Your wedding venue…kind of a big deal. It sets the tone for everything and can make your wedding planning as smooth as buttah or a total nightmare. Not to mention that your options are endless — Barn venue? Banquet hall? Backyard jam? Tent? Destination? That’s enough to put any bride or groom-to-be into analysis paralysis.
Before you start your search
So where to start when making one of the biggest decisions for your wedding? Before you begin your search, it’ll help to ask yourself some preliminary questions.
How many guests are you expecting? Draft up a rough guest list. You can make your cuts later so include anyone you’re on the fence about.
When do you want to get married? Popular venues book up over a year in advance and if you’re stuck on a particular date, month, or season, you’ll need to make sure they have the availability.
Where do you want to get married? Believe me, you’ll want to narrow in as much as possible. If you’re open to different areas consider where most of your guests will be coming from and use that as a centre point. Most of our guests are coming from the Toronto area so we set a one hour driving radius for our venue search.
What vibe do you want your wedding to have? This is oh-so-important. Think about how you would describe your wedding day: casual, rustic elegance, modern, glamorous, barn chic, sparkly and bright…use your imagination. If you’re envisioning a formal tuxedo and ballgown affair, a reception on the beach is probably not a good fit. When you know what words come to mind when you think of your wedding, then it’ll be easy to look at a venue and determine whether it has potential or not.
How much can you afford? All venue packages are different so you’ll need to look at the bigger picture and figure out roughly how much a wedding would cost there in total. Your best source for comparison is your total wedding budget. Make sure you have a fixed number in your head so you can weed out anything that won’t fall within it. Most venues won’t publish their costs upfront but it’s pretty easy to guess that a full buyout of a swanky restaurant will probably be out of a tight budget.
Now it’s time to look for venues!
Ask engaged or married friends if they can recommend a nice venue they’ve visited. Check out the huge list of venues on WeddingWire.com or EventSource.ca. Throw out a net on Google and see what you can find.
When you find a place that looks interesting, reach out to them and be sure to include the # of guests and your date (month, season). I’d recommend starting a spreadsheet of venues you’ve made contact with so you can keep track and makes notes.
Before you book a venue tour
When a venue gets back to you they’ll let you know if your date is available, what space they have available for your group size, and general costs. This is when you dig a little bit deeper and the best approach is to pick up the phone and talk to someone. It seems like a lot of questions upfront before you even see the place but best to clear up any deal breakers before you waste your time going on a venue tour.
Is it within your budget? The venue rental may appear to be inexpensive but if you’re only getting a blank canvas, then you’ll need to consider the additional costs (rentals, staffing, decor, etc.) you’ll need to tack on. On the other hand, a venue may appear to be expensive upfront but includes everything you’ll need so most of your expenses are already taken care of.
Do you want to have the ceremony and reception at the same location? Your venue will let you know what they’re able to accommodate given your guest count. They may be able to host your ceremony and reception at one location or you’ll need to find somewhere else to walk down the aisle. Consider the space capacity to host a cocktail hour (if you’re having one) and whether the reception has space for a dance floor (mandatory, obviously).
Is it REALLY going to capture your vibe? Play Nancy Drew and
creep search online for real weddings that’ve been held there. Many photographers will post photos for portfolio purposes and it’ll give you an idea of the space and its potential.
What are their event time restrictions? Some venues have strict rules on when their events need to be shut down. A 10pm lights out rule might not be the best place for your all-night YMCA dance party.
What are their vendor restrictions? Catering can be done in-house, through preferred caterers (a list of companies they’ve worked with in the past), or an outside caterer, but it’s up to your venue on which they have or allow. Restrictions can also apply towards alcohol, rentals, DJ, you name it, so if you have your heart set on a particular vendor, find out whether you can have them at your wedding.
During your venue tour
You’re at the venue, it looks amazing, boxes are being check marked, and you could really see yourself getting married here. But will it work out? There are plenty of logistical issues to think over so now is the best time to start the interrogation. While you’re there, ask them:
How will your guests get there? Is it accessible by public transportation? Does the venue have parking? Will it be easy to call taxis? Will you need to shuttle your guests between the ceremony and reception?
Where will your guests stay? Are there hotels in the area? Do they have partnerships with any? How will your guests get to the venue from the hotel before/after the wedding?
What rentals will they provide? Tables, chairs, cutlery, plates, linens, glassware, decor — get a comprehensive list if you can and ask to see them. Some venues don’t even provide trash bins so never assume!
What staffing support will they supply? Will they have enough servers and bartenders on hand? Some places will offer a day-of coordinator but their help may be limited to venue-specific responsibilities only, so if you’re looking for someone to pay out your photographer and calm your wedding day nerves you may have to hire another DOC separately.
Is there a kitchen and what equipment will be provided? Your caterer will at minimum need access to a power source and running water. Figure out what equipment will be available for use too. Some food items require special equipment (e.g. a deep fryer) so your caterer will need to rent things if it’s not already at the venue.
Is there a separate room for bridal prep? A bridal prep rooms means the bride can get ready onsite rather than having to organize another location day of.
What’s the lighting like? Check out how much natural light the space gets during the day and what the lights will look like in the evening. This will be useful information for your photographer.
What’s Plan B for bad weather? If there are any outdoor elements to your wedding, you’ll want to make sure you’re covered (literally) in case of bad weather.
What do they need from you to secure the date? You’ll 1000000% want a contract to be signed by both parties. Find out also what they’ll need for a deposit to secure the date and when future payments are due.
Run your wedding day through your head and gets answers for anything you’re unsure of before you book. The venue will play a big part so you’ll want to know you’ve made the right decision!
What other questions should you ask when choosing a wedding venue?