Congratulations!! You went from the girlfriend to the fiance. You got the ring and the man of your dreams, and the most exciting time of your life is underway! When the shock and awe of the proposal wear off and the planning begins, it’s important to know where to start so you don’t become overwhelmed. The first step on your to-do list should be nailing down your wedding venue. But how do you do that? Here are some important factors to consider when selecting and booking your wedding venue.
Start your Search Early
The earlier you start looking, the more options you’ll have. If you have your heart set on a certain venue on a select date, you’ll want to try and book it at least a year in advance. If you’re flexible about your venue or your date, you may not need to start quite as early. However, a wedding comes with lots of planning. It’s incredibly difficult to move forward with your planning until you’ve locked in your venue and date. The earlier you do that, the more time you’ll have to get through the rest of your to-do list. Set yourself up for success by starting your venue search early!
Guest Count and Venue Capacity
Before you start your venue search, make sure you know how many people you will invite to your wedding. Talk with your fiance and make sure you’re on the same page about the wedding size you want. Save yourself a headache, and talk with both of your families about a guest list. If you are trying to have a small wedding, but your mother-in-law wants to invite her 30 friends from the tennis club, you’ll want to iron that out sooner rather than later. Once you have a general idea of the number of guests, search for venues that can accommodate the number of guests you’ll have. Similarly, if you’re having an intimate, immediate family-only ceremony, you might feel a bit awkward at a large venue that can fit 400 guests.
Know your Budget
As difficult as it may be, you’ll need to talk money with your fiance and both of your families. You’ll need to know who is willing to pitch in what amount so you can set a reasonable budget that everyone is comfortable with. Once you know your budget for the wedding, try to narrow down a general ballpark for how much you will spend on each part of the wedding: the venue, catering and alcohol, photographs, DJ, decorations, dress, etc. Once you know how much you are able to spend on a venue, start searching for venues that fall within your budget. You don’t want to set yourself up for disappointment by touring a venue that is double your budget. If you have your heart set on a certain venue, you can ask if they offer lower rates for certain days or seasons. No matter what your budget is, keep an open mind. There’s a perfect, affordable venue for every couple, but you may have to visit a few places.
Ask What’s Included
Along the same lines of budgeting, you will want to ask the venue what is included with the space. Some venues are a total blank slate–a bare field with nothing else provided. Other venues will come with tables and chairs, decorations, a dance floor, a DJ, and bartenders. Knowing what is included and what else you’ll have to purchase will help you stay within your budget and make the right choice for you.
Going further, ask your venue about vendor options. Some venues will allow you to choose all your own vendors–your caterer, your DJ, your wedding planner, and your alcohol. Other venues will require you to use certain vendors. For example, if you get married at a winery, most likely you will have to serve their wine. They also might have a deal with a local brewery that they’ll require you to go through. They may partner with a certain caterer, and you’ll get a discount if you use that caterer. Be sure you are clear about which vendors you are allowed to use before you sign any paperwork.
Proximity to Guest Accommodations
While your big day is all about you and your man becoming husband and wife, it is important to consider accommodations for your guests. If you have family and friends coming in from out of town, it’ll be important to consider the venue’s proximity to hotels and the airport. It’s okay if it’s far, as long as you communicate clearly with your guests. You don’t want to surprise your grandfather-in-law with a two-hour drive from the airport to your venue.
Going further, some venues out in the country may or may not have cellphone service. If there’s no cellphone service, make sure you send out clear driving directions for your guests. Also, be sure to communicate with your guests about whether or not Uber and Lyft are an option. If a venue is too far out of town, rideshares may not service that area. This could become a problem if you are serving alcohol at the wedding and guests are expecting to catch a ride. Be sure to do your research and consider the location of your venue, and then communicate any potential surprises to your guests.
Parking, Bathrooms, and Accessibility
Along with guest accommodations, be sure that there are enough parking spaces and restrooms to accommodate your guests. If you’re inviting 200 guests and there are only 25 parking spaces, that will be an issue. If you have older guests that have trouble getting around, be sure to consider if the venue is accessible to them. Are there flat areas to walk on? How far will they need to walk? Are there stairs they need to go up? Finally, be sure to take notice of the restroom situation. Do you want a separate bathroom for the bridal party? Are you okay with portapotties? Are there enough toilets to accommodate the number of guests on your list? You don’t want to have a restroom line so long that your brother misses his toast. While none of these are glamorous or fun things to consider, it is necessary to keep the night comfortable for everyone.
Have your Style in Mind
Before you begin venue shopping, talk with your fiance about what you want your wedding to look like. Do you want a midday brunch wedding? Do you want an elegant evening ceremony? Do you want a casual cookout celebration? Are you looking for a country-style wedding? Are you looking for a quick ceremony and then a raging reception? Depending on what wedding style you’re looking for, there will be different venues that will be a better fit than others. If you want an elegant black-tie wedding, then it may be a waste of time to tour a venue with hay and a big red barn. If you want to throw a wild reception, a church venue probably won’t be the best fit. Make sure the venues you visit match your vibe and the personality of your relationship. You want to feel comfortable and at home on your big day–not insecure or out of place.
Bridal Party Suites
One of the most exciting parts of the wedding is the hours leading up to the start of the ceremony when you’re getting ready. You’re surrounded by your sisters, best friends, and family. You are all getting done up and looking the best you ever have. The question to ask yourself is: Where do you want to get ready? Bridal party suites are areas where only the bridal party is allowed. If you plan on getting ready at your venue, you will want them to have a bridal suite. Some venues will have a room specifically for the bride and her bridesmaids to get ready and a separate area for the groomsmen to hang out. Some venues will only have an area for the ladies and not for the men. Talk with your fiance about their vision for the day of preparation, and decide whether bridal suites are necessary. If so, be sure the area is large enough to accommodate the number of people in your bridal party.
Most couples will have a rehearsal the day before the wedding. You’ll want to be sure that one unreliable groomsman knows where to stand, no matter how many shots he’s had the day of. In all seriousness, rehearsals will help ease your nerves. If they haven’t already, your bridal party will meet one another. The groom will practice walking his mother and grandmother down the aisle, your bridal party will line up and practice their entrance and exit, and you will get to practice that walk down the aisle. If you want to have the rehearsal at your venue, which most brides do, be sure that your venue is available the day before the wedding. Most of the time, a venue will provide rehearsal time. However, if a venue is popular, they may have a different wedding the evening before yours. For example, if the venue has a Friday evening wedding and you are getting married on Saturday, you might need to either have your rehearsal on Wednesday or Thursday or have your rehearsal on Friday evening, but in a different location. Be sure to verify your rehearsal time with your vendor, so you aren’t surprised later on.
Setup & Cleanup Expectations
Along the same lines as a rehearsal space the day before, be sure to ask about setup and clean-up expectations. Are you allowed to set up your decorations the evening before the wedding, or does that need to be done the day of? Do you need to have all your decorations cleaned up and gone the night of the wedding, or can you come back the next day to clean up? If you are hiring a decorator, they will usually take care of the clean-up, and this may not be an issue for you. However, if you are crafting your own decorations and volun-telling the groomsmen to do the setup, it will be vital to understand the timeline for when decorations can go up and when everything needs to be cleaned up.
First, decide whether you want an indoor, outdoor, or combination ceremony. Some people prefer to do everything inside or everything outside. Others want to have an indoor ceremony with an outdoor reception. If you choose an outdoor wedding, be sure to ask about accommodations for inclement weather.
One incredibly important tip that cannot be stressed enough is, if you are having an outdoor ceremony, visit your venue at the time of day that you’ll hold your ceremony. If you’re having a summer wedding on a hundred-degree day, it is vital for you to know where the sun will be and which parts of your venue will be shaded. That way, you’ll know which direction to face your ceremony and where to put tables so your guests don’t melt. If the temperature is going to drop 25 degrees when the sun goes down, your guests will appreciate the heads up! You will also get a feel for how much traffic there is at that time and how many other people are around the area. If your ceremony is a Saturday evening at 6 PM, but you visit the venue on a Tuesday at noon, there are a lot of important observations you’ll miss.
When you visit your potential venue, take notice of privacy and outside noise. Is the venue private, where only you and your guests will be allowed, or is it open to the public? As far as noise, pay attention to anything you hear while you visit. For example, is there road noise or airplanes overhead? Are there loud animals around? Is there an obnoxious fan that will bother you the day of your wedding? Just be sure to keep your eyes and ears open during your tour, so you can head off any potential issues.
Ask about Restrictions
Some venues will have some rules and restrictions. It is important to ask about restrictions so you know what you’re agreeing to. If you want your fur baby to be a part of your big day, make sure the venue allows pets. If you’re getting married in a church and having your reception there, they might have restrictions on dancing, music, and/or alcohol. Talk with your fiance so you have a clear picture of what you want your ceremony to look like, and then ensure that none of your non-negotiables are against the rules. If so, you may want to consider a different venue.
Similarly, be sure to ask about noise restrictions or curfews. Oftentimes, local regulations will require music to be turned off at 10 PM. There might be a rule that everything needs to be cleaned up by 11 PM that evening. Be sure you’re clear about these rules, so your party doesn’t get cut short.
Once your venue is confirmed, the first step is to pop a bottle of champagne with your fiance and take a night to celebrate. That is a huge, exciting milestone that will allow the rest of your planning to continue. If you’re feeling lost about the next steps, take a look at this guide on what to do next. You’ll get to have engagement pictures taken, send out save the dates, get your wedding bands, send out invitations, decide on decorations, dress shop, and more! The process can be stressful, but remember, you’ll only do it once. Enjoy this exciting time in your life, keep communicating openly and honestly with your fiance, and accept help when it’s offered. And again, congratulations!