12 Things to Consider Before Choosing a Wedding Venue
While each and every wedding-related decision plays a part in crafting your big day, there are a few choices that make a bigger impact than others. One of the biggest? Your venue. Your party space has the ability to set your wedding's tone, which is why choosing your site wisely is absolutely imperative. No pressure, right? According to several of the wedding industry's most lauded planners, there doesn't have to be—especially with their tips at your disposal.
To help you navigate this integral wedding-planning decision, we teamed up with some of the top planners in the country and put together a list of the essential factors to consider when selecting a wedding venue. From starting early (aim to begin your search at least a year out!) to selecting a location that suits your wedding style (are you planning a classic, bohemian, or rustic event?), these criteria will ultimately make or break any prospective venues. They'll help you formulate questions ahead of any tours—and should also serve as a final checklist before you sign any contracts. In the end, it's all about making sure that the venue you choose ticks all of the boxes.
It should also fit into your budget. While not all of these elements revolve around money management, you'll notice that many are designing to help you get the most bang for your buck. That means paying attention to venue package types (will this vendor provide space, food, and drink?) and its overall capacity (are you wasting money on space you don't need?). Ahead, the rest of your wedding venue questions—answered.
Choosing a venue will be one of the first wedding planning moves you make, so you'll likely want to kick off your search on the earlier side. But it all comes down to your personal preference. "If you are particular when it comes to the venue, the earlier the better," says Wendy Kay of Birds of a Feather Events. "Great venues get booked up 12-18 months in advance, so the sooner you get started the more likely you are to snag your first choice—that goes with all of your vendors."
Speaking of timelines, what comes first? Picking a wedding date or choosing a venue? It ultimately depends on what is more important to you—getting married during a particular time of year or nabbing the venue of your dreams. Lynn Easton of Easton Events suggests going into the venue search with two ranges of dates—ones that work (a favorite season, perhaps!) and ones that don't (holidays or other conflicting family events you'd like to avoid)—if your timeline takes precedent. But according to Gold Leaf Events' Kate Ryan and Chelsea Dillon, the majority of couples choose a venue first. "Once you have a location, the date will follow based on availability," they explain. "If a date is selected first, we've found clients limit their venue options drastically."
Number of Venues
Some couples scout two different types of venues: one for their ceremony and one for their reception. While the majority of brides and grooms stick with just one (it's easier on both your budget and your guests!), plenty—including those tying the knot at a place of worship says Tara Guérard of Tara Guérard Soirée—require two. If you fall into the latter camp, keep the following in mind, says wedding planner and event designer Jessica Sloane. "It's important to know the travel time from one venue to the next, so you can plan your event start times accordingly and set a day-of schedule that is accurate for your vendors to follow," she explains. "Also, take into consideration which location you'll use for pictures."
Beyond a destination wedding—where some element of travel is built into the event—you'll want to be aware of your venue's accessibility. Can it be easily reached or is it way out of the way? Will directions be straightforward enough for out-of-town guests (who are unfamiliar with the area!) to make sense of? These factors become especially important if you do, in fact, end up with two venues, says luxury wedding planner Jacin Fitzgerald, who stresses the importance of making the transition from point A to point B as seamless as possible. After all, lost guests mean an empty cocktail hour!
For event planner Calder Clark, choosing a space that "meshes with your vision" is priority number one. Ultimately, your venue's style comes down to personal preference—and who you are as a bride. Classic fiancées often gravitate towards indoor venues, like hotels, ballrooms, and country clubs, says Sloane. Are you planning an event ripe with rustic décor? Easton recommends an outdoor, in-bloom garden or a winery with panoramic views. Bohemian brides are the most likely to create their own venue, explains Kay. "They usually choose wide open spaces and build a venue from scratch with string lights defining the space."
Capacity limits can make or break a venue—you obviously can't cram 300 people into a space that's designed to accommodate 150. The reverse is just as problematic, says Clark. "The biggest mistake we see clients almost make is actually picking an oversized space for their guest count, meaning they'll have to spend a fortune to make it feel full and intimate." If you're booking a ceremony and a reception space, make sure that both can fit your total guest count, since "the same guests should be invited to both the ceremony and reception," explains Guérard.
While designating a specific portion of your budget to your venue isn't always a science ("I've seen venue fees range from $2,500 to $30,000, depending on location," says Fitzgerald), the average couple allocates around 10-15% on average, explains Sloane. "But it could be up to 20% or more if the venue includes anything."
Which brings us to venue packages! Some sites don't provide full service—think catering, bar, and staffing—which typically results in a lower-cost package (this is best for duos on a budget, says Kay, since you'll be able to search for lower-cost outside vendors to fill in the gaps!). If your venue package includes the works, expect to put forward about 40-50% of your budget to cover all costs. To make sure you're getting the most bang for that major buck, be sure to inquire about "food and beverage minimums, site fees, and other billable components could play a pertinent role in your venue selection process," say Ryan and Dillon.
This venue-related detail is all about crafting a positive guest experience. From ensuring that there will be enough space to park cars—without your attendees having to walk a mile from your ceremony site and back—to checking in with local hotels to ensure that there will be vacancies nearby (a must, says Easton!), it's imperative to guarantee that your friends and family will be able to travel to and from your event without any discomfort.
This detail doesn't necessarily refer to when your party has to end—any thorough venue contract will clearly outline that. It's more about when the party has to stop. "It's imperative to know noise ordinance restrictions prior to signing on the dotted line," say Ryan and Dillon. "If dancing the night away to amplified music is a priority of yours, certain venues have restrictions based on various elements."
Meaning, does your venue provide one in the case of an emergency? "If a planner isn't handling this for you, you'll want to confirm a cancellation policy in case something happens to the venue ahead of the big day," says Guérard, especially if you're tying the knot at a location that may experience natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, or blizzards. It's much less extreme, but you'll want to confirm a venue's ability to successfully execute a rain plan, as well.
Virtually all of our experts maintain that finding the venue comes down to a gut feeling. "If it keeps you awake at night, it's all wrong," adds Clark. "If it pops up in your vision of your dream day, and you've done your due diligence, it's likely right."