How To Choose A Wedding Venue
For a new couple purchasing a home or new car can be one of the most expensive things you’ll ever buy. Your wedding can only follow this, and finding the right venue as the ultimate setting for one of the most important days of your life can sometimes seem overwhelming at the beginning.
However, you do not have to be a wedding professional to find the perfect wedding venue. In fact, most couples are perfectly capable of vetting a venue and making their wedding a great success.
The most important things to focus on when choosing a wedding venue are:
- Decide on a general location.
- Determine what dates work for you and what dates are available.
- Set your budget and get good value for your money.
- Identify your guest count.
- Start making calls with your list of questions.
- Confirm the venue’s capacity.
- Merging your vision and style with your wedding venue.
Setting Your Wedding Budget: Key to Choosing Your Dream Venue
Before making a trip to inspect a property, consider these questions.
- What is the overall amount of money you want to spend?
- Does your wedding budget match the wedding venue’s pricing structure?
- Do you have any wiggle room in your wedding budget if needed to get the venue of your dreams?
The earlier you obtain details about the capacity and costs of the wedding venue, the quicker you can decide if it’s worth visiting in person.
- What is the venue’s required minimum guarantee?
- What is the cost per person?
- What is the venue fee?
- Are there any other hidden fees?
- How many people do you expect to attend?
Here is a quick example of calculating the basic costs for a wedding venue to get an “estimate” at the start of your search. In this model, we have 200 guests, and the venue’s package is $200.00 per person, plus service charges and tax**. Additionally, let’s assume the venue fee would be $4,500.00 plus tax **.
Let’s add an arbitrary service charge of 22% to this model.
|# of guests/cost per person/service charge/site fee
|200 guests x $200.00 per person
|22% service charge
|Wedding Venue Site Fee
|Food and beverage (incl. service charge)
|“Estimated” Grand Total
|= $53,300.00 **
Regardless of the size of your budget, make sure you leave 6% & up for unexpected expenses to avoid sticker shock.
Emotions can run high during this time in your life, so you need to be careful with your spending if you don’t want your budget to spiral out of control and make rash decisions.
Guest Count: A Crucial Factor in Venue Selection
When you look for a wedding venue, one of the first questions the salesperson will ask you is how many guests will be attending your wedding.
This number is significant. Getting it right will keep you occupied until you have to submit your final guest count a few days before the event and your table seating arrangements are signed and sealed.
The number of guests also determines whether you qualify for the wedding venue in the first place.
If you don’t match the venue’s required minimum, you may not get the space in a competitive market.
Nevertheless, you may be able to pay for the difference if you fall short in numbers, and the venue may offer an upgrade for the extra money you spend based on a lower guest count.
Ask the salesperson how many guests are required as a minimum and what maximum number can be accommodated if your guest count increases.
Assessing Venue Capacity: Ensuring the Perfect Fit
Before you confirm your wedding venue, make sure you understand its capacity and figure out how the layout of the space will account for tables, chairs, buffet stations, space for a dance floor, etc.
When you talk to venues, make sure you cover the following questions:
- How many tables can comfortably fit in the ballroom?
- How many guests can be seated at each table?
- How big is the dance floor?
- Is there enough space for a band, and how many pieces can fit?
- What is the perfect number of guests for a cocktail reception in one room followed by dinner & dance in another room?
- What is the perfect size for a stand-up-only cocktail reception, and is there extra space for a band/DJ and dancing in the same room?
Most venues will display capacity charts on their websites showing the maximum capacity for that room.
Don’t go with that number just yet.
These charts often do not include how many tables you may lose when adding a dance floor, space for a band or DJ, and bars.
When it’s not clear, make sure you get the info.
Selecting the Ideal Location for Your Wedding Venue
Your wedding venue’s location will have a significant impact on how many guests can attend.
Consider how far your guests may need to travel and if they potentially have to book hotel rooms at or around the location.
Additionally, consider your own convenience if you are already on a busy schedule. You will need to travel to your wedding location a couple of times before the big day to get all your ducks in a row.
Before you make your final decision, consider the following questions
- Where do most of your family and friends live?
- Is the location important to you personally more than the convenience for your guests to get there?
- Do you want a destination wedding? (i.e., out of state or abroad)
- Can you get to the venue easily when needed during the planning process? (i.e., meeting with your wedding vendors, planner, and catering manager)
- Do you picture your wedding venue in a big city, in the countryside, on the beach, or in your backyard?
- What type of venue best reflects your personality? A mansion, a city or country club, a hotel, a library or museum, a loft, a restaurant, a farm or ranch, a boat or vineyard?
Venue or Date: What to Choose First for Your Wedding
Some couples want their wedding day to be special for personal reasons, such as the anniversary of when they first met.
Others may have numerical reasons (like 11/11 or 03/04 – Pi Day), while others still might want to take advantage of a long holiday weekend (i.e., Labor Day). Your wedding date can even be around Christmas or on New Year’s Eve!
However, if you want to find your dream wedding venue, be prepared to be flexible with your date. Some wedding venues can be booked up to two years in advance, so it’s important to start your venue search early.
If you have some flexibility in your wedding date, ask the venue about these two questions to get discounts:
- Is there a seasonal price variation if you host your wedding at a specific time of the year?
- Is there a price difference for weddings held on a Sunday or a weekday vs. a Saturday?
Wedding venues may also be able to put a “soft hold” on a specific date for you. With a soft hold, the venue usually only holds the spot without requiring that you enter into a contract. This allows you to compare other venues while not losing your desired date.
Typically, the venue will contact you if another couple wants that same date and give you a deadline by which you need to commit.
However, make sure you stay in touch with the salesperson. As you can imagine, the venue may give the date away if they do not hear from you in a while or if you accidentally miss one email when they follow up with you.
Prioritizing Your Needs: What Matters Most in a Wedding Venue
Make sure your venue choice and vision are aligned as much as possible. Once you have chosen the venue, set a budget, and finalized your guest list, take another look at your overall vision to ensure everything is still on track.
What Layout Features Are Essential for Your Ideal Wedding Venue?
- Ceremony and Reception Spaces: Do you need separate areas for the ceremony and cocktail reception? Or a combined space for the ceremony, cocktail reception, dinner, and dance?
- Preparation Requirements: Will you need a dressing room or bridal suite for getting ready at the venue?
- Photography Areas: Is additional space required for taking photos with family and friends?
- Venue Exclusivity: Do you prefer a venue exclusively for your event, or is sharing the location with another event acceptable?
What is Your Overall Vision For Your Wedding Venue?
To enhance your understanding of your wedding venue’s vision, consider these factors:
- Seasonal Preference: Identify the ideal season for your wedding – winter, summer, spring, or fall – and how it aligns with the venue.
- Floral and Decor Compatibility: Evaluate what types of flowers and decor complement the venue’s characteristics.
- Venue Design Features: Identify the venue’s unique design elements that can be incorporated into your wedding theme.
- Music and Entertainment Suitability: Consider the type of music and entertainment that will best enhance the atmosphere.
- Cultural and Traditional Considerations: Ensure the venue accommodates specific customs or traditions, like ceiling height for dances or rituals like the mangal fera in Hindu weddings.
- Guest Perspective: Think about the venue from your guests’ viewpoint for comfort and accessibility.
Choosing your wedding venue: Additional considerations
- Does the venue provide a setting for your big entrance if that’s part of your vision?
- Is the design of your dress practical for the venue and room setup? A dress for an outdoor wedding may need to be completely different than one for a townhouse wedding. Also, consider the space between the dinner tables for easy moving around.
- Is there space for a sweetheart table if you prefer being seated at your own table during dinner?
On-Site Ceremony: Deciding If It’s Right for Your Venue
If you envision also having your ceremony at your chosen wedding venue, make sure to search for and secure that space in advance.
See how close the function rooms are to each other.
How much transition time is needed to move, i.e., 200 wedding guests from one room to another?
Would you be concerned if guests had to use an elevator or stairs to travel between the ceremony room and the cocktail reception and dining area?
Also, some venues may need to re-set the ballroom during the cocktail reception if the ballroom is also being used for the ceremony. Would that work with your timeline and affect your budget?
You also want to find out if the venue has a room for a wedding rehearsal to practice the ceremony the day before your wedding.
If your ceremony is off-site, consider the distance between the wedding venue and the location of the ceremony:
- How will guests get from the ceremony site to the wedding venue?
- Are you providing transportation for your guests to the wedding venue?
- How much time will there be between the conclusion of the ceremony and the start of the reception?
Starting Your Venue Search Online: Tips for Finding the Perfect Spot
When searching the venues’ websites for details and photos, you should include wedding planners’ and photographers’ websites and blogs.
In particular, wedding photographers provide you with additional clues on images showing real-time setups that would otherwise be staged if you see them on the wedding venue’s website.
Guest Convenience: Parking and Transport at Your Wedding Venue
For instance, while a Manhattan wedding venue may have very limited parking options, many other venues will provide self- or valet parking attached to their property. In large cities, ask the catering manager for parking garages within walking distance. Also, check if these garages offer any group discounts for your wedding.
Make sure you let your guests know what options are available ahead of time.
Contacting Venues: How to Effectively Inquire and Compare
Before calling a venue, please make sure you have your list of questions handy rather than winging it. If you share making calls as a couple, avoid unintentionally calling the same establishments to avoid confusion.
When calling a venue, the minimum information you should be able to provide is the approximate number of guests, an approximate range of dates, and whether the ceremony would take place off-site or at the venue.
The actual site visit will generate additional questions, but the first information you receive during your initial call, accompanied by a proposal from the venue, is your best starting point to sort through your options and compare venues.
26 Questions To Ask Before You Choose Your Wedding Venue
- How many guests can your ballroom/space accommodate for dinner & dance?
- What is the minimum, and what is the maximum the room(s) can hold?
- How much does your wedding package cost per person?
- What is included in the wedding package?
- Is there space for a ceremony?
- How much is the site fee with or without the ceremony?
- Are there any hidden or on-a-need-to-know basis fees that you’ll be better aware of from the beginning?
- Do you have seasonal differences in your pricing, and are there special rates on Sundays?
- How much time do you allow for cocktails and dinner & dance?
- When does overtime apply, and how much would it be?
- What is the deposit amount, and when is it due after receiving a contract from the venue?
- What is the cancellation policy, and/or can the deposit be rolled over and reapplied to a future event if the original date does not work out?
- When is the final balance due?
- Are there any dressing rooms for the bride and groom and wedding party, and are they included?
- Does your wedding venue have a fun space for a post-wedding party?
- Can you accommodate a rehearsal dinner or post-wedding brunch the next morning?
- Do you provide a wedding room block (i.e., the location is a hotel) at discounted rates?
- Do you provide a complimentary bridal suite (i.e., the location is a hotel) for the bride & groom?
- What days or evenings are available in my date range?
- Do you have preferred vendors (i.e., florists, entertainment, photographers, lighting companies) you can share that worked at your venue before, and are there any restrictions, setup times, or tear-down times?
- How many bartenders are included?
- Who will be your on-site contact during the planning stage and on the wedding day if I don’t have a wedding planner?
- Can you put a “soft hold” without a deposit on a specific date, and can the venue call you if another couple is interested in the same date before giving that date away?
- How many weddings are hosted at the venue a year?
- Who will be catering the event? Does the venue employ its own chefs, or does an outside caterer take care of the menu?
- Does the venue include a complimentary menu tasting?
Site Visits: A Must-Do in Venue Selection
See if you can get a chance to view a real wedding setup by coming by for a site visit before an actual wedding begins. Make sure you arrive on time if this works out. If you run late, the whole visit may not work out.
When you visit on a weekday, try to avoid times during the busiest periods of the day at the venue (i.e., during lunch or dinner).
Make sure you can see all the function rooms and that they are not in use. However, sometimes venues will book last-minute events that were not in their books when you made your appointment.
When you visit and are planning to bring other folks, make sure they are all punctual and don’t show up scattered.
A seasoned salesperson will let you know all of the details regarding your wedding but as you walk around, also find out about:
- Location of the coat check.
- Where the restrooms are located? (do they have an attendant?)
- What other events could be in close vicinity to your event? (if applicable)
- Could you see the dressing rooms? (if applicable)
- Could you see any overnight rooms (i.e., if you are at a hotel) for your guests’ possible wedding room block?
- Is there any space that would be great to use for taking photos (i.e., first look and family photos)?
- How much setup time do your vendors have before the event starts? (music, florist, photo booth, etc.)
Finalizing Your Venue Choice: Are You Ready?
So there you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about how to choose a wedding venue.
I hope this article has been helpful in your search for the perfect place to celebrate your big day.
Just remember, don’t wait too long to book, or you may miss out on your dream venue!