Things to Think About When Selecting Your Venue

Written by: Ellen Thomas and Laura Burchfield

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So you just got engaged…now what?

You need a wedding date. We are going to let you in on a little secret. Until you have a venue, YOU DO NOT HAVE A WEDDING DATE. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to pick your favorite date of the year and automatically have your dream venue booked on your dream date? Reality check, unless you are thinking of having a 4 to 5-year engagement, you will need to go into planning with an open mind and willingness to be flexible.

Ok, what do you fancy? Barns, ballrooms, churches, gardens, restaurants, lofts, warehouses, pavilions, backyards, beaches, airplane hangars, rooftops, hotels, mountains, breweries, underwater, in a drive thru, on a rollercoaster or falling from a plane…the possibilities are endless and there is a lot to consider. Here are some tips to get you started.

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1. Guest Count:

Plain and simple, can the space accommodate your crew? If you don’t know how many guests you’re expecting, take a step back. Making a preliminary guest list is a MUST before researching venues.

2. Locations:

You need space for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception. If ceremony and reception will be in the same space, think about if you will be flipping the space or if you will need to section it off with drape.

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3. Timing:

A “standard” wedding is 5 hours long. This includes your Ceremony, Cocktail Hour and Reception. You will need to factor in at least 2 hours for set up and about 1 hour for clean-up. Read the fine print carefully to check that there will be enough time. You don’t want to be surprised with additional charges for extra hours that you thought were already included.

4. Food and Beverage:

Does the venue provide food and beverage or can you bring in your own vendors? If you can bring in your own vendors, you may need to choose one listed on the venue’s preferred list or there could be a charge to bring in someone outside of this. Check the venue and catering contracts to make sure that everyone knows who is responsible for each task. This includes set up, break down, trash clean up and removal, water, ice, staffing, bar kits, serving ware, utensils, bussers, napkins, glasses, and a whole bunch of other stuff that cannot go unnoticed.

5. Rentals:

Does the venue provide anything other than the walls and floor? You will need tables, chairs, and linens at the very least. Is there a good variety or limited options? Rentals can add up quickly so be sure to factor them into your budget.

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1. Will there be other weddings occurring at the same time as yours or on the same day?

It is YOUR big day and if the chance of seeing another bride wandering around will take away from that than you may want to look at other options.

2. Will any part of your event be outside?

Does the venue provide a rain backup plan or do they allow tenting? Most rental companies will allow you to place a tent on hold and make a decision the week of the wedding when you have a better idea of the weather. Just make sure you are clear on the rules and alternatives. If you’re prepared, it won’t rain. If you’re NOT prepared, it definitely will.

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3. Where will your guests stay?

Are there hotels nearby and do they meet your standards? Will you provide transportation for guests? If budget allows, it is nice to provide an alternative to driving especially if the ceremony and reception are in different locations or if public transportation (Uber, cabs, etc.) are not readily available in the area.

4. What is the parking situation?

Is valet required and, if so, is it included in the rental price? If self-park is available, is there a fee? If so, is there an option to take on the fee for your guests?

5. Are there any restrictions with the venue in terms of décor or other activities?

Make sure the venue allows staking before you put shepherd’s hooks into the ground for your lanterns. Make sure the venue allows open flame before telling your florist your obsession for taper candles. Heart set on a sparkler exit? Make sure you are allowed to light those babies up.

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1. Does the venue provide heat and/or air conditioning?

You may dream of an August barn wedding, but you may think differently when you’re sweating it out in a huge wedding dress with no air conditioning. Same for a “winter wonderland” theme with no heat.

2. How’s the lighting?

The elegant riverside wedding won’t be as amazing when it gets dark outside and no one can see their food or find their purse. Check online to see what time the sun sets on your wedding date and plan accordingly.

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3. Is there a bridal suite for getting ready?

Even if you are getting ready at a hotel or another location off site, you will still likely arrive at the venue up to 2 hours early to put on your dress and to take pictures, so you’ll want a comfortable location to “hang.” Bonus points for full length mirrors, good lighting, and a separate space for the guys.

4. How are the restrooms looking?

First and foremost, does the venue have them? If so, make sure they’re up to your standards and think about whether you’ll want to provide an amenity kit or anything to soften the space. If not, factor restroom rentals into your budget.

5. Do you have any guests who require special accommodations and will the venue meet their needs?

Your dream of getting married in a remote clearing at the top of a mountain may not make the cut if Gram-Gram can’t take on the hike. Reception and ceremony downstairs but cocktail hour is upstairs? Make sure there’s an elevator for your Auntie Rose in a wheelchair.

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Overwhelmed yet? Take a breath and take your time touring venues, asking questions, reading the contracts, and asking more questions. And don’t forget, you can always hire a planner (wink wink, nudge nudge)!