10 Things to Look For in a Wedding Reception Venue

Wherever you're looking for your perfect wedding reception venue, it's always good to do a little research. Here's what to look for in a wedding venue.

By The Zola Team

Illustrated Wedding Venue
Photo by Zola

The First Look

  • Your reception venue sets the tone for your wedding celebration. First nail down the style of your wedding and aim for a reception venue that amplifies it.
  • Knowing your budget, your preferred dates, the number of guests you plan to host play a huge role in determining which venues can work for you.
  • It’s important to keep your guests' experience in mind, but don’t be afraid to trust your gut when it comes to your wedding venue decisions.

Whether it’s a ballroom, a sunflower field, or a decommissioned World War II submarine, a reception venue sets the tone for a wedding celebration. But with so many venue options and a million planning details to factor in, how do you start looking for a wedding venue?

From budget considerations to venue vendor policy, this guide will cover what to look for in a wedding venue. No matter what kind of wedding you have in mind, these 10 factors will help you find the perfect venue to celebrate.

#1 Your Wedding Style

By the time you start looking for wedding reception venues, you probably won’t have all of the wedding details figured out—and that’s fine! Chances are, you have a deep understanding of what you want your wedding to feel like. That’s the soul of your wedding style. The traditional or unique venue you choose should amplify the feeling you’re going for on your big day.

Keep that feeling in mind as you explore different unique wedding venue options. Will an art museum suit the fun, celebratory vibe you’re envisioning? Maybe not as well as a former firehouse converted into an event space. Focus on what you want your special day to feel like, and you’ll find a venue that perfectly complements your vision.

Wedding Venue Tip: The more you know about what you want in a wedding reception, the easier it will be to narrow down your list of options. Do some research with your partner on venue features before you start touring spaces. You might discover you have a list of must-haves for your wedding reception venue.

10 Things to Look For in a Wedding Reception Venue Photo Credit // Megan Rei Photography

#2 Budget

On average, couples designate between 10 to 15 percent of their wedding budget for the venue. But decoration costs sometimes get left out of the equation. For example, let’s say you find a wedding venue you can afford, but it needs a lot of extra decor to suit your wedding style. The cost of additional decorations could put the venue out of your budget. If that’s the case, you might want to cross that venue off the list.

#3 Availability

Take a crack at this chicken-or-the-egg riddle: What comes first when making wedding decisions, booking your dream venue or having your ideal wedding date?

The answer depends on you.

If you’ve had a particular space in mind for years, the venue will take precedence. You can build your day around the space’s availability. Bonus? Limited availability can help you make other decisions about your wedding themes and details. For example, if the historic mansion you love is only available in fall, your wedding colors can embrace the season with red and gold hues.

Sometimes, however, dates have to come first because of wedding guest availability or a favorite season. In that case, try to be as flexible as possible when looking for wedding reception venues. Come up with two sets of date ranges: dates that work and dates that don’t. That way, you’ll have the best of both worlds when you’re looking for venues—the right place and the right time.

Venue Tip: Ask your venue manager about any scheduled renovations or building projects. While some emergency repairs and renovations can’t be predicted, you can book your wedding around the venue’s renovation timeline. This way there won’t be any surprises.

#4 Capacity

It’s important to figure out how many guests you want to invite before you choose a reception venue. For safety reasons, event spaces have to limit the number of guests they can host. Make sure you ask about capacity when you’re deciding on wedding ceremony and reception venues.

Sometimes, celebrating your wonderful day in a special place gets priority over a big guest list., and that can be a gift to your wedding plans. Instead of agonizing over how many people you should invite, your venue’s capacity limit will dictate the number of guests. (Just be sure to book the venue before you mail the save the dates.)

Venue Tip: Have you ever been to a concert or a performance in a huge event space where only a few people are in the audience? It can dampen the effect of the experience, can’t it? Excitement, joy, and celebration are more contagious in filled spaces. Avoid booking your small wedding in larger areas. By working within the venue’s capacity limits, you can ensure a packed house and a fabulous experience for yourself, your partner, and your guests.

#5 What’s Included

Do some research before your tour to discover your venue’s unique features and offerings. But don’t be afraid to ask—in person—what’s included in your booking. You might be surprised by the answer. Maybe your venue has just opened a garden space for guests to enjoy, a newly renovated rooftop space, or even a speakeasy beneath the bar.

Venue Tip: Don’t forget to look for packages in reception venues. Packages can include a lot of great perks, including:

  • Discounted bartending services
  • Booking deals with a nearby hotel
  • Special entertainment offerings

Choosing a packaged deal can give you a bit more wiggle room in your budget to upgrade your reception space.

#6 Limitations

Just as you would look for the special features of a venue, keep an eye out for space limitations. Some of these limitations are for safety, to maintain the integrity of the space (especially historic wedding venues), or to adhere to regional laws (like fire codes).

Here are a few limitations to look out for as you’re choosing your venue:

  • Activities: To protect their property, venues sometimes prohibit certain activities with damage potential. These regulations range from banning sparklers to forbidding animals (even a Baraat horse). Venues can also charge penalty fees if you do something against their policy, so always be sure to ask before you book.

  • Curfew: If dancing the night away is an important part of your reception, ask about your venue’s curfew. Certain city noise ordinances might force venues to stop all wedding activities at a certain time—no exceptions.

  • Vendors: Do you have specific vendors in mind for your reception? Some venues require you to book from a list of pre-approved vendors, with no exceptions. If you have a favorite photographer, caterer, or florist, find out if the venue limits your choices.

#7 Guest Experience

You want your wedding guests to have a fun and memorable time on this extraordinary occasion. Venues are essential to making that happen. As you compare and contrast event spaces, keep guest experience in mind.

For example, these factors play a huge part in a positive wedding experience for everyone on your invite list:

  • Bathrooms: You can bet that your friends and family will be toasting your marriage throughout the night. And all that Champagne has to go somewhere. Always do a quality check of a venue’s bathrooms.

  • Transport and parking: Is the venue easily accessible by car? Or is it a bit off the map? Consider how guests will get to and from your wedding and whether they’ll have space to park. If the directions are a little complicated, you can include a directions card in your invitations and on your custom wedding website.

  • Accommodations: Many wedding guests book a hotel room for the night of the wedding. Check to see what hotels or accommodations are available near your venue.

Venue Tip: Do you need an excuse to get away and still be productive with wedding planning? Stay the night where you’re booking accommodations for your guests. You can test the hotel restaurant, try out the rooms, and ensure a restful and celebratory wedding experience for your guests from start to finish.

10 Things to Look For in a Wedding Reception Venue Photo Credit // Hales Studio Photography

#8 Backup Plans

If a wedding disaster strikes, your venue can be your greatest ally. See what backup plans your wedding reception venue offers. This is especially important if you’re considering an outdoor wedding space.

#9 Red Flags

The advice your mom gave you about first dates also applies to venue hunting: Don’t ignore red flags. As you tour venues, ask yourself a few questions about how you’re treated by the venue staff. For example:

  • Is the venue manager kind and considerate? Or is he a bit stiff and off-putting?
  • Does the staff smile as you walk in for a tour? Or are you ignored?
  • Does the event director answer all of your questions thoughtfully, or does she shut down your ideas?

Your venue experience from the beginning can strongly indicate how the wedding will go.

#10 Your Gut

A gut feeling is one of the most important tools you have when it comes to making wedding day decisions. If a location doesn’t feel right, pay attention to that feeling. You might be subconsciously picking up on aspects of the venue you don’t like. And if a venue does feel right deep down in your gut, that will make your wedding day all the more magical.

Set the Scene for Your Wedding Story

Your love story has many wonderful chapters, and your wedding day will be one of the most memorable. Finding the right reception venue can help set the scene for a perfect happily-ever-after. But no matter where you choose to get married, you’ll have an extraordinary wedding day. Because when you’ve chosen the right person, everything feels like a fairytale.

Zola: Your Wedding Fairy Godmother

Speaking of happily-ever-afters, consider Zola your wedding fairy godmother. From invitations, to custom wedding websites, to extensive planning resources, we can help grant your every wish for a beautiful day.

Find Your Wedding Vendors at Zola, All Pre-Screened for You