When it comes to choosing a wedding venue, people typically tell you to think about the basics, such as rates and capacity. But choosing a good wedding venue can really make or break your planning experience. The venue sets the tone for your entire wedding and should be a place that leaves you feeling totally confident about your big day. Everything and everyone come together and centers around the wedding venue, so keep these things in mind when choosing yours:
1.Ask your “must have” vendors first.
I chose my photographers from Pinterest before I chose anything else. I saw their photos and became totally obsessed with them. They are the sweetest husband-wife duo and every review I read swore up and down that you would want to be friends with them after your wedding and they would leave you feeling totally comfortable and at ease throughout the planning process and on the big day, which couldn't have been more spot on. I knew I had to have them as my photographers without a doubt. We planned on having a destination wedding since 80% of our guests would be flying in from out of town if we did it local to where we live, and there was no way I was having a wedding in NY (unless it was at this super cool hippie-dippie place in the Catskills). So I turned to my must have vendor I asked them for suggestions. They gave me a list of places they enjoyed working with in the past so I set meetings up from there. The thing is, if you get a good vibe from your vendor, chances are they are only going to recommend venues that are easy to work with – which in turn not only makes your life easier but theirs too. At the end of the day, having a team of vendors who has worked well together in the past makes the day run a lot smoother if anything comes up.
2. Think in terms of ease & practicality for your guests and for you.
Granted it is your wedding day, so asking people to go to your church or temple then drive an hour to a reception is fairly common and people will obviously do it; but will this give you more stress? It's definitely going to take away from your guests experience. How will the guests get from the multiple locations? Will it cost your more money? Are the added variables of what could go wrong (for example if your wedding is in the winter, will a long drive between venues potential lead to travel hazards?). There really is no right or wrong answer to this, it depends on time of year, weather, costs, size of the wedding, and so on. Just something to consider.
We opted to do everything in one place since it was a destination wedding, we wanted people to feel like they were on vacation and we did not want to worry about coordinating additional details.
3. Get clear on your vision before the wedding venue visits.
Go H.A.M. on Pinterest. Seriously, get on it ASAP. This is my personal Pinterest page, and you can see I have a board for everything (which made planning SO easy, because for the florist I just gave her my board, I had a “wedding bites” board for the chef, a “wedding love” board for all the decor and details for the planners, and so on). When it came time to actually visit wedding venues I knew what I was trying to envision. Our florist pointed out that I had re-pinned the same bouquet multiple times without realizing it, which in turn, became my bouquet the day of. I also knew that I wanted everything to be at one location, but I did not want a wedding at a hotel with a million of the hotel patrons watching from their balconies, so finding a hotel/resort that could offer some privacy was a big deal. Think about what you do and do not want on your big day.
4. Check reviews on multiple platforms.
Check WeddingWire, The Knot, Facebook, Instagram, Google Reviews, AND Yelp! I know this may sound excessive, but ICYMI people buy reviews! Seriously, it's a thing. Chances are they are not buying reviews on ALL of the above platforms though. So make sure you get as clear of a picture as possible. Also, don't be afraid to skip over friends recommendations. They may have different tastes or budgets than you, so do you own due diligence. Do this before visiting the wedding venues too, because it will give you more knowledge on questions to ask or warning signs to be wary of.
5. Keep your eyes open for red flags during the initial visit.
I can not stress this enough. The first wedding venue we officially visited left us feeling totally frustrated and depleted about making our vision come to life. We kept asking questions about customizing the locations of the ceremony, cocktail, and reception and kept being met with some variation of ‘no.' Every question was met with: “well we can only do that if you have 180 guests or more or you are willing to pay as if you have 180 guests” or “well we could do that but we won't be able to guarantee it until a week before the big day if no one else uses that space” or simply, “we can't do that.” During your initial visit you should be asking tough and specific questions, and if you don't feel like you are in the honeymoon phase of it all, then get out.
Also – as a side note, if you are doing a hotel/resort wedding (or even just getting a block of rooms somewhere but doing your wedding somewhere else), I highly recommend actually staying at the location and seeing all the rooms your guests may experience prior to booking.
Some back story: Our first night staying at venue option 1 the water was out in our hotel room. Our room was gorgeous, newly upgraded, so I didn't want to switch rooms, but I hadn't showered since 8 am that morning and spent the whole day traveling and doing site visits. I wanted to shower at 9 pm. I was cranky. When we kept calling the front desk they couldn't tell us when the water would be back on, if at all that night. They kept sending us on a wild goose chasing from person to person with long waits. I asked if I could shower at the spa or a vacant room and come back to my room and they said no. I was livid. They said they would call when the water came back on, which they never did. Eventually an hour or so later I heard water running in another room so I checked ours for the hundredth time and saw I could shower. The corporate offices made everything right with us in the end, but I was way too nervous about our guests experience from there.
Also sometimes resorts or hotels are undergoing renovations in sections. They may show you the nicest rooms, but remember to ask if all the rooms look like this and if they don't ask to see those too. If there are different grades of rooms you can try to negotiate the nicer rooms into your block only, or simply choose somewhere else.
6. Ask about renovations.
During your planning visit, ask if the venue has any scheduled renovations or large projects planned during the time of year you are considering. The last thing you want is for that gorgeous view you fell in love with to be obstructed; or not have access to the spa if you planned on spending some time in the saunas or steams de-stressing before the craziness (or after).
However, keep in mind, that just because none are planned at that time, it doesn't mean renovations will not come up…
This was actually a question I had asked during the initial visit and was told nothing was planned. We signed the contracts and then the new year came, with the new plans from corporate about the hotel. We received a call towards the end of January 2016 stating that corporate decided to renovate our reception location starting two weeks before our wedding day #crushed.
Like I said, choose a wedding venue you feel confident in. The staff was great and offered us two options: 1) change our wedding date, they even contacted our vendors for us to help put a few new dates on hold or 2) change the reception location.
If you caught this post on how my wedding was different than I imagined, you know that I had a lot of anxiety about an all outdoor wedding; so we didn't have one originally planned. Instead, we had this beautiful wood-paneled restaurant with panoramic ocean views. Very rustic. Very safe from mother Earth's elements. Since it was a restaurant, it meant we would be having a brunch wedding so the restaurant could open as planned that night, I purchased a “daytime” wedding dress (the first of seven I ended up purchasing – more on that in another post). I hate ballrooms. No offense if you have a wedding in a ballroom, but something about ballroom carpet in pictures just drives me crazy. So when they talked about switching the location I felt at a total loss since I didn't want a ballroom and the only other option was outside. I knew we couldn't move the date, and I knew that to really have the rustic natural elements I wanted to incorporate on our wedding day, we would need to have a wedding outside. The staff was phenomenal at helping us bring everything together while sticking to our original budget.
7. Check the venue's vendor policies.
You see, one of the worst things is to fall in love with a wedding venue, who only allows you to work with a small list of approved vendors. Do not assume that because the wedding venue is great their list of vendors is great. This can be a total headache if this list is out of date or not your style. Sometimes venue's will charge you an additional fee if you stray from the list, some wedding venues won't let you stray from the list at all. Spend the time looking through the vendors and meeting with them before signing on with the venue. Chances are you are paying the venue a rental or usage fee of some sort, make sure you comb through the fine print for any additional hidden fees.
Lastly, don't forget your standard questions for a wedding venue: availability (if you have a specific date or time of year); rates, capacity, restrictions, transportation/parking, caterer (in-house or outside – if outside what is the re-heating situation like), hidden fees/extras (security, additional hours, set up and breakdown fees, music has to stop at a certain time, etc).
Then there is always the backyard wedding option! Check out these helpful tips for planning a backyard wedding.
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Photo Cred: Brooke Images