5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Location for Your Book Club
For the most part, since I'm thinking about books all the time anyway I feel like running two book clubs isn't that much work. It's also easier because one book club has assigned books but always meets at the same location, while the other has no assigned books but always meets at different locations.
If you had to guess which one was more work, you might be thinking the one with an assigned book since reading a particular book inevitably involves a time commitment. But actually, I find that coming up with good locations for my other book club is more stressful. (But I love this book club SO MUCH, so there's no chance I'm letting that stop us.)
In the past year of running the club, I've learned a thing or two about picking the perfect location and I hope my experiences will save you some trouble if you're planning to start a book club of your own soon.
My city (Columbus, OH) has pretty alright public transit, but I know most people will be driving to events. Street parking can be frustrating given that it's often not available in abundance and if people have to park far away from the venue, it could be prohibitive to elderly or disabled book club members. And if the meters only take coins, it can be annoying for people who don't have to park at meters often and may not habitually carry coins.
We once had a meeting at a coffee shop that only had street parking and one person got a ticket and another person got towed. I felt AWFUL. Although I knew it wasn't really my fault, I felt bad that people were disincentivized from attending an event I planned. If you're not sure about the parking situation, I recommend calling ahead or looking the venue up on Google Maps street view if you haven't been there yourself.
Consider the availability of food
Depending on the time of day your book club meets, you'll want to consider the availability of food. Ours meets at 6:30pm, so while some folks have had a chance to grab dinner beforehand, others are coming straight from work and are hungry. Picking a place with moderately priced food or a place that could allow people to bring in outside food (like parks and some libraries) can better help your attendees plan their dinner.
Consider the cost of space rental
While I'd love to have my book club meet at bars or sit down restaurants, most of the ones I've found are $20-$40 an hour or $300 a night to rent an "event space." Some even have minimum tabs in addition to an hourly or flat fee, which means you're stuck paying for whatever your group doesn't cover in spending. Some places will waive their fees when I tell them I'm bringing 30 people to their establishment to spend money on food and drinks, but others are sticklers.
Since it's a book club, which is a pretty casual thing, I don't want to pay an official rental fee for us all to sit quietly and talk about books. The expense would really add up every month and I'd be forced to pass the cost on to attendees to keep the book club going and I'm sure the cost would discourage some people from coming.
Consider the amount of space you need
Our book club ranges from 15 to 35 people per meeting, so I plan to accommodate at least 35 people when picking venues. Pro tip: usually only about 1/3 of the people who RSVP online through Facebook or Meetup will actually attend, especially since it's a free event and they don't have a financial stake to encourage them to keep the commitment.
I've also learned that just because a venue has enough space to accommodate your group, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll all be able to sit together. I recommend calling ahead to see how busy the venue usually is on the day you plan to go and to see if reservations are required (and whether reserving space enough for your group costs money).
If your book club is really small, some members might volunteer to host it at their houses, but that's a lot of pressure for some people. I used to be in another book club and volunteered to host several times. It stressed me out because I wanted the living room to be spotless, so I'd run around the night before cleaning like mad. And I was always afraid people would be cramped or that we'd run out of chairs and people would be sitting on the floor. I'd also run to the store for snacks before every meeting then get irrationally pissed when people didn't eat them. And it's not like I could reuse the snacks for the next meeting because then everyone would know they were a month old.
But once you get above a handful of people, meeting at someone's house may not be feasible. I adore my book club, but there's no way 35 people are coming to my house––it's just too tiny. And depending on how well you know people in your book club (ours is listed on Meetup, so most of the members are people I didn't previously know), people may not feel comfortable having a group of mostly strangers at their house. And new folks might feel awkward going to a stranger's house. Overall, I'd say public places are better.
Consider the cons of free spaces
When our group was struggling to find free spaces to meet, several people suggested the library. While that's a good option sometimes, it doesn't always work. Since people generally know libraries have free meeting rooms, they can get booked pretty fast, sometimes months in advance. Some libraries also have a no food or drink policy, which doesn't work for the folks getting off work who are hungry.
There are also some Panera Bread locations that have community rooms, so that's a possibility. But don't be surprised if you try to make a reservation and find out some Avon ladies have got the room booked for the second Tuesday of every month indefinitely. Panera is great, but they're a little too generous with booking their community rooms.
So what does our group do?
If you're reading all these things to consider and feeling overwhelmed and like you'll never find the right space, don't fret.
Our group has had excellent luck with fast food places. I don't necessarily love fast food places in terms of quality of food, but they do have several things going for them.
- A lot of fast food places have dining rooms that are largely unoccupied in the evenings. We can count on our local Raising Cane's, Arby's, and Tim Hortons to be pretty empty since most people just go through the drive-through.
- The ones that have decent sized dining rooms also tend to have an ample amount of parking spaces.
- It's highly unlikely you'll get towed or get a parking ticket.
- There's food (even if it's not the healthiest meal in the world).
- Besides patronizing the restaurant, it's free to hang out there.
- Most of them don't care whether you call in advance or not. In fact, there's one Tim Hortons in town that's so delighted to see people in the dining room that the workers came out and took our picture. The cashier exclaimed, "My manager will never believe we had this many people in here! She'll be thrilled!" My guess is that they have daily sales goals and we pushed them over the limit.
At first, I worried that having a book club meet at fast food places would seem odd or that people would complain, but when you consider the list of possible cons if we met elsewhere, some hard plastic chairs and greasy fingers aren't so bad.
However, if you're against fast food places and have a pretty large group, you may be able to call restaurants or other venues and strike a deal. I've heard of some book clubs that always meet at the same location and have a kind of partnership with the venue. The book club promotes the venue in their social media outreach, the group is large enough to spend a decent amount of money, and in return, the venue reserves a space for them without a rental fee and perhaps even gives them food or drink specials.
Our group hasn't hit that point yet, and I'd probably start doing more frequent events to disperse the group a little first, but I'll keep you posted on what I learn when we cross that bridge.