So you're engaged and ready to start wedding planning. One of the first steps to take is picking the venue, but what if you're just not that into the traditional wedding settings? That's totally okay! If you're thinking beyond the ballroom, choosing an unexpected spot for your venue can mean a wedding that's truly, fantastically your own—if you plan well. Here are some details to keep in mind before you sign.
Permits and Restrictions
Always ask about these first, says Antonia Christianson, owner of Antonia Christianson Events in Virginia and California. They can affect everything from timing to the number of guests to whether alcohol is allowed. Some busy public spots allow ceremonies but no receptions. In that case, "look for a party site no more than 30 minutes away, with a similar ambience, so the wedding feels cohesive," suggests Christianson.
And keep in mind that even public spaces aren't always free to use. Inquire regarding any fees, suggested donations, and membership requirements.
"One myth is that nontraditional venues save you money," says Sara Fried, founder of luxury wedding-planning and events company Fête Nashville. There's no guarantee, since "you have to bring in everything—not just tables and chairs but details down to the salt and pepper shakers."
Outdoors, you'll need to provide basic infrastructure: power generators, water sources, heat or air conditioning, parking, and restrooms. The right landscape is important, too: If it isn't flat, you'll need a platform for tents and equipment. A wedding planner can help you create a line-item budget before you commit.
To be prepared for rain, snow, temperature changes, even a major storm, you'll need a plan B, such as reserving a tent or a party space in a nearby building. Start early, and "make sure it's as pretty as the rest of the wedding, so it doesn't feel like an afterthought," says Marina Birch, founder of Birch Design Studio, in Chicago.
Transportation and Access
Can vendors get equipment in? Is there adequate parking? Are nearby events scheduled that might impede access? "You have to do your homework," says Fried. If parking is lacking, plan for alternative guest transportation. The upside? It can add to the atmosphere. "A trolley ride or ferry boat can spur a feeling of wonder," says Christianson.
Remember that public settings are just that: public—and passersby may gather. Your planner's staff can act as security guards, put up barriers, or simply ask people to leave. But you might do better to just relax; the crowds can be fun. "When it's time for the first kiss, you might get a huge cheer," says Christianson.