Wedding Planning Series: Finding the Perfect Venue
You're engaged, now what? Check out the fifth part of Grace & Gold's "Wedding Planning Series," for our guide to finding your perfect wedding venue! Be patient, this is our longest blog yet, but it is a step-by-step guide for narrowing down your selections and the major details you need to try and remember throughout the process.
Can we select a venue now, please?
Sorry it’s taken awhile to get here, but we see a lot of couples really dive into selecting things without thinking about their budget first. This means that a lot of times the end up really having to scrimp or eliminate important things, and that’s never fun! But for finding your venue, we are going to walk through a few major factors to consider when compiling a list of potentials, some no-brainer ideas to remember when you get it narrowed down, and how to finalize the one. We suggest trying to get a first-draft list of about 10-15 venues that fit your location, style and guest count. From there, make some further inquiries, read reviews, check out blogs to get it narrowed down to 3-5 that absolutely fit your budget. Finally, visit 2-3 of them that feel great, try to finalize some numbers, see what feels right and then pick!
For that initial search:
Start with a Large Canvas Area… with limits
Don’t be afraid to look far and wide in your geographic area (unless you’ve picked an island, then you will be a little restricted!). When I work with people telling me that they want to get married in “Southern California,” that’s a pretty big area. I try to help them narrow it down a little more, without being too restrictive. I’m actually working with a bride right now who wants to get married on the beach, which means I’m really opening up my search to be from Santa Monica to San Diego (especially because every state and local beach varies with their restricitons!). But, at least I am restricting myself “to the beach.” If you are a picking a specific city, don’t be afraid to look on the outskirts, uptown, downtown, and all around to see where everything is.
Of course, when looking all around at these places, consider what your style is. Rustic and outdoors? Elegant and in a ballroom? Is there no way you will consider not getting married in a barn? Considering your style during this initial search will make this large canvas not seem so large. However, don’t be afraid to think outside the box or dig deeper into venues that can be transformed. I’ve met several brides that shudder at the idea of getting married at a golf course or a country club—being a golfer myself, I totally understand. But honestly, there are several amazing golf courses and country clubs that have taken it upon themselves to create specific areas on their properties just for weddings. And they are awesome, amazing, stunning (if you are a SoCal bride, please take a look at The Gardens at Los Robles Greens in Simi Valley!).
If you guest count really is going to be over 200, that definitely eliminates options for you, but that’s not a bad thing! If you are lower than that, make sure you understand the guest capacity for your venue for ceremony and reception, with your guests being seated. And if the venue says the max capacity is 150, then understand that 160 guests will NOT work and even 150 might be really, really tight. If the venue is high on your list, but has an iffy capacity with your anticipated guest count, you absolutely must see the space before you consider booking. Finally, don’t plan for a guest count that is only 70% of the people you will actually invite. Plan for the number of people you are inviting because the RSVP rate for every wedding varies significantly!
Ok, this should hopefully get you to a number of anywhere from 7-15 possibilities. If it’s lower, that’s OK! Try to have at least 5 potentials before you go into the next phase, because now you will be contacting these venues to get to the nitty-gritty…
Start by contacting the venue (information should be on a website usually, try to email or call someone so you can give as much detail ahead of time), and it is very important to include the following:
- Desired wedding date, but let them know if you are flexible!
- Guest Count
- If both ceremony and reception will be held at the venue
- Budget—not the budget for the whole wedding, but that 45-50% of your budget you’ve set aside to cover the site fees, food, alcohol, etc (and make sure you state that is what the budget is supposed to cover!).
Ask for a preliminary proposal if possible so you can see fees and taxes. This lets you know what the “real cost,” of your wedding will be there.
Yup, I’m going to harp on the budget one last time. Once you get a response, you should be able to narrow down the possibilities once again if they are within your budget. You can always ask if there are things you can do to lower the fee (if there are specials, different times of the year where fees are lower, different day of the week… it all depends on your level of flexibility!) But at the end of the day, remember this: I feel like every bride has seen an episode of Say Yes to the Dress where the bride tries on a dress that is totally out of her budget and it sucks to see her dreams crushed… well, I’m here to tell you wedding venues are just like wedding dresses. Do not go see a wedding venue that is out of your budget!!!
Other Things to Consider Before You Decide Which Venues to Visit
- Send a follow-up email to see what all is included with the preliminary proposal: tables, linens, silverware, etc. There might be big things not included you need to then make room for in your budget!
- Your absolute must-haves list: anything outdoors, full open bar, etc.
- Reviews and blogs: look at reviews on major wedding source websites, and do a search for “Venue Name + Wedding + Photography” so you can see real weddings that have been shot at your venue
From here, get it narrowed down to 2 or 3 that you would like to actually visit, and schedule something! Go with your fiancé (and your planner if you have one), and take a good look at everything. Things to look out for and ask about:
- Lighting: where is there natural light? Is the ceremony in full blazing sun? I know you aren’t a photographer, but think about the light might affect how you look at a certain location at certain times.
- Privacy: are you the only wedding that day? This is a big deal for some brides, especially if a venue is trying to manage a lot on a smaller property.
- Driving and Parking: is there ample parking for your guests or do you need to shuttle everyone in? Is it super difficult to drive to (thinking of you, Malibu!)? Is it close to any reasonably priced hotels that you can get a block in?
- Can you see yourself getting married here?
Talk things through with the catering sales manager and make sure you are crystal clear on the pricing, any regulations and major rules of the venue, see if there are other interested parties for your specific date (don’t want to get into a bidding war!), and what the catering manage/venue coordinator is actually responsible for on the rehearsal and wedding day (because that is the biggest indication of needing a coordinator).
Hopefully this has narrowed everything down to the magical venue of your dreams that has your wedding date available and in your budget. Is this always the case? No, but this process should get you narrowed down to something reasonable that could realistically work for you. And actually, I really hope 2 of your final options are viable for you so you have a Plan B. I’d hate for you to only visit one venue that has one major thing that is a deal-breaker.
Have questions? Feel free to shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’d love to help you out!
Happy Venue Hunting!