Wedding Venue Checklist

Engaged? Check. Have an estimated date for the wedding? Check. Now it’s time for the wedding venue checklist. Check-check-check.

By The Zola Team

Wedding Venue Checklist
Photo by Onelove Photography

The First Look ✨

After popping the Champagne and basking in the post-proposal afterglow, it’s time to get down to business and figure out how to get from “Yes” to “I do.” The first order of business? The wedding venue. With a venue comes all the questions and elements involved in the logistics of a wedding.

We can help you break these down into organized and digestible categories, such as:

Before You Start: General Venue Information

Booking a venue as early as possible (most recommend at least a year in advance) can help make the entire wedding planning process easier. But there are some general wedding venue questions you want to make sure you’re asking yourself before you book your potential wedding venue. Once you’ve nailed down all the broader questions, you can more clearly assess which wedding venue is right for you:

  • How many people do you want to come to your wedding? If you’re planning an intimate reception for just your nearest and dearest, a grandiose wedding venue can make the party feel a bit low-energy. Likewise, if you’re planning a guest list that would rival Meghan and Harry’s, you’ll want to keep that number in mind as you look for a venue large enough to accommodate your guests comfortably.

  • About where do you want your wedding to be? As couples try to find venues, they first have to narrow down their location to a region. This can be as general or as specific as you would like. For example, if you or your partner’s family live far away, it might be worth considering a halfway point city or state.

  • What’s your wedding budget? It’s always best to gauge how much you want to spend on a venue before you start looking for one. Couples typically spend between $12-14,000 on wedding venue costs, including food, drinks, tables, and chairs.

  • When do you want to get married? Because venues get booked up pretty quickly, it’s important to articulate any preferences for the date, year, or season before you begin the venue hunt. If you’ve always wanted a Halloween wedding (and don’t mind waiting for a spooky manor venue to open up accordingly), make a note of that. Or, if you don’t care what season your wedding will take place so long as it’s soon, be sure to keep that in mind as you work on your venue list.

  • Will you have the ceremony at a separate location? Many venues offer a ceremony and reception space which can help streamline the day. However, if you want to say your vows in an idyllic botanical garden and then dance the night away in an old speakeasy, now’s the time to figure that out!

  • What’s most important to you about the venue? Remember, your wedding day should make you and your partner happy. Take a moment to consider what elements you need to enjoy the day. These could be things like:

  • A big dance floor

  • Ambiance
  • A stunning view for pictures
  • Architecture
  • Outdoor space
  • Eye-catching architectural features

Once you’ve made your list of important venue aspects, divide them into “must-haves,” “nice-to-haves,” and “don’t-need-but-would-be-so-cool-to-have.” That way you can keep your eye on the prize and find a place that hits the bullseye.

Questions about the Location Before You Say “Yes” to a Venue

This category of questions is about the wedding venue itself. Collectively they’ll help you figure out the where, when, and why of your wedding venue.

You can use a lot of these questions as a filter to start narrowing down your options before you even begin visiting different spots.

Step 1: Location, Location, Location

Start narrowing down the “where” of your wedding day by deciding on a specific location:

  • Are you going to be hosting it in the city where you currently live, or near one of your hometowns?

  • Will it be a local/domestic location, or are you planning a destination wedding?

Figuring out the location of your wedding will give you a pool of venues available to rent around the general vicinity. This will help give you an idea of what you have to work with.

Once you have a location in mind, narrow it down even further with the theme of your wedding to help determine why one location is better than another. Refine your search terms with a wedding theme so they’re more than “NY wedding venues” if you don’t want your Google results to show you everything from the bohemian outdoor location at Central Park to the industrial venue underneath the High Line.

Zola’s venue search engine can help you there with filters for different styles and venue types in major U.S. cities. Whether you’re planning a traditional wedding or an elopement, we can help you customize your search to find the perfect venue for you.

Step #2: Availability

What if you find the perfect venue for your wedding only to discover they’re booked solid for the next two years? If your heart is set on having your wedding on a specific date, such as an anniversary or birthday, you may need to prioritize that and rule out a few venues with less availability.

Figuring out when to have your wedding will help anchor the rest of your wedding plans. Since the costs for venue and catering typically take up about half of the typical wedding budget, picking a place and date you’re happy with is important because they’re more difficult to change once you’ve booked them. Try to have a few dates ranges in mind as you begin your search.

If you’re flexible when it comes to the wedding date, ask these questions when considering a venue:

  • If you have a range of dates you’re considering because they are special or symbolic to the two of you, does the venue have any overlapping openings?

  • The months of March, April, and November are typically the cheapest months to get married. Does your venue offer lower rates in those months?

  • Does this location offer cheaper rates on certain days of the week?

  • What is the reservation fee? What is the cancellation policy?

Zola Tip: You might see a place you love early in the process but want to view a few more options before deciding. A tentative reservation might help you out, but you might be bumped off the list if someone else comes along willing to make a solid commitment.

Some people suggest seeing if you can add a refundable deposit on your tentative reservation to keep your place in line. Make sure you get a receipt with the date and time for when you want to book the location. Check-in regularly with the venue on the availability and to reconfirm your interest.

Step #3: Logistics

Next on the list is to make sure space is a logistical fit for the wedding you want to have. A small, intimate wedding doesn’t need a large banquet hall, just as a large, boisterous party can’t squeeze into a cramped restaurant.

Tick off questions about the physical limitations of the space:

  • What is the capacity for the venue? Will it fit all my guests?

  • Does the rental fee fit into your budget? If this is your dream wedding location, are you willing to trim from elsewhere in the budget?

  • Can you have the wedding ceremony here as well as the reception? Will there be an extra cost for doing so?

  • Can you host your rehearsal dinner in the same space?

  • What contingency plans does the venue offer for outdoor spaces in case of bad weather?

  • Are there bathrooms on-site? Can you haul in portable restrooms?

  • Is the location accessible for those with handicaps and disabilities?

  • Is there ample parking space on-site?

  • Is parking included in the site rental fee, and if not, how much will guests be charged for parking?

  • If the parking space is far from the reception area, is there a service available to shuttle guests back and forth?

  • Is the space accessible to cabs and rideshares?

  • How long will you have space for? Is there an overtime fee?

  • What is and isn’t included in the rental fee? What other things will you need to rent or buy (such as tables and linens) for the big day?

Zola Tip: When considering how many hours your reservation fee covers you, make sure you factor in time for setting up and breaking down your wedding setup. It might also be worthwhile looking into what extra fees you might incur if you go over your allotted time. Knowing can help you be prepared if you want to keep the good times rolling and dance the night away.

Questions To Consider When Vetting a Venue

Choosing a wedding venue is about more than just picking a time and place. You’ll also want to make sure the venue itself is equipped to host the celebration you’re envisioning. If there are particular quirks or restrictions about a venue, you’ll want to know in advance so you can plan around it.

Consider all the issues that might come up on the day of the wedding, and make sure your venue can handle everything you’ve got planned. After all, you don’t want to find out late in the game that there’s no dance floor for you to show off the choreographed routine you’ve been practicing for your first dance together as a married couple.

Food & Drink

What’s a wedding without food and libations? Whether your dream celebration includes a casual buffet or a traditional eight-course Chinese wedding banquet, you’ll want to make sure you thoroughly quiz your venue about their stances on food and drink.

Things to add to your wedding planning checklist under this section includes:

  • Is there an in-house caterer for this venue, and if so, are food and beverages included in the rental fee?

  • Are there sample menus and prices? Do in-house caterers offer tastings?

  • If there is no in-house caterer, is there a list of preferred vendors to choose from? Can they handle any dietary restrictions for your guests?

  • Can you bring in your caterer? If so, is there a kitchen space for them to work in, or will you need to move to a portable kitchen?

  • Will you be able to bring in your cake, and if so, is there a cake-cutting fee?

  • Does the venue have an alcohol license?

  • Can you bring in your alcohol and beverages? If so, is there a corkage or service fee to serve it at the venue?

  • Is there a bar? If so, are drinks priced? Is there a minimum?

  • What time does the venue need to stop serving alcohol?

Don’t forget, if you have a particular vendor, reach out to them and ask what they’ll need from a wedding venue.

Zola Tip: Need a caterer who can take care of a nut-free plated meal that’s also kosher and offers vegan options? No problem! Make your search results as broad or specific as you need at Zola with filters that sort through our list of pre-approved vendors.

Rentals and Decor

You’ll probably need dishes, utensils, glassware, and more to feed and water your guests, and decorations to spiff up your reception hall. Some venues are full-service, while others have restrictions on what you can and cannot bring in, so if the vintage jukebox is an absolute must for your special day, make sure you clear it with your venue beforehand.

Make sure your venue can check off everything on your list, including:

  • Does the rental cover tables and chairs?

  • Is there an inventory of dishes, linen, glassware, and flatware you can rent?

  • Is there additional lighting you can set up?

  • Can you move things around, or do things need to stay where they are?

  • Can you hang decorations (string lights, streamers, banners, etc.) from the ceiling or walls?

  • Are there rental decorations for the space available?

  • Are there heat lamps, firepits, or umbrellas for outdoor spaces?

Staffing & Vendors

Your staff and vendors can make all the difference to a successful wedding. Having a well-trained team means that all you need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy a slice of the triple-layer salted caramel bourbon cake you’ve been dreaming about for months.

Quiz your venue to make sure they’re set up for all your staffing needs:

  • Can you bring in your vendors?

  • Are there preferred vendors the venue is partnered with?

  • When can vendors start their setup for the big day?

  • Is there a coat check service?

  • Does the venue offer security?

Zola Tip: If you need help finding services for your venue, Zola has a fantastic list of top-notch prescreened wedding vendors you can search by location, availability, and services provided. From florists to wedding bands and DJs, our vendors’ services are the cream of the crop.

Entertainment

You’ve got the food, shelter, and seating nailed down, but what about the entertainment? Roll in the music, blow up the bounce house and let’s make it a party.

Whether you’re getting a string quartet with an accompanying harpist or reuniting your soon-to-be spouse’s college rock band, you’ll want to see if prospective venues are set up to handle it.

Check the following items off your list:

  • Are there speakers and sound systems available, or will the wedding band/DJ/musicians need to bring in their own?

  • Where are the outlets where the band can set up?

  • Can a microphone for speeches and toasts be set up?

  • What are the venue’s policies around special permits and licenses for entertainment such as hot air balloons, trampolines, etc.?

  • Can you bring in a photobooth or set up an area with props and accessories?

  • Can the venue set up a balloon drop?

  • Is there a dance floor? If so, how big is it?

  • Are fireworks, sparklers, or confetti allowed?

  • Is there a strict curfew or noise restriction?

  • Is there a kid-friendly play area for the younger wedding guests?

You wouldn’t want the speakers to blow out in the middle of your best friend’s heartfelt toast, or for the curfew to unexpectedly kick in right as the beat’s about to drop. Running all your entertainment plans by your venue ahead of time is always a good idea, especially if you have something wildly fun and unusual planned.

That way you can take care of any hiccups well in advance, and on the day of, all you need to do is enjoy the memories you’re making.

Accommodations

Aside from the space where the reception will take place, you’ll want to see if the venue provides other accommodations you might need for the wedding. If there isn’t a place for you and your partner to get ready on-site, for example, you may need to plan for transport from the hotel to the venue. After all, you wouldn’t want to find out on the day of your wedding and end up needing to change in the bathroom stall.

You might also want to find out what your venue can offer you if you’re planning on hosting a celebration that will go late into the night or having a multi-day celebration.

This section of your checklist should include: Are there separate places for you and your partner to get ready on-site for the day of?

  • Are there rooms available for overnight stays? Can guests book their rooms?

  • Can the venue host wedding brunches?

  • When is checkout?

  • If there are no rooms on-site, are there accommodations in the vicinity such as hotels?

  • Is there a room where gifts can be safely stored and transported?

Legal Queries and Other Logistics

So you’ve found your dream location and miracle of miracles, it’s available on the dates you were hoping for. Before you jump the gun and throw your credit card down for the reservation, however, it’s worth spending some time studying the finer points of the venue’s contract.

While combing over legal contracts may not be the most fun activity for you and your SO, it can save you a lot of stress both before the wedding and after. Don’t wait to find out your venue has a no pets policy until after you’ve already made Fido your ring bearer.

Here are a few logistical and legal queries for your venue to keep in mind before you put a ring on it:

  • What is the venue’s cancellation policy?

  • Is there a penalty within a certain window of time?

  • How much is the deposit for the reservation, and when is it due?

  • What’s included in the total cost?

  • What other options (rentals, extra permits or licenses, etc.) are there at the venue, and how do the fees break down?

  • When will your final bill be due?

  • Is there a force majeure clause in the contract that will release both you and the vendor from your obligations if there are extenuating circumstances (such as a global pandemic)?

  • Does the venue offer partial or full refunds on cancellations or reschedules?

We strongly recommend you have a contract with your vendor, and that you go over it with a fine-toothed comb. If there are any clauses that confuse you, or language that seems to suggest something other than what you agreed on, don’t hesitate to bring it up with your point person at the venue. Keep records of everything that was agreed to.

Having trouble keeping track of all the different information from venues you’re considering? Zola’s vendor finding service makes it easy for you to find, book, and keep track of any inquiries or communications between you and the vendors. You can tag all open or closed queries and make it easy to find all the information you need to secure your venue all in one place.

Start By Checking Zola Off Your List

At Zola, our goal is to make wedding planning easier for you. Our wedding website makes it easy to search through a list of stunning venues by location, venue type, availability, cost, and style. We can also help you find vendors and caterers that will work together with your venue to fulfill all your wedding needs.

Organize your venue requirements and any other wedding tasks, with Zola’s virtual wedding checklists. Our tools are at your disposal to help you divide and conquer all the wedding tasks that need to get done between you, your partner, and anyone else who’s offered a helping hand. We organize details about different venues in a clear way and make it easy for you to communicate and book reservations.

Whether your dream wedding consists of a sunset wedding in a vineyard or live music at your favorite bar, with Zola, you never have to settle.

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