Whether you’re planning a big bash or an intimate celebration, the one thing every couple needs for their wedding to be a success is the perfect venue.
As a bride, your first instinct might be to start searching for a gorgeous gown. As important as it is to dress to impress on your special day, it’s your venue that sets the tone for your wedding. Where you choose to say “I do” will impact every other decision you make about your big day from the food and flowers to what you wear.
Not only will it dictate the style of your wedding, it’s where you’ll be creating life-long memories with the one you love most.
Finding the place where you’ll recite your vows is no easy feat, however. From rustically elegant ranches to five-star resorts to charming chapels, the options for your ceremony and reception are endless. So, how do you decide?
Our guide will not only help you learn how to choose a wedding venue that’s right for you, our helpful hints and tips will see you through every step of the decision-making process.
How to pick your dream venue
Choosing the perfect wedding venue takes patience, perseverance and a whole lot of planning. By following our suggested steps, however, you and your partner will be able to successfully narrow down your wedding venue choices to find the space that’s right for you.
1. Set a budget
Let’s face it, weddings can be expensive. That’s why one of the first things to consider when planning your big day is your budget.
When crafting a budget, the cost of your venue is the most important thing to keep in mind. In most cases, your venue and catering will take up roughly half of your overall budget, so knowing what you can afford is crucial before you start taking tours. Talk with your fiancé to settle on the total amount you’re willing to spend and then divide that number in half for venues with in-house catering or by four if you plan to hire an outside caterer.
Expenses can add up pretty quickly with weddings, so be sure to make an extensive list of all the vendors and elements you’ll need for your ceremony and reception and allocate money accordingly.
While location and food account for 50% of the budget, you can expect 12% of your budget to go to your photographer, 9% to wedding attire and beauty, 8% to florals and decorations, 7% to a DJ or band, 3% to a wedding planner, if you choose to have one, and 2% each for invitations, an officiant, your wedding bands and gifts for the bridal party. The cost of miscellaneous things like favors for your wedding guests and transportation to and from the venue should also be accounted for.
If you don’t choose an all-inclusive event space, you may also need to budget for table and chair rentals, tent rentals for outdoor receptions, lighting, and other essentials.
Unless your budget is unusually large, cost will probably be the main factor in choosing a wedding venue.
2. Decide if you want a wedding planner
If you’re planning a simple celebration or want a micro wedding, you probably don’t need the services of an expert event coordinator. If, however, you want a large wedding, don’t have anyone nearby to help with the planning or you both have jobs that prevent you from meeting with vendors on weekdays, you may benefit from a professional’s help.
Wedding planning professionals usually charge between $1,800 and $2,000, although a high-end coordinator could run you as much as $4,000. If your finances are limited, but you really want or need some guidance, some event planners offer a scaled-back version of their services for less money.
3. Choose an ideal date range
Knowing what time of year you want to tie the knot is great, but you really need to nail down some specific dates or date ranges to kick off your planning. It’s wise to pick out a number of different dates that will work for you and your partner as well as your families before touring any venues. There’s no point in falling in love with a wedding venue only to discover the dates it’s actually available conflict with your work schedules or travel abilities.
While Saturdays are the most popular day for nuptials, check to see if there are any Fridays or Sundays open in your schedule. Not only are you more likely to get your preferred date, most venues charge less for these days.
Remember, by selecting an ideal date range or being open to a few different dates, you’re more apt to find an event space that works with your budget and schedule.
4. Choose a general location
Before you start looking at wedding venues online, you’ll need to consider which city or town you want to be married in. While weddings are traditionally held in the bride’s hometown, many couples are moving away from that practice.
So, whether you want to get married in the town you grew up in, in the city where you currently live or in an exotic destination wedding location, the key is to pick the place that’s most convenient or meaningful to you.
Just remember, a wedding venue in the city is likely going to cost more than one in a small town or in the country. So make sure you keep your finances in mind when selecting a place to say “I do.”
5. Make a must-have list
Most couples have a vision of what they want their ceremony and reception to look like, but it’s important to make a list of your must-haves before starting your online wedding venue search.
Do you want an indoor or outdoor wedding ceremony? Would you prefer a country-style venue or do you want a super sophisticated space? Do you want an all-in-one event space or would you prefer to hire your own vendors? These are all questions you need to consider before diving into your search.
Once you’ve listed your priorities, you’ll be better able to determine if a venue tour is worth your time.
6. Craft a guest list
Capacity is rarely negotiable at a wedding venue. Most sites can accommodate a set number of people, so before setting foot at a potential venue, make sure you know roughly how many guests you plan to invite.
Crafting a guest list with your partner will give you an approximate idea of your capacity needs before heading online to check out wedding venues in your preferred area. Most venue websites will discuss maximum guest count so you can determine which sites will work for you.
7. Start searching for wedding venues
Now comes the fun part; you get to start your wedding venue search. Head online and look up wedding venues in your area. While you’ll be able to eliminate some simply because they don’t align with your must-haves, there are other ways to narrow down your search even more.
Check out the photo galleries for each site and read reviews from past clients. If the site passes that test and will accommodate your desired capacity, message the venue to ask about pricing and your top priorities. Most venues will have a digital marketing document containing pricing and specifics on in-house services to send prospective clients.
If you hear from the venue fairly quickly — and the response is helpful and friendly — that’s a good sign. Once you’re armed with the information packets, create a short list of must-see wedding venues with your partner.
8. Schedule tours
Once you’ve decided on three to five favorites, it’s time to see if the venues live up to your expectations. Schedule tours of each event space to make sure it’s the right fit for your wedding.
Remember, photos never tell the whole story, so it’s important to see the venues with your own eyes before making any kind of decision. Don’t be afraid to look the entire facility over from outdoor ceremony options to kitchen facilities to how many bathrooms are available to guests; these are all things you need to know before making any decisions.
The venue manager or in-house wedding coordinator should be on-site to show you around and answer questions. If no one in authority is available to act as your escort, that’s a major red flag.
9. Questions to ask each venue
To truly know if a venue is going to be compatible with both your budget and needs, you’ll need to do some digging. Here are the top 10 questions to ask during the tour (for a more in-depth list, click here):
• Is my preferred wedding date available? If not, what other options are available?
• Does this venue accommodate ceremonies and receptions? What are our options for indoors and outdoors?
• What venue contingency plans do you have in place for outdoor weddings?
• Will we have exclusive use of the venue for our wedding? If not, can we do a property buyout for the day?
• How much is the rental fee and deposit?
• Do you offer in-house services? If so, what are they and are they included in the rental cost?
• What’s your policy on outside vendors?
• Are there any noise restrictions or guidelines vendors have to follow?
• Are tables, chairs, linens, plates, silverware and glassware provided or will we need to rent them?
• Is there enough parking for the number of guests invited?
10. All-Inclusive or outside vendors?
If you’ve toured both all-inclusive sites and venues that rely on outside vendors, you may be a bit confused over which option offers the most bang for your buck. The truth is, both types of venue have their perks and drawbacks.
An all-inclusive venue can be a huge time-saver when it comes to wedding planning. If you sign up with a place that offers in-house catering and decorating, then you can have your menu, wedding cake, flowers and decor taken care of in one stroke. While going this route isn’t always cheaper, it saves you a lot of time and stress.
If you’re leaning toward hiring your own pros, be sure to budget accordingly. Costs can add up pretty quickly when you’re hiring outside wedding planners, caterers and florists. Just be sure to shop around to get the best value for your money.
On the plus side, going with outside vendors allows you to truly make your ceremony and reception unique. As opposed to package deals which can be one-size-fits-all, choosing your own vendors puts you in control and allows you to customize even the smallest detail.
11. Weigh the pros and cons
Even if you’re completely smitten with a particular wedding venue, it’s still wise to think it over before making a commitment. Remember, a wedding venue can literally make or break your big day, so be sure you’re completely satisfied with it before signing on the dotted line.
Complete all of your venue tours and then take the time to discuss what you like and don’t like about each of the venues with your spouse-to-be.
Does the space fit your preferred wedding style? Is it affordable? If it’s not all-inclusive, can you still afford to hire all of the other vendors you’ll need?
12. Make it official
Once you and your partner have agreed on the perfect venue for your upcoming nuptials, contact the manager to ask for a contract. Read the contract carefully and ask for clarification on any points that aren’t clear. Knowing what’s expected of you is crucial to ensuring the wedding planning process and your special day flow smoothly.
Once you’re comfortable with the agreement, sign it, return the paperwork to the venue and take a moment to relax and bask in the knowledge that your first major wedding decision is officially behind you.
Every decision you make about your upcoming union plays a part in creating your perfect day. But none of the other details will have as big of an impact as deciding where you’ll start your married lives together.
Following our expert tips on how to choose a wedding venue will not only aid you in the planning process, it will help ensure your big day is everything you’ve always dreamed of.