You’re freshly engaged and have followed the initial steps in wedding planning (which we talked about in a previous blog post). Before you can jump into picking vendors you first need to book your venue, because without your venue you don’t know your wedding date and without a wedding date you can’t check the availability of any wedding professionals. So how exactly does one find the right venue?
First you want to be on the same page with your partner about the type of place you want your wedding held.
Indoors or outdoors?
Ballroom or barn?
Ceremony onsite or at a place of worship?
Wedding day or wedding weekend?
And then you need to determine the general region you want to stay in.
Catskills Mountain region?
A short drive from your hometown church?
Within an hour of the Albany Airport?
You will need to have a general sense of your wedding budget and how much you should expect to spend on your venue.
A rough guess to start is that around 40-50% of your total budget will likely go towards your reception venue and your reception food and beverage costs. Some venues come with catering on site and some are raw spaces where you bring your own caterer in. Understand the differences going in so you can be sure you are comparing apples to apples.
The last piece is getting a general idea of how many guests will be attending. You want to make sure you are looking at venues with enough capacity for your group to fit comfortably.
One you are set on these basic parameters you can start your search! If you are working with a wedding planner they will be able to give you a condensed list of every venue that hits on all of the items on your wish list, and be able to guide you through the ins and outs of working with each venue. This saves you a ton of time and ensures you are considering all of the best places around.
If you are planning your wedding without a planner there are many resources out there to help you conduct your venue search on your own. Wedding directories like The Knot and Wedding Wire contain a massive amount of vendor listings so it is often times easiest to start by sifting through sites like these. Also look for wedding resources in the region you are considering, such as local wedding associations, a regional Chamber of Commerce or local tourist sites. You can also try your hand with search engines like Google, or sifting through listings and hash tags on social media, which help you uncover places that are either newer or who haven’t put their venues up on any of the sites marketing to wedding couples. This is especially true for your nontraditional venues such as bed and breakfasts, small inns, working farms, public parks, and private vacation home rentals. I’m not gonna lie - this process of searching through wedding directories, Google, and local associations takes a lot of time. Try to spread the work out with your partner or parents and make sure to keep detailed notes of everything you find.
About this note taking… It’s very helpful, especially for the self planner, to create a spreadsheet with columns listing out all of the features that are on your wish list. Columns should include the town that the venue is in, the general wish list items such as being near water or having lodging onsite, and so on. Make sure you also have a column to write in the phone number and web address of the venue so you can save yourself time when you revisit your list.
Once you have a robust list you will want to start narrowing down your options. You might look back at ones you wrote down in the beginning and feel you can scratch a few off automatically. No need to spend time considering a venue that is just not the right fit. For those left on the list you will want to start contacting them to get some initial information. Some venues have contact forms on their websites, some list out phone numbers or email addresses, and some list links to their social sites. Whichever way you want to contact them is up to you, but it’s time to start peppering out a lot of inquiries.
What should you be asking the venue managers in this initial discovery phase?
Available dates during the time of year you wish to get married
Capacity of the space (including space for a dance floor)
Catering - is it provided in house or do you have to get your own caterer (if it is provided in house ask to see a sample of their menus for food and bar)
Any specific features that are of high importance to you - onsite accommodations, option for outdoor ceremony, access to the property for formal photos, Kosher kitchen, allows dogs on site, venues that only do one wedding a day, etc
On the topic of costs there are a few things to uncover to be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Here are some costs that venues could have -
Rental/site fee - This is the cost to rent the space for the day, the evening, or the weekend. Venues that are raw rental spaces where you have to bring all of your vendors in often charge just a rental fee. Venues that have catering on site often do not charge a separate space fee, instead all of their costs are rolled into the food and beverage pricing..
Accommodations fee - This is the cost for lodging for venues with overnight rooms onsite. This fee can sometimes be absorbed by the guests who will be staying there.
Food and Beverage - If the venue offers catering onsite they will be able to tell you these costs either by providing you with their pricing guide or by giving you sample menus. It is important to ask if they have a Food and Beverage Minimum. More about that can be found here.
Now that you know the basic information on each venue it is time to do some more slashing of that venue list. When you have narrowed your options down to a few that hit on most or all of your wish list message the venue manager back and set up a time for a visit (if possible, depending on where you live). Sift through the specifics of each venue you will be visiting to make sure you have a full list of questions to ask and spaces to see while you are there.
After you have toured the venues and gotten all the additional information you were looking for it’s time to pick a winner!
Congrats in advance for finding the wedding venue that is perfect for you! Now that the venue is secured (through a proper contract and the submission of a deposit) you are locked in on a wedding date. And now that you have your date you can start building the rest of your vendor team. Good luck and have fun!
Photos above by Jessie Casey, Diana Marr, Matt Ramos Photography, Niki Rossi Photography, Rob Spring Photography, Divine Light Photography, Heather Bohm-Tallman, Jack Loves Mary Photography, Adam Ciccarino Photo, Latimer Studios, Cappy Hotchkiss, Kelly Kollar Photography, and Isaac Wasuck