A classic wedding in a ballroom. A bohemian wedding in a garden. A modern romantic wedding at an industrial warehouse. A big, casual wedding at a barn. There are SO MANY options for wedding venues, how do you choose?
Wedding venue-related costs account for an average of 45% of a couple's wedding budget. It is a big decision and a big investment!
Here are our top tips for narrowing down your options and finally choosing a wedding venue (without losing your mind)!
1. Local or Destination?
This is a really good place to start! Most couples will opt for a "local" wedding... one close to where they live, or where a majority of family lives. This is simply a practical option for most couples.
Other couples will opt for a destination wedding or elopement, whether a few hours from "home" or across the country, or even across oceans!
Determining which would be a better option for your wedding (financially, geographically, etc.) is a really great starting point for your wedding venue discussions.
2. How many guests do you want to invite?
Who is on your "must invite" list? Be sure to account for adults, plus 1's, children, etc. Some couples opt to create different versions of their guest list, listing out "must invite", "want to invite", "meh... could take or leave". Oftentimes, the guest count alone can help or hinder your choice for venue location based on seating capacity alone.
Many venues have very specific capacities for seating. They may offer different seating capacities based on table set-up, whether a ceremony will be in the same space, etc. And many venues really push the envelope when it comes to stating how many people their venue can hold. Our rule of thumb = take whatever the venue says, and subtract at LEAST 10%, unless you want to feel like a sardine in a can.
One of our most important tips to you: figure out if your guest list is 50, 150, or 350+. The sheer size of some wedding guest lists will dramatically limit which venues can hold the capacity you require. Many venues also have food+beverage minimums for catering, which can be daunting if you have a small wedding versus a larger wedding.
3. What is your personal "style"?
Oftentimes, a couple will have a rather defined "style" without realizing it. Perhaps you are an urban foodie and can't even imagine a "rustic barn wedding". Or maybe a stuffy ballroom wedding is the last thing you want...
The good news is, if you have a personal "style" already, this can be very helpful when trying to narrow down prospective wedding venues! If you already know 100% that you want a vintage elegant barn wedding, complete with hanging chandeliers and votive candles... well, time to start narrowing down the best barn wedding venues in your area!
4. What season would you like to be married in?
This seems like a really simplistic question, but it can heavily influence which wedding venues are available to you, and what type of outdoor scenery is available to you... as well as potential weather conditions!
If beautiful greenery and blooming flowers are important to you for your photos, consider a late spring or summer wedding. If you love the gorgeous fall colors, consider an October wedding! Or maybe you really love snow... winter weddings are simply beautiful! But be forewarned, that every season in just about every climate has some type of inclement weather you may be in for -- hurricanes, tornadoes, excessive heat, blizzards, etc.
5. What is your wedding budget? And what is included at each venue you're considering?
Looking at your wedding budget in earnest is usually where reality hits home. Hard. Pricing will range wildly, and you'll have a wide variety of amenities that may be included, or you may have to pay for separately.
A few things to think about when deciding if a venue is a "good value":
- What is included with your venue rental fee?
- Is there a venue coordinator who will handle things on the day-of at the venue?
- Is there a lot of natural light available, or is the space dark (and require extra/ambient lighting)? (light quality will impact the photos from your wedding)
- How long is the rental period? (some venues are extremely strict about load in and load out times and wedding party access)
- Is there a ceremony site available at this venue? If so, does it cost extra?
- Is there a bridal suite/getting ready area? (If not, consider the cost of at least 2 hotel suites for bride and groom "getting ready")
- Does the venue have adequate bathrooms and parking? (You'd be surprised....especially important for outdoor park weddings and barn weddings)
- Is there a food+beverage minimum for catering?
- Is there a separate space for ceremony+cocktail hour+reception, or will any of the spaces have to be "flipped"... and does that cost extra?
- Are tables/chairs/linens/basic decor included, or do you need to rent/purchase separately?
- Does the venue require you to use vendors from their preferred list?
- Does the venue require you to have insurance?
- Can you purchase your own beer/wine/liquor or does the venue require you to purchase from them or another bar service (this can be a HUGE unaccounted for expense!)
- Does the venue have very strict policies about photo locations and decor options (such as candles)?
- Is the venue exclusive-use or will any other weddings be taking place on your chosen date?
- Are there any restrictions on candles, confetti, sparklers, etc? And is this important to you?
6. Visit your favorite wedding venue(s) for a tour + meet with a venue coordinator for an itemized quote
This can be where expectations can be exceeded or a total let-down. My own sister visited 25+ wedding venues in her quest to find "The One". However, seeing a venue in person can help you see a few things more clearly. Is the venue larger or smaller than you expected? Is it darker/dimmer than you expected? Is the parking available sparce or expensive (especially important with urban/downtown weddings in metropolitan areas).
Be sure to meet with an experienced venue coordinator for an itemized list of their pricing or a custom quote based on what you're looking for. Definitely find out up front (before you put down a deposit or sign a contract!) what the payment and cancellation policies are, and what exactly is included with your rental.
6. When you've found "The One"...
So, you finally found your dream venue! Next important question... is this venue available for your ideal wedding date? Many wedding venues book over 12 months in advance, especially for Saturday dates. If you are adamant that your wedding date is on a Saturday, be prepared to push your wedding date, or potentially look at Friday or Sunday wedding dates (which sometimes come with pretty awesome discounts!).
If the venue and date are available, you're ready to pay your deposit and sign your contract with your venue! Congratulations! This is the BIGGEST decision of your wedding... I promise, it all gets easier from here! Choosing your photographer, your dress, determining decor, picking a cake, etc... it all will start to fall in line when you have the season, the location and a date!
Congratulations, you're ready to pick your venue!