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11 Tips for Choosing a Wedding Venue

You may have dreamed about it since you were a kid or maybe you just came across the perfect location while scouting online. From fairytale-esque fantasy palaces straight out of a Disney movie to rustic barns strung with lights and garlands to barefoot beach ceremonies, there is no shortage of amazing venues to hold your wedding. In fact, the choices can even be downright overwhelming. How do you choose? What do you look for in a wedding venue? What do you not want in a wedding venue? Let’s help narrow down the possibilities with our 11 things to consider when choosing a wedding venue.

1. Check out real photos of the venue.

Online searches have made checking out wedding venues so much more convenient. But there is a need for caution when simply going by the venue’s photos. Of course, the venue is going to take pictures that make the space look it’s best. But staging can make almost any location look incredibly amazing. Sometimes the reality doesn’t match the fantasy that has been carefully created. But unless you’ve already seen it with your own eyes, you need to see a more realistic picture of the venue.

Planners and photography blogs can be an excellent resource for checking out real-life photos of a venue. It’s true that wedding photographers stage photos, but they are interested in staging the people, not the venue. Often times wedding planners or photographers will even have some candid shots which can give you a good idea of what the space truly looks like.

2. What are the reviews saying?

The wonders of the internet have also made it very easy to see what others have to say about their experience with a venue. Online reviews are an important resource when checking out a facility, but they shouldn’t be your only source.  Why not?

First of all, statistically a very small percentage of people who have used the venue actually take the time to write reviews. Sometimes these are people that have been dissatisfied for one reason or another and want to take their frustrations out in the review.

That being the case, it’s important to look at the reviews closely. Is a particular review extremely nitpicky, dramatic, or possibly blowing small things out of proportion? Is the entire tone sour? Is the review extreme or over-embellished in other ways (good or bad)? These might be signs of an unwarranted bias (or exaggerated perfections) which won’t really give you a very clear idea of what you might be working with at a venue.

So, is it even worth checking out reviews? Absolutely! Check multiple platforms or forums online to get an overall feel for client experiences. Look at more middle-of-the-road reviews for a generally more accurate viewpoint. Talk to real people who have been to the venue and worked with them—wedding planners, caterers, friends or acquaintances. Having information from a number of sources is the key to a good overall picture.

3. Response to inquiry emails or messages.

Before you even visit a venue, it’s common to email or leave some kind of message to get a bit more information. The response, or lack thereof, can give you a clue as to how much attention they pay to customer service.
How long did it take for them to call back or return your email? When they do respond, is did they fully address your questions or was it a standard form response (were they really paying attention to what you were saying)?

A venue with excellent customer service will thoroughly read your email and give you more than just a cursory reply. Even better if they give you additional information or ask you follow-up questions. If a venue doesn’t give a thorough or timely response to your inquiry, it could mean they are either overbooked or their staff doesn’t really care about your business.

4. Listen to your gut.

Yes, of course, you should never judge a book by its cover and all that cliché, but you should never discount your gut feeling, especially when it comes to first impressions. There are some key factors that could signal some red flags before or during your visit to the venue.

If you are visiting the venue, how was the staff? Where they accommodating and willing to work with you? Do they do all the talking or are they listening to what you have to say and tailoring their responses and presentation to your requests and concerns?

Are they saying things like “We won’t know until closer to the date” “We’re not sure that we can accommodate that” or “no, we can’t work with that”? It’s great that they are giving you honest answers, but it could indicate that it just isn’t the right venue for you.

Wedding venues are in the customer service business so if you don’t find their customer relations to be top-notch right off the bat, what are you in for later? You want a venue that is going to work with you to make your vision come to life.

5. How’s the lighting?

Lighting might not be the first thing on your list to care about, but it can have a big effect on your photos. You’re going to work hard to get every detail just right and you don’t want that lost in bad lighting.

Check with your photographer about lighting issues. You can also find out if the venue offers any kind of additional lighting packages or projected gobos. If they don’t offer lighting extras, get estimates on outside vendor lighting or how much it might cost to DIY.

6. Check out the nooks and crannies.

You may be mesmerized by the initial glitz, splendor, or wonder of the venue and it could be love at first sight.  But don’t be afraid to take a closer look. It can tell you a lot about how the venue is cared for. Some things to take a good look at:

• Are the carpets dirty, frayed, seriously worn?
• Is the ceiling water stained?
• Is there mold or signs of mold (a water stained ceiling may indicate mold was or is an issue, but your nose can help you out with that, too).
• Are there cracks or holes in the walls?
• Are any of the furnishings broken or seriously worn?
• Are the bathrooms clean and free of unpleasant odors?
• Are the corners free of cobwebs?

Don’t be afraid to ask to check out the kitchen and bar area as well to make sure it is clean (ex. greasy kitchen floors).

7. Is it “you”.

Wedding venues come in all shapes, styles, and sizes. You might see so many different styles online that catch your eye it can be hard to narrow down. A key factor in finding a venue is the personal style of you and your intended. Is the venue “you”?

For example, maybe you can’t wait to rock your cowboy boots and have catered BBQ at your reception—you’re all about casual cowboy. Will a formal ballroom give you what you want? Maybe you dream of having your guests in glamorous gowns and tuxedos. Will a barn wedding in a field align with your vision? Nothing wrong with mixing styles as long as it keeps with who you are.

It’s also good to keep an open mind when looking at venues. What you thought you wanted may not end up being what you actually wanted. Visions and reality don’t always match up, but many couples walk into a venue and just know it’s the right one even if it isn’t initially what they had in mind.

8. Is there enough space to accommodate your guest list?

A facility may have a max capacity for a room, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into adequate comfortable space for your guests. When visiting a venue, check to see if it will fit your guests without making them feel like they are packed in a sardine can.

It’s also a good idea to discuss the configuration of the room you will be holding your reception in. The way It’s set up can make the room feel overcrowded or give your guests some breathing room. Find out if the venue is flexible with the room configuration so you can give your guests maximum comfort (without losing your dance floor space).

9. Location and accessibility.

Your friends and family want to celebrate your happy day with you, but it’s important that they can get there. This is especially true if you are having a destination wedding or a lot of out of town guests. Some questions to consider:

• Is the area very busy or unsafe, especially later at night after the party ends?
• What is the parking situation? Is there a lot? Will guests have to park at a distance or in expensive lots/garages?
• If applicable, is it easy to access via public transportation or ride sharing?
• Is the venue hard to find or to get to for a lot of guests?
• Is it very far from where the ceremony was performed to the reception area?
• Is there a hotel connected to the venue or convenient nearby rooming for out-of-town guests?

You can also consider whether the venue is accessible or can accommodate those with special needs such as older/elderly relatives or those with physical disabilities.

10. Are the venue policies work for you and are they flexible?

Since each wedding is unique, blanket venue policies aren’t going to work for everyone. It’s a good idea to find out what they are and if they are right for your wedding before you sign a contract.

Are they available for the date you want? If not, and you are flexible, find out what incentives or discounts they offer for certain days or times of the year.

Are there restrictions? This includes things such as minimum head counts (if the minimum is 150 people and you only have 100, they will still charge you for the minimum of 150 people) or food and beverage minimums. If so, is there any lee-way or flexibility?

Are they willing to work with your budget? Will they give you the most for your budget? What about concessions or add-ons? If you find that you can live without the swan ice sculptures and beluga caviar they’ve built into the package, are they willing to negotiate what they offer to make it more affordable for you?

11. Find out what is included.

Whether you don’t want the hassle of planning every little detail of the venue or you can’t wait to make your Pinterest dream wedding board come to life, it’s good to know exactly what you are working with when it comes to what the venue includes.

Find out:

  • Is it full service (their own food, décor, linens, etc.)? What is the price if you have to bring in a caterer or rent linens and do your own decorating?
  • Are gratuities included in the price and if not, what are they?

When considering venues, a DIY affair may be less expensive than a full-service venue when seeing initial pricing, but getting estimates and comparing costs (plus time and energy) is essential. You might dream of having your wedding in your neighbor’s old barn (which can be amazing), but it’s also important to consider the reality of the details—Is there electricity at the venue? Is there a place to refrigerate and heat food? What will the grounds be like if it rains? What is the time and cost to bring in tables, chairs, linens, etc.? How much do these things factor into what you want or don’t mind dealing with?

Everyone has their different vision of a dream wedding, whether it’s a full-service fantasy ballroom or a DIY barn bash, it’s important to be happy with your choice. There are a lot of factors to consider and only you know what is right for you as a couple. Happy hunting!

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