How to Choose a Wedding Venue
Choosing a venue is generally one of the first steps in planning a wedding. It’ll dictate the vibe, number of people, and it might even influence your dress!
Here are a few steps to take to ensure that you’re on track for booking the right location.
Step 1: Pick a date and have some back up options in mind. Your first pick at your desired venue might not be available, so be open to other dates. Next, decide on whether your ceremony and reception will take place at the same location. If they won’t, you’ll need to do some toggling between the two locations to ensure the date and timing availability work out. Also, ask yourself if the ceremony/reception locations are a good place to take photos or if you’ll need to go elsewhere to get great photos. For example, are you limited to one indoor room and a parking lot or do you have an entire golf course? If you need to go to a different location, how much of your time will that eat up between ceremony and reception?
Step 2: Figure out your budget and choose a venue that's within it. I’m not a financial advisor, but I will urge you to not go into debt for your wedding. Remember, your wedding is about celebrating the love between two people, and not showing off an event you’re pretending to afford. Would you rather be paying off wedding debt or putting your hard earned income toward your dream home or a vacation?
Aside from your preferred date, the venue will ask you about your estimated number of guests. Be sure to know your upper and lower end numbers. If you're flexible about your dates, ask about Friday or Sunday options which tend to be cheaper.
Step 3: Ask questions and take notes!
If you’ll have a lot of out of town guests, ask about nearby hotels. Some hotels offer discounts for multiple rooms booked and will even provide a shuttle to the venue.
If the ceremony/reception is outdoors, ask about their contingency plan for if it rains. Do they offer complimentary tents? Do they have an alternative site indoors?
Also, ask how many weddings take place at the venue on the same day. With one wedding, all of the focus is on your event.
Be mindful that some venues are strictly the establishment, while others may be able to offer a full package that includes dinner service. Determine how much research and work you want to do yourself and consider booking a wedding coordinator/planner if the details are becoming stressful.
A venue that already offers dinner service will be a lot easier to manage than one where you need to find your own caterers, furniture rental company, and linen service provider. If you’re a planner and well organized, that’s definitely a route you can consider, but if you’re not, avoid the headaches and find an all-inclusive venue. If you’re not hiring a wedding coordinator, you should have someone other than you be the main point of contact for day of set-up (not your mom, MOH or groom). This individual should be well organized, ideally have experience with event planning, and do well under pressure. (Some venues may even provide you with a day of venue coordinator. Make sure to ask what they will and will not do as this may be different from an event coordinator).
If your package includes dinner, you may have an option of choosing buffet (pandemic restrictions permitting) or a sit down dinner. Buffets have more flexibility with serving size and food selection, and most venues will package leftovers for you to take home. (Buffet is also generally cheaper because there is less staff required).
If your package does not include dinner, ask the venue if they have a list of preferred vendors. This will include service providers that are recommended by the venue that have experience working with that location. For offsite caterers, ask if they also offer waiters/servers for dinner service. If not, that is another service provider you’ll need to hire.
For outside vendors, factor in the cost of delivery, set-up, and tipping. You’ll also need to ask your venue about timelines. If your contract is for 6 hour, does that include the time your vendors have to set-up and take-down items?
With respect to timelines, does your contract include a clause about extending your time if you want to keep dancing into late hours? What about a community/city noise ordinance that might prevent you from having a DJ play loud music?
Next, ask if they have a room for you and your bridal party to get ready. If not, think about where you’ll get ready and how you’ll get to the venue day of. At the very least, ensure that you’ll have a comfortable place to “hide out” before the ceremony.
Speaking of hiding out, ask the venue if they have onsite bathrooms and how many. Logistically, 200 people and one bathroom is a bad idea.
Next, LOOK AT YOUR CONTRACT.
Does your contract include a service charge? If so, that covers tips but you’re always welcome to tip additionally for exceptional service. What about administration and other fees? Are all of those fees (including tips) within your budget? If not, reassess this location. Ask about fees that aren’t clear or aren’t included.
What about final meals/changes and guest counts? Some venues require meal choices and final guest count months ahead of time while others have a lot of flexibility until a couple of days before.
Take a look at the language covering cancellation fees? Life happens. Acts of God happen. Check to see what is and isn’t covered in the event that your wedding is cancelled or postponed. If 2020 taught bride-to-be’s anything, it’s be prepared for cancellations and reschedules due to events out of your control (hello Covid-19 pandemic).
For day of, ask if the venue coordinator will be onsite for the duration of the entire event. Also inquire on other staff that will be available to assist you, including the number of servers and bartenders if applicable.
Lastly, don’t book a venue that you’re not 100% in love with or that has poor customer service. Every vendor you book should be someone you’re excited to work with. You’re looking for excitement and peace of mind, not stress on your wedding day. Poor customer service leading up to the wedding may be an indication of less than stellar service day of and no one needs that. Feel free to use accounts like Yelp and the Knot to gather general reviews but use an objective lens (no one will be 100% happy with everything every time).