Short of deciding who to marry, choosing the wedding venue is the most important decision you’re going to make when you’re planning your wedding. The location will dictate absolutely everything else: The tone of the wedding, the format of the day, how much things are going to cost and how everything will look. So this is one thing you absolutely have to get right. So to help you with this mammoth decision, here’s my step by step guide to selecting a wedding venue with no regrets.
Estimate Your Wedding Guest List
You want to get a rough idea before you begin looking at venues of the number of guests you will want to invite. A bit like Goldilocks, you’re looking to find wedding venues which aren’t too big or too small and work perfectly for your group size. What’s really important with each wedding venue you look at is to ask the various room capacities to make sure you can use each space for what you’re hoping to use it for. Quite often that glorious drawing room you fell in love with will have a maximum capacity and you want to make sure you can get the best of the wedding venue you choose.
Work Out What You Can Afford to Spend
The last thing you want to do is to jump into visiting wedding venues (or worse fall madly in love with one) without first working out what you can actually afford. Figuring out this part from the outset is actually pretty simple and as a general rule of thumb:
Venue hire + catering + drinks = maximum 45% of your wedding budget
So; work out the total you want to spend and only look at venues where the hire and catering elements will be come to 45% (or less in an ideal world) of that amount. If you spend more than that on the venue, you will almost definitely end up blowing your budget on the venue and having too little left for the other things you need.
Decide What You Actually Want
The venue is going to set the scene for your wedding from the outset and the location you choose should be the foundation for everything else. Don’t book a castle if you want a rustic wedding, it’s just not going to work. Look for wedding venues which are suited to what you have in mind in terms of the way they look and feel, but also in terms of how the place actually works with the type of wedding you have in mind.
Decide When and Where
Lots of wedding venues get booked up 12 – 24 months in advance, so you want to start off thinking about the time of year and preferred dates to make sure the places you’re looking at are available before wasting any time. You also want to decide on a general location and focus your search within the right area. I always recommend looking a little outside your ideal geographical location too because sometimes you can find an unexpected gem just a little further out.
Research and Collate Wedding Venues
Once all those steps are done, you will have a good idea of what you’re looking for and you can start collecting information on all the various wedding venues which fit the bill. This is a big research task, so set aside a few evenings or a couple of weekends to get investigating. When I’m looking for venues, I use search engines, blogs, photographer’s websites and supplier and venue directories (be sure to check out the Whimsical Wonderland Weddings’ wedding venues directory page too) to brainstorm all the possible locations. When you find somewhere you like, contact the venue and ask for wedding information, prices and availability but don’t stop there. I also check online reviews and look for videos and photo galleries of real weddings which have already happened at the venue. I find this gives me a lot more information than the venue’s website can ever do. All this research will save you a lot of wasted weekends viewing unsuitable venues and will give you a good idea of what you like and don’t like. During this phase, discard any wedding venues which don’t feel right, are out of budget or not available and you’ll end up with a shortlist of venues that you think are worth seeing.
Visit The Wedding Venues On Your Shortlist
Armed with your list of potential winners, you need to go and visit the venues in person for a tour. This part of the process is one of the most important, so when you’re on the visit try and visualise every element of the day from the moment guests arrive to the final dance. Your wedding venue will need spaces for each different segment of the wedding day – the ceremony, the drinks reception, the meal and the dancing – so think about all those requirements and ask the venue to show you what spaces they usually use and what their normal format for the day would be so you can form a real picture in your mind of the flow. Take pictures and videos of your own and make sure you see everything, including a sample of the bedrooms if those are part of the package too. One other important part of the venue visit is to establish the practicalities of the wedding day, from things like guest accommodation and parking to asking what chairs and linens they provide. If you love a venue during your site visit – ask them to hold your date on the spot.
Weigh The Pros And Cons
You should have narrowed it down to two or three favourite venues by now, and at this point it’s a great idea to compare the various pros and cons as well as to put together a comparison of like-for-like costs. Venue hire costs are often pretty different because where one venue will include all the furniture, another won’t, and where one venue includes bedrooms, others won’t, so you have to make sure you’re not comparing apples and oranges. When couples I am working with are struggling to choose between venues at this final stage, I ask them to close their eyes and imagine how they’d feel if the venue was no longer available. If the answer to that questions is, “devastated”, then you know you’ve found your perfect venue!
Final Wedding Venue Visit
At the final point of booking your wedding venue, I always suggest going on one final visit. The second trip will always be really beneficial as you’ll now be able to compare it against all the venues and you can also create a really good mental picture of how things will be on the day. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you like. Also ask for their contract and payment terms and check them over carefully before signing on the dotted line.
Choosing Your Wedding Venue Top Tips
If your venue requires a marquee to accommodate you for the wedding day, make sure you get quotes for this before committing to the venue. You’ll need to allow an additional budget for the marquee itself but also extra furniture, décor, lighting, heating, power supply and toilet facilities and you’ll also need to set a schedule with the venue to allow sufficient time for everything to be installed and then broken down after the wedding, which would normally be 2 – 3 days either side of the wedding date. Don’t underestimate how significant an extra cost this can be.
The Extended Wedding
If you make the choice to book a wedding at a venue over two or three nights, remember that you have to allow in your plans for the budget and logistics of taking care of your guests for that entire time. If the venue is a hotel, there’s some flexibility for guests to take care of themselves, but at a self-catering or exclusive use venue you really do have to think about providing food, drinks and activities for the duration of the wedding.
Wedding Venue Types
Wedding venues come in a variety of styles, from exclusive use venues to dry hire venues to hotels and each type comes with it’s own pros and cons. Hotel venues are great for the flexibility, simplicity and facilities and quite often they’ll also have a wedding team to take care of you on the day, but you sometimes compromise on privacy and style too. Dry hire venues offer a blank canvas and a lot of flexibility but you may compromise on services and it will be a lot of extra work for you. Think when you’re booking your venue about how important each of these elements is to you and choose a venue that works for the level of service and support you really want.
Work With What You Already Have
If you find a wedding venue that has décor you already like, you’ve won half the battle. I always recommend finding a venue that already has a lot of the things you want or need because it saves time, money and effort later on but it’s also a good idea to create the design scheme for the day after you have booked the venue and to work with what you have.
Most wedding venues won’t have separate function spaces for every part of the day, and it’s not uncommon for you and your guests to need to leave the room while something is changed around or the band set up. Make sure from the outset that you’ve established the normal timeline and procedures for your venue and that you’re happy with how things will work. Sometimes little breakout times can be worked into the schedule with ease and other times they are plain difficult or impractical.
Rules and Regulations
Always ask your wedding venue about any rules and regulations they have that might impact your wedding day. Most commonly this would involve a restriction on when and how you can use certain spaces, restrictions on what suppliers you can use, restrictions on timings, restrictions on the types of food and drinks you can serve and noise limitations. Make sure you’re clear on all those before you sign up and read the contract carefully.
Many venues will work a minimum number into your wedding contract. If the number seems too big, try asking for a minimum spend instead which you can allocate to extra catering, fun drinks or something special to wow your guests rather than paying for empty seats.
Commissions & Suppliers
It’s also not unusual for wedding venue to have partnerships with certain suppliers, quite often where they take commissions for services. This is something you can ask about on the venue visit. Find out if they have a preferred supplier list, and if you are forced to use it or not. Certain venues will have a list of suppliers and won’t allow you to use anyone else so be sure to ask about this first and remember if they are adding commissions on for suppliers this can add 10% or more into the total cost of your wedding.
In all the fun of picking a wedding venue, don’t forget to also think about the guests and their comfort. Make sure the venue is reasonable to access, has accommodation within or nearby that isn’t extortionately expensive and that they have options for the basics like parking. Weddings are expensive, but are also expensive for guests to attend, so a little bit of your consideration will always be appreciated.