Planning a wedding can feel a little like buying a home: One of the biggest choices you'll make is location, location, location. The venue you book—whether it's a modern art gallery, a rustic barn, or an open-air terrace—affects nearly every other decision about your day. It sets the tone for the style and décor; dictates whether you can hire your own caterer or must serve a menu the location provides; determines the flow from the ceremony to the cocktail hour to the reception; and, most importantly, controls how many guests you can invite.
Venues set maximum numbers based on space, both for the safety and comfort of their clients, but the minimums they require often come from the business office. "Most wedding venues work on some sort of minimum," says Philadelphia wedding planner Susan Norcross of The Styled Bride. "It may be by number of guests or total monetary amount, but there is almost always a guideline." And while you don't want to deviate too far from the suggested event size—200 people in a ballroom meant for 150 is a recipe for spilled drinks and a too-crowded dance floor while 30 guests in a space designed for 100 will feel spread out and empty—most venues do offer some room to negotiate. Here, three tips for dealing with venue minimums.
Reconsider your budget.
Your wedding is the most romantic day of your life, but for your venue, it's a source of income—and the minimum they set is a way of guaranteeing they stay in the black. "Whether it be food, beverage, people, or total dollar amount, there's bound to be some sort of bottom line they have to hit for your event," says Norcross. "Make sure you know what the minimum requirement is and what can go towards that minimum before you book." Some venues may let you upgrade your menu with additional courses or stock the bar with top-shelf liquor to reach the total without increasing your guest list, but this only works if their minimum spending requirements fall in line with your budget and your vision. "If you're planning on a smaller guest count and want to provide a smaller meal and lots of alcohol," says Norcross, "a food only minimum wouldn't be the right fit for you."
Be flexible with your date.
Sometimes the date is non-negotiable—like if you're getting married on the anniversary of your first date, your parents' wedding anniversary, or a holiday weekend. But if you're open to a different month or day, you have a better chance of negotiating with the venue. "Minimums can vary for different nights of the week, times of the year, or times of the day," says Norcross. "A bride looking for a Saturday night in May is going to have a higher bottom line than a bride willing to go for a Friday night or Saturday morning in December. If you're on a tighter budget you may have to be willing to choose a non-prime date to get a great venue and a cheaper final bill." Another option, she says: If you're planning a wedding on a shorter timeframe, venues may be more willing to work with you so they can bulk up their calendar. "Sometimes venues can be flexible if they are trying to fill in one or two open dates they have within a small window of time."
Establish your priorities.
If you can't find a compromise with the venue, then take a close look at whether the place or the people are most important to your wedding. "If the venue has a 200 person minimum and you only have 100 guests on your list, you may want to think about finding a better location to suit your needs," says Norcross; there's no shortage of stunning wedding venues for events of all sizes. And increasing your budget to accommodate a minimum can end up being even more stressful as the day approaches, since it leaves you less for flowers, décor, and other add-ons that can make your wedding personal and memorable. "Remember, no matter how much your plans change over the months of planning your wedding," Norcross says, "you are locked into that minimum number—so you have to be comfortable with hitting it."