How does one go about choosing a wedding venue? Here's the rundown on one of the first tasks you’ll need to accomplish after saying “yes!”
One of the first tasks you’ll need to accomplish after saying “yes!” is to decide where you and your partner want to get married—and with so many different venues and venue options to choose from, it’s a task you’ll want to check off your to-do list and book your venue ASAP.
Where you opt to get married will then help you to narrow down when, which may depend on your wedding venue’s availability and popularity. Plus, you need a wedding ceremony and reception venue before you can send out your wedding invitations. If you’re wondering how to find a wedding venue, though, you’re not alone.
Finding the perfect wedding venue to fit your wedding budget, your schedule, and your wedding style can be a daunting task. Consider us here at Zola your wedding copilots. Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about how to pick a wedding venue—from doing your research to what to bring on wedding venue site visits to top tips to consider while setting the scene for your dream wedding. By the end of this guide, you’ll know everything there is to know about how to evaluate venues for weddings—and how to find the dream venue for your special day.
Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Once you’ve drained that glass of celebratory champagne, sit down with your fiancé(e) and create a list of what you both want in your ideal wedding venue. What kind of event do you want to host? Will it have a theme? What aesthetic wedding venues feel like the right fit? For example, are you picturing a natural, rustic venue or a more elegant and sophisticated sapce? Do you want a beach wedding, a garden wedding, or a destination wedding? Or do you want a completely unexpected and unique wedding venue? Establish non-negotiables, as well as location details or amenities that are less important to you.
During this conversation, create a budget for how much you are willing to spend on a wedding venue. Keep in mind that some venues are full service and include in-house catering and equipment rentals (chairs, tables, linens, etc.) in their package pricing, while others do not. This will, of course, affect the overall dollar amount of what you could spend on a venue.
Decide which time of year you’d like to say your “I do’s,” as this will affect your venue research. Some wedding venues are better for winter events, while others were made for warmer months. We’re betting you don’t want to utter your vows with blue lips at an outdoor ceremony in December, just as you might not want to be gathered inside on a gorgeous spring day.
Choose a few wedding dates, in order of preference, that you might want for your wedding day. It would be tragic to fall in love with pictures of wedding venues only to discover they’re booked every weekend of your desired month—so either start this process early or surrender to variability.
Draft a guest list to determine your guest count—and how big of a venue you’ll need to accommodate them. Making sure that your wedding guests have enough room to mingle, dine, and dance during your reception is a top priority (and don’t forget about saving space for other elements of your reception set-up, including decor, extra lighting, a cake table, your wedding band or DJ, a favors table, etc.). Also, keep in mind the needs of the individuals you are inviting: will you need a venue with accessibility that can accommodate elderly or physically disabled guests? Defining your venue criteria will help you narrow down your wedding venue search—and quickly eliminate any potential venues that don’t fit your needs, which can save time and energy.
Consider whether you and your fiancé(e) want a spiritual or religious wedding ceremony. This may dictate whether you have the ceremony in a place of worship and host the reception at another venue.
Talk about whether or not you would like to make a weekend out of it. While more complex to plan, a full weekend of wedding festivities is one way to really maximize every minute of the celebration. If you expect a lot of out-of-town guests, consider renting a large house for the whole wedding party (or two: one for your friends and family and another for your partner’s). Alternatively, host your wedding at a stunning hotel and get a block of rooms for guests.
Stop by the local tourism center in the town where you plan to wed. They’ll have loads of information about weddings in the area and may even be able to suggest some alternative wedding venues that you haven’t thought about.
Ask around for opinions from those in-the-know. Ask wedding vendors you have already hired which venues they like the best and are easiest to work with. Make sure to get your wedding photographer‘s opinion, who will generally know the most photogenic local venues (and which ones are tough to shoot). Ask newlyweds, friends, co-workers, and family members which venues they have most enjoyed from the weddings they’ve attended locally.
Do your homework and research local wedding venues, but we encourage you not to make any final decisions based on what you see online.
Check out our localized venues search pages - we've provided links to some of the most popular venue locations below:
Now that you’ve thoughtfully determined what kind of wedding you’d like, which season and/or dates you have in mind, what type of venue you want to get married in, and how large a venue you’ll need, it’s time to put all of that good research to work. Contact your top venue choices and schedule a time to visit and receive a tour.
Wear comfortable shoes and weather-appropriate attire to tour venues—you’ll be on your feet (and moving in and out of doors) quite a bit. Other must-have items to bring include:
a list of important questions (see below)
a notebook to jot down notes
a calculator (Pro Tip: a smartphone takes care of many of these functions.)
Walk through each and every venue choice with a keen eye, a pad and pen, and an open mind. Ask questions, explore rooms, and see all the viewpoints you can.
If at all possible, try to visit the venue at the time you plan to get married. This is especially important for outdoor weddings, where seasonal weather can either make or break your wedding day. Take note of where the sun is at your desired ceremony time to ensure that you and your guests will be comfortable—you don’t want any squinty eyes in your wedding photos.
Before you get swept up in the beauty of a venue, don’t forget to ask the big questions. Keep the following in mind while touring every venue—and don’t sign anything until you have answers that suit you.
If you’re touring a primarily outdoor venue, ask about a rain plan. Most venues have a plan B if Mother Nature decides to wash out your wedding day, and you’ll want to know, see, and be happy with the back-up option. You might find that you don’t like the alternate indoor space, which might be a deal breaker.
Does the venue provide an in-house caterer? Can you bring in a catering company of your choosing, or is there an exclusive list of caterers? Many venues work with preferred vendors. If the venue is restrictive in terms of vendor choices, make sure there are options that will fit within your budget.
And speaking of catering, does the venue have kitchen and cooking facilities?
Do they have a coat check and ample bathroom facilities? What is the parking situation?
Is there a reception package and what does it include?
Does this wedding venue have enough chairs, tables, dishware, barware, etc., for your guests or must you rent them from elsewhere?
How long do you have the reception space? Is there an overtime fee if you go over? Is there a minimum amount of time it must be rented?
Is your pet allowed on the premises? If not, would it be allowed if it had a handler and were only present for photos?
Is there a venue coordinator who will be there on the day of your wedding? If so, what exactly are his/her responsibilities and what will fall into your (or your planner’s) hands?
What is the rough total cost? What is the deposit amount to hold the date? Are there any hidden costs? When are payments due?
Will there be another wedding or event before or after yours? Will any other events be happening at the same time as yours? (Think: major golf tournament the same day as your country club wedding.)
Is there a dress code that would apply for your guests?
Do they have a liquor license? Can you bring in our own alcohol? Do they have a bar? If not, can you set one up? Also, be sure to ask about a corkage fee.
Is smoking allowed?
Are the rooms heated and/or air conditioned?
Are there any music regulations you should be aware of, such as what kind of music can be played and for how long? Is there a decibel restriction? Does the venue have their own sound system?
Is there enough room for a band or DJ and dancing? Are there ample electrical outlets?
Is there a place for the couple to change and relax? Can the wedding party get ready here on the morning of the wedding?
Where are the best places for photographs?
Do they have an open flame policy? (i.e. can you light tall candles indoors, shoot off fireworks, or arrange a sparkler exit?)
How much decorating will you have to do for this venue?
Your venue is one part of your wedding location. But so is the surrounding area—and you want to make sure to surrounding area is the right fit for your wedding just as much as the actual venue.
Do your research into the area. Are there plenty of hotels nearby where out-of-town guests can stay—and do any of those hotels offer hotel blocks for wedding parties? Is the town/city easy to navigate? Are there restaurants, grocery stores, and other food options nearby?
Transportation is another element you’ll want to consider when choosing a wedding venue. If the reception is at a different site from the ceremony, make sure to ask the venue to clarify the distance between the two sites—and also ask if they offer transportation options between the two. If not, guests will have to drive themselves—or you’ll have to provide your own transportation options (like a shuttle).
You’ll also want to consider transportation options outside of the venue. For example, is the venue in a location that’s easy for your guests to drive to? Are ride share options available in case any guests have too much to drink and can’t drive home? These are all details you’ll want to iron out before you sign on the dotted line.
With these tips, you can rest assured that there will be no unpleasant surprises while choosing a wedding venue, or throughout the planning process or on the big day itself. Whether you want an intimate outdoor wedding or the marquee event at a country club, there’s a venue for you. And don’t forget to use Zola’s wedding planning checklist to track your progress!
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