Written by Rebecca Benjamin
Newly engaged? Congratulations!! Wedding planning is so exciting, but everything you need to do can be overwhelming. Your first step (after celebrating!) should be to select your wedding venue. Your venue choice confirms your date and acts as the background for your big day. The venue also impacts the style of the day – you probably won’t choose a large ballgown for a beach wedding. So how do you pick?
First, identify what’s most important to you as a couple. Is it having lodging onsite for all of your out-of-town family? A lakeside outdoor ceremony? Having space for all 400 of your guests? This will help you narrow down the venues you reach out to and tour.
Next, identify your budget. What can you afford to spend on your venue? You don’t want to spend your entire budget on a venue you love and not have any left to hire the photographer you had your heart set on.
Now, explore! Where do you want to get married? Does it have to be in a specific town or are you open to a variety of locations? Search for venues in that area – The Knot and WeddingWire are great starting points to find venue options and get basic pricing information. If you are looking in one area, googling “wedding venues in [your town here]” can help you find smaller venues that don’t advertise on outside websites.
Then, narrow down – choose between 3 and 7 venues to tour. Touring at only 1 or 2 venues can give you tunnel vision and may cause you to miss red flags. Touring more than 7 can give you venue fatigue – all of the spaces run together. Only tour spaces that you can comfortably afford – you don’t want to fall in love with a venue that you can’t book.
Questions to Ask Venues on Tour
- “What is the total cost for a wedding here?” Ask for a quote that includes all taxes and service charges. These are standard for wedding venues, but you don’t want to sign a contract with a venue that is just barely in budget only to realize that with tax and service charge, you can no longer afford it.
- “What is included in the cost?” Are tables, chairs, and linens included? Do you need to rent any additional rooms for cocktail hour, ceremony, getting ready rooms, etc.? All of these costs can add up and make a seemingly affordable venue significantly more expensive.
- “What are the lodging options for my guests?” Odds are, you have at least a few guests who are traveling and therefore need a place to stay. Is there lodging on site and for how many guests? Is the closest hotel 45 minutes away? If there isn’t any nearby lodging, consider transportation. If you are having alcohol at your wedding, you don’t want intoxicated guests trying to get to their hotel rooms when the night is over.
- “When do we have access to the venue?” Double check that you are on the same page about when you have access to the space. Some venues allow you access the night before for decorations when available while some charge hourly for access. If there are additional costs for additional time, make sure to factor that into your total cost.
- “Do you have an exclusive caterer and what are the meal prices?” If the venue has their own caterer, are you excited about the food they offer? Is the food and beverage an affordable price for you?
- “Do you host multiple weddings on the same day?” Some larger venues host multiple weddings in one day – while this can work, make sure the venue has a specific plan for how each wedding is prepped for, staffed, and managed.
- “Do you provide a venue coordinator or other planner?” This is huge! Having a venue coordinator gives you a person to ask questions, bounce ideas off of, and someone day-of who is only thinking about making your day GREAT. If a venue coordinator is provided, ask what their duties are and if you have a limited amount of time to plan with them.
- “What is the capacity of the venue?” Make sure the space fits your guest count! When estimating your count, remember that not everyone you invite will be able to attend – even though they want to! We use an 80% estimate – about 80% of your invite list is likely to attend. Be careful about over-inviting though! You don’t want to end up over-capacity.
- “What is the flow of a wedding day?” This is especially helpful if you will be having your ceremony, cocktail hour, reception, etc. all at the same location. How do guests get between these spaces? Does the venue staff help with wayfinding or direction?
- “Is there a back-up space provided in case of bad weather?” This is important if you are having an outdoor ceremony or any other outdoor event. Rain, wind, and cold happens – even on wedding days! – and it’s important that you and your venue are prepared just in case.
You’ve visited all of your venues and now you need to make a decision! First, go over each quote and eliminate all of the venues that are out of your budget. Some venues may look inexpensive at first, but the costs add up. Even if you love a space, you don’t want to sign a contract for a venue and then not be able to afford a photographer or DJ. Then, eliminate venues that won’t work with your guest count. You don’t want to cut your 300 person guest list to 150 to fit into the venue – you’ll end up cutting some guests that you really want to celebrate with! Now, you’re down to venues that you can afford and that fit your guest list – yay!
Next, narrow down your options with the following questions:
- When is each venue available? If you have your heart set on a Saturday in September wedding, but the venue is only available on a Friday in January, it may not be the best fit.
- Does the flow or layout of the venue work for you and your wedding plans? Think about all of the events you are planning for your day – is there a space for your ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner and dance? Are these spaces close together or easy to find?
- How will the guest experience be? Even if a venue is absolutely gorgeous, you want to make sure you and your guests will have a great time.
- Are you okay with the back-up plan? If having your ceremony in the provided back-up space will ruin your day, then this it’s not the venue for you.
- How is the location? Is it in a city that is practical for you and your guests? Do you need to provide transportation for anyone? If so, make sure this is added to the total cost of the venue!
- How are the catering/beverage options? Are you happy with the options and prices?
- How will you decorate the venue? A venue that is pricier up front but will require only minimal decoration might end up being less expensive in the long run. A “blank space” venue may cost you much more in decorating costs!
Based on these questions, rank your venues! This is where your “gut feeling” comes in as well – which space are you most excited about? Where can you picture your wedding happening? That’s probably the venue for you – yay!!
Are you looking for a venue? We can help! Fair Hills Resort, sitting directly on Pelican Lake, offers 3 different wedding packages for up to 300 guests (or more with a tent rental!). The Barn at Five Lakes, on the shore of Lake Five, can accommodate up to 200 guests inside The Barn and can accommodate even more with a tent rental. Email rebecca@fairhillsresort for more information!