While pretty much every aspect of a wedding is optional, from wearing a suit instead of a dress to ditching the flowers to forgoing the wedding cake, there’s one thing you can’t skip: a venue. After all, you’ve got to have somewhere for your friends and family to gather and celebrate.
But finding the perfect venue isn’t easy. There are so many options to choose from, whether you’re looking for a stunning barn, an elegant ballroom, a cozy restaurant, or a quiet stretch of beach. So we asked a few wedding planners to share their top tips for finding your dream venue.
The venue you select for your big day sets the tone for your event, whether you go for a casual beach to a majestic ballroom. When it comes to how to choose a wedding venue, the whole process can feel pretty daunting, and there are lots of questions that you’ll need to answer. Will your wedding be big or small? Outdoors or indoors? Rustic or glam? Settling on the basics of your wedding will help you and your partner narrow down the many venues out there, and find the one that’s right for you.
The venue you pick will determine the number of guests you can invite, the location of your wedding and, of course, the theme and styling, too. You need to allocate a good proportion of your wedding planning time and budget to find your dream venue because there are so many different options to consider and look at. From manor houses to stand-alone tipis, there is something out there to suit every kind of couple, and it’s just a matter of making your own decision.
Table of Contents
- 1 Here’s the rundown of how to choose a wedding venue, from start to finish.
- 1.1 Choose your wedding’s general location
- 1.2 Figure out your budget
- 1.3 Come up with an estimated guest count
- 1.4 Think about your priorities
- 1.5 Narrow down some dates
- 1.6 Start your venue search online
- 1.7 Reach out to a few venues with some basic questions
- 1.8 Pay a visit to your favourites
- 1.9 Weigh the pros and cons
- 2 Is the Capacity Right For You?
- 3 Is the venue available?
- 4 Is the size appropriate for your guest list?
- 5 Is it friendly to your budget?
- 6 Are there nearby accommodations for guests?
- 7 Is there in-house catering?
- 8 Is access to the venue easy?
- 9 Is there sufficient parking?
- 10 Are tables, chairs, and other essentials provided?
- 11 Sign on the dotted line
Here’s the rundown of how to choose a wedding venue, from start to finish.
Choose your wedding’s general location
In our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, weddings were traditionally held in the bride’s hometown. Nowadays, however, your wedding can be held anywhere—either partner’s hometown, the city where you currently live, a favourite vacation spot, even a destination that you’ve always wanted to visit. There are certain benefits to hosting a hometown wedding (convenience!), but destination weddings certainly have their perks, too (amazing backdrop!). You’ll want to select the general location where your event will take place first and foremost, as this decision will affect all the other details of your big day, from your budget to your venue options.
Figure out your budget
When it comes to how to choose a wedding venue, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is how much you can spend on a space. And it turns out that your venue and catering will compromise about half of your wedding budget. In the U.S., couples spend an average of $5,400 on their venue alone, with most couples spending between $2,700 and $10,500—not a small amount by any stretch. How much you’ll spend on your venue depends on where you’re planning on marrying—renting a venue in a major city will likely cost more than one in a more rural area. Talk to your partner and any loved ones who may be contributing financially to your big day and come up with a total budget—then divide that number by half to determine the amount you can spend on your venue and catering (which may end up being a combined cost if you select an all-inclusive venue).
Come up with an estimated guest count
Every wedding venue has a capacity—a firm number of guests that it can comfortably hold. This number is usually not flexible, so while you don’t need to come up with an exact number of guests before selecting a venue, you’ll need to have a pretty good estimate. There’s a pretty big difference between a venue that can accommodate 75 guests, and one that can hold 500. Don’t just pull a guest count out of thin air (“I want a 100-person wedding!”). Sit down with your partner and respective families to come up with a list so there won’t be any major surprises later on (you can always add or subtract a few guests if you need). The last thing you want is to fall in love with a wedding venue with a 200-person capacity only to realise that you have a 350-person guest list.
Think about your priorities
Once you have a location, budget, and guest count, it’s time to start thinking about what your dream venue would look like. Sit down with your partner and choose three features that your ideal venue would have. For example, an outdoor ceremony space, in-house catering, and a rustic feel might be on your must-have list. Or perhaps you’re looking for a venue that’s conveniently located, pet-friendly, and allows you to choose an outside caterer. The possibilities are endless, and each couple’s priorities will be different.
Narrow down some dates
Booking a wedding venue means that you’ve officially “set the date” for your big day. You may already have a wedding date in mind, or you may be able to be a bit more flexible. Either way, one of the first steps of how to choose a wedding venue is to narrow down a few dates that you know will work for you, your partner, and your closest loved ones. While saying that you’re getting married “next fall” is a good start, you should have some specific dates in mind before looking at venues. While some couples may figure out their wedding date based on when their dream venue is available, we recommend picking a few dates before starting your official venue hunt.
Start your venue search online
Phew! After figuring out all of those details, you can now actually start looking at wedding venues. Use a site to browse wedding venues in your area, read reviews from past couples, check out photos, and much more. You can even narrow your search down by your desired capacity, availability, type of venue you’re interested in, and other amenities, from catering to insurance and more. We recommend perusing venues online as a joint effort with your partner, working together to create a shortlist of venues that you’d like to learn more about.
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Reach out to a few venues with some basic questions
Once you’ve narrowed down a list of five or so venues, send each one a message expressing your interest and asking a few questions. These questions should include if they’re available on your desired date, confirming their capacity, and ensuring that they offer the top priorities you discussed with your partner earlier. You can also request pricing information to ensure they’re within budget. This initial communication can be also helpful in determining if a venue’s staff is responsive and helpful. Receiving a friendly email within a relatively short timeframe (remember that venues are likely quite busy on the weekends with events!) is an encouraging sign.
Pay a visit to your favourites
One of the most important parts of how to choose a wedding venue is visiting a few select locations in person. At these in-person visits, you’ll be able to tour the space and decide if it’s the right fit for your big day. Venues may look one way in photos, but entirely different in person so while visiting event spaces might cut into your schedule, they’re super important. You’ll also be able to meet with the venue coordinator, ask any additional questions, and see if you click with the staff.
Weigh the pros and cons
If you fall in love at first sight with a particular venue, it can be a pretty amazing feeling. However, don’t feel too much pressure to sign on the dotted line during your initial tour. It’s best to take a step back, tour a few venues, and discuss your options with your partner and, if desired, your families. Think about the pros and cons of all of the venues you toured, and work together to decide on your top choice. You may think that you’ve found the perfect space for your big day, but perhaps your partner has some concerns. While you and your partner might not agree on every aspect of your big day, you should both be happy with your choice of venue. If that means touring a few more venues to be sure you’ve found “the one,” do it.
Is the Capacity Right For You?
Deciding whether you want a large capacity wedding venue or you’d prefer a smaller and more intimate wedding venue is the first step to narrowing down your choice of wedding venue. The size of the venue is incredibly important and will impact on budget and the enjoyment of your guests. Too small for your number of guests and the room will feel stuffy and overcrowded, but too big and guests will feel lost, and space will feel cold.
Make a rough guest list so you can immediately get rid of options that are too small or big. Just remember it’s easy to underestimate how many people you (or your parents!) will end up inviting and you can suddenly find you’ve got too many RSVPs for your space.
When a venue is empty, it is hard to imagine how it will look when filled with tables. For this reason, we would always advise viewing a venue when it is set up for a wedding. If this is not possible, ask to see photographs; most venues should have a photo book or slideshow.
Another tip is to ask for a seating plan of the room at capacity, and this will give you a good idea of how much space there is and how comfortably your guests’ numbers will fit.
Is the venue available?
This is the most important factor to consider when choosing a wedding venue.
Some wedding venues and public gardens are booked years in advance, especially around holidays or for particularly special days such as Valentine’s Day.
If your venue of choice is not available on the date of your wedding and you’re dead set on holding your wedding ceremony or reception there, you will either need to change your wedding date or search for a new venue.
Once you have found the perfect wedding venue and know it is free, book it immediately to ensure nobody else books it for your big day.
Is the size appropriate for your guest list?
Picking a venue that is the right size for your festivities is essential when planning your wedding and reception.
The last thing you want to do is have your guest sitting cheek to jowl because your venue was too small for the group you are inviting.
Pay special attention to the capacity of any venue you are looking at before booking and ensure that it has space for the activities you’re planning on holding.
Is it friendly to your budget?
There are countless venues to choose from for your wedding, and some will be more appealing. However, the reality is not every venue will fit within your budget.
Determine what you can afford per head before contacting venues as this will avoid the frustrations of falling in love with a wedding venue you simply cannot afford.
Are there nearby accommodations for guests?
If you are planning on holding your reception somewhere a little further out than usual or if you have lots of guests coming from overseas or interstate, consider whether your venue has its accommodation or is near accommodation that will allow your guests to stay overnight.
It’s one thing to hold your dream wedding in a charming castle or country estate. Still, if your guests are unable to call taxis afterwards or get to accommodation, especially if they’ve been drinking, it will end the evening badly. You don’t want your guests being unsafe.
Is there in-house catering?
Whether you are going to serve a full four-course dinner or have some type of buffet with snacks, you need to know if the venue you are looking at has an in-house catering service.
If they do, can they provide you with menu options to suit your guests, including vegetarians, gluten-intolerant guests or those with religious food requirements?
If there is no in-house catering, you will need to add another job to your list, finding a caterer.
Is access to the venue easy?
We’ve talked about an aspect of this factor above, but the location isn’t the only consideration. Is the venue you are looking to book easy to find? If it is located too close to busy streets? Will that cause unnecessary frustrations to the wedding party and the guests? Try not to book a reception venue that is too far from the wedding venue as convenience is crucial for you and your guests, but you’ll likely be taken care of as far as transport is concerned.
This won’t necessarily be the case for guests who don’t have transport etc.
To learn more, check out our post on 6 Weird And Wonderful Wedding Venues Around The World.
Is there sufficient parking?
Is there adequate parking for all of your guests? If parking is lacking, find a nearby parking lot available on your wedding date where you can, perhaps, organise a shuttle service to your venue. Again, there are safety concerns too, as you don’t want your guests wandering the streets or in lonely car parks in the wee hours.
Are tables, chairs, and other essentials provided?
When choosing your venue, don’t assume everything you see in the pictures is included. While most venues will provide chairs and tables, extra costs may be involved when it comes to dancefloors, cutlery and glasses as well as table decorations and linen. And not all venues will provide these things, so be sure to ask what is included and what you must source yourself.
Sign on the dotted line
When you and your partner have agreed on your desired venue, ask to receive a contract. While it can be really easy to breeze through a contract and just sign it without much thought, a venue contract is worth a close read. Don’t be afraid to ask the venue coordinator about any portions of the contract that confuse you, and be sure you understand the payment schedule. When you feel comfortable with all aspects of your venue contract, sign it, return the paperwork to the venue, and pop some bubbly! You’ve officially made what’s arguably one of the most important decisions you’ll make during your wedding planning process—and that’s worth celebrating.
While you might not even want to think about rain putting a damper on your outdoor wedding, you can’t look at venues without considering an alternative plan of action should Mother Nature have other ideas. Figure out if there’s an indoor space you can use should the weather turn, or if there’s an option to set up an outdoor tent if your heart is set on an open-air celebration.