Arguably one of the most important decisions you will make when it comes to planning your wedding is the choice of venue(s). Deciding where you will hold your ceremony and reception will have a domino effect on everything else – as locations, vendors, and “rules” will determine what you can and can’t do to make your wedding dreams come true.
Make Some Decisions
First, you need to decide if you are going to do everything in one location (which is what we chose), or if you are going to do the ceremony in one place (religious or not) and the reception in another. While many venues have space to hold both portions of your wedding, many people choose to have their ceremony in either a religious space or somewhere like the beach, and then the reception in a more traditional space like a catering hall or restaurant. It is important to keep a few things in mind – are the spaces accessible (i.e. if you have elderly guests, will they be able to walk safely on the sand)? How much time do you want to have in between the ceremony and reception? How many guests will have transportation to get from one place to another? Are there close hotels for out of town guests?
Do Your Research
Once you determine what kind of wedding you want to have (and it’s ok to change your mind as you start researching – maybe you will find something you never considered!), it’s time to start looking in the area. Resources like http://www.weddingwire.com are extremely helpful when it comes to generating ideas. One thing I love about WeddingWire is how there is a “quick facts” sheet for each venue – this makes it easy to compare sites and amenities.
(One tip, though – don’t get your hopes up based on numbers alone! Sometimes things like “minimum site fee” seem low…and then you reach out to the site to find out that the quoted fee is for a weekday daytime wedding – and a weekend night in the summer can be nearly 4 or 5 times as much! Not that I’m speaking from experience…)
As you skim through site listings and other wedding blogs, it is important to read reviews and comments – I actually found our venue through the comments of a similar site – a reader had suggested “if you like this, also check out this” – and that’s how I found the venue of our dreams!
Maybe it’s common knowledge when looking at venues, but many places have “site fees” and THEN a “food and beverage minimum.” You will need to consider both pieces, along with any rental fees, ceremony space fees, and potential staffing costs (including special requests – for example, one place I looked at had a “site fee” to have your ceremony there as well as the reception, AND a fee for their staff to set up ceremony chairs in addition to the reception tables). If you are looking at a place that has its own caterer, staff and tables/chairs – most fees will be included in the site fee and catering fee. However, if you are looking at a non-traditional kind of site, you might have to bring in tents, tables, chairs, china, silverware, glassware, linens, etc. It can be overwhelming.
Another thing to keep in mind is rules/regulations for each venue. Some won’t allow open flames (so nix candles and sparkler ideas), some have noise limitations (curfews – your event might have to end earlier in the night), and some have restrictions on the vendors (you must use their in-house caterer, or specific bakeries, or you must hire a coordinator). Most places will give you a list of “preferred vendors” (which is extremely helpful), but will allow you to bring in your own, provided they have the right insurance and will abide by all of the venue’s rules.
Take Some Tours
Once you have done some research, make a list of “top” venues and contact them to set up a tour. This was one of my favorite parts of the planning process! Most places will schedule you with one of their event staff, who will then show you all the possibilities! I found it fun (although a bit exhausting) looking at different places and imagining what it would be like to have our ceremony/reception there. Once we took everything into consideration, it was not hard to decide on our favorite place, but it was actually pretty hard to tell some of the others “no” – as you build a rapport with the staff throughout the process of negotiating! However, it must be done.
It’s true that you will just “know” when you feel it’s right. Not every place will be perfect, but you need to narrow down your non-negotiables and what you can “live with” in terms of amenities. For example, our venue is a museum (we’re creative people and museums played a big role in our dating life), it has a view of the ocean, and it’s a completely private venue (we would be the only ones there). Also, the internal staff are AWESOME, there are tons of hotels nearby, and it fits within our budget. The downside? They have a soft liquor license, so we won’t have as large of a bar selection as we would have liked…but again, privacy and the ocean won. If you check out the books in the Bride section (sense a theme?), you will find a list of “questions to ask a venue.” It is really helpful to make a copy of those pages for each venue – that way you can ask questions while there and come home to compare.
For us, we wanted to make sure they “got” the punk rock wedding vibe – that leopard print would be abundant, that we weren’t going to do lots of traditions, and that our music might be a little different. We really lucked out with our awesome venue!
Book The Venue!
After you do your tours, sit down and compare all your notes. I made some spreadsheets of pros/cons – for example, we looked at a BEAUTIFUL oceanside venue in Laguna Beach – but the ceremony would be the only thing that overlooked the ocean. The reception would be in a standard ballroom in the middle of the hotel, and there could be up to 2 other weddings there at the same time. While it was a breathtaking view, we wanted our guests to be able to see the ocean the whole time and we didn’t want to be running into other brides/grooms or just general hotel guests on their way to the pool deck. Another venue was much cheaper, and allowed for a beach wedding outside the restaurant, but the bar and restrooms were located in the main dining room (our guests would be out there with regular patrons) and the “private” dining room was all glass – so someone having dinner on a random (to them) Saturday night could stare at our wedding the whole time. We didn’t really like that…
We knew which venue we wanted, but we presented all options to my family to get their opinion. We were lucky that my mom could come visit and I took her to see our top 3. Without influencing her too much, I let her see all of the spaces and meet with the coordinators. Luckily, she was on the same page as us! It was an exciting day to sit down and sign the contract with the staff – one major piece down, lots more to go!
Also, my mom had our coordinator take pictures of me signing the contract. Because that’s what she does.
Like I said, we chose our venue based on the ability to have both our ceremony and reception in the same place. However, if you are looking to have your ceremony in a religious venue or other location, there are additional things to think about – what is allowed/not allowed in terms of traditions, music, clothing? Is the venue you want available at the time you want? Some locations (churches, university chapels, etc) can book up years in advance. You might also consider who you want as an officiant – can they perform the ceremony in the venue you have selected?
For more information, check out the books in the Bride section.
Many venues will require you to use their caterer (ours is one of them). There are exceptions to this, especially if you are building your wedding in a non-traditional type of place (outdoors, backyard, rental hall). I’ll dedicate another post to the food tasting, but I would also recommend talking with your venue about their catering expectations (any specific companies you must use? Insurance requirements? Number of staff? Where they would set up a kitchen if there isn’t one on site?) and then do some research on caterers who have experience at these kinds of events. The best part – if you are “auditioning” multiple caterers, you can do multiple tastings!
Hopefully this is helpful as you start to find the place where you will say “I Do” and celebrate!