Selecting a wedding venue is one of the first (and biggest) decisions you’ll make as an engaged couple — it will influence your vendors, budget, decor, and even attire. Here, pro planners break down everything you need to know when weighing different options.
1. Estimate how many people you’d like to invite to your big day, since not all places can accommodate a wide variety of wedding sizes. Nearly every venue will have a guest count minimum: “Be sure to aim low in your numbers — it’s easier to add guests than to deduct,” says Diane Kolanović-Šolaja from Dee Kay Events. If your final attendance number winds up being smaller than you had anticipated and you have to pay for extra plates, she recommends asking the venue if they can throw in a couple more appetizers during cocktail hour or add extra time to the reception festivities.
2. Sit down with your fiance and figure out how much you are willing to spend. Do your homework and find out what the going rates are in your desired wedding location. Online venue directories, such as The Venue Report, allow you to search by location, price, and venue type, among other criteria. Determining how much you can afford will help you avoid the heartache of falling in love with a place that’s well out of your price range — you don’t want to spend more than 50% of your total wedding budget on your venue. “Frequently, couples hire us after they find the venue, and we wish they would book us first before doing anything. Couples get so excited and want to lock in the date and place that they don’t think about all of the other expenses that they have to cover,” says Danielle Rothweiler from Rothweiler Event Design. Rushing into contracts before you have all of the figures in front of you may leave you “house poor,” and you’ll have to figure out what to cut out to compensate for overspending.
3. “Check out wedding planners’ and photographers’ blogs to see real wedding photos of venues you’re interested in visiting. Since they aren’t staged, you’ll get a much better idea of what things can (and really do) look like,” says Kristin Crawford, W Austin’s Director of Catering and Events. It can be especially helpful if you are unable to visit the venue during the season you’ll be getting married.
4. Choose your wedding date. “Wedding dates can be significant for a variety of reasons; some couples choose to wed on the day they met, their parents’ or grandparents’ anniversary date, or for auspicious reasons that numbers have in their culture or religion. Others may pick a specific time of year and season but not a specific day,” says Margo Fischer from Bright Occasions. If you can be flexible with your date and choose an off-season month, you’ll often be able to secure the venue of your dreams at a lower rate. For example, you’d likely pay less for a Friday wedding in February than you would for a Saturday in June. Time of year, day of the week, and your engagement length will all impact your negotiating leverage with vendors.
5. Since dates can book up quickly at popular venues, call around to check on date availability before going to see places in person. (If you’re not getting married on-site, a good rule of thumb is to check in with your place of worship first before booking the reception venue.)
6. The venue will play a huge role in shaping the ambiance for your wedding, so it’s important to have a vision of what you want to portray for your big day. “Your venue becomes the third character in the narrative of your wedding story. The best advice we can give you is to choose a place that feels like coming home. For example, if you had family parties in your backyard your whole life, look for a venue with a large outdoor space that may look a little nicer and accommodate a few more of your friends than a backyard would,” say the pros at The Venue Report.
7. Pick your colors or theme after choosing your venue. “Often, we have brides tell us their colors are purple and silver, and the venue they’ve chosen has ivory walls and gold chairs. Think about how the colors and theme complement your venue space for a cohesive look,” advise the pros at Olympia Catering & Events, a family-owned catering company based in Tampa, Florida.
8. Barns, farms, and ranches appeal to rustic-loving brides and grooms. According to The Venue Report, many now include elegant touches such as chandeliers, polished floors, outdoor fire pits, and twinkle lights strung between trees.