Knowing that many engaged couples have recently started their wedding planning, we started a series where we suggested a first thing first concept back in February. Over the last few months, we’ve tackled List #1 – The Big Picture. We’ve shared tips for setting the date and creating your guest list and tips on how to select your photographer, videographer, and wedding planner. Now, we are going to tackle the last item on List #1, selecting your venue.

Venue shopping is one of those tasks that initially, we are so excited to begin, but as time goes on, it starts to become something of a beast to contain. There are so many things to consider, cost being the biggest. When all is said and done, your venue (including your ceremony and reception) will be the largest budgetary item on your wedding planning list. I also believe that because of this, selecting your venue can also be one of the most challenging and stressful.

When reviewing your venue options, there are a number of considerations including whether you will have your ceremony and reception at the same location. In the past (and traditionally), ceremonies and receptions were distinctly separate. Most ceremonies were held in churches, and receptions were held in large banquet halls, restaurants, and smaller clubs (think Moose, Elk or Veterans). Today, couples have the wonderful flexibility and creativity to choose from a far greater variety including beaches, private estates, barns, ranches, parks, amusement parks, national parks, the sky (think skydiving ceremonies – ha!) and hot air balloons to name just a few.

Are you ready to select your venue? We’ve created a top ten, go-to checklist for you to follow when searching for the venue that best suits your needs and reflects your love story. Let’s get started!

1. Location, Location, Location

It’s true, location is very important for your ceremony and venue. You may wish to get married in your local church, and then move onto your reception venue where you will eat, drink and dance. When you choose to have two separate locations, please consider the distance between the two. Don’t choose a reception venue that is an hour or more away from your ceremony venue. Yes, I have been to those kinds of weddings. Your guests can get lost (maybe not so much with GPS these days) but frankly, they’ll get bored (and possibly frustrated) – on the ride there and after they get to their destination. Reason? Because it is all taking too long. Too long to get there. Too long to wait for the couple while they are taking their in-between photos. There is nothing worse than having bored guests. And yes, when they get bored, they will drink (alcohol where available) more, eat all the appetizers leaving scraps for the wedding party, and generally get a little disgruntled. Can you tell I am not a fan?


2. Ceremony & Reception

I do highly recommend that your ceremony and reception be in the same locale. When you have a church ceremony, please have the reception within an easy driving distance. However, I prefer (and I think most guests would even agree) the ceremony and reception in the same spot. The transition is much more enjoyable for everyone including the bridal party. And don’t worry, clergymen are far more flexible these days than they used to be. I had to get married in my husband’s Catholic church in order for the church to even recognize our marriage. I am Protestant. I was allowed however to have my pastor dually officiate. Only several short years earlier, one of our friends (similar situation) had to get married in the Catholic church but because she was Protestant, she had to come in the back door – not allowed to walk down the aisle. Oh, bother! Thankfully, most religions have become more flexible and open. Please know that I am not against church weddings. I have been to some amazingly beautiful and moving church ceremonies. Just make sure that your guests don’t have far to go. I’ve also enjoyed several church weddings where the reception was then held in the adjacent hall. If your church can offer a beautiful option then, by all means, go for it! Just think of the wonderful DIY (not to mention budget-friendly) opportunities!

3. Specific Dates 

Earlier we talked about setting your date but when assessing your venue needs, the season and certain specific dates (think holidays) need some careful consideration. When picking your date, you will need to figure out your schedule and then those in your immediate family (the ones that must be at your wedding). You may really like the idea of a Christmas or New Year’s Eve wedding but others may have prior commitments that would prohibit them from attending. Without advance notice (think to Save the Dates) most people are not flexible enough to give up personal time for a wedding. Also, planning weddings around certain holidays may increase your costs, sometimes significantly. These costs also can have a domino effect impacting more than just a venue. If you want to get married on Valentine’s Day, your flowers (especially roses) may, in fact, cost three to four times more than getting married on another day. If planning a destination wedding, especially around holiday time, airfare and hotel accommodations can also be far more expensive. One last tip – check to see about construction or remodeling, whether to the venue directly or even nearby roads? One never knows what happens in a year or two down the road when you’re planning your wedding. Could very well be an area of concern.


4. Season 

When selecting your venue, the season you wish to get married (something you may consider first before you actually decide on the date) is very important. Weather is definitely a factor when planning an outdoor wedding. Will it be cold, warm or even swelteringly hot and humid? Does the venue have last minute alternatives – indoor availability, tents – that will accommodate your wedding party? Is it hurricane season, tornado season, blizzard season? If any of those factors come into play, move the date or venue. If you have a particular theme, say a vineyard wedding, consider this: vineyards are a beautiful option for weddings and a very popular choice. But did you know that the lushest time to do a vineyard wedding would be late summer and fall? In the spring, things are looking a little brown and sparse. However, because it is out-of-season, you may be able to get the best prices on everything including venue, food, hotels, etc. Something to think about. Also, when visiting venues, try to envision how it will look in seasons. You may visit a resort in the winter and think it will make a great summer wedding location, but when you see it in the summer, it may look entirely different. Insert sad trombone sound.


5. Vendor Choices

My biggest frustration when looking at venues is the fact that a fair few will only allow the use of their specified vendors. They will not allow you to utilize your own. While I can understand the food choices, however, I have seen where this policy extends to flowers, cakes, favors, and yes, even photographers.Please be sure to ask this particular question. Sometimes, they may be flexible, others not so much. Some may allow you to make a change, but then may add a fee – beware! And they are not always forthcoming with this information until you’ve signed the contract. Major disappointment. Please do your research. Ask questions. Be specific. Ask who will be preparing the cake? Their chef or can you order your cake off site? Some couples might like the convenience of having everything all under one roof, but make sure that you are able to see and taste the work of these vendors. Which raises the question, will you be working with a “wedding planner” at the facility or a banquet manager?


6. Wedding Planner

When selecting a venue, many establishments “include” the services of a “wedding planner”, all in the name of saving you money. While this may be so, many times the venue’s concept of a “wedding planner” are far different than what is really your expectations. The wedding planner may, in fact, be only a glorified banquet manager. Far different from a wedding planner. A banquet manager while there to serve you, is largely responsible for ordering and coordinating the food and drink. They may assist you in placing an order for flowers, cake and even invites, usually from a look book and coordinate the DJ/band. However, their main goal is to serve the venue, and ensure that you are on schedule so that the next wedding party can start on time. If the package deal serves your purpose and budget, and you’ve asked all your questions and are comfortable, then, by all means, go for it. However, if you are looking for an individual or team that will provide you with personalized attention, then seek out the services of a professional wedding planner. They will serve you better and will be able to guide you in making those individualized choices that will make your wedding completely personal.

7. Flexibility 

When venue shopping, find out how flexible establishments can be. When I say flexible, I mean, can a venue accommodate a brunch, lunch, cupcakes, and champagne or appetizer only receptions? Could be a cost saver. Can they accommodate different seating – bistro, long tables, round tables, club-style? Do they allow decor changes or additions? Think of those lovely vintage pieces that you can rent. Will they be able to accommodate your guest list numbers? Make sure there is room for your guests to eat and dance if that is what you want. Do they schedule more than one event per day? If important, how private will your event be? Or are you plopped in the middle of all the rest of a venue, say like in a restaurant? It will all depend on the vibe that you want. Is the venue flexible with regards to your date or is it weekends only?


8. Food

Of course, this is one of the biggest factors in your choice of a venue. It. Must. Be. Great! Hands down. No, ands, ifs or buts about it. It will be one of the most memorable parts of your wedding for both you and your guests, especially. Oh, and the choices that you now have are limitless! I love to see the creativity that couples come up with! Mexican, Italian, and other ethnic foods, food trucks, In and Out takeout (true story!), catered, sit-down, breakfast, brunch, appetizers, dessert bars, champagne, and cupcakes – oh my! Gone, gone, gone are the days of bland stuffed chicken breasts and prime rib – yeah! So with all those choices, you will be able to come up with something really, really good, no matter your budget. No excuses.

A side note – please do take into consideration your guests. If you love Mexican and want it served at your wedding, be sure that your guests love it too! Don’t give your guests unnecessary gastrointestinal difficulties if you don’t have to. And, please be sure to find out if guests have any food allergies. Be kind. There is nothing worse than a guest finding out that they will be able to eat very little at your wedding. 🙁

9. Comfort of your guests

Your wedding may be the first really big party that you will be coordinating. Not only will it be all about you and what you want, but you also want to make sure your guests feel welcome and comfortable. Some things to consider – is there adequate parking for all your guests? Or will they have to take a bus, trolley, or walk a gigantic hill to get to the venue? Will there be enough seating and is it comfortable? Are there enough bathrooms for the size of your wedding? (One bathroom for each sex and a hundred guests is not ideal.) Make sure the bathrooms and the facility are spotless! Take a tour. Ask questions! If you are having a barn wedding, is there heat in the event of a freakishly cold day at the end of June in New England? Yes, this happens. Is the barn spotless? (Consider your guests, bridal party included – Alexandra and my hubby could not take the dust and/or possible hay in a barn. No way, no can do!!) Is the venue handicap accessible, not only outside but inside too? Will there be more than one event at the venue? Could make for a parking problem. You want your guests to be talking about your wedding well after your wedding day. Give them something to talk about, make them feel special!


10. Photography

When you have decided the season, selected the date, and checked the locale, one last thing to consider is your wedding photographs. You know how passionate we are about photography/videography and that those images will be the one thing that you have left after the big day celebrating your love, so be sure to get the very best backdrop. What I mean is, walk around the venue to scope out areas for the best photo opportunities. Not sure, then see if your photographer has the ability to either join you or at least check out the venue’s website to begin mapping out a plan for the best photo spots. This includes getting ready rooms – is there enough light, if not, is there another spot available? Are there spots big enough for those photos which might include large wedding parties or family shots? Are there smaller, more intimate locations that have beautiful, natural light that will result in a gorgeous canvas for your living room? 🙂 And if your venue has low lighting, be sure that your photographer can handle this. This includes bright lighting like on a beach. Ask questions. Check out the photographer’s work, online and in albums. An excellent photographer will be able to work with any one of those particular challenges.


Whew! Did you make it to the end of this post? Bravo if you did. We hope that if you did, that you now feel armed with lots of information to make the very best choice in a venue based on your needs as well as budget. If you want to catch up with some of our other tips thus far, you can refer back to our first post where we presented the simple, straight-forward, first things first approach to wedding planning. Then, move on to setting your date and creating your guest list and selecting your photographer, videographer and wedding planner.

For those of you that are currently planning or are recently married, have you got any other tips you’d like to share? Did we miss anything? Please share…we’d love to know and add to the list!

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