Came across this post recently and I have to chip in that it IS NOT bad form to negotiate. (This might be a novel, sorry! I am totally procrastinating right now so chalk it up to that…)
Firstly, negotiation is common in all aspects of life. Maybe not in retail sales, but certainly in many important situations. Hell, people even settle major lawsuits instead of risking trial.
Secondly, when you were offered a job, do you think that the hiring manager simply had a firm price in mind before the candidates walked in the door? Of course s/he evaluated every candidate and offered what s/he thought that person was worth. If you thought your value was hire, you would say so. Even if you didn’t, you essentially negotiated the price by accepting his/her terms.
Thirdly, women are notoriously bad negotiators relative to men. It is not because we actually lack the skills, but because we are often raised to have a demeanor that is more conscious of others than men are expected to have. Implications that it is poor etiquette to ask for what you believe to be a fair price simply reinforces this stereotype. (It is also at least one reason why women are less likely to ask for salary increases then men.) Also, notice I said “fair price”…that is sort of important. Otherwise, I would agree that it is bad form to try and bully a business/service provider into providing something below cost.
Fourthly, I take back part of my first point. Negotiation IS common in retail sales. In fact, legally, listed prices are not even “offers” that the customer can accept. Instead, the customer makes the initial offer to the retailer who then accepts/declines. Take a look at the price list, take it into consideration, then make your offer as you see fair. I would say this includes taking into account things that may not be reflected in the price, such as Sunday wedding, delivery (if applicable), etc. It is unreasonable to expect that every contingency be listed in a vendor’s price so it is only natural to think that deviations from the norm would result in a price modification.
That being said. I am not from Chicago so I can’t give you site-specific recommendations.
Generally, though, I would mention things that I am adding for their business. This includes any guests staying a the venue (assuming it is a hotel), if you are one of the first in the family to be married (extra business possibly down the road), if you are working with a church or coordinator who could refer future clients, things you might not need ( provided white linens but are using your own? the venue doesn’t need to launder their linens–> lower cost), offer to have the photographer take professional pics of the place set up before people enter and give them copies for advertising, etc. Overall, just be nice and be honest that you like their place and want to stay w/in a certain budget. Oh, and see if there are substitutions you can make but guests probably wont notice (seasonal veggies instead of some fancy side or downgrade part of the booze package but not all the brands). Finally, just be reasonable. The most important part of negotiating is considering their best alternative. If you present a reasonable offer, they will likely accept it over not booking. However, if they would be losing money then they might not even want to negotiate.
Hopefully you already found a place since your wedding is this summer, but maybe this will help other bees!