitors, 3 of whom are food vendors, and a total of 55 tables. We’ll also have a single track of speakers with no cooking demos or entertainment.
You’ll need around 6,000 to 9,000 square feet of space for just the exhibitors. This can be a single room or split across multiple rooms, although a single room is obviously preferable. You’ll also want electricity to be available for at least some of the exhibitors. Equipment with a heating element can draw a lot of current, so you’ll want to make sure that you can put each exhibitor using such equipment on their own circuit. If you want to lay down extension cords you’ll need to clear that with the venue, as they can be a major safety hazard.
If the room has an A/V system you can use for announcements or to put up slides about the event (schedules, sponsors, etc.) that’s a nice bonus. You can always rent an audio system, however. Some venues may provide some of the equipment you need, such as tables and chairs. This will make your life much easier!
You’ll also want a separate room for speakers. Do not try to partition off a chunk of the exhibitor hall with pipe and drape. This will have terrible acoustics and your presenters may be drowned out by ambient noise. This also goes for cooking demos and entertainment (unless you get a mime).
The speaker room should allow for lecture seating of 100+ people, but it should not be too huge either. If only 50 people show up for a speaker you don’t want the room to feel empty. Ideally, it will have a full A/V system with audio and projection for a laptop. You can rent and provide these items yourself, but folding screens are generally much smaller than those built into a room.
The venue should be capable of handling trash, and ideally compost, for a large event. Make sure to ask them about this explicitly.
A venue with an on-site kitchen is a big bonus. You’ll probably have some exhibitors who want access to refrigeration and a sink for washing things, and you may need these for your own exhibits. Easy load-in and load-out access with a loading dock, ramps, etc. is also a huge plus.
On-site storage space for exhibitors to use is great. You’ll also want space for volunteers to keep personal items. If there are no separate rooms for storage you can create some space by setting up temporary dividers, but you may have to rent them. If you’re planning your Veg Fest for a time of year when people wear coats, having coat racks available for attendees is a nice plus.
Some exhibitors may want Internet access, especially if they are selling products using something like Square. If the venue provides only wired Internet access, you may need to set up your own wireless network in the venue, or you may need to ask exhibitors whether they need Internet access and position them in the venue appropriately.
The dates available will be constrained by your venue. Do your best to avoid other competing events. For example, if your city has a big Gay Pride event, don’t schedule your festival on the same day! You’ll be competing for much of the same audience. If you’re doing an event on a school campus, avoid big campus sports events if you can.
It’s nice to schedule your event while colleges are in session, as college students are an ideal audience for a festival, but you can have a great event in the summer too. Avoid times of year when you are likely to have catastrophic events such as blizzards, hurricanes, volcano eruptions, or rains of blood.