How to Choose a Wedding Venue. Questions to Ask and Things to Consider
When planning your wedding, the venue is the biggest (and arguably most difficult) step. Below is a list of aspects you’ll need to decide on first and questions you should ask the venue.
What is your expected guest list? You want to make sure the venue can accommodate your guests but you don’t want it to be so large that your wedding will look empty.
Some planners or articles you might find will dictate that the venue can be as much as 50% of your budget. But this doesn’t always have to be the case. With research and careful planning, it’s possible to find a venue that will cost far less and enable you to allocate a larger portion of your budget to other important things (such as your wedding dress or a photographer ;). You do need to consider all the associated costs though (outlined below) but try to decide on a budget first.
Don’t just blindly Google “beautiful wedding venues”. First decide on your style. Do you prefer modern, luxurious, or an antique feel? Perhaps something more casual or rustic? “Know thyself” is a good credo to keep in mind when planning any aspect of your wedding.
- Outdoor, indoor or both?
Outdoor weddings are stunning and certainly will make for beautiful photos but you want to make sure there is some kind of contingency plan in case of inclement weather. Find out if the venue offers an indoor option or tenting.
- Check availability (and be ok with it)
Maybe you find your dream venue but they’re booked for a year or two straight. Are you ok waiting that long? Some couples are, some are not. Don’t let a venue dictate your marital timeline. Decide when you would want to get married and work your way from there.
- How many hours do you get?
Venues can offer anywhere between 4 and 12 hours of use. Sometimes they will let you use the venue for longer at additional cost. Make sure to find out if the number of hours includes setup/cleanup time (i.e. caterer, DJ, decor, etc.), prep time for you/groom and time for photos.
Some venues will offer a separate space to host your ceremony from a reception. Make sure to check if that’s available if you don’t intend on having your ceremony in a separate location.
- Bridal/Groom suites
You will definitely have a lot of things to bring with you and likely want a place of prep/repose or even additional areas to take photos. Not all venues will offer these.
- Exclusive or shared?
Don’t automatically assume that just because you’re shelling out thousands of dollars, you’re the only bride. Many venues will have multiple areas to host multiple events. I once photographed a wedding where during the ceremony, you heard rap music from the Sweet 16 next door.
- Cancellation policy
This should go without saying but you’ll be surprised how many couples don’t ask this upfront.
- Deposit, payment type
How much is the deposit? When is it due? What payment type do you accept? These are all important to know from the beginning.
- What’s included?
So you find a venue that hits all your checkmarks. You call them up, check their website or find them on a site like thumbtack.com. You see it costs $x and that’s within your budget. And then… you realize you’re just paying for 4 walls (or even no walls if it’s an outdoor venue). Many couples get excited at first but end up shell-shocked when they realize how much more they need to pay for even basic things. It’s not just the catering, drinks, and tables you need to concern yourself with.
First, ask about any packages they offer. Some venues will include the above mentioned. Others won’t. Worse still, there could be an amplitude of other costs that you’ll be required to pay in association with the venue. Below are some examples (though this isn’t an exhaustive list).
- Tableware (yes it’s true. Many venues will offer tables and chairs but the plates, forks, glasses, tablecloth, etc are all on you). Sometimes the caterer will bring these. Sometimes not.
- Security Detail
- Cleaning staff
- Arches, chuppas, aisle runners (if you’re having your ceremony there)
- Coordinating vendors for setup/breakdown
- Tents (for outdoor weddings)
- Preferred vendor fee
- Parking area
- Convenience fee for paying with credit card
As you’re searching for a venue and asking the questions outlined above, you might come across things that you would never think of in your wildest dreams. This is especially true with outdoor venues. I once shot an outdoor destination wedding where there was no bathroom in the bridal suite and the bathroom that did exist didn’t have a door! (Stalls did but the room didn’t). So the couple had to figure out a way to hang curtains so the bride could use the restroom in her princess gown.
Be vigilant. You might not get everything you want but it is important to know what you’re dealing with.