Real Wedding Planning: How to Choose a Wedding Venue – Part 1

I may be a little biased, but it seems like the two items I hear couples describe as “most important” in their wedding planning are the photographer and the wedding venue. It seems that these are the two choices couples agonize over, because they want to get it right. And who could blame them? The venue often sets the tone for your wedding celebration, and the photographs are the permanent record of your wedding story. I see dozens of wedding venues each year, so I’ve developed this list of items to consider when you start looking for a wedding venue. (That’s one of the benefits of working in the industry: you gain a lot of insight!)

  1. Space
  2. Decor/Appearance
  3. Food/Beverage Options
  4. Availability
  5. Location
  6. Coordinator/Staff
  7. Budget

So, these aren’t in any particular order of importance. In fact, I would probably rate all of these with the same importance if I were planning my wedding. Unfortunately, with both venue and photographer, I see a lot of couples place a lot of emphasis on budget. Thankfully, there are ways to work with a tighter budget and not have to cut corners, but more on that in a moment. Let’s just take these one at a time.

Choose a Wedding Venue: Space

I see it often: beautiful venues with the perfect vibe for a wedding, but sadly, the couple has a guest list that very closely matches the fire department maximum capacity. You might be asking, “What’s the issue? The venue says it can hold 300 people, so we can invite 300 people!” Well, let me be frank – no one likes to be crowded. I’ve photographed weddings where there wasn’t room to walk between tables before any guests were seated. You can imagine what it was like once everyone was in their seats! Not only is it difficult for guests to navigate the area, but also for vendors/catering staff/photographers. Another issue: not enough seating for the number of guests present. It’s a sure way for some of your guests to leave early when they become uncomfortable.

I recommend looking for a venue that has room for your entire guest list, and then some to spare. If you have a band or DJ, you also need enough room for everyone to break out their dancing shoes! Having a little extra space also lends to an overall more elegant and cohesive feel. I know you’re spending lots of time choosing decor, florals, place settings, and the overall theme. Don’t allow it to be overrun by a tight and crowded space.

Choose a Wedding Venue: Decor & Appearance

One of the easiest choices you can make for your wedding day is a theme – the overall vibe you want to convey in your celebration. Themes can be specific, such as nautical, beachy, New Years Eve, or even Harry Potter. Or they can be more general, perhaps following a color scheme or a more general decor scheme. When you begin shopping around for a reception venue, it is important that you keep the overall feel of your celebration in mind. For instance, you most likely wouldn’t hold a traditional, elegant, black tie event at a rustic barn venue. Likewise, you wouldn’t hold a casual, beachy affair in a grand ballroom. Envision your guests and decor in the space.

Choose a Wedding Venue: Food & Beverage Options

Food and beverage will make up a large portion of your celebration’s budget. Most couples have an idea what they would like for food and drink, however each venue offers different options. Many venues will be able to provide onsite catering options. These are great if you’re looking to consolidate services, or keep the planning simple. Other venues may have a list of preferred outside caterers.Seeking out individual caterers and bartending services can be quite an undertaking, so always ask venues if they have a preferred list.  Another thing to consider is whether or not the venue will require you to apply for an alcohol permit for the event.

If you have identified a caterer or service you absolutely must have, prior to booking your venue, ask if they have any recommendations on venues they worked well with. In fact, some of the best word of mouth referrals can be from other vendors!

Choose a Wedding Venue: Availability

Setting a date may have been the first thing you did after becoming engaged (after spreading the good news to your families, of course!) Occasionally, couples will find their ideal venue, but as venues often book more than a year in advance, it may be booked on your chosen date. I do encourage a little bit of flexibility, if possible. I know it isn’t ideal to change a date in all instances, but as the venue is often the first thing you book, you might have some wiggle room. Venues often give the option of holding your wedding and/or reception during the day, which can be helpful if you absolutely cannot reschedule your wedding date. It’s always a good idea to consider off-peak months and weekdays, as a handful of venues in your area may offer discounts!

Choosing a wedding venue is certainly a very personal and difficult choice. I hope that my insight has been helpful so far! Be sure to check back for Part 2, where I’ll discuss location, budget, and staffing!