Is it legal to host an event at a reception hall and ask for an admission fee? 3 Answers as of October 01, 2012

Is it legal to turn away guests to a party that requires admission?

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Lawyer for Indie Media
Lawyer for Indie Media | Sue Basko
This question involves much more than you might think. Events are complicated to run, because they involve public safety. In Illinois, if you want to run an entertainment event and sell tickets to the general public, most towns and cities require you to buy a license from the town or city. This usually involves filling out an application, getting permission from the property owner to run such an event, and other things, which may include insurance. There may also be an entertainment tax charged by the town or city. These are usually charged per ticket. There may also be County requirements, permits, or taxation.

One thing to note is that most event insurance is very stringent on what is allowed and what is not. Most event insurance policies prohibit certain kinds of music that may draw a rowdy crowd. I know that many policies do not allow hip hop or heavy metal music. If you are running an event with such music, you will either have to shop around for insurance and will most likely have to pay a premium, as well as making certain assurances. There are insurance companies that insure such events, and the insurance is costly. An insurance company can be very picky about making you prove you are reliable and responsible and capable of running a safe event. Most event insurance policies also prohibit fireworks, fire, pyrotechnics, anything that flies, any use of animals, and other such things.

If you speak with the owner of the reception hall, they will let you know if they will allow you to run the event in the place, and what is required of you by them and by law. In addition to the things required by the locality, the hall owner may require a damage deposit. They may also require the event to have a certain amount of security personnel, off-duty police, door guards, valets, coat check, or other such workers. Most hall owners that require events to have such workers have specific people that they hire on a regular basis. The hall may insist that all tickets are presold and none are sold at the door. The hall may also require that they have the say-so on who is allowed in or not. Keep in mind that even though the event is in a private hall, the general laws still apply, such as alcohol and drug laws, age limits, gun laws, and noise ordinances.

You can turn away guests, but must not do so on a discriminatory basis. For example, you must turn away guests if you are past the Capacity Limit on the reception hall. You must also turn away guests who appear to be intoxicated or rowdy. You must turn away anyone that is not 21+ if alcohol is being served. You must not turn away guests based on their race or ethnicity or nationality. You also must not turn away a person because they are handicapped. Try to get people with wheelchairs to let you know in advance they are attending, so you can plan for them and make them feel welcome and happy.

If you have sold tickets, you must have a way to verify that tickets presented at the door are real. TicketBud is a good ticketing company for those starting out. The tickets are verifiable by Android phone.

Keep in mind that any event must meet building, safety, and fire codes. These things are set out in law. You must adhere strictly to the Capacity for a room. In figuring your capacity, be sure to allow for servers, musicians, and others. They count in the Capacity. Your stage and floor plan will have to be drawn out in advance to scale and meet all the codes. This involves having the required size of aisles and distance from doors. During an event, no exit doors may ever be locked or inoperable. Usually, you will be required to have your set-up inspected in advance by fire and safety inspectors. All structures, props, drapery, curtains, linens and decorations must meet fire codes. Do not rent or purchase such items until you know they meet fire codes. If you need any stage or platform or scaffolding, you must use a company that is specially licensed to build such temporary structures. In most locations, these structures, once erected will have to be inspected and approved by safety inspectors. If you are bringing in any lighting or additional electrical power, these should also come from licensed companies and may need to be inspected.

Some reception halls, especially those associated with a hotel or convention center, may have union workers. If this is the case, then the union workers must do all the work, even such things as moving things and setting up tables and chairs. In such places, you may be required to pay a union electrician or projectionist to oversee your show. Ask the venue, they will know.

Reception halls should have whatever licenses are required of them, and these usually require such things as smoke detectors, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, exit doors that are unlocked and unblocked, exit signs, flame resistant furnishings, kitchen safety, safety certificates for kitchen workers, alcohol licensing, alcohol server licensing, a certain number of toilets, handicap accessibility, a certain number of parking spaces onsite, possibly additional parking offsite, and many other requirements. Once you realize all the hall owner has gone through to be safe and legal, you may understand why they are so picky about what goes on in their place.

Keep in mind that many organized groups hold events at reception halls and sell tickets in advance. Think of proms, church events, social organizations, local sports leagues. If you run such an event, you can make tickets only available to the members of the group and their guests. It is best to sell such tickets in advance, so you are not dealing with people at the door and unsure if they are invited guests, and also to be sure you have enough money to pay for the event. If you run an event this way, you may not need an entertainment license. You will still be subject to all the safety laws and alcohol laws, as well as rules set down by the hall owner. Most hall owners also require insurance, but many are able to put such events under their insurance and have you sign a rider. This is a good system if it is available to you. Such insurance coverage usually costs a few hundred dollars on up, depending on the type of event and how many will attend.

After all this information, I hope you can see that it is possible to sell tickets for an event at a reception hall, but that it requires some financial start-up money and a lot of attention to detail.

Answer Applies to: Illinois
Replied: 10/1/2012
Law Offices of John Carney
Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
You can hold a private party and require an invitation or admission and you do not have to admit anyone that is not invited.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 9/28/2012
Sebby Law Office
Sebby Law Office | Jayne Sebby
Yes, if this is an event that is open to the public, unless the party-givers are discriminating in some unlawful way against the people they turn away, such as not giving them the opportunity to purchase admission tickets. However, if this is a private event, you can admit whomever you like.
Answer Applies to: Nebraska
Replied: 9/28/2012
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