Cheers to a bright New Year, beautiful weddings, and happily-ever-afters! And with all of the magic and merriment of the holidays, we are guessing that many couples are newly engaged and starting to dream and plan for their big day. So if you or someone you know is now engaged and just starting to think about where they would like their dream day to be held, this is for you! You may be wondering where to start when booking your ceremony and reception venue or venues. We’ve got the scoop on the steps you should take, what goes into each decision, and the things to consider when selecting separate ceremony and reception venues versus an all-in-one venue. Read on below!
1. Get Started Early. Depending on how long you would like to be engaged, start the venue search either right away or at least 6-12 months prior to your desired wedding time frame. Dates book up more quickly than you might expect, and you really can’t begin any of the other wedding planning or “set a date” until you have secured your venue.
2. Determine the Location or General Area. Decide if you want something close to home or a destination, and the type of vibe you are going for—coastal, beachy, rustic, elegant Ballroom, industrial, modern?
3. Set Your Budget and Finalize Your Guest Count. Make sure to establish your all-in-budget and to find out venue fees and minimums prior to scheduling site visits. The last thing you want to do is fall in love with a venue you cannot afford! Ideally, your ceremony and reception venues or venue should make up no more than 50% of your total budget (including catering, basic rentals, and wedding cake). Firm up your head count as well (your budget may influence how many guests you invite, or you may increase your budget a bit to accommodate the guest count you need). Your guest count will also determine which venues or venue you will be looking at. A venue’s maximum capacity is one area they are not able to budge on!
4. Select the Time of Year. Select a few dates that work for you (and your budget) within a certain time of year. Some venues may offer reduced rates over the winter months or on certain Fridays or Sundays as opposed to Saturdays. It is also becoming more common to have a weekday wedding, occuring Monday through Thursday. Venues can be extremely flexible with pricing for these weekday affairs, with an average savings of up to 50% off! The season you choose will also affect an indoor wedding versus an outdoor wedding.
5. Think About Your Dream Ceremony & Reception Location(s). Decide if you would like your ceremony to be held in a place of worship or in the same location as your reception. If your ceremony needs to be held in a church or a religious location, we recommend trying to reserve your ceremony and reception venues at the same time. That way, you are not locking yourself into one venue when the other venue is not available on that date. For a church or religious ceremony, there will be certain times when your ceremony can occur. Your reception should begin no later than 2 hours after the conclusion of your ceremony. So if your ceremony is scheduled from 2:00pm-3:00pm, your cocktail reception should begin at 5:00pm. You will also want to provide a reception or details cards in your invitations with directions and reception timing details, as well as things to do in the area for guests to pass the time, depending on the distance from the ceremony to the reception site (this information can also be posted on your wedding website, and you can also include reception cards in welcome bags or at the ceremony site for guests to take with them). Do keep in mind that the transportation between venues may be too much for elderly guests. If a church or religious ceremony is not a requirement for you, an all-in-one venue where you can hold both the ceremony and reception in one location is a great option to eliminate some of these complicated logistics.
6. Ask Lots of Questions. Narrow down your list of potential venues by seeing if they can accommodate your budget, guest count, and dates of interest. Have them put together customized proposals for you so you know all associated costs. Make sure to ask other questions too… such as, whether you are required to use their approved list of vendors or if they allow you to bring other vendors in (and if outside vendors are allowed, what their limitations and guidelines are), what time setup may begin, how long the reception may go until, when teardown must occur, how much their deposit is, how they structure their payment schedule, what their cancellation policy is, how many weddings they allow on-site in a day, and if they allow any outside food or beverage.
7. Set Up Site Visits and Place a Hold on the Date. Next, set up appointments to visit venues in person. Pictures do help you envision how a space can be transformed and will help you keep an open mind (especially if you have a hard time envisioning this on your own), but you won’t know the vibe of a venue until you walk the space. We’ve had clients in the past comment on how critical this was in their decision process, as sometimes pictures don’t always convey the true beauty of a location and if they had not visited the sites we recommended, they probably would not have even considered them. Upon request, many venues will place a 1-2 week courtesy hold on a date (no deposit required) while you are making your decision or finalizing your other ceremony or reception venue. If available, we highly recommend doing this to make sure someone else doesn’t snatch up your desired date!
8. Secure Your Venue or Venues. When you are ready to move forward, request for the venue or venues to send you a contract. Review the contract(s) in detail and make sure to ask questions if anything is unclear or missing. Also remember to compare what we call “apples to apples” – if you are looking at a full bar package and a higher-end menu at one location, you should compare it to the same style of menu at another location. Also, don’t forget to take into consideration that some venues do charge service fees (which can add sometimes up to 20-28% on top of the estimated price). You want to make sure to have all important elements in writing before sending back the contract with your signature and initial deposit.
We know this process can feel completely overwhelming, which is one of the reasons why we offer our Full Planning service called our Dream Wedding Collection. Our goal is to help simplify as much of this venue searching process as we can for our clients. Check it out HERE! We look forward to helping you get started!
Jim Kennedy Photographers