As of today, I’m exactly 42 days out (but who’s counting…?!) from walking down the aisle to marry the love of my life and my fiance, Patrick. Since I’m deep in the trenches of the wedding planning process, I thought I’d share some of the wisdom I’d like to think I’ve acquired.
No less than 5 minutes after our engagement (during the phone call to my family to share the exciting news), the questions started about when and where we would tie the knot. This was no doubt the biggest and, for us, the most stress-inducing decision we had to make. Having a list of important criteria so that we could weigh our options really helped us narrow it down.
Before we get to the nitty-gritty, the very first step when choosing your venue is to think about the overall look and feel you want for your wedding day: Do you want a chic ballroom wedding or a laid-back backyard dinner party? Do you envision getting married overlooking a beautiful vineyard or on a sandy shoreline, or is your and your fiance’s style more industrial chic warehouse? Considering the overall vibe and level of formality that you want for your day will help you narrow down your search criteria. Once you figure out your theme, get to searching on The Knot for well-reviewed venues by your category. After a lot of online research and visiting a handful of venues in New York, we had our hearts set on a destination wedding in Charleston, South Carolina. I had all the heart eyes for the quintessential outdoor, mossy oak trees of the South, so we booked our flights for a weekend in Chucktown and saw no less than 10 venues in one day. In order to get this all accomplished in a short weekend trip, I made a spreadsheet of each location I was interested in, and then had the below criteria as columns to compare them by. I was actually able to find almost all of this information online! Any blank spaces I had, I asked about during our appointment.
What is the maximum guest count?
This is a pretty obvious one, but it’s also a make or break. I would highly suggest coming up with your guest list prior to really digging in to your venue search. Right after we got engaged, my fiance and I agreed we wanted a “laid-back, small wedding” but when we got to actually writing our guest list, we quickly saw how our large families and extended families alone added up! Take the time to actually write your list (it doesn’t have to be a final version) to at least get an idea of how many people you need to plan to accommodate for.
What space options are there for the various parts of your wedding day?
Where will cocktail hour be held, and if you are not planning a church ceremony, are there options to hold the ceremony and reception all in one spot? Think about how you can utilize the different available spaces for ceremony, cocktail hour and reception.
What is the availability of the venue?
Even though I wasn’t dead set on a spring wedding per say, I was shocked at how far in advance venues book up! I kept a pretty open mind and listed all possible date options. However, if you’re set on a Saturday wedding in the fall, you can immediately rule out some of your venue selection. Or if you want an outdoor wedding in the South (like we did!) July and August are pretty much a no-go.
What is the peak versus off peak cost for the venue?
What about Friday vs. Saturday or Sunday? Depending on where you are getting married, there may be different prices based on the demand of the season and day of the week. For us, spring and fall were considered “peak season” and because Charleston gets so hot during the summer, that was “off peak”. Certain venues may offer lower prices on a Friday or Sunday versus a Saturday wedding.
What is included in the rental cost?
Some venues like country clubs typically include a bundled package where the cost of the venue, the furniture, catering, bar, and maybe even a coordinator are all wrapped into one. Outdoor or more non-traditional venues may just offer you the bare bones location and you bring in the rest. Find out exactly what is included in the price you’re being quoted.
What other costs will be associated with this venue?
Think about the additional costs you’re going to incur. If you’re having an outdoor wedding, will you need to rent a tent and dance floor? If your venue is not all-inclusive, will you need to bring in rental furniture, plates, flatware, glassware, etc.? Does your venue have any requirements as far as hiring a wedding planner? These costs add up quicker than you’d think!
What other costs will be associated with this venue?
- Find out what the catering situation is. Some venues have an in-house caterer. If this is the case, find out if there are any food and beverage minimum requirements. Others may provide you with a list of preferred vendors that they like to work with, while some may give you complete freedom to bring the caterer of your choosing.
What hours can you reserve the space?
Find out how early you can start your ceremony or cocktail hour and when you are required to end the party. This was an important one to us, because we found that some venues had earlier end times than we’d like due to city regulations and noise constraints. If you’re hosting your ceremony in the same location, make sure that you’ll be able to start early enough that the evening won’t feel rushed and you and your guests will get plenty of time on the dance floor.
Will you have the space to yourself and will it be open to the public or another event?
Find out if the venue hosts more than one wedding on the same day. If you’re considering public parks or historic sites, check if they will be closed to visitors during your wedding hours. If having the space to yourself is important to you, this can definitely affect the overall feel and intimacy of your celebration.
What was your biggest contributing factor when committing to a wedding venue? Can you think of any important questions to ask during the process that I missed?