Picking a wedding venue isn’t as important as choosing your future spouse, but it comes in a pretty close second. Where you get married influences everything from how big a conga line you’ll be able to form at the reception to whether you can really go barefoot down the aisle like you’ve always planned. Before you launch your venue search, read through these expert tips that will help you find the perfect fit.
Unless you’re dead set on a certain venue and willing to let the location determine your wedding-day motif, the first step in choosing where you’ll get married is to decide what you want that day to look like. If you’re dreamed all your life of saying “I do” in a Cinderella dress underneath a sparkling chandelier, you’ll want to look at ballrooms and mansion-style event halls. If you’re more of a boho bride or groom, you might be at home walking down the aisle in a botanical garden or a lushly landscaped backyard.
Close your eyes and imagine your perfect wedding. Is there sand underneath your feet or are you surrounded by impressionist paintings in a museum? Whatever vibe you see in your head, that’s how you’ll start narrowing down your list of possible venues.
And we don’t mean be honest with the venue, either! Lying to yourself about how much you have to spend won’t get you any closer to booking that dream location that’s eye-wateringly expensive — it’ll just guarantee disappointment.
Talk to your spouse-to-be and decide how much you want to spend. Experts generally recommend you spend no more than half of your total budget on your venue, though that percentage is of course subject to change depending on what’s included in that venue rate (catering, furniture rentals, and décor, for example).
Thinking about the time of year you’ll be getting married is important.
- If you want to get married outdoors, it’s a lot easier to do so in spring, summer, or fall.
- Summer through early fall is wedding season in most of the United States, while in the south, it’s more popular to get married in April, May, and June before the weather becomes too hot to bear. Venues book those sought-after dates months or even years ahead.
- Couples mulling over a destination wedding need to research key factors like rainy seasons, national holidays in their intended host country, and whether some months are especially touristy and likely to drive the prices of airline tickets and hotel rooms sky-high.
Before you start sending out save-the-date cards, make sure the venue you want can accommodate your chosen date and that the combination makes sense.
Most often, people choose separate locations for their ceremony and reception because they’ve chosen to say their vows in a house of worship or another formal place like a courthouse. Saying I do in your childhood church is wonderful in terms of tradition and spirituality, but it’s not necessarily the best place for a cocktail hour and late-night dancing.
On the other hand, there are a plethora of benefits to an all-in-one wedding that makes use of a single venue:
- There’s no long wait between the ceremony and reception
- Guests won’t have to arrange transportation from spot to spot (something that can be especially tricky for out-of-towners)
- You may save money by using the same vendors for the entire day and avoiding double charges for decorations, insurance, etc.
You know what’s the exact opposite of fun? Trying to stuff 300 people into a venue with a capacity of 150. Of course, that’s also illegal, so you’ll be left turning 150 people away at the door instead, which is a truly awful way to spend your wedding day.
Before you sign any venue contracts, be sure you know exactly how many people the room can hold. Always plan for extra, too; a facility that holds 100 seems likely plenty when you’ve only invited 85 people until three cousins show up with unexpected plus-ones and a handful of people who RSVP’d no decide to come anyway. Even if everyone plays by the rules, a 100-person capacity can feel pretty tight once 80 guests start mingling and shaking a leg on the dance floor.
Some venues have in-house caterers. Some don’t. Those that do will likely require you to use their kitchen or pay a hefty buy-out fee to bring in your own vendor. While using the catering services attached to a venue can be limiting, it can also be very budget-friendly as you’ll likely get food, rentals (table, chairs, linens, etc.,), and servers included in one comprehensive rental package. Even if you do use the in-house caterer, ask whether you’re allowed to bring in your own wedding cake. It’s not uncommon to be charged a cake-cutting fee if you decline to use the house baker.
If you’re interested in hiring your own third-party caterer, check with prospective venues to see if they have any rules regarding outside vendors and ask a few very important questions:
- Is there a full-service kitchen or at least access to a kitchenette for staging and warming?
- Can you bring in any licensed caterer or must you use one of the facility’s pre-approved vendors?
- Are there special rules regarding liquor? (Some venues may have a license and insurance that covers outside bartenders and beer/wine service, but you could be required to get your own)
Whenever possible, make time to see your most promising potential venues in person. Walking the grounds and the facility itself will give you an idea of the layout as well as how the place looks — and how it smells. That lakeside pavilion may look gorgeous online, but you can’t truly appreciate the aroma of stagnant pond water until you get a whiff firsthand. You don’t want that unwelcome surprise as you’re traipsing down the aisle in all your wedding-day finery.
Which brings up another good point: Pictures aren’t always accurate. It’s in the venue’s best interest to post artsy photos of their rooms, but pictures can be out of date or straight up edited to improve on reality. One workaround is to look at user photos posted on review sites like Yelp. Not only will this help you get an idea of a venue’s potential before you book a tour, you’ll also get tons of wedding planning inspiration for different table configurations and decor.
One of the most enjoyable parts of wedding planning is letting your inner Martha Stewart loose on the world. It’s time to be creative! While there’s nothing wrong with go-to venues like hotels, event centers, and resorts, there are so many other affordable and whimsical spots that could host your nuptials.
- Amusement park
- Bowling alley
- Museums and libraries
- Greenhouses or botanical gardens
- Breweries and distilleries
- Refurbished barn
- Houseboat or private yacht
- Open field
- Luxury vocational rental property
- Urban rooftop
- Ski lodge
- Stadium or arena suites
All of these options come with a wealth of perks. They’re less likely to be booked out by other wedding parties, and they may offer packages that include unique bonuses — think photo sessions around home plate if you get married at a baseball stadium or free skip-the-line ride passes for your wedding party at an amusement park.
As soon as you fall in love with the venue of your dreams, fork over your deposit. Calendars fill up quickly, and some couples are downright competitive. But even if you don’t get your first choice, remember that location is important, but it isn’t everything. In the end, you’ll love where you’re at because you’re head over heels for the person you’re with.