Finding Your Perfect Wedding Venue
Of all parts of the wedding planning process, this is one of the most difficult and trying. I find that most couples get overwhelmed when looking for the wedding venue, and it sets the stage for the rest of the planning process. But it doesn't have to be. There are so many options out there, in every price range, and the one perfect venue you're looking for is being elusive. Not a problem. I've done this so many times, that wedding venues no longer phase me.
There are many wonderfully perfect venues available, in your area, in your budget, but you have to find them. The majority of the easily found wedding venues on websites like The Wedding Channel and TheKnot, are going to be super expensive, super strict, and all have the same script that they give couples.
"Brides and grooms just don't realize how expensive weddings are now."
"There's no way you're going to find a wedding venue for that price."
"We'll take care of everything for you. We even have a wedding coordinator."
"You won't find a better deal anywhere else."
Although you'll hear this over and over from just about every wedding venue you visit, none of it is the truth. Typical "wedding venues" (meaning those you can find on Google by using the search terms "wedding venue") are trained to brainwash you and suck as much money as they possibly can out of unsuspecting couples such as you.
I am here to tell you the truth. You can find tons of amazing locations that will be honest, sincere, and will have your best interest at heart. Let's find out exactly how to weed those wonderful people out of the masses.
To Get You Started
When beginning your search for wedding venues, instead of starting on the internet, start with your fiance'. In order to suffer the least amount of stress and be as successful and happy as possible, decide first where you would like to get married. By this I mean the country and the state.
Are you thinking about a destination wedding? Did you really have your heart set on staying close? Once you decide on an in country or out of country wedding, then talk about states. If a destination wedding is your choice, we've got a whole other article for you! These weddings are going to be slightly different to plan and you'll probably be able to find an amazing deal on a wedding/honeymoon package in the country of your choice. If not, keep reading.
I know my husband and I had been talking about a California wedding overlooking the water after only 6 months of being together. We didn't actually get married until our 3 1/2 year mark and so much had happened over that three years. California was still in my mind, but seeing as how most of his family had moved to other states, it no longer had that same draw for him. We figured that getting married in our home state would alleviate cost and many of the technical issues we had been trying to work through with getting married out of state. Have that same conversation with your honey. You might be surprised at what they're thinking.
Now that you've chosen a country and/or a state, think style and location. Indoor or outdoor? Fancy or casual? Wedding budget for a venue? These important factors will help you to seriously narrow down your choices. Maybe you've decided on a 40's themed wedding which lends to some great venue ideas, or an outdoor wedding at the university where you met. Maybe you want an extreme wedding bungee jumping or snorkeling, or a nice traditional wedding at a church finishing up at a nice hotel or country club. See the choices for wedding venues narrowing quickly?
It will be much easier to look for a handful of locations than every location possibly available.
With your new found style, formality and budget in mind, you'll probably end up with 5-10 places rather than hundreds or thousands of options. This is how I get started when planning a wedding for a new couple. Now get on the internet. I don't suggest searching for "wedding venues." Instead search specific places you've discussed like "country clubs", "hotels", "gardens", "parks", "theatres", "churches", etc. You'll have much better luck finding the place you're looking for (at the right price) this way.
If you can't imagine having your wedding there when looking at their website, information and pictures, and especially if it doesn't fit into your budget, don't waste your time with it. Mark it off your list and move on. If you struggle, contact the Visitor's Bureau in your area and ask them for help and ideas! They're way under-utilized!
Logistics consist of parking, wheelchair access, outlets for vendors, etc. A lot of these things you can determine by simply looking on the different websites of the potential venues you're considering. You can even give someone a call at each of the venue before you schedule to see the places, saving yourself time, energy, money, and gas.
There's no reason to waste your precious time and energy traveling to go look at a location that 1) can't even accommodate the number of guests you are inviting, 2) doesn't have an available bathroom for guests, 3) or plans on having three other weddings going on at the same time yours will be. Ask these questions ahead of time and you'll be glad you did.
Some of the most important items you will be looking for include if they can accommodate your guest list, if they have sufficient parking for guests, if they provide valet parking, and if they are going to provide tables and chairs for your wedding.
-Do they have sufficient chairs for your ceremony and reception, or will they have to be moved from one to the other mid-way through? -Do they have a sufficient number of outlets for all of your vendors? -Will there be any other functions going on that day and how will that affect your wedding? -Do they sufficient bathrooms and a dressing room for both the bride's party and the groom's? -Do they have provisions for disabled guests? -Do they have a sound system for you to use or do you have to rent that equipment?
Before you even see a location, you can already start marking some of these places off of your list. Note these details alongside the names of the venues you're considering, however, so you can come back to them if you choose.
Finally, if you plan on having your ceremony and reception at two different locations (I don't recommend this.), make sure you are considering all of these things at both locations as well as taking their distance from each other into mind before making any final choices.
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When it's finally time to go visit some venues, I highly suggest that you try and condense your visits to a couple days a week. Meet with 2-3 each day you choose to dedicate to this project. Not only will this condense your traveling and your stress, but you will be able to make direct comparisons rather than trying to remember each one over long periods of time.
Try and visit locations around the same time of day you're thinking about having your wedding. If you're planning an evening wedding, visiting venues only in the mornings won't help you see the venue the way it will be at your wedding. Make sure to take notes (especially of your impressions and feelings) and lots of pictures. This way you can discuss them and make educated decisions later, rather than getting overwhelmed.
As you follow directions to get to each venue, park your vehicle, and even walk into each location, try and see everything as your guests would. Was it really difficult to find the place? Was there sufficient parking or was it minimal? Did you even know where to enter the building or was your breath taken away upon pulling up and walking in?
Take this same view as you are welcomed, ask questions, and are guided through the building. They are going to treat you better than they would your guests because you're paying. Are they respectful? Do you feel like a welcomed guest? This is how your guests will feel. Notice the decor when you enter. Ask them where your guests will be entering the building? If you're confused about where to go, you should ask if they will provide signs to guide your guests through the building to the right rooms.
As you and your guide are discussing your ceremony and reception options, try to visualize where everything would be. Where would you set out tables and chairs, the bar, your DJ or band, what about your caterer? You can even ask them how they normally set up the room/area for your desired amount of guests.
Consider where each part of your wedding will happen; your ceremony, your cocktail hour, and your reception. How will people travel to the ceremony from the entrance and to each consecutive area afterward? Where are the bathrooms? Dressing rooms? Wheelchair ramps?
You will even want to ask them if you can see a room set up for a wedding, even if it's in a picture. Do they have one of similar size to your wedding so you can see what it would look like? If this is not your perfect place, you'll know it. But there are tons more questions you should be asking.
Many venues hide costs in things like required minimum catering fees. All this means is that in order to rent the location, you have to use their caterer and you have to spend at least a certain amount. You'll definitely want to know about this ahead of time. This cost is going to be way more expensive than you could get your catering for elsewhere and the food usually isn't that great. Make sure you ask them whether they have a minimum catering fee or if you can use your own caterer?
Although it seems obvious, you'll want to ask if you can use your own vendors, such as a photographer, florist, baker, etc. or if you'll have to use specific vendors they choose. Venues do this to protect themselves against lawsuit in case one of the vendors doesn't work out, and they like working with people they are familiar with that are familiar with them. However, you may or not like the vendors they require, and they are likely to be way over your budget in those areas. You'll have to take all of these considerations in mind before choosing a venue.
Can you bring your own alcohol? Bartender? Can you decorate the venue to match your wedding theme/colors?
Can you bring candles or other lighting options of your own?
I don't want you to forget anything! Now for the troubleshooting questions.
Before you get too serious about any one location, you'll want to know how they handle potential problems. You want to ask questions like: Who will be supervising and troubleshooting on the day of your wedding to make sure everything happens like it's supposed to? How long will they be at the venue on your big day? Can you meet them now? What about a plan for bad weather?
-If you're considering a wedding outdoors (which 80% of couples typically do), what are their plans if it rains, snows, etc.? -Do they have any preparations for getting guests to and from different wedding activities, to and from their cars? -What would the plan be if something happened to the venue before your big day? -What if you and your fiance' needed to reschedule? -How would they handle problem guests? Do they provide security? -What would they do if one of your vendors (florist, officiant, baker, etc.) didn't show up? -What's the biggest problem they ever had to deal with at a wedding and how did they handle it?
Finally, the money!!
Pricing and Payments
Now that you've covered just about every other topic and question you could probably ask the poor people at the venue, we still have one more important topic to cover. The money. The last thing you want to do is to sign a contract with someone without knowing all of the facts, no matter how small or miniscule.
Ask them to sit down with you at the end of the tour and go over costs and pricing with you, all the way down to taxes and any fees. Find out what deposit you would have to put down to reserve the location and the option of payments to pay off the balance.
-Are gratuities included in the price or can you make that decision on your own? (Most traditional venues will require an exceedingly high tip right at the beginning. I'll make sure to write an entire article about this. I really dislike required tips for anyone. Tips are extras people get when and if they do a good job for you. It should be your choice at all times.) -Are there overtime charges if you want to arrive before the time they suggest or want to stay later? What are they? -What is their cancellation policy if you cancel your wedding? -Are there fees for valet service or security at the venue?
They will likely at least try to slip some fees or charges past you and you want to make sure you are aware of all of them ahead of time. Finally, before signing the contract, go home, talk to your fiance', compare venues, and sleep on it, regardless of how excited you are about it.
What's Truly Important
When it really comes down to it, make sure that you're comfortable with everything. You don't want any doubts or surprises. I really think you'll know when the two of you have found the perfect place. You'll be excited, relieved, and in full agreement! If this is so, you've found it! Congratulations!!
Now on to The Dress!
Don't forget to check out my articles Unique Wedding Venues and Saving Money on Your Wedding Venue!
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© 2013 Victoria Van Ness