When planning a wedding, you’re faced with a number of high-stakes decisions. How many guests should you invite? Who should (and shouldn’t) sit next to whom? Should you have a hometown wedding or a destination wedding? What style of tux and wedding dress? The questions are endless, but one of the most important ones of all is, “how do I choose a venue for the wedding?”
Your venue will set the scene for your entire wedding. It will imbue your big day with a special feeling unique to the character of that particular venue. Since it’s such a big decision and there are so many options, the prospect of choosing a venue might feel overwhelming. Below we’re going to break down all of the most vital questions you should ask yourself and considerations you should bear in mind when choosing a venue.
Where do you want to have your wedding, geographically speaking?
Traditionally, weddings used to be held in the bride’s hometown. Nowadays, conventions have changed, and couples are freer to select their wedding locations based on their own preferences. Here are some questions to get your wheels turning:
- Do you envision a destination wedding in a vacation spot?
- What about a quaint and classic hometown wedding?
- If you’re from different places, in whose hometown would you like to get married?
- Maybe you would like to get married somewhere in the country outside the city in which you live, or perhaps in another town, but not so far from home.
- What about a location that has special significance for your relationship–like the town where you had your first kiss or the spot where you got engaged?
Alternatively, if the geographical location isn’t important to you but you really, really want to wed in the perfect setting, you might consider beautiful venues and let that dictate where on the map you get married. Make sure you get clear on which is more important to you and then allow that decision to inform your venue search.
What does your ideal venue look like; what features does it have?
Is the wedding venue in your mind’s eye new and fancy? Is it more on the rustic side? Does it have an outdoor ceremony space coupled with an indoor cocktail space? Is it pet-friendly? Does it have accommodations for guests coming from out of town? Is there a fountain? Are your guests allowed to dance in the fountain? Just kidding. But for real, it’s important to envision your ideal venue before you start looking, right down to the specifics. You don’t have to select a venue that matches your vision perfectly (that might not exist), but having a vision and knowing what’s important to you in a venue can anchor your search, give you a starting point for asking questions, and help ensure that you find something that meets enough of your criteria.
How flexible is your wedding date?
If getting married on a particular day is important to you, you’ll need to consider whether your venue(s) of choice has availability on that day. If so, great! If not, you might need to either be flexible on your date or choose your date based on the availability of the venue(s) in your wishlist.
Do you want the ceremony and the reception to be in the same place, or different places?
Having the reception and ceremony in the same location scores full marks for convenience, but there are plenty of reasons for not doing so. For example, some couples might want to have the ceremony in a house of worship, like a church–and churches aren’t usually ideally suited for receptions. The same is true for a courthouse. Others might like to get married in an outdoor space like a park but feel that a venue is better equipped for a reception.
Once the answer to this question is clear, you can look at and narrow down venues with an eye toward what kind of ceremony/reception arrangements they offer.
Does the venue mesh well with the theme and aesthetic of your wedding?
Before you decide on a venue, decide on your theme. The venue will set the tone for the whole wedding, so it should match your theme. For example, if your theme is ‘glamorous,’ you’re probably not going to want to get married in a renovated barn in the country. Consider also how your venue will fit together with other elements of the wedding, such as the menu selections, decorations, and attire. This will help you put together a cohesive aesthetic. To get you thinking, examples of themes are classic, bohemian, beach, rustic, outdoorsy, garden, romantic, and fairytale. When it comes to themes, the sky’s the limit. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
Is the venue private enough?
Some venues might host multiple events or weddings on the same day. Others might be nearby rowdy neighbors, like bars or restaurants. Simply being next to a road or highway can make a venue feel lacking in privacy. Everyone has their own barometer for what kind of setting is private and personal ‘enough’ for them; consider how much privacy is important to you, and then ask questions accordingly.
If your venue does host multiple events at the same time, ask them how separated the different events are and how much they can typically hear each other. Alternatively, some venues offer you the option of booking out the whole place if you pay extra.
There are additional privacy considerations to keep in mind if you’re planning to get married at an outdoor location–especially if it’s a public place. For example, if you plan to get married on a hillside nearby where you live, ask yourself whether strangers might stumble upon your wedding and look in from afar. If so, would you be ok with that? Will it cause too big of a distraction for your guests? Before settling on a venue, make sure you have a full understanding of how private it will be.
How do you feel about the venue?
Even if your top venue options are far away, it’s important to visit them if at all possible in order to get a sense of the vibe. If this proves unrealistic, make sure you at least get a video tour of any venues you cannot visit in person. A venue can tick all the boxes around size, convenience, budget, privacy, and more–yet feel completely wrong. Similarly, a place that might not “sound” ideal could feel perfect in reality. Don’t discount the importance of vibe.
What’s your wedding budget?
The venue usually comes to around 30% of the total bill for wedding spending, so it’s important to define your budget before you select a venue. When you’ve set your budget, calculate what 30% of it is, and then look for venues around that range. For example, let’s say your budget is $50,000. Your venue should cost around $15,000 in that case.
Is the venue accessible?
Make sure you consider the needs of all of your guests when exploring venue options. Do any of them need ramps for wheelchairs? Are there elevators or only staircases? Are there handicapped bathrooms available? It’s also not just wheelchair-bound folks who will appreciate accessible facilities. People who use canes or walkers or who are simply older and/or less mobile will enjoy the event much more if they don’t have to worry about navigating the space in a comfortable way. If there’s anyone on your guest list who would appreciate a highly accessible venue (spoiler alert: there probably is), take this into account before making a final decision. They will thank you!
What’s the bathroom situation?
This is something we often take for granted, so it can be easy to forget. Not every venue will have bathrooms. Yep, that’s right. Planning to get married at the beach or somewhere else in nature? No toilets. Dreaming of tying the knot in a barn? Probably no toilets there either. Depending on the bathroom situation at your venue, you might need to rent portable restrooms. Liaise with the venue owners to find out what options are available and accepted. They might have their own porta-potty vendor they can recommend, or there might be certain arrangements that they won’t accept. This is an extra expense to keep in mind beyond the cost of venue rental, so make sure to factor it in if necessary.
How much parking is there?
Your guests are going to need to park somewhere, but if you’re getting married somewhere isolated or in a downtown area, there might not be many parking options available–especially for larger weddings. Additionally, if you think some guests might opt for a cab or rideshare instead, make sure the venue has somewhere where they can easily be dropped off. It’s important to ask the venue how many parking spaces there are and to find out whether and how much guests need to pay for parking. If you’re concerned that there won’t be enough parking available, but you love the venue, you can hire a shuttle or bus to transport people to and from the venue. This is another extra expense, so make sure you budget for it if necessary.
How many guests are coming?
After you tally up approximately how many guests you expect at your wedding, you can narrow down your venue search to places that allow for the right number of guests. Pro tip: While you obviously don’t want to select a venue that’s too small for your guest list, it’s equally important not to choose one that’s too large. A wedding should feel cozy and intimate; a venue with too much open space relative to the size of your guest list might feel awkward and empty.
What are the vendor options?
Some venues require that you contract with their vendors rather than finding your own. On the extreme end of the spectrum of vendor control, that can mean that the venue has already pre-selected the caterers, the alcohol suppliers, the florist, the wedding planner, the photographer, and even the band. Some venues might pre-select every vendor, whereas others only oblige you to use their caterer or their florist, for example.
Before you start the venue search, think about whether you want to use your own vendors or have them included in a package you purchase from your venue. Although you have much less choice when you go with a venue that selects the vendors for you, that also means you have much less of a logistical headache to worry about. Plus, the vendors already know the venue and have likely worked together before, so operations on the day of are more likely to run smoothly. You also might save some money by opting for a venue package that includes all or most vendors rather than negotiating with each vendor separately. Less coordination with venues also means less money spent on a wedding planner if you plan to hire one.
Are there any rules around noise?
On your wedding day (and evening), you’re probably going to want to make some noise–and rightly so! However, due to zoning restrictions and neighbors, some venues must adhere to strict rules around quiet hours as well as what volume of noise is acceptable. This is especially relevant when it comes to outdoor venues. Make sure you ask what the rules are (if any) around noise before you decide on a venue.
What do other couples have to say in the venue’s reviews?
Anyone can hire a great marketing firm or social media manager, but advertisements don’t always present a truthful or full picture. To find out if a venue is really all it’s cracked up to be, read reviews online. Check Yelp, Google reviews, Trip Advisor, and the venue’s Facebook page. Do your research carefully and take your time–reading the first three reviews ain’t gonna cut it. First, check the most recent reviews, as these ones are most likely to reflect what you’ll find. Then, filter reviews by lowest to highest (or click on 1 star or 2 stars to see reviews at that level) and find out what the biggest complainers have to say. If multiple people have the same complaints, take heed. Also, check whether the venue has responded to any negative reviews. If they’ve responded impolitely or in an overly-defensive tone, that might be a red flag. Whether or not the bad review is valid, an unprofessional or rude response might indicate that they could be difficult to work with.
If you’re still not sure, you can also ask the venue for contact info of some couples or wedding planners who had their weddings there previously. Then, you can ask them specific questions to which you need an honest answer or even ask them if they encountered any particular problems you’re worried about.
We believe the questions posed above are the most important ones for every couple to consider during the search for their wedding venue(s), but your specific situation may call for other questions to be answered, too. The golden rule when searching for a venue is that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and that you should take your time in order to thoroughly investigate all of your options. It’s very important to do your due diligence when searching for a venue since the space in which you get married is so fundamental to the whole event. Here’s to the search…we hope you find a venue even more perfect than you envision!
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]