When you're starting your wedding venue search, it seems easy enough, right? You have an idea of where you want to get married, the number of guests you'll invite, and what you're hoping to spend. Then you start visiting venues and things like end times, what's included in the rental, liquor licenses, additional setup and staffing fees, and all the weird things you didn't see advertised on the website start to overwhelm your search and suddenly nothing feels like the right fit. Well, take heart, and know that you may never have that "fall in love" moment with a venue, but you can get yourself out of the venue abyss by using a few simple tools to decide what's the best of the options in front of you.
Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
As soon as you start to notice that you're falling into the wedding venue tunnel, start up a conversation of priorities with your fiancé. The best way to do it is to jot down a list of standard venue characteristics and rate them. Here's what should be on your list: location, dates available, proximity of ceremony to reception, venue type (hotel, private estate, vineyard, etc.), setting, proximity to majority of guests, ceremony backdrop, reception backdrop, rain option, liquor license, and end time.
Start Asking Questions
Once you've prioritized, you'll still have a ton of questions for the top tier venues on your list. The answers to these questions can majorly impact your budget and will allow you to start rating the venues individually. Here's what you need to know:
- Is catering done in-house, through suggested vendors, or can you bring in your own catering team?
- Are there any restrictions on music?
- Are there any restrictions on setup times, end times, and load out schedules? Can breakdown be done day-of or does it need to wait for a weekday?
- What's the cancellation policy?
- What are all the possible fees? Rental fee, food and beverage minimum, setup fee, staffing fee, overtime fees, parking/valet fees, suggested gratuity, damage fees, tax?
- Is any sound system included, and if so, is there a wireless microphone?
- Is there a bridal/groom's suite on-site?
- What furniture (if any) is included? What about tablecloths, napkins, plates, and glassware?
- Do we need a generator?
- Is the existing lighting enough?
- Is there a kitchen on-site available to caterer?
- Are there enough restrooms for the estimated guest count? Industry standard is about 50 guests per restroom.
- Will other weddings be booked the same day or weekend? If so, how does that impact our wedding?
- Is a venue manager or day-of coordinator included? If so, what exactly do they do? Do most clients bring in an additional planner?
- Do we need to buy insurance?
- Is there parking and do we need to hire valet?
- Will the public have access to the venue during the wedding?
Make a Comparison Chart
If you've got more than a handful of viable options on your hands, organize all the questions into a chart so you can get a visual comparison going. This will also help you make sure you've asked all the necessary questions of each venue and sorted through their nuances. Be sure to include a column with an estimated budget that separates out additional rentals, lighting, generators, and whatever else you think you'll need based on the information your research has provided.
Do Your Homework
Don't be afraid to do your due diligence on the research front. If you're having a hard time figuring out what to budget for at a specific venue, it may be worth asking the sales rep if they have any previous wedding budget samples you can take a peek at. If that's information they're not able to share, you may be able to call a local wedding planner and see if they'd give you a budget guesstimate for that venue. It's in a planner's best interest to be as honest and accurate as possible in case they end up working with you on the wedding.
Stop While You're Ahead
Before you get completely lost in the infinite number of venue options that are out there, ask yourself if you have at least three to five decent options on your list. If you do, stop while you're ahead and try to weigh these options to the best of your prioritizing ability. There are so many decisions to make while planning a wedding, and while deciding on the venue is an integral part of the process, it shouldn't be the thing that you get stuck on. At the end of the day, all of your friends and family will be celebrating you and your love. Wherever you choose to celebrate will be the right place for that kind of joyful gathering.