Day 4 of our New Brides Guide deals with a biggie: the venue. Once you’ve settled on a wedding budget, you can start looking at venues. The venue will be the biggest chunk of your budget and, realistically, it’s where all the wedding magic happens. Once you sign the contract you are essentially getting married twice, first to the venue and then to your man. Do your research and choose wisely.
1. Size: The venue has to be large enough to fit all your guests. A general rule of thumb is that 20% of the people you invite will decline. If there are limits to the number of people can physically fit in a room, venues are going to enforce that due to fire codes, so don’t try to squeeze in an extra table or ten. If you want people to dance, factor in space for a dance floor. Take your walk-through seriously, snap photos and take lots of notes.
2. Budget: We mentioned before that 40 to 50 percent of your wedding budget will be spent on the reception. If you have $10,000 to spend and the venue charges $200 per person, you won’t be able to invite many guests. When it comes to the venue, you want to get the most for your money. Gather sample contracts from each site you visit and use them in considering your options. What, exactly, is included in their wedding package? Cake cutting, champagne toast, gratuities? Get a breakdown of everything in writing before you sign.
3. Season: It seems painfully obvious, but if you plan to get married outside, you need warm weather. A rustic wedding in the middle of a field may look great in photos, but your guests won’t be impressed if they are freezing on their hay bale benches. Cold weather also affects how you will dress as a bride (it could mean the different between a strapless dress and a wedding sweater.) Find out if they indoor options, or a tent on-site.
Season will affect availability. Dreaming of a sunset wedding on the water? So does every other summer bride. Cast a wide net to get the event you want. Lakes are water too, and there may be a lakeside venue you never considered. On that note, a mountain wedding can be gorgeous in the spring and summer months, even without snow. Think outside the box.
4. Theme: You may not have purchased the linens or rented the china yet, but you should have a general idea of the theme, color scheme and/or tone of your wedding before choosing a venue. If you’re throwing a nautical-themed wedding, a harbor is probably a better location than a ski resort. If your theme is “rustic chic” a renovated barn is a better bet than a banquet hall or wedding mill.
5. On-site offerings: Sometimes places such as museums or your childhood backyard seem like picturesque places to get married, but if you have to bring in everything from silverware to food to generators for the band, it may not be worth it. A tented wedding is romantic, but very pricey. Buying your own liquor is always less expensive, so be sure to ask if a venue allows it and if there are corkage fees. Corkage fees alone may be a deal breaker. People drink a lot at weddings.
This is an important point if you are considering a wedding in a barn, a field or some other rustic venue that doesn’t have facilities. There are such things as luxury porta-potties these days, but they can be pricey.
6. Reputation: Just like any vendor or person you will cut a check for this wedding, you need to do a background check on the venue. What do other couples who’ve gotten married there say? Check reviews on Yelp and Facebook and ask to see up-to-date photos from their past events. Referrals and online reviews are very telling – if you read comments about the staff being unfriendly, the manager being flaky, the food being bad, the final bill coming with surprises, or anything else that will cause you headaches during planning and a bad time on the big day – just walk away.
7. Transportation/Parking: If the ceremony and reception are taking place at different ends of town (or state), transportation is a factor. If you have to bus people from the hotel to the church and then the reception, this will add on to your budget. Keep this in mind when choosing your venue.
If you’re having a formal wedding, the venue should have valet parking available, as well as luxury passenger vans for guests without cars. If the wedding is more informal, guests can certainly park themselves in a nearby lot or field. Make sure there is ample and convenient parking at the venue. Even better, it should be free.
8. The View: There may be great photo ops right outside your venue. This is a huge bonus. It can also be a dealbreaker if your venue is in the middle of an industrial zone and you’re not into sheet metal or crane as a backdrop.
9. Plan B: If your “dream” venue is booked or out of your price range, ain’t no shame in looking elsewhere. Choose a venue that makes the most logistical and financial sense. With the money saved, you can deck it out with gorgeous decor and a top shelf bar! No one will notice that this was your second choice venue.
10. Deals & Packages: Your friends may snub their noses at traditional wedding halls, calling them cookie-cutter or “wedding mills,” but always take a look. A wedding is a party, and if Aphrodite’s Palace is giving you a good deal and it’s one location for ceremony, cocktail hour and reception, it just might trump that over-priced country club you’ve been dreaming about since you were a little girl.