Open Thread: What To Look For In A Venue


by Lucy Bennett, Deputy Editor

Open Thread: What To Look For In A Venue | A Practical Wedding

One of the first things most couples have to decide get interrogated about after getting engaged is where they’re going to get married. The conversation usually goes, “Ooooo! Let me see your ring? When’s the big day? Where are you getting hitched?” AS IF YOU KNOW. Please. And as if finding a venue were that easy.

With Bryan and me, this question plagued us for the first two years of our three-year engagement. First, we wanted a beach wedding. However, when it came to venues, none of the options fit with us. We couldn’t afford any of the all-inclusive places, and renting a house at the beach left us with more logistical problems than we thought we could handle. So we turned our eyes elsewhere, toward places that were closer to us where we could handle more of the legwork if we needed to.

For us, one of the biggest questions in picking a wedding venue was legwork. We were up for managing some, but we weren’t up for managing everything (i.e., turning a vacation rental into a wedding venue for a weekend). But the issues in finding wedding venues vary for everyone, and include questions like:

  • How much does it cost?
  • Why is it so fucking hard to find out what it costs?
  • Are there hidden fees? (Oh, you are required to have valet for this urban venue and that starts at $4K? Um. Well then.)
  • Can you bring your own booze?
  • Is their booze affordable?
  • Is there a required list of caterers?
  • Do you care?
  • Is it pretty/can you pretty it up?
  • Can it fit all your guests?
  • How many guests are you going to have anyway?
  • Would you need to have a rain plan?
  • What non-traditional spaces should you be looking at?
  • Why dear god do you not know someone with a perfect house/piece of land that would double as a free wedding venue?

And on, and on. So today we’re tackling what to look for in wedding venues. If you’re in the middle of planning, what are your questions? What do you need help on? If you’ve figured out your own venue issues (or gotten hitched) please stick around to give advice. And, as always, if there are questions that are not easily answered, we’ll throw it to a wedding pro and get you an advice column.

also. If you’ve gotten married and liked your venue, please help us help you pay it forward: submit your venue to the APW Venue Directory! There are way too few venues in there, and people really really want more.

Photo by Vivian Chen (APW Sponsor)

Lucy Bennett

Lucy is the Deputy Editor of APW and a freelance designer/ writer hybrid. When not coming up with weird self-challenges, she can be found marathoning TV shows or playing board games. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, her moderately-internet-famous-pup, and two cats. She takes herself very seriously.

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  • http://readingandthensome.blogspot.com/ Martha Smith

    Our main concern was price. While I would have loved a more chic venue or a fun barn, those just weren’t options where we were looking. The only barn type venue option was beautiful, but it was part of a county park system and there was a no-booze policy which means it was immediately nixed. Granted, our venue itself wasn’t expensive, but like most of the larger venues in our area (and we needed large with a 200 person guest list) the catering options and the booze are all integral parts of picking a venue. So the cost of those two items were the biggest draw of our venue. We probably could have picked something more fun or off-beat, but it would have involved far too many logistics for this long-distance-planning-bride. So the the local country club it was! And the day was great and nothing huge went wrong so we chalked it up as a successful party.

    • Alexandra

      This was exactly my experience. Country clubs are awesome. No fuss, no muss. Great day.

  • Amy

    We found our venue by talking about it with friends and coworkers. The venue we went with hosted a wedding for a friend of a friend the year before, and for my boss 10 years before, and hosts corporate social functions for other friends’ work. I’m in Vancouver and it was the Vancouver Rowing Club. We hadn’t thought about it because it’s a member club, so we expected it to be stuffy and expensive.

    But having two separate recommendations lead to us booking a walk through. The space had the feel we were looking for, and the event manager there was great and provided us with a really clear, upfront price list, which was a lot less expensive than anywhere else with that location (in Stanley Park with views of downtown!)

    So yeah, talking to people is what worked for us! And not just for places they’ve gone to weddings at – ask where their work has their Christmas party or summer BBQ, or other events that would have a similar vibe to what you picture.

  • celinad6

    I’m having minor panic attacks about my wedding venue these days. Wedding will be outside my hometown in a resort community. I wanted it there, not because of the luxury aspect of it (well, that too) but because of the history. The ceremony will be on the sands of American Beach, Florida- the only beach that blacks were allowed to swim during segregation. It holds a special meaning to my family, since they used to spend a lot of time there, and to me, since my mom used to take my sisters and me there on Sunday afternoons after church. Pretty blue water on one side and spanish moss hanging from oak trees on the other. Beautiful memories!

    Anyway, there’s no infrastructure there to hold a wedding or a reception. So we (read=wedding planner) have to figure out the setup of the ceremony- parking, seating, speakers, (bathrooms!) etc. Then the reception will be at a venue about 10 minutes away. It was the only venue that fit my budget since the others were either golf clubs or resort hotels that charged at least $60/pp and we can bring our own booze and use our own caterer. I actually like the reception space, but since it is pretty much a blank canvas, there’s a lot that has to be done to get it to what I want it to be. For example, I don’t like the chairs at the reception so we’re renting chairs. But we are also renting chairs for the ceremony. Luckily, a rental company has agreed to stick around during the ceremony to move the chairs to the reception so I don’t have to pay double. I know it will all work out, but for now, 3 months before the wedding, I kind of think we should have just gone with an all-inclusive venue.

    Well, at least I’m getting my money’s worth out of the wedding planner.

    • Kayjayoh

      I hope that you write up and submit your wedding once it happens and you have time to reflect. The historical aspect along is fascinating.

    • Nicole Cherae

      This sound beautiful. Good luck!

  • Sarah

    The thing I’m having the hardest time with is figuring out how much it will REALLY cost. For example, some places we are looking at will require us to rent tables, chairs, china, etc, and some don’t, and some have SOME tables and chairs but we’d need to rent additional to fill it out the rest of the way. I’ve been putting together spreadsheets for every place we’re interested in to figure out the total end cost but…it’s just taking me so much time and effort and it really just sucks.

    There’s one place we love the LOOK of, but we’d have to rent the aforementioned tables and chairs, and another place that we love less but where we wouldn’t have to rent tables and chairs. Doing the cost comparisons on that is just really tricky, especially because the rental companies don’t seem to be entirely up front about how much it costs in total to rent (so far I have numbers on x amount for each table of x size, and individual prices on chairs, and I’m estimating the number of guests we’ll have and tallying it up from there). AND we haven’t booked any venue yet so it seems premature to get specific pricing for rentals for a place we haven’t even booked yet.

    Does anyone have experience with this? Do I just need to bite the bullet on something and hope we figure it out further down the line? Should I just nix any venues that require rental equipment altogether? What’s the deal?

    I’m exhausting myself with this question. UGH!

    • Sarah

      Oh and I found myself on a waiting list for my summer 2015 wedding for a venue in Pittsburgh (of all places). What’s with the waiting list? Because it’s so far out I’m just gonna wait and see if we can book it, because I know I’ll be able to book somewhere else if this place doesn’t pan out. But what gives? This is all very weird, haha.

      • Gina

        Pittsburgher here! In planning for my October 2013 wedding, I visited a LOT of venues in town. We ended up choosing the Heinz History Center because of how easy it was to have everything in one place (and hotels across the street!) I’d love to hear what venues you are considering!

        • Sarah

          I considered the Heinz History Center too! Ultimately though, I want a venue that will allow me to use any caterer I choose, and will allow me to bring my own booze. So to that end, we’re considering the Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Lodge (my dad is a member), The Pittsburgh Opera (waiting list), The Mattress Factory, and Clear Story Studio. I’m running numbers and what we pick will probably be primarily based on cost (and what family is willing to chip in for), secondarily on location/prettiness…and we probably won’t pick one until we’ve got full family support. Like, I will go full-on Mattress Factory if our families are willing to pitch in. Masonic Lodge if we’re just paying ourselves. Logistics!

    • Jobin

      I totally hear you. Getting pricing on all of the nitty-gritty is so frustratingly opaque. I don’t think it’s crazy to be trying to get specific pricing on equipment before you book a venue – you need some idea of what the bottom line for the room and everything in it will cost! We briefly considered a few options that didn’t include tables, linens, etc but wound up booking something that was more all-inclusive because a) we’re planning from out of town (a Pittsburgh wedding while living in NYC) and b) we decided that if we could afford it, there was an opportunity cost on our sanity to try and negotiate that many more contracts and vendors leading up to the day of. So I guess it really all comes down to how strongly you feel about doing extra legwork for a space that you feel more connected to, I guess? Sorry if this is a rambling response!

      • Sarah

        Dude, I am also planning a Pittsburgh wedding while living in NYC. My parents are in Pittsburgh. That’s so weird! Haha :)

        Edit: Also, I am willing to be a little more hands on with more vendors because my mother is reeeally helping. I trust her with stuff, and she seems to be super into the wedding planning. She’s doing more research than I am!

        • Jobin

          What a small world! My folks are in the Pittsburgh area too. Hopefully all will go well and we’ll have good recommendations to pass along after the fact – there are nowhere near enough Pittsburgh vendors on APW!

      • carolynprobably

        No help, just sending some hugs from a lady who fell in love with a yinzer ;)

    • Alyssa

      If you’re using a caterer, they often have china on hand and/or will coordinate all that stuff for you (in my experience, more affordably than if you sourced it yourself). The other perk is of course not having to take care of that stuff, particularly for breakdown/return.

    • APracticalLaura

      Can you delegate? Some of the biggest headaches in my process I was able to delegate to my bridal party/family members who offered to help. Have them call around and price out different table/chair rental prices and present you with the findings! :) Might help with some of the stress…

      • Sarah

        My mom is helping a lot, but my fiance wants to be a little more tight-lipped with the process because we’re really putting all of this information together for his family. It’s going to help them decide how much to help us out with the cost of the wedding. Right now they have no concept for how much weddings cost, so they’ve requested this. The research is all made a little bit worse by the fact that we don’t have a real budget yet. I’m trying to keep things reasonable. Ha :) Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Laura C

    Um, wow. I knew that picking a venue had been the most stressful part of our planning so far, and that I still had my regrets about it. But I didn’t realize how much until I read this post and felt an actual tightness in my chest and had to walk away from the computer. We are having a 250 person wedding, and that just knocked out so many of the places I’d have liked to do it.

    The way I found two of the places that ended up being a little too small (like, they said they could accommodate it but we looked at them and had our doubts about how comfortable it would be) was by looking at caterers’ websites, which often list venues they work at. The two venues I found that way I never saw mentioned anywhere else on lists of wedding venues — and both would have been affordable compared to a lot of other places we looked and allowed flexibility on caterers.

    • APracticalLaura

      Yeah, actually I learned after the fact that many of my other vendors (photographer, florist, caterer, etc.) have “preferred” vendors/venues that they work with… so while picking the venue seems like the natural first step, if there are certain vendors you know that you like it doesn’t hurt to ask them (or see if they posted on their website) other venues/vendors they like to work with. You don’t ALWAYS have to get the venue first!

      You can also look at some local photographers’ blogs to see what weddings they’ve shot and where they were… can help you get a sense of what’s out there!

      • Laura C

        Yes, and things like caterers and photographers, you might have more information available through people you know. Like, the first caterer we looked at (before ending up with a venue with an in-house caterer) had done my FMIL’s 60th birthday party.

        I like the photographers’ blog idea, and wish I’d thought of it at the time. Also maybe very specific searches, though I struck out on “Indian wedding Boston” because I was hoping to find someplace that could handle a big wedding without being a hotel and everything that search came up with was in hotels. But still, it could work for someone!

  • Lindsey d.

    We had a very specific, meaningful ceremony venue in mind (old temple/church in small town), but had a few more options for our reception venue. We are making it a little hard on our guests for the ceremony (it will be a tight fit), so wanted a very guest-friendly reception. We looked at it as the ceremony is for us and the reception is for our friends/family.

    We looked for:
    - Accessible (for elderly guests and one friend who uses a wheelchair)
    - Bathrooms (downside to non-traditional venues can be not having “real” bathrooms) This is part of the guest-friendly aspect

    - Included tables, chairs, etc, so we didn’t have to rent things

    - On-site catering offered
    - Willing to work with us (getting people to simply call back was a HUGE issue in early searches)
    - Reasonably priced, of course

    We ended up going with a country club venue that is popular for wedding receptions and parties. They know their stuff, are reasonably priced and have had caused few headaches so far (settling on a reasonably priced menu when we were asking them to go a little out of their comfort zone was a pain, but we worked it out).

  • Oakland Sarah

    I found a number of venues by googling photographer blogs. So, I would google “northern california photographer wedding retreat” and then photographer blogs with lots of great venue picks would pop up. And–unlike dresses or other items in photos, the blogs ALWAYS mention the venue. I found this was especially helpful in finding more affordable alternatives because they were more off-the-beaten path. Our venue was actually surprised because we were one of the only couples booking who hadn’t found out about it by knowing someone who had already gotten married there.

    • APracticalLaura

      Yup! I figured this out AFTER the fact – and it was a total “duh” moment that I wish I had thought of sooner!! :)

    • Lindsey d.

      Yes! I did this too to find possible venues. I also put out a call on Facebook once we narrowed our search down to one small town outside of our city and got some great recommendations that way.

    • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com/ Rachel Wilkerson

      Yes! This is also a great trick for getting more pics of a venue you’re considering. When we were researching venues in MI, a lot of the websites had downright terrible pictures…but photographer blogs had ones that really showed how the space looked with a wedding in it!

      • Oakland Sarah

        Exactly! I was lucky to find a few blogs about the venues I was really interested in and seeing a few different weddings in the space helped me to envision how someone would make a wedding happen there.

    • M.

      Another vote for this! We found our venue (that we already know of, but not for weddings!) on a photographer’s blog.

    • Lawyerette510

      Mind if I ask where it is? We’re venue-hunting in the greater bay area right now, and I’d love a tip on something that is off-the-beaten path.

      • Oakland Sarah

        It’s River’s Bend Retreat Center in Philo, CA. It’s an all-inclusive-pay-for-all-the-lodging kinda place, but I found a number of places in Mendocino County. Also, an idea I would have considered (had we not really wanted the lodging) was renting a field and bringing in a tent. There are tent companies that already work with people who have fields to rent out. It was about as expensive as many of the venues I saw–but wayyyy prettier.

      • Gwen

        Butting in to recommend my venue – Rockefeller Lodge in San Pablo. Very reasonably priced, and very pretty if you like a slightly rustic vibe.

      • Mia Culpa

        Sova Gardens in Sebastopol! I got married there 2 years ago, the owner is a former wedding planner and has created a beautiful, well thought-out outdoor space, and she has the best prices I could find for a venue in Sonoma County, particularly for the height of wedding season (May-Oct). When I asked her why she charged so little, she said she’d rather charge less and be booked every weekend than charge more and hope for a big ticket. It’s not an all-inclusive place, but they have a commercial kitchen for caterers and include a day-of site coordinator in the price.

        But the venue! There’s a gorgeous outdoor lawn & garden with a permanent floor & tent for dancing, a cute koi pond and fountain, a couple of redwoods, a converted chicken barn that’s been turned into a bar & lounge area with a patio, and a great view of pastures going all the way out to the hills. It’s also super close to the town of Sebastopol, right off the highway, but there’s almost no noise from traffic. Every time my husband and I drive up to Forestville to visit his parents, we cheer every time we pass Sova Gardens. Because they are the best and it is the best place.

    • Lisa

      This is how we found our reception venue, too! I wanted a loft-style venue, and he wanted something with more pretty details. We also wanted to try the food before we booked anything instead of finding a venue we liked, booking, and then figuring out we didn’t like any of the catering options.

      I googled “Chicago restaurant wedding” and ended up finding an adorable restaurant that is centrally located, not ridiculously expensive, loft-style with a vintage twist, and with good food. The event planner said we’re one of the very few weddings they’ve ever done and couldn’t believe we’d found them in conjunction with weddings. (I guess they usually do corporate events.)

      • Kaydee

        we’re doing a brunch in Chicago after pretty much googling “Chicago brunch wedding”, very curious where yours is at!

        • Lisa

          We’re using the Hubbard Inn on the Near North Side after seeing pictures of a wedding there. (If you google it, there’s only one wedding that comes up!) Unfortunately we got kind of stuck into a Saturday night reception because our church only offers Saturday afternoon weddings. I’m jealous of a fun brunch reception! Where are you guys having yours?

          • ladylas19

            Lisa, thanks for the suggestion! I’ve reached out to them for some information as well. I agree, its a great venue – a little funky, but a little classy at the same time. We’ve really been struggling with finding a venue in Chicagoland that works for us. I hope it works out for both of us : )

          • Lisa

            I hope it works out for you, too! If you need anymore suggestions, I listed a bunch of places (one with pricing!) in a comment elsewhere that were in the same style/price range. Finding something that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg in the city is definitely challenging!

    • M.

      It occurs to me that possibly Twitter and Instagram could be used this way as well… Search for #wedding and city and see where people have been to weddings, or if you want to see “candid” pix of a place, search its name…

      • Lindsay Newton

        I actually tweeted “hey does anyone know of any non banquet hall non million dollar wedding venues in our area?” (I’m in Ontario) and I got a TON of awesome responses. I actually ended up booking at one of the places someone suggested on Twitter!

        • Whitney Kerr

          Can you share this info? I’m trying to wedding plan at a distance (family is in ON, and I’m living in NS), and it’s a NIGHTMARE!!! :)
          Please and thank you!

    • Molly

      Oakland Sarah, would you possibly be willing to share your venue info? We are in the bay area and looking for an off-the-beat, affordable retreat-style location. Thanks!

      • Oakland Sarah

        It’s River’s Bend Retreat Center in Philo, CA. Just beware–they can take a while to get back to you. I would look in Mendocino County–that’s where I found a few places that seemed like they would work.

      • Emily Shepard

        We just found our place–Outdoor Art Club in Mill Valley. Don’t know what “retreat-style” means to you, but it feels like a quiet Oasis in the middle of a small town. The venue is $3900 for a Saturday, $3500 on a Fri/Sun. But they do have a list of caterers you have to navigate. If you did a cocktail reception it’s prob much cheaper. And you bring your own booze!

      • ypi

        In the bay, we are having our wedding at Stern Grove’s Trocadero House. Total cost for a Saturday from 10am-11pm will be about $2k. It’s no frills, you bring in and take out everything day of- but it’s beautiful, and a great place for a medium sized wedding. My pull to it was the redwood grove- I really wanted to be in nature, but needed the convenience of the city because we have so many out of towners. Highly recommend! They do book quick though, and you can only book exactly 1 year or less in advance (e.g. if you get married July 1, 2014, the earliest you can book is July 1, 2013). It’s also one of the APW venue listings!

    • meeliebee

      This is what I did! Google led me to the county park where we’re having our wedding. The funny thing is – I’ve been there and even worked catering jobs there (a wedding no less) and I didn’t remember until I started digging into the photos. “northern california redwood wedding” worked great for me!

  • Katriel

    How do we submit to the venue directory? We loved our reception in a no-longer used sheep-fold and barn converted into air-conditioned space in the Philly burbs. I would totally submit it – it was affordable, no required caterers, fits a ton of people, the coordinator was super helpful and nice…

  • Elena

    Here are the things that were important to us in choosing our venue, in addition to it being, you know, pretty.

    1. Cost and what’s included in the cost (chairs, tables, set-up, etc?) Don’t forget to ask about a cleaning deposit and required insurance. Also: be sure to get a clear picture of how many HOURS the quoted price covers and what happens if you exceed those hours.
    2. Wheelchair accessible
    3. Parking
    4. Allowed off-site catering
    5. Allowed us to bring our own booze (your insurance will likely be related to whether or not you have alcohol) Also: check to see if you’ll need a licensed bartender. We were required to have one even though we served only wine and beer. No biggie. Just something to be aware of.
    6. MOST IMPORTANT: Do I like the venue coordinator and does the coordinator return my calls and emails promptly.

    • Jobin

      Oh man, the venue coordinator was the make or break for us in a way that I wasn’t at all prepared for. It makes such a huge difference to interact with someone who seems genuinely enthusiastic about working with you, versus someone who’s worked with so many weddings that they don’t even seem to “see” you.

    • Lindsay Rae

      AMEN to liking the venue coordinator!!!! I LOVE my venue, but the coordinator assigned to us was just not with it. Being a super type-a planner, I was devastated, especially since my venue is one of those all-in type of places. I have to talk to her about everything from my centerpieces, to the linens, to the menu. She never even responded to emails coherently. I switched as soon as I could to another available coordinator and it’s made a WORLD of difference!!!

    • macrain

      I will just go ahead and add that I love my venue, but my venue coordinator? Not so much. But honestly, I only found one venue coordinator I loved during the venue search and she ended up ignoring an email I sent her when we were debating our options. It’s a total crapshoot.
      My point being- if you find a venue you love that fits your criteria, don’t let an iffy venue coordinator stop you. Iffy venue coordinators were EVERYWHERE when I was searching. I never found one I liked.
      I should add that we ended up hiring a day of coordinator and of course that played into our decision to do that.
      I do agree with the other ladies that it can make a huge difference, so it’s definitely something to consider. But for me it wasn’t make or break (because, um, I sort of had no choice).

    • Ann

      I coordinate events in the corporate world and after going through the venue selection process for special events AKA weddings I found that the folks I work with for my job are SO MUCH MORE RESPONSIVE than the people in the wedding/special events industry. Is that just me? The wedding or site coordinators routinely ignored my emails and calls, would wait days or weeks to get back to me, and were generally difficult to work with.

      Our venue’s coordinator is great thank goodness but gee was it hard to find a good one!

      • Alyssa M

        So that is a common thing? I’ve been routinely flabbergasted by the number of non-responses I’ve gotten to inquiry emails. Wondered if I was doing something wrong so they weren’t taking me seriously.

        I’ve worked customer service many years, and if you can’t manage the simple courtesies you apparently don’t want my money.

        • SuzieCue

          I guess with weddings it’s mostly non-repeat business (hopefully!) and the conversion rate from cold enquiry to booking is so low* a lot of places don’t bother.

          * note: the conversion rate is probably low because noone ever gives you any indication of PRICES upfront, but that’s a whole other story

  • Fiona

    We’re using our family home as the venue.

    The positives: my beloved (now deceased) father designed and built the whole thing from literally just a plot of forest, it is beautiful, we get to store all the stuff on site, the house and property are packed with childhood memories…we have a POND.

    The negatives: My moom is terrified that the guests will all want to stay on site and she will have to FEED them, it’s a totally raw space and we don’t have tables, chairs, lighting or BATHROOMS necessary, and we have a pond :/

    We’re starting to worry about rentals and such and wondering what we should do and what kinds of things we need to ask rentals. Should we go with everything from the same site? What about a tent? Can we have an optional tent for if it rains? Are optional tents even a thing?

    • emilyg25

      We had an optional tent. When we reserved it, we just asked when the last day was that we could cancel the reservation. As soon as the weather report came out, we canceled that shit.

    • Lindsay Rae

      A friend of mine got married outside and they had an “optional tent” – basically they had the tent on hold and the decision needed to be made the morning of at 8 am or so (it was an afternoon wedding) whether or not to set up the tent. Although it was a little cloudy, she decided to chance it and not use the tent, and a good thing too, because by the ceremony time the sky was a clear blue :)

      Your family home sounds LOVELY. About the guests staying, is there a local hotel that you can arrange a room block at? I’m sure your guests would understand if it is a raw space. You can arrange a shuttle bus from the hotel to your home and back.

      • Fiona

        Ahh thanks for the advice. I think we will definitely look into having an “optional” tent. I’d love to go without one if we can!

        As for the guests staying on the property, we DO have an outdoor shower and a pond, so it’s not too bad of a camping place. My German, hospitality-oriented mother would struggle with having people fend for themselves when it comes to food though. I love Marika’s suggestion, so I’ll see if maybe we could try that. Thanks, Marika!

        We do have hotels in the area for sure. I have friends who are still students though and I want to provide a cheap option.

    • Marika

      We got married on family vacation property. We had to rent all the tables ect but it ended up being way cheaper than having something similar in town (since we didn’t have to pay any kind of site fee) We rented port-a-potties and gave folks a heads up on the wedding website. No one was offended. We had people camp out and pot-lucked the meals for the rest of the weekend. We came up with meal plans and what would be needed for each (ie lunch, we need three loaves of bread and a deli tray) My mom set up a really great google doc to have people sign up for what them would bring, but it didn’t work out quite as well as planned. We didn’t go hungry, but we did end up with three unopened bottles of siracha.
      If you are worried about lighting, we rented bistro lights and strung them up in the reception meadow and ran them off a generator (had someone who was not drinking in charge of refilling the gas) that also ran the sound system. We also reminded people to bring flashlights and had a basket of cheap ones at the check in table to get people back to their cars and tents.
      Most folks stayed on site, but a few stayed in a hotel nearby and we rented a real house (our cabin is without indoor plumbing) for my grandma and a couple of aunts from VRBO that was a five minute drive away.
      It was a little stressful getting all the parts put together but it ended up being really great. We got to spend a whole weekend with most of our guests, the site had a ton of personal history, lots of friends and family who are camping adverse finally had a good reason to come up there and now we can go back to the spot we got married any time we want!

  • Kess

    Oh god, picking the venue was hands down the most traumatic part of wedding planning for me. It took us FOREVER to settle on a place, then we decided on somewhere that had been supposedly holding a date for us, found out actually they were no longer doing weddings and weren’t holding a date for us at all, went back to the drawing board, found another venue that we thought we loved, then spend 4 months going insane with stress over the logistical issues involved in planning a wedding outside our city in a barn with no running water and absolutely nothing included, threw everything out AGAIN and booked at a hotel downtown that will do everything for us. I’m so happy with our venue NOW and only wish I had gone this route at the beginning.
    Things I wish someone had told me when I was picking a venue:

    1. That laid back, relaxed casual backyard tent wedding that you saw in the blogs/magazines/whatever was probably not relaxed and laid back in the planning. It takes crazy amounts of work and if you are a stress prone person like me, it may be significantly more stressful than the fancy looking hotel wedding. The hotel does all the work making it look fancy for you!

    2. A DIY wedding is not always cheaper. Our initial plan was to rent a tent to put on the property attached to our family cottage. I was shocked to learn that was going to cost at LEAST $3,000, maybe even more, just to not be rained on. We went with a barn instead that only cost $750, but when you included all the rentals and the off-site fees for the caterers, getting everyone outside the city etc it was going to cost as much to serve BBQ and pie as it is now costing us to have a three course meal with rack of lamb. Rack of lamb!

    3. Think about how you want it to feel, not how you want it to look. Wait a minute, APW did tell me that! But unfortunately I didn’t understand it at all. I thought I wanted it to “feel” laid back and rustic, when really, I was wanting it to look that way. I later realized what I wanted was to feel relaxed, to feel surrounded by love, and to not be worried all the time. I just wanted all my people together and having a good time, and it didnt matter whether that happened in a barn or a hotel.

    • NicoleT

      Yes for number 2! I know someone who got married outdoors on a vineyard property and had to bring in everything except the wine. A lot of times I feel like people think “oh, well, that’s just chairs and tables and stuff and I’m sure we can figure that out.” But then you forget that you have to bring in a kitchen, a bar, and all of that other junk you wouldn’t have to deal with otherwise.

    • sarah l

      again, absolutely to all the rentals. We went with a beautiful space that we had to bring everything into, and factored that in to our catering quotes so we knew what we were dealing with. what we didn’t factor in?

      PIPE AND FUCKING DRAPE.

      all the photos of the venue had this beautiful fabric backdrop that covers up a fun kitchen space – the kitchen is cool but it looks like a kitchen. I had NO idea that to drape it was an extra $1800.

    • LawLauren

      Yes to all of these pieces! We got married at a children’s summer camp and, as awesome as it was to create exactly what we wanted, it was stressful. We had a long engagement (nearly 3 years) and took a good chunk of that to plan (thus, minimizing the stress) but there was stress and frustration related to things you don’t have to think about in a hotel setting (like having enough power!). BUT, on the wedding day, we loved every second and it was totally the vibe we wanted..mostly because of the outdoor setting. It’s all a decision making process that took a lot of discussions about what we were hoping to do…and, for us, it all came back to that camp. Stressful…but totally worth it.

    • SuzieCue

      ^^^ THIS a thousand times over. We’re 2 months out and originally we were looking at “unique” spaces (in gardens, in art galleries, barns etc). It became rapidly apparent that most people choose slightly more boring reception venues because they’re, well, RECEPTION VENUES and therefore set up for actually having wedding receptions. My final straw was our two first choice venues quoting us $20k to build a marquee (not a fancy marquee, just a plain effing white plastic one) and $5k for a kitchen & $6k for staff. My fiancé (who is a bit of a groomzilla) was complaining about the standard venues being not magical (I ask you, what is wrong with him?!) and I put my foot down and booked one. We could buy a whole florist for the price differential and use that to decorate!

      At that point I realised there was an optimal point on the time/money continuum and we were bouncing across it like crazy. So I handed over all the stuff I didn’t care about but didn’t want to look awful (reception decor, flowers, printing stuff) to a wedding planner (with a strict budget and a bonus for her if she made it) and focused only on the 2 things that were important to me (music & champagne). Highly recommend just getting really clear about what’s important to you and making that time/money equation work.

  • http://www.blackgirlunlost.com Jubi The Great

    This is so very timely for me. My fiance and I have a specific date (March 14, bonus points for anyone who knows the significance of the date) and also a desire to NOT have our wedding at a traditional hotel/golf course/etc. I’ve spent a lot of time Googling, looking at sites like The Knot & Wedding Wire at the “unusual” venues, and asking friends. So far the place we love is booked :-( so we’re checking out 5 other places & seeing which one fits us the best.

    • scw

      will you be serving pie, by any chance? ;)

    • karyn_arden

      Keep in touch with the venue coordinator for the place you loved that’s booked on your date! If, for whatever reason, the current party holding the space cancels, ask them to contact you ASAP so you can snap it up.

      And if you book elsewhere in the meantime, check for a cancellation clause on your contract! If your first-love-location suddenly becomes available, you don’t want to have to pay through the nose to cancel your current contract.

      • http://www.blackgirlunlost.com Jubi The Great

        Great suggestion especially the 2nd part, thanks. My fiance did email our dream venue and ask if there was a waitlist for the date, because we do love the space and it fits into our theme perfectly. I will definitely make sure we know the cancellation policies of all the other venues on our list, that might help us decide which one to ultimately book.

  • UpstateNYBride

    How do we submit our venue for the directory? I went to the link, but maybe I’m missing something, but I just saw a search list of all the current venues.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      Well shoot, that might be helpful, huh? Just added a link to the submit page to the post, but here it is for you!

      http://apracticalwedding.com/about/submissions/submit-a-venue/

    • Karlee

      Upstate NY bride?! May I ask where your venue is/was?

      • UpstateNYBride

        The Pruyn House in Latham, NY.
        I love it so much and the folks who run it are so nice that I submitted it for the vendor directory even though I haven’t actually tied the knot yet but I know other folks that have tied the knot there and everyone loves it….hopefully it will be added to the directory still because working with them has been super laid back!
        Karlee, if you are looking for a barn wedding this is a great one! And unlike some other barns in the area it comes with tables and chairs and bathrooms for your guests! There is an English style garden by the barn which makes a lovely backdrop to an outdoor ceremony too.

  • Krissy

    Hah! Each of those questions has popped into my head so many times trying to find a venue. Ultimately, I think it ended up being about the people. I went to a few different places that tried to tell me the way it was going to be, or who seemed like they wanted to do everything for me (I used to joke that I wanted to wipe my own butt on my wedding day – I don’t need to pay someone else to do it for me!!! ARGHGH!). Eventually, after visiting a few, we came back to one venue because of the person we talked to. I felt like she was offering me OPTIONS. Like real options, though, not like fake options where you can choose between the $2,000 wedding cake or the $2,500 wedding cake. They had a wide variety of caterers to choose from (BBQ ribs? cool. fancy steak dinner? also cool.), which was a huge relief. She was even willing to let me add a caterer to their preferred list if I wanted to. It was amazing.

    I think venue shopping does just suck, because there are going to be a lot of places that think they have it all figured out, when in reality it’s totally not what you’re looking for. The difference for me in the end, was whether or not people were willing to give me what I was looking for, instead of offering me things I didn’t need. It did take a second look at this place to realize that they were willing to work. I think coming in having an idea of what you want and laying it all out on the table for the coordinator is incredibly helpful. So yes, talking to people seems to work the best. It is time consuming, but I think it’s easier to be on the same page, as opposed to perusing wedding venue lists and lamenting the prices/options (lack of options).

  • M.

    Another question to ask: will you need event liability insurance? Our reception space is the lobby of a performing arts center and they require $500,000 personal liability insurance per occurrence. It’s easy to get — a small fee tacked on to our renter’s insurance, but was definitely unexpected when we first chose the place.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Things we asked the venues or ourselves that weren’t really clear in the planning books:
    *Where will people park? If the venue doesn’t have parking, what is public parking like at the same time as the wedding reception, and on the same day of the week, and in the same lighting conditions? I.e., there’s a difference between street parking at 5pm Wednesday and 5pm Saturday, and between walking to your car at 5pm in July versus 5pm in January.
    *Where will mothers nurse? Where can a baby be changed? We didn’t require a whole separate children’s area, but maybe a large women’s restroom, or just some nooks and crannies.
    *Who is responsible for cleaning, and what does that mean? We viewed one very old place where “clean” would still smell musty. Our venue required all our stuff out and the kitchen scrubbed, but we didn’t have to mop.
    *Are there official noise restrictions? Will the neighbors complain even if we’re within the rules/laws?
    *How far is it from the ceremony venue? [church I grew up in; no issues there] We settled on a 30 minute radius, but never really found a standard for “reasonable.”
    *How far is it from the airport? We hoped people could catch late flights after our early-evening reception.
    *Is there space for kids to run around?
    *Will it freak out our guests? We knew we had some people who just wouldn’t drive in The City at night, even if it was objectively safe, even if it was closer. Likewise with venues off of 2-lane roads and grades above 5%.
    *Are candles allowed? They’re a relatively cheap decoration.
    *If tables and chairs are provided, what do they look like?

    The reception venue was the one thing we really argued about. My husband wanted good architecture, and I had no way of evaluating contemporary architecture, so I made him do a lot of the research. In his search, I laid out some rules:
    -no accoustic tiles
    -no sinks in the main reception space
    -no vending machines in sight
    -if religious, it had to be Jewish or Christian, as our wedding was already religiously confused enough

  • Kata

    I’m really struggling with navigating the websites of venues. I’m in the extreme early stages of planning for a SoCal wedding from Wisconsin. I’m very anti-hotel or country club, which makes it harder. Since I’ll only be home for scattered weekends, I need to have my research done and my list narrowed down long before our first visit.
    *Any suggestions about how to find estimated costs when the website doesn’t list any?
    *Any website red flags I should look out for?

    • Oakland Sarah

      Just start emailing them. I was terrified to do this (not sure why). But, they seem to have a pretty standard form email response and it’s not so scary.

    • MagNCheese

      Just wanted to chime in and say, don’t be so quick to discount the hotels and country clubs. I was like you, VERY against hotel/country club. Too impersonal, too contemporary, too stale, too boring. But where will my reception be? The local golf/country club. Oftentimes they will do EVERYTHING for you. Ours is making and serving all the food. They will set up the room exactly as I want it, even the table decorations. They will clean the place up before and after. They will move all my gifts. They will take care of the parking. They have all the chairs, tables, linens, china, electrical equipment and a dance floor, so I don’t have to rent. Some places (although ours did not) can do all the flower arrangements for you, and they can be quite nice. Plus, they know all the local vendors and have tons of wedding experience. And at my place you get a day-of-coordinator (for the reception only, since the ceremony is a the church) who is very knowledgeable about all things wedding. Best of all, it’s all on one bill. For us, all of this was included in the base price. It might not seem like it now, at the very beginning stage, but this is HUGENORMOUS. Knocked out so, so many details in one contract.

      Plus, you can always bring in decorations to make it feel more personal.

      • Kata

        Thanks for the perspective! Like I said, we’re early on and I’m probably judging things too quickly. Since we’re planning from afar, I thought it would be easier to straight out eliminate certain types of venues, but I’m finding that’s too limiting! Thanks again!

      • Lindsey d.

        Agree! Our country club venue is making and serving all the food and drinks, is reasonably priced and super experienced. They are providing some greenery for the buffet table and are open to the decorations we will bring in. We get a coordinator (who is the events coordinator we’ve been dealing with from the start), although I also got a DOC because we are doing an off-site ceremony and I simply decided I really needed help to coordinate between the two and still actually enjoy our wedding day.

      • alexandra

        I was SO against hotels/country clubs, until I realized how much work and expense is involved in doing things almost any other way. My country club reception was awesome, came in under budget, and I only had to have two meetings for the whole thing. They told me exactly how much everything would cost and I didn’t have to work with any vendors. Country clubs are popular for a reason!

    • NicoleT

      I posted about this earlier, but I wanted to reply directly to you to say watch out for required end times. Some venues want you to end early while others want you to just cut the music. There are other venues out there that tell you what KIND of music you can/can’t play. So watch out!

      Other than that, I’d like to pass along some recommendations to you since I’m in SoCal as well. If you’re anti-hotel or country club (which, like MagNCheese said, I would look at in any case), try the Malibu area. There are some nice houses you can rent out that have great views, such as Rancho Sol Del Pacifico. I’ve actually seen it and it’s gorgeous. And, they let you and your bridal party use the pool before the wedding! Hummingbird Nest is another option. There are also some botanical gardens that offer weddings, such as Eden Gardens. I remember them being pretty cost effective for what they offer. Also, check out the gardens of some colleges. Those can be pretty and cost effective as well. Good luck!

      • Kata

        Woah, the Eden Gardens are beautiful!
        Is a 10:00 end time too early in general?

        • Mandertron

          Yes to Nicole! CSUF’s Arboretum and the LA River and Gardens are also very pretty.

          We’re planning to end at 10pm (10:30 at the latest, but music will be off at 10pm). It depends on your guests. To cite APW’s Timelines Part 1, most people only have 6-8 hours of wedding in them before they’re punchy and tired. Our friends will definitely want to keep drinking so we’ll have an after party with leftover booze at one of their homes afterward. Our family will totally be ready to konk out by 10pm.

        • NicoleT

          Well, for me it’s too early. I want a slightly longer wedding with more boozing. But Mandertron has a good point; you can always do an after party. I went to one wedding where the bride and groom organized a bowling trip afterwards, which was really fun! So, it just depends what you want. 10pm is perfectly fine :)

    • Jenni Kissinger

      I agree with Oakland Sarah; it was really scary to email the venues. Maybe because it was the first public pronouncement that we would be getting married? Finally I made a wedding-specific email address, wrote a form letter, and emailed a ton of venues at once. They all responded with pricing info.

      If you’re looking for suggestions, I was a bridesmaid and coordinator for a wedding held at Temescal Gateway Park in Santa Monica. It was a great place, with an outdoor lawn ceremony, cool pictures in the woods, and a lodge with a commercial kitchen and the ability to bring in your own caterer. If you want more details let me know.

  • Stephanie B.

    My advice, learned the hard way: make sure you have a contract for the venue. (I know that’s probably extremely obvious, but it really bears repeating.) We did not get a contract, largely because the owner kept saying the deposit check guaranteed the date, but if we wanted a contract she could find one (apparently she doesn’t use contracts for her events) and my parents (who were paying for the venue) didn’t follow up with her to get a contract, and I had delegated that detail to them and assumed they had.

    Our venue was a historical location. The owner told us that we would have the venue for the wedding starting at 2 p.m. the day of the wedding. At midnight, TEN DAYS before the wedding, I saw an announcement in the local news that there was a historical tour in the neighborhood where we were getting married, on the SAME DAY we were getting married, and it listed all the venues that were stops on the tour. Our venue was listed as one of the stops.

    I was frantic and called the owner the next morning. She said it was important to the community that her venue be a part of the tour because it was a historic venue, but there would be no problem, that all of the stuff involved with the tour would be outdoors, and it would all be wrapped up by 3:00, but the inside would be ready for the wedding and we could still show up at 2:00.

    We showed up at 2:00 the day of the wedding. There were historical reenactors at the venue, a band in period clothing, and 50 people INSIDE the venue, wandering in and out of every room. The venue was not set up at all for the ceremony, which was to be at 5:00.

    I had a meltdown of epic proportions, I’m ashamed to admit.

    Even if we had had an actual contract, I don’t believe for a moment that the owner would have cancelled her participation in the historic tour, given that she said how important is was “to the community” that her venue be a part of it. And since we only found out about it 10 days before the wedding, there was no way we could find a new venue. But if we had had a contract with a clause that said double-booking was possible, we wouldn’t have chosen the venue. (Or if there had been a clause that said they don’t double-book, we would have been entitled to remuneration for breach of contract, although it still wouldn’t un-do all the problems that happened the day of the wedding because of the double-booking.)

    Like I said above, I assume everyone already knows to get a contract, no matter what. I just wanted to share what can happen if you don’t. (Our photographer, who I will love forever, took several pictures of the historical reenactors and the band, which does make me laugh in retrospect. Although those pictures are NOT going in the wedding album!)

    • Audrey

      Oh Dear. This makes me sad to read. I am recently employed by a historic site/fantastic wedding venue and we do everything in our power to make sure that wedding days are perfect, if there is another event, that might interfere we are on it and let our couples know up front. That being said, I know that there are enough small historic sites that are not well run, and that makes my head hurt.

      • Stephanie B.

        Honestly — and I feel very ungracious saying this, but it’s what I believe — I think the owner wanted to be a part of the historical tour but didn’t want to lose the money a wedding would bring in, so she double-booked the day and didn’t bother to tell us. My husband is more sanguine about it, but I’m still furious. I would never recommend them to anyone. I don’t run around telling people, “Hey, [Venue] ruined my wedding!”, and when people ask how the wedding was, I don’t mention the problems, mostly because I want to put my anger behind me and focus on the good parts. But if anyone specifically asked if I would recommend them, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them no and explain why.

  • Lisha

    My best tip would be to discuss with the venue how they will accept payment. Do they need the venue to be paid off before the wedding or are they willing to extend final payment until a few days after the event?
    Our venue stated in their contract that they would accept final payment up to 5 days after the event. However, 4 days before the event and after coordinating with them for the past few months, they randomly said that we need to pay the final balance before the event and if we didn’t, they wouldn’t even open the doors!! Imagine our surprise! Although their contract stated otherwise, we didn’t want to take the risk of them not cooperating with us on our day especially as guests were coming out of town, so we had to scramble to come up with the final balance which was pretty hefty. Needless to say, it was very stressful and because of this reason, I wouldn’t recommend my venue.

  • Shauna

    A few things I learned:
    - In all my years of fantasizing about my wedding, it never occurred to me that my ideal venue (located within my city, indoor option, contemporary vibe, ability to hold 120 people – with crazy delicious food) – just *doesn’t exist*. In the end the location was just what I wanted, but not the food or vibe. This was tough to accept, but it all worked out in the end.
    - Outdoor = uncertainty and stress (at least in New England). I knew that obsessing over the weather would be crazy-making, so we opted for an indoor venue. The staff said we could have the ceremony outside if we wanted, and could make a game-time decision. But we just decided ahead of time to do it all indoors. Because in our part of the country, even if it’s not raining, it could be too cold/hot, pollen-y, buggy, or breezy.
    - Photographers’ websites are also useful because they capture the venue itself and how it looks when full of people. Many venue sites, bizarrely, featured stock photos of champagne glasses and smiling couples – or the space when it’s empty.
    - A good logistical consideration is the getting-ready space. Our venue had two beautifully furnished rooms for us to get dressed in, and for some G-rated post-ceremony alone time. This wasn’t something I had thought about before, but it really added to the day. And we were allowed to drop off stuff the day before and store it securely – something else that was really useful.

  • http://innercupcake.blogspot.com innercupcake

    TL:DR- don’t dismiss something that’s listed as $$$ instead of $ without finding out actual prices if you like it, it might be more cost effective than some other options when you add in catering, booze, rentals, stress, etc. We live in a large city (Houston) surrounded by many smaller cities, so when I first started googling wedding venues and looking through the rec’d vendor lists on big websites, it was pretty….overwhelming. I think I spent a couple solid days sneaking in venue searches at work trying to figure out what was out there and what would work for us. We’re both imports from different cities, so it made the most sense to use to have the wedding here where we don’t have to travel and many of our friends would be able to join us, so I eventually started narrowing things down to what was within a 20-30 minute drive of us. I also spent a lot of time pricing things out for our top options so that we could get a good idea of what we were getting for our money. This knocked out the first place I fell in love with, a historic library downtown (books! libraries!) that was going to cost $7k just to set foot in the place and also had charges for security, valet parking, etc, etc. My heart may have broken a little when I found that out. There were many potential “weddings” we could have had (the inexpensive DIY state park wedding, the caz beach wedding down on the Gulf Coast, or pintrest perfect barn wedding-although the barns I saw near Houston didn’t give off the same feeling as pintrest, and holy cow were they expensive), but ultimately, both the fiance and I agreed that what we really wanted was something that had an outside component and felt very open with lots of natural light but also had a shelter (minimize stress, no need to worry about a tent).

    We haven’t gotten married yet, but I feel really, really good about the venue we decided on- it was actually one of the first ones I saw on some site online and it’s gorgeous and a pretty great fit for us, but I dismissed thinking there was no way we’d be able to afford it, and then did more investigating after I saw someone rec it as a cost effective option on the local knot board. Since it’s a restaurant/event space, they charge a F/B minimum rather than a venue charge with all the other stuff on top of it. The food’s not inexpensive, but it’s good, and I feel good about our money going towards it, and I’m delighted that a lot of the stuff people worry about (setup of the tables/chairs/place settings/servers) is something we don’t need to worry about because it’s built into the cost of their food. I think we might be able to get away with not having a pro DOC and having a couple friends help with bossing people around. It wasn’t the least expensive option we had, but considering the typical costs of catering and booze for somewhere between 75-120 people, it was never going to be inexpensive without having friends in the industry.

  • Carin

    I’m in the fairly early stages of planning also and am struggling with finding a venue in San Diego, where we live. We’ve set a date (or think we have) 3/13/15, but are having trouble finding or feeling good about the options we’ve come across. We are trying to minimize our spending – I went into this hoping to spend around $1000 for a reception venue that already has tables and chairs, allows us to bring in our own caterer (maybe even a food truck) and booze, and is also in a great, San Diego-feeling part of town (1. ha ha! 2. My fiancée feels the SD-feeling is important since we have so many out of town guests). We need a space that can accommodate 130-150 people and, as much as I’d kind of love to have the reception outside and as consistent as San Diego weather can be, I’m not comfortable planning for an outside reception in March, no matter where we live. Ceremony, yes. That’s another story.
    There are a few things we have decided: We don’t want it in a hotel, unless, I guess the hotel is unique and fabulous. We don’t want it to feel cookie-cutter or traditional. But I also think we don’t want it to be too DIY. As some people have mentioned, there can be a lot of added stress of creating and building a venue into a beautiful, casual, laid back, fun, awesome space and that may prove to send me over the edge stress-wise.
    This is a great thread and helpful since I find that when I talk to venues, all these really important questions to ask leave my head. Mostly, I’m just waiting for someone to walk up to me and tell me that they’ve found the perfect, affordable, beautiful (or could be beautiful), accessible, customizable, easy to work with venue. Anyone??

  • Oakland Sarah

    Now I’m thinking about it more and realized I had more advice. hah!

    The most annoying thing about picking a venue is there is no magical standardized pricing scheme. If only! Also, if someone could create some sort of app for that–that’d be super useful! Instead, you have a hodgepodge of this and that’s and extra surprises. I think it’s useful when thinking about booking a wedding venue to try and think about it within the terms of the whole wedding. I found that each venue seemed to have domino effects on other decisions. The most obvious being catering and alcohol–but also rentals, lightening, parking/transportation, vendor travel fees. I kept thinking about the “price” of the venue in terms of how it would affect other costs. Ultimately, we went with a retreat center in Northern California about 2.5 hours outside of the bay area (where we were originally looking) because they included almost everything (food, lodging, parking, most of the tables/chairs/plates/silverware) and will let us bring in our own home brew. Even though the food was much more than we were originally expecting to spend the fact that they came with everything else meant that it all evened out cost-wise.

    Also, it was VERY important to my fiance that our wedding be affordable for his cousins to attend. We looked at camping…or places near campgrounds but ultimately those were no-gos–in part because we’re also trying to work with family who are very wealthy and in part because they were a logistical nightmare for me. Our venue actually allows us to have guests camp on the grounds in addition to more “vacation home” rentals and is in the middle of some snooty bed and breakfasts–so wins for everyone.

    …now if I can just stop having the anxiety dream where I realize it’s 3pm the day of the wedding and maybe I should have thought about starting to set up tables sooner.

  • YOQ

    Finding venues was the first major stressor of wedding planning for us. We did LOTS of online research, but as people have noted, venue websites make it incredibly difficult to get and compare prices. Ultimately, we decided to go with my parents’ church for the ceremony and reception, but that still left us with two venues to go. (We needed a place for the legal ceremony in Vancouver, WA, since we’re both women and Oregon doesn’t yet allow same-sex marriage, and we wanted an after-party in the evening, since our afternoon reception at the church would be pretty tame and could not include alcohol.) Oddly, Yelp was surprisingly useful in compiling a list of potential venues, and since I like to do things like this methodically, I made a spreadsheet and started emailing. The major hurdle, it turned out, was finding someplace affordable that was also wheelchair accessible. What’s up with that, Portland? We finally thought to look into city-owned and -run community centers, and now we’re super-happy with our choice: a community center built in 1913, adjacent to a park that has a rose garden (that will be in bloom), that was once used as a temporary home for the penguins when the zoo re-did their penguin habitat in the 1950s. (We’re now considering a penguin theme for the party.)

    • YOQ

      Oop. Forgot to include: the Vancouver venue is going to be a hotel with a private dining room. We’ll have the ceremony and then breakfast, quick and easy, and we just pay for the breakfast. That was based on a friend’s recommendation.

      I think the most disillusioning thing to us during all the venue searching was that all our brilliant ideas (like, let’s get married on a boat: everyone get on in Portland, we’ll cruise up the Willamette and onto the WA side of the Columbia, and then back!) had already been done. We were not unique or creative or anything that we fancied ourselves.

  • Molly

    The primary decision to go with our venue was cost. It is a pretty popular venue here where we live, but It was one of the least expensive. Plus, it’s a rustic lodge on a mountain with the potential for lovely views. Tables and chairs are all that’s included, so we’ve had to get everything else in order as far as catering, alcohol, rentals and music are concerned, but we’ve had the place booked for almost a year so we’ve had plenty of time to work out all the other things and it’s turning out to be a really good decision for us. We aren’t actually getting married there at the end of the day, but it’s going to be a lovely reception. :)

  • LM

    We did a fair amount of online research before reaching out to places and scheduling visits. I really liked websites that had calendars so you could see when they were booked, but people were generally really prompt in getting back to us when we emailed or called.

    Things that were important to us: not being locked into a caterer, not being forced to use a bunch of services that we didn’t want. Having people who got back to us in a timely manner. Having a space that was big enough to hold everyone (around 125) in one room rather than split off in different areas. Our venue had sound equipment, which was great, but we would have rented otherwise. Also, our venue let us have the space for almost 24 hours, which was great for being able to move things in, and clean up.

    • http://www.blackgirlunlost.com Jubi The Great

      I’ve had this same experience. Within 24hours of emailing locations, I had detailed responses from all of them and suggestions on appointment times for a tour. I really like the calendars, which is how I found out that our dream place is booked :-(

    • LM

      Oh, and I’d also add that if you can be flexible with dates, it can make things easier. We asked our respective families to tell us any dates that wouldn’t work, and so we had a list of dates that were “ok”, which made it easier when we were visiting venues, and we could jump on the option we liked. Also, if you’re open to having a Sunday wedding, there are often more options.

  • twofishgirl14

    We got so crazy lucky with our venues. We’re doing a super-budget wedding and couldn’t afford to go over $6,000 for the reception venue + catering. The place we ended up choosing was the place that put their entire menu — WITH PRICES!!! — on their website. They do their own catering and bartending, and have basic event set up like tables, chairs and settings all included. Any place that refused to so much as tell us their deposit amount just made it hard for me to trust anything about them. And you know what? The place with prices on their website only had ONE Saturday left for 2014, so obviously I’m not the only one who was thrilled to be able to price everything out before I even picked up the phone. Then we picked a local church for the ceremony and their wedding price (for non-members, mind you) is only $450. They’re both great spaces, handicap accessible, good bathrooms and clear contracts. Life is good.

  • swarmofbees

    Yelp. Yup, we found our wedding venue through a Yelp search. I told FI I wanted desert views(Phoenix wedding) and he wanted a nice restaurant. He plugged that in and two site trips later we had a venue! This was after hours of me looking at wedding websites, magazines, etc. We probably never would have found our venue otherwise because it is a smaller place outside of the city.
    Another piece of helpful advice is to ask about day time options – we were going to do a daytime wedding at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (when the wedding was still in Brooklyn) because we could actually afford it.

  • Erin

    After reading the APW book and soaking in all the tips on finding non traditional venues and coordinating rentals and catering- I realized the best option for my sanity was an all inclusive venue. I live in NYC but knew I was going to have to host the wedding near my parents’ home in Long Island due to cost and logistical reasons. Long Island may very well be the birthplace of the WIC, so I was terrified of ending up with big hair, gilded everything and stretch Hummers (not our taste at all), but luckily I found a lovely, overlooked reception hall that will feed and water my guests at a price we can afford. But our ceremony is at a local church and here is where we are having trouble. The latest ceremony time we could get is 3pm and our reception starts at 7. Almost all our guests are staying in a hotel and will use that time gap to check in, freshen up and catch a shuttle bus to the reception. But what will the bridal party do? I originally thought we could take pictures at a local park, but then I remembered its November and will be dark! Any ideas on how to spend the time? Please help!

    • Laura

      I got married on November 9th and had a similar gap time between ceremony and reception. Having a receiving line and taking outdoor photos of just the wedding party worked great. The sunset on our wedding day was 5:07 p.m. EST, so we could get pretty good photos from 3:30-5 p.m.

      • anon

        I got married on December 7 with a long church-reception gap. The two locations were actually 45 minutes apart, so travel time filled some of the gap. Most guests went to a local bar or checked in at the hotel to kill time. Sunset was at 4:25 and I wanted photos outside, so we actually had our ceremony earlier in the day to accommodate this. Ceremony was from 1-2ish, we skipped the receiving line, took a few quick formal shots in the church and went to the reception venue for photos. Our photographer was very efficient (and it was cold so no one wanted to be outside longer than they had to). We finished photos just before sunset and had about 30-40 minutes to kill before cocktail hour started at 5pm, which we used enjoy leftover beers from our limo ride with the bridal party and immediate family before the chaos/party started. :-) All this is to say, if outdoor photos are important, it might be worth bumping up the ceremony, and getting yourself some extra downtime before the reception.

    • Claire

      A friend of mine had a similar dilemma, but it actually worked quite nicely. The bridal party went and took the formal portraits (some outdoors, some inside) then their families came in and took group shots. The bride and groom got a few minutes alone together, she also had a few minutes to change out of her (heavy!) dress and use the restroom (bring along a robe if you want to kick back for a few without worrying), touch up her makeup, and just take a break. Ask the venue to provide some snacks for you and the groom/ the bridal party, and you’ll probably enjoy that hour of quiet!

    • Erin

      Thanks everyone! I am trying not to stress too much, but a big part of the issue is the reception hall has another event before ours and we are not allowed there until 6 to start pictures. That leaves us 2 hours in limbo. Maybe we do something silly like hit up Starbucks in formalwear and take pics?

      • Violet

        Awww, I stressed about this too. Our situation was not exactly the same re. being dark out, but we had time to kill in between as well. We’re from the Philly area, so we hit up WaWa for hoagies! Try not to stress, because it’s really, really, going to be fine. I promise. I wish I could take back the time I wasted stressing about this. But I can’t, so the next best thing is to try to pay-it-forward. : ) Remember: Your bridal party are adults, and your wedding is not an imposition!

    • River

      Yay NYC APWers! Any chance you’ll share where this lovely, overlooked reception hall is? I, too, am trying to look on LI for cost reasons, and calling it the birthplace of the WIC seems pretty dang accurate to me…

      As for what the bridal should do during the gap… Since you’ll be near your parents’ home, maybe you could pop a bottle of bubbly there and take some pics?

      • Erin

        It’s The Riviera at Massapequa. Google it! But when you look at the website, just ignore the awful font and words like “elegance” floating through the pages and see through to the natural beauty of the place. It’s on the water without being beachy, and the whole dining room/dance floor is wood and brick. Plus we get fireplaces! The food is traditional catered wedding food, but there’s a lot of it, and everything is included in the per person price, from food to open bar to wedding cake to basic centerpieces and place cards. We were scared of the initial price until we realized we would barely need anything else.

        • River

          Thanks for the tip! While the website is…off-putting, the photos of that place are gorg! Fireplaces and exposed brick FTW. We’ll definitely be scoping it out when we look at LI places.

  • Stephanie

    I found my venue on Open Table of all places. We had a pretty small wedding (40 people) so I started out just searching for restaurants with private event spaces. Ended up finding a really affordable hotel/restaurant in Washington DC that even let us have some dancing!
    Seriously though, venue hunting was the bane of my existence last year. Don’t wish it on anyone.

    • Stephanie

      Oops also, check out local parks and historical landmarks. We had our ceremony on the National Mall and it only cost $50 to get a permit!

      • Alyssa M

        I think this is an awesome option! It’s even better when it’s JUST a ceremony space. Local parks, national forest, and landmarks really don’t require a lot of ceremony decorations and the renting and setup of just chairs is totally manageable. We’re either doing this or renting a place on national forest land that comes with chairs and set up for $600.

        I can’t imagine the logistical nightmare of trying to plan even a simple reception at either location though.

    • ML

      I used Open Table too, for San Francisco. It’s a great tool! I knew I wanted a restaurant reception, so I searched for places that could hold 80-100. Most have a price range available, and even space configurations, so I really appreciated that.

      • Stephanie

        The other great thing about Open Table was that it was really easy to send a form email out of a whole bunch of places. I basically blanket emailed everywhere in the area that looked remotely feasible.

  • Laura

    Two words: Police Lodge.

    Actually, veterans lodges or other government-type meeting halls are great. Ours is gonna be $400 for the WHOLE DAY. and can fit 250 which is way more room than we need.

    Cons:
    Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.
    You’ll have to set up and clean up yourself.
    (Any other con suggestions welcome!)

    Pros:
    Generally cheaper than the average venue
    You can often bring your own booze/bartender (sometimes requires an extra fee)
    You can bring outside food
    You have a clean decorating slate (see: ugly above)
    You are often supporting your retired police/veterans/firefighters union organizations (uh oh, not trying to be too political)
    (Any other pro suggestions welcome)

    How to find: call your local police/fire departments and/or VFW

    • C R

      Agreed — we had ours at a fantastic Elks Lodge. $550 for the day, which ended up including our rain backup plan, since the two-day rainstorm nixed our plan to get married outside on the grounds….we did the ceremony on the dance floor and it ended up being just wonderful! The hall seated 250 comfortably with a huge dance floor, so we had plenty of room for our 180 guests. The onsite caterer was incredibly helpful and the food was delicious yet inexpensive. It was also literally 3/10 mile to the hotel, so transportation was simple for everyone, too.

      In addition to the money factor, a major pro was that these were the type of people we wanted to work with (I think someone else mentioned that above, too)– laid back but professional, happy to chat on the phone about details or have us drop by to ask questions without getting annoyed. They had tons of experience with these events, so they had great suggestions to keep things running smoothly without being overbearing. Definitely the right vibe for our day!

      One thing to consider is where you want to get ready at these venues — you may not have a separate room to get ready on-site if you want to do the ceremony and reception there. Our hotel was really close so it was fine, but this wasn’t the case for some other similar venues we looked at (we also liked a Knights of Columbus venue but it was far from any major hotels).

      And bonus: not at all ugly inside at this Lodge!! :)

      • Laura

        That sounds wonderful! *high five*

  • NicoleT

    I’m still in the process of reading through comments, so apologies if someone has already mentioned this, but don’t forget to look at party end time requirements! This is HUGE. It’s awful to fall in love with a venue only to find out that they want you to cut the party at 10 pm when you want to end an hour or two later. This seems to be especially problematic in Los Angeles and Malibu (where I’ve been looking). Thought I’d pass this along!

  • Jenni Kissinger

    The things that were most important to me and/or my fiance:
    - Ceremony and reception at the same location
    - Outdoor ceremony with an awesome view
    - Indoor reception (no tents) that is pretty and not an hotel ballroom
    - Food looks decent and the combined food/venue cost is ~half our budget

    That said, if anyone is searching in New Hampshire, I have a giant spreadsheet of pretty much every venue I could find in the NH area with an outdoor ceremony/indoor reception combination.

  • Lian

    I don’t remember if it was the APW book that recommended this, but we looked at government / non-profit owned venues. Basically just googling exactly that. We’re having it at the historical mansion where a European-American Institute is based, and I’m very excited about it! It’s not new or shiny, but it feels like a lovely old sweater, if that makes sense.

    • emfish

      This. We looked exclusively at state and county-owned venues in Maryland and Virginia (we’re in DC but can’t afford a wedding in the city). Going about it this way seemed to cut out a lot of the stuff people find frustrating about venues, because we were dealing with the Parks service, and they had nothing to gain from us monetarily. Everyone we talked to was kind and helpful, even looking for ways to help us reduce costs. And they were very upfront about pricing — most places listed prices for residents and non-residents on their websites, which made it easy to decide which places to visit.

      • Lian

        Oh yes, the being upfront about pricing! So great. And our venue coordinator is super responsive.

    • MirandaVanZ

      Yes, this. We ended up going with a boat club turned rec center. It is really affordable and still quite pretty. All the information is on the website for what is included and all the fees involved, even fees like a liquor license which is completely on us to get but they just give you a heads up anyway to be helpful.

  • Kayjayoh

    Our thoughts for our venue was that we could have the ceremony and reception in one place, that there was space to have an outdoor ceremony but could easily move the ceremony indoors if needed, that it was a block from a good hotel (and two blocks from another), that it needed minimal decorating, and that it had built-in activities so that it didn’t just have to be dancing.

    We paid a good deal for that, but we know it encompasses a lot of things. We don’t have to worry about transportation and our floral budget is pocket change. The venue has a choice of caterers, but only one liquor license, which meant we couldn’t look around for alcohol. Another trade-off.

  • sheismle

    Our wedding isn’t until this summer, but I will say one of the pleasant surprises about our venue is that they let us charge EVERYTHING to a credit card, so we are going to get massive airline miles when it’s all said in done. Not something I would’ve bothered to ask about, but it’s a nice feature!

    The only regret I have (and this is more of a family/boundaries issue than a venue issue) is that we weren’t more clear with my FMIL what the guest list limitations would be for our venue, and after adding dozens of distant relatives to the guest list, she has started worrying about how crowded we’ll be if they all come, and suggested that perhaps we switch venues. That is not a fun conversation to have.

    I will add that we were very tempted to go with a “free” venue that was available to us. Turns out the cost of renting a tent & all furnishings was comparable (perhaps higher than) hosting our event at the Ritz-Carlton downtown! I mean, you’re basically building a temporary ballroom outdoors. Not budget-friendly, or low-maintenance either!

  • Laura

    We found our venue after consulting some local venue guides for our area-Charlottesville, VA. There are a lot of amazing wedding venues here, but many of them are starting to be pretty pricey for the average person who actually lives here-this place tends to attract a lot of out of town couples returning to get married here. Some factors that influenced our final choice:
    -Not having to rent significant amounts of tables, chairs, food setup.
    -Indoors (we got married in November)
    -The facility does their own catering
    -The food is different than your “average” wedding food.

    The venue we eventually chose, Stonefire Station, won us over with a combination of
    -Custom menus to our tastes and specifications
    -Only needed to rent tablecloths, china, and glassware
    -Easy to find for out of town guests.
    -Flexible space
    -Highly experienced owner
    -High caliber chef

    I had visited several venues in the area that charge $7-$10K JUST TO RENT THE ROOM, and for a few thousand more, we not only rented the room, but filled it with amazing creative food that our guests loved. The owners of the hall personally worked our event and made everything happen on time with no problems. I cannot speak highly enough of them.

    I also echo other commenters that “rustic-outdoor” weddings are FAR more work than you realize at the outset. My brother had that type of wedding, and our family was stringing the lights, pouring the water glasses, stocking the bathrooms, slicing and plating the pastries, setting up signage and ensuring the tables were set properly. I had fun, but it felt like a ton of work, and the sweatstains in the pictures show it!

  • macrain

    I fell completely in love with an outdoor venue, and then had to come to grips with reality. We realized it would be a tight squeeze with our budget after crunching the numbers. Also, I had to ask myself if I would be ok if we spent an arm and a leg for an outdoor venue and then it rained. I didn’t want to admit that the answer was no, I would not be okay with that, because I was too busy fantasizing getting married in an open field with sweeping mountain views. It was HARD to let that venue go, I’m pretty sure I cried over it. After I did though, we were both so relieved. We went with a more affordable option and it feels right now.
    Finding the venue has definitely been the most difficult part of wedding planning so far. Once you get through the venue hurdle it feels AWESOME, trust me. :)

  • karyn_arden

    Ask if balloons, confetti, glitter, etc. are allowed. Even flowers.

    Our venue (Muttart Conservatory – Edmonton, AB) stated clearly in our contract that balloons, confetti and glitter were NOT allowed, so if we had wanted them, we knew that wouldn’t fly. And if you do use them in a venue that doesn’t allow them (or even if the venue DOES allow), find out what the clean-up cost is. If you use confetti or glitter, they will spend a LOT longer cleaning it off the floor/vacuuming it out of the carpet and you’ll be the one who pays for it!

  • anon

    We knew we wanted something more unique and more aesthetically pleasing than a hotel ballroom, but it also had to fit 200 guests. Initially, I was opposed to the idea of an all-inclusive venue. We got married in NJ, WIC-central and I wanted to avoid this as much as I could, thinking we could find something more “us” and more affordable. We started our search thinking we’d find a great deal on a rustic/laid back venue and we could get our own caterer and bring our own booze and it would be easy peesy. All the places that fit this criteria had problems. Exclusive (and expensive) caterers, uninterested and/or sleezy event “coordinators,” never-ending rental fees.

    Then the reality of having to coordinate and pay for all those moving parts set in. We ended up chosing a venue that was not a glitzy hotel ballroom, but was all-inclusive and on the surface, seemed more expensive than we wanted to spend, but that number included everything we needed/wanted and came with super responsive staff and the place was simple gorgeous and fit our style. We saved a ton of money on decorating because we didn’t have to transform our venue into something else. Honestly, I’m not even sure we would have saved any money going the full on DIY route, but I am positive we saved ourselves a lot of stress during the planning.

    • Aero girl

      Plus one to this.
      I think it’s actually important to look at more expensive venues too. We saved a lot of money by going for a more top end venue, it’a strange so it’s worth considering. It was a great venue so we then saved on
      1) decorations – it was already pretty
      2) food – their prices were super reasonable and actually included more courses and more food so we didn’t add any extras
      3) service – again it was a higher end place so the wait staff were great, the bathrooms were great, we didn’t have to add any extra here.
      4) service – again the price included a lot of extras eg they put out all the bonbonaries, they gave us a spare room (for bridal party/nursing mums), a outdoor area for pre dinner drinks, all linen, all chair covers, sunny and wet weather options, all menus, and audio/lecturn.

      It’s a bit like house hunting – it’s always best to buy the worst house in the best street. Pick the cheapest option at a more expensive place and you will often save money overall.

      Another tip is to look for venues that do work functions. These places often work to a higher standard because they are after repeat business. Aka they want to impress and get the company to come back. Wedding venues have clientele who are once off ‘buyers’ and so they don’t have to work so hard to make sure their customers come back. Finally if a place does corporate function they will generally be a lot more professional, have a proper contract set up etc and clear expectations.

      • anon

        Precisely. For us, practical meant recognizing our limitations and not biting off more than we could chew. Our venue price literally included everything for the reception except the DJ. They even had a floral credit you could use if you hired one of their preferred florists. The food was spectacular, the service was insanely good. It was by far the biggest chunk of the budget, but definitely worth it. We got so many compliments from our guests on the reception. And we got to spend the week leading up to the wedding relaxing and not running around trying to set things up. win!

  • Sarah

    Does your fee include tables, chairs, and linens? What if we want different tables/chairs/linens?

  • Kara

    Sometimes it was difficult even deciding where to begin.
    We knew we didn’t want a country club or ball room for our venue, and we were hoping to find something outdoors with enough space in case of rain for all of our guests. I had to get creative on our search, so here are a few “out of the box” ideas for outdoor weddings.

    Options we searched for:
    -Vacation Home Rentals (www.VRBO.com and/or http://www.airbnb.com) – space can be an issue and check with owner on their rules

    - Church camps or YMCA camps (may not allow alcohol)
    - Museums or Nature centers

    - Ranches
    - Any place that could/has hosted a family reunion
    - Community Centers – check local with 4H and FFA groups to see where they have large meetings.

  • Oakland Sarah

    Oh! And (this goes for all vendors) if they have a mandatory gratuity asked if it’s applied before or after tax–this makes hundreds of dollars of difference.

    • Lindsey d.

      Is it even appropriate/legal to apply gratuity AFTER tax?

      • Oakland Sarah

        You wouldn’t think so, but I’ve heard of it happening. I would just keep it in mind and make sure.

        • Lindsey d.

          Thanks. I’ll officially double check that when we are fully charged. We are looking at 20% built in gratuity and 9% tax (ugh, local taxes), so I’ve just been calculating at 29% for both.

  • EF

    The moment we got engaged, we had a spot in mind. A local university building, in the center of Oxford, old, beautiful, that we have ties to…and it was vaguely affordable, though a bit more than we’d ideally spend, eh. But the events person was a NIGHTMARE to work with. 2 months into planning, I still could not get her to answer my questions with a straightforward response, and these were easy questions, like how many tables of X size fit into X room? So I realised I couldn’t stand working with her for the next year, and we looked elsewhere.
    Quickly discovered that the country/manor house wedding was out of the question, because hot damn they’re expensive. But also hard to get to, and we and most of our friends don’t drive, and my relatives will be coming from the States and I’m unsure about car rentals, etc. Back to the city. Oxford turned out to be extremely over-priced, so we started to look at hotels in close-by towns. I wasn’t thrilled about a hotel venue, but some looked cool (‘oh, a working water mill in the reception hall!? ok!!’). We went and toured a couple, discouraged by what we saw. While walking around a little town, we passed by their old Guildhall, which is a sort of public meeting house building in the UK — many towns have them. I’d remembered seeing it listed online as a venue space, but their website had been crap, so I hadn’t arranged a viewing. Well, the security guard that was there offered to show us around, and my god it was wonderful. And the price listing was so low we thought it was by the hour rather than the day. And the caterer can be in-house or anyone else.They have a bar there. We can have separate rooms in the same building, but on different floors, for the ceremony and reception. There are 12th century abbey ruins out back which are going to make AMAZING pictures. Oh, and the event coordinator also acts as a day-of-coordinator, and she’s the loveliest person I could ever have imagined.

    So my advice? Don’t rule anything out. Wander around, be willing to take a risk when looking at places, and don’t judge venues by the website. Not all venues properly advertise, and gems can certainly be found in unexpected places!

  • Bsquillo

    We visited SEVEN venues last summer. (Pro tip: don’t visit seven venues. Narrow it down way before then.) The one we ended up choosing was the last venue we visited though, and it was such a better fit than anything else. There were plenty of beautiful spaces we visited that we could have made work with our budget, but the selling point for our venue was the people who run it. It’s a privately owned family property that happens to do weddings. They have a gorgeous landscaped yard with a pond and mountain views, and they’ve built a large reception lodge on site.

    So many other venues we looked into had very strict rules about the time allotted for each wedding, or the caterers you had to use, or what decorations you could bring, etc. And many venues in our area are almost like wedding factories that pump out 3-4 weddings A DAY in high season. Our venue guarantees that we’ll be the only wedding that day, and the super sweet owner told me, “Feel free to come by ANY time during your planning process if you need to figure anything out!” That just doesn’t happen at all venues.

    What I like most about our venue is that it’s allowing us enough freedom to make choices that fit us, but it’s not 100% DIY (which would overwhelm this lazy-girl). We can choose our own caterer, bring our own booze, do our own decorations, etc. But the venue already has tables and chairs, a kitchen space for the catering team, electricity in the outdoor ceremony space, and comfortable INDOOR bathrooms. (No one ever tells you that those rustic farm venues you see on wedding blogs usually involve a port-a-potty rental.)

    Side note: our venue is one of the few in the Front Range Colorado area that didn’t get hit by the floods last September. When that happened, they opened up their property last minute, FOR FREE, to other couples whose wedding venues were underwater. THAT makes me confident about the people we’ve chosen to work with for our wedding.

    • MC

      What is your venue?? I’m from CO and not getting married there, but I know lots of engaged and soon-to-be-engaged couples in that area. I’d love to send some support their way!

    • LawLauren

      There really is something to be said for working with people who you really LIKE. We adored the people at our venue and, over the planning process actually because friends with them. Our venue had only hosted a few (smaller) weddings in the past but that didn’t matter in the end. I can’t tell you the number of times I emailed the person we were working with to ask a question and the answer was almost ALWAYS “yes” (and there wasn’t that additional “if you want to pay $X more”). We had the whole day before to set up, visited about 4 times – and met with the “coordinator” on each visit, and had a million last minute changes…all things you just don’t get at most traditional venues. (not to knock traditional venues…they totally have benefits that non-traditional ones don’t!!).

  • B

    Our biggest venue issue was how quickly things were booked. We were 18 months away from our wedding when we first looked at venues and we still had venues tell us that we were too late. So, if you live in Toronto, and you want to have more than 100 people – book early!

  • carolynprobably

    Maybe it’s obvious, but my number one piece of advice is see what the quoted price includes (and when you email or call ask for a quote for your highest and lowest number of guests).

    One place we looked at was basically $4K to have them unlock the doors, and another was $2K and included all the tables, chairs, parking, security, cleaning fees, etc.

    Ditto to the above advice on asking about recommended (required) vendor lists, adding extra hours, cleaning costs, decoration restrictions, booze rules, parking, security, INSURANCE RIDERS (we needed a million dollars of coverage for the dinosaurs. Srsly.)

  • Ariel

    We picked the first (and only) venue we visited. When I tell people this, they sometimes look at me like I’m crazy.
    What made us pick it:
    - price ($1300 for the day and you can set up for basically nothing the day before if you’re getting married on a Saturday)
    - location (NNJ)
    - the awesome woman who rents out the place and has a whole stash of things that she and former brides have donated for other brides to use
    After I get married, I will have to submit it to the directory.

    • laddibugg

      you probably don’t want to share, but I’d be eternally grateful if you did since I’m in the same area (a lot of the ‘cheaper’ places are in south or west Jersey, and I really don’t want people driving that far.

      • Ariel

        The Women’s Club of Englewood. wcecarriagehouse.com
        Maria is the woman that rents it out, and she’s awesome. I hope this helps!

      • Ariel

        If you have any questions about the place, let me know :-)

        • laddibugg

          I sure will. Just checked out the website and it looks like an awesome place. Everything nice in this area is so expensive!

  • Rebekah

    The way we picked our venue(s) really had to do with what was important to us. We wanted to get married in a church, so that’s where we looked first for the ceremony. The pastor who married my parents and my sister, who baptized me and my sister, and who did both our confirmations, was moved to a different city, so we needed a church that would allow an outside pastor to perform the ceremony.
    We decided that good food was more important than a pretty venue, so any place that required use of their caterers was out.
    We ended up using a church of the denomination I was raised in and was also on the edge of the college campus where we met. Their reception hall isn’t the prettiest thing, and the time of day isn’t what I had pictured, but no one will care. He and I will be married, and our loved ones will buoy us, and that’s what matters. (and I can say this now that we’ve booked the venue!)

  • Mia Culpa

    I nearly pulled out all my hair looking for a wedding venue. My husband insisted we get married in west Sonoma County near where he grew up and his family still lives. Of course, Sonoma County is absurdly expensive and most venues in the western part of the county are terrible about having an online presence. I ended up daisy-chaining my search: if I found a venue online, I’d look at their preferred vendors and then look at those vendors to find other venues they worked at. It was insane.

    When I initially started looking, I was trying to cut costs by scheduling the wedding for a shoulder season like April. Immediately the biggest problem I came across was venues changing their stated prices & policies on me because I was “close enough” to high season. This literally would change the price by at least $10k, especially with hotels & lodges because of their high season policy of asking weddings to commit to renting out THE ENTIRE PLACE. This happened to me at least three times. So that right there is my biggest piece of advice: it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to schedule a wedding in the off-season. ALWAYS ask any potential venue what they are really going to charge for your specific date. If they tell you something significantly different from what they advertised, boo to them and move along.

    When I found a venue (shout out to Sova Gardens!) that not only had a good website, but also posted their prices & policies explicitly on said site and stuck to them when I called them up, I nearly wept with joy. The owner not only was consistent with her pricing, she clearly stated her policies, answered all of my questions happily, allowed me to use my vendors of choice with no extra fees, and told me we were welcome to stop by to look at the venue again any time before our wedding as long as there wasn’t another event going on. And the place was beautiful. Winner!

  • Mandertron

    Like Ariel, we also chose the first place we visited. I just realized it only took two weeks into engagement to choose a venue for our November 15, 2014 Weddening. In the greater Los Angeles area!

    Our main criteria:
    1. Reasonable price (our ceiling was 4k)
    2. Can hold both ceremony and reception
    3. Free parking
    4. Allows booze and lets you choose caterer
    5. Audio/Visual setups
    6. Has deal on rentals
    7. Pretty enough

    We did what other Practical Brides just pointed out––looking at photographers’ blogs for venues, googling, and then emailing every site that looked right. Note that many public-owned and non-profit venues have a pricing pdf hidden somewhere on the website if you click around. A few days later, when a bunch of responses and information came in, we had a meeting to go over it all and chose a candidate for visiting.

    Our venue is the La Canada Thursday Club, about 3 miles from the closest accommodations in Pasadena, 18 from our home in West Hollywood. I think they are booked for 2014 but if you’re in SoCal it’s worth asking about 2015. It’s a lovely place for a ceremony and reception under 200 guests.

    The contract’s limitations have actually helped us plan more decisively. No confetti or sparklers? Awesome, little streamer wands (or high fives!) it is. Music off at 10pm? That’s cool, we’ll throw a small after party at a friends house for the ragers. Now that we’re locked in, no small detail can be a deal breaker for us.

    Currently, the challenges we fret over are travel logistics for out of town family, which can be a problem in LA. Which hotels might include a shuttle to the venue? Should we rent our own shuttle to take out of town relatives to and from their Pasadena hotels? We’re putting off dealing with that for a little while.

    • LC Girl

      I actually grew up at the church across the street (La Canada Pres). They have some pretty spots that might be good for pictures. :)

      • Mandertron

        Thank you, LC Girl! I had never been to LCF before visiting the venue, and we were wowed by this verdant, peaceful place. We’re excited to take golden hour photos in that area!

  • Alyssa M

    Our biggest venue factor was the kind of reception we want. Our first decision after announcing the engagement was that we were getting married outside and super not interested in the traditional wedding reception. It simplified things a lot when we realized we should just cut any venue with built in dance floors out of the list.

    Right now the ceremony venue is between renting chairs and getting a permit for a national park (I live smack dab in the middle of like 10 national parks) and renting a venue on the national forest land that will cost about $200 more but include set up.

    We’ve actually found the perfect reception option for us that I can’t seem to find pictures of anyone else using on the internet. A group campground! $220 to rent it for two days straight, sleeping accommodations for our cheap friends, vault toilets (which, yuck, but better than porto-potties), it’s easily accessible by paved roads, comes with all the tables we need, and a HUGE firepit for a bonfire, and we can decorate however we want, use whatever vendors we want, celebrate without any prescribed schedule or expectations. I’m kind of excited about it.

  • JenClaireM

    One word: Restaurants.
    For us, having our reception at a restaurant meant no site fee and almost everything included in the cost of food and booze (tables, waitstaff, chairs, heating, the decor of the restaurant (which was gorgeous), dishes, linens, etc). Plus, we were someplace that specialized in making food and serving it, which meant that things went smoothly and the food tasted good! This was the answer for us in the end, after a lot of searching and angst over our venue.

    We got married in Southern California, and we knew we did not want a hotel, ballroom, club type feel. Initially we wanted an outdoor wedding, and I did a lot of internet research on spots in parts of SoCal that we loved. We visited a bunch of them, and only after doing so began to understand the reality of the venue fees – ranging from $2,000 – $8,000 (and that was AFTER I cut out all the obviously expensive ones). We knew we were going to have a fairly large wedding (~200 people), and we figured out it was going to be impossible to pay for food, booze, AND a big site rental fee with our budget.

    I got depressed and stressed about it because having a location that I liked, that had an individual feel to it was one of my top priorities. Then I read the section in Meg’s book about alternate venue ideas and started contacting state parks, other state facilities and restaurants.

    The big things I learned about restaurants are that there are larger ones, that are nice, that can accommodate big parties and will do a buy out – and have generally done it before. For us, once we picked a city (Santa Barbara), it was easy to figure out what restaurants could accomodate our number. We ended up finding a wonderful place (El Paseo Restuarant) that was perfect for us. It was a really great choice for us, so I highly recommend the restaurant-as-venue option. (Our wedding ceremony was at the courthouse.)

    • Amber

      Thank you!! I’m ‘pre-engaged’ and have recently started thinking about the actual wedding. Restaurants had not occurred to me add a venue option. Your post made me look a bit… And our favorite pub style restaurant, in our hometown, does weddings!!! Prices and menu options are all listed on the website! Plus its a unique decor! Oh my goodness, I’m so excited! My guy will LOVE IT :D

    • Alyssa M

      Restaurants were always a second choice for us if we couldn’t find an outdoor venue. I loved the idea of just taking all my people out for dinner :)

    • KISig

      I so so so agree with this! We really wanted an outdoor BBQ wedding, but figuring out the logistics just got to be too much stress and too expensive. One night while eating in our favorite neighborhood restaurant and going through our venue options for the millionth time, my girlfriend joked that we could just get married there in the restaurant. We asked them and they were game. We’ll have the whole place to ourselves and it turned out to be a very affordable option because all we have to pay for is food and drink. We’re doing the ceremony at a public park up the street, then everyone can walk over to the restaurant after. The amount of stress that this has cut from our planning process is enormous! I highly recommend this as a lazy girl option to having a non-cookie-cutter wedding.

    • Grace

      We are also getting married at a restaurant (even the ceremony will be there), and I just couldn’t be happier with our choice. Other than picking a menu, plugging in an iPod to the speakers they’re letting us use for free, bringing a cake, and getting everyone there, there’s really nothing else we will need to do logistically. The man and I are lazy lazy bums and I can’t even express how awesome it is to not have to worry about linens or what kinds of chairs we want or even decorating anything. We’re having a rough enough time just collecting everyone’s email addresses, honestly…

    • Lisa

      We are doing this as well! The restaurants in Chicago ended up being a better value for the money than any of the beautiful spaces around the city, which cost $4000-$10,000 just to rent the space for four hours on a Saturday evening (not including catering, bar packages, rentals, etc.). We were also concerned about the quality of food we would get from a caterer and liked that we could visit a restaurant, have dinner out (which we do frequently anyway), and get an idea of what the chef was like and what we could expect for a wedding supper.

      The restaurant we’ve chosen has two big loft spaces (though we’re only using one) and requires a food/drink minimum. They also have a small fee to convert the space from its current lounge style to dinner set-up, but I was able to get them to give me detailed pricing by asking for sample contracts after we toured the space.

      Pro-tip: if you want to know your pricing options and the breakdown of every cost, ask restaurant event coordinators to draw up a couple of sample contracts at different price points!

      As many people have said, the venue ended up being more expensive than we originally allocated, but we are getting food, drink, service, and the restaurant’s decor in the price. They also said there will be people on-site the day of to receive our flowers/decorations and will then put them up according to our specifications.

      After considering more blank canvas style places and considering the headache it would be to organize everything ourselves, I am glad to have a place that is willing to do just about everything for us instead!

      • Erin Rafferty

        Do you mind sharing what restaurant you chose? Boyfriend and I are already butting heads on whether to get married in Chicago (which I don’t think we can afford), or in rural North Carolina at the place where we met (my preference). I promised him I’d give Chicago a fair chance, though. Your experience with more traditional venues in the area tallies with mine, so I’d love to hear what solution you came up with!

        • Lisa

          We ended up going with Hubbard Inn. The high estimate for a Saturday night dinner is a bit under $16,000 all-inclusive. You can google “Hubbard Inn Chicago wedding” and see the pictures that inspired us to choose this location. The minimum was $10,000 for a Saturday night in October.

          I don’t know what size of wedding you’re looking at, but Volo in Roscoe Village was a fantastic deal with a super-nice events coordinator. They have an awesome patio out back, but we ended up looking elsewhere because it would have had to be cocktail style to fit all of our guests. I think there was a $1000 shutdown fee, and it was $500 if you just needed the back garden, which can accommodate up to 50-60. The minimum food and drink for a shutdown was $9000 and $4500 for just the garden. They also offer free-tenting/warmers on the day-of in case of inclement weather, all tables and linens, some table decorations, and they also told us that, if we told them what flowers/colors we were using in advance, they would match their weekly decor to the wedding.

          Some other places I checked into were all of the awesome breweries around town. I really wanted Revolution, but they were already booked. Goose Island has private party rooms. I know Cafe BaBaReeba and Range have some good spaces/pricing because we’re looking at those for the rehearsal dinner.

          Kitchen Chicago was a space I really loved though they have upped their prices since the most recent estimates I could find on-line. It is a bring-everything place, but they don’t have restrictions on food/alcohol if that’s important to you. They were booked for our date, which bummed me out at first, but turned out to be a blessing in disguise because, knowing myself, I think I’d go crazy trying to organize everything.

          I would highly recommend Volo just based on my experience with the tour though. The way the building is configured just wouldn’t have worked for our crowd, but they are fantastic!

          North Carolina will definitely be cheaper than anything you can find in Chicago, I think, though.

        • Lisa

          Sorry for the novel! I don’t know if there’s any way to do a PM on Disqus, but I’m happy to answer any other questions you have. :)

          • Erin Rafferty

            That’s okay! I really appreciate your specificity :D

          • Lisa

            Haha, I’m glad. I feel like it’s really difficult to get an accurate read on pricing for weddings so the more info that is out there, the easier it would be too Google things and find accurate estimates!

    • Caitlin_DD

      I am currently eyeing restaurants too. It makes sense, especially for a non-religious ceremony for a food-loving couple. I’m curious if anyone has tried to have dance-party reception in addition to dinner at a restaurant. Is that a thing?

      • JenClaireM

        We totally had a dance party at our reception in a restaurant. We picked a fairly large restaurant that had space for a dance floor and had done it before. We hired a DJ who worked in the area (and was amazing), and we had an all-out, packed-floor dance party. Best of all worlds! So it’s totally doable – just depends on the restaurant.

        • Caitlin_DD

          Awesome, thank you for the encouragement!

    • Liz Ann

      Hi JenClaireM! I live in Santa Barbara and have been so stressed and frustrated at the cost of wedding venues. I love your idea of having the ceremony at the courthouse and then having the reception at El Paseo! Did El Paseo close for your wedding? How long did they host your reception for?

      • JenClaireM

        Hi Liz Ann!
        El Paseo did close for our wedding. They gave us a 7-hour block of time, which we ended up not using all of – we had the restaurant from 5pm to midnight (but ended around 11pm). Paul, the owner, is great to work with and has done a lot of weddings, so he knows all about how to run a smooth event.

        We were so happy with our choice of the courthouse for the wedding ceremony and the reception at El Paseo – it all worked out great and was just right for us. Some notes on the courthouse that I wish I’d known in advance: we got married in the Sunken Gardens, and while the cost of that was very reasonable, the cost to rent chairs was INSANE. Because the courthouse has all these rules about how vendors can bring stuff across the grass and because we did it on a Sunday, we were charged a huge premium. So that’s something to keep in mind with pricing for the courthouse gardens. Also, I was totally worried about how the courthouse doesn’t allow amplified sound – turned out not to be a problem at all. We hired a DJ to do the ceremony – Music by Bonnie (she was SO great) – and she took care of all of it. We were miked and there were speakers; and no one at the courthouse cared.

        The parks department in Santa Barbara also rents spaces for low cost – that was another option we looked at that would have been reasonable. A friend of mine got married in the Alice Keck Gardens, which were really nice too. Good luck with everything!

        • Liz Ann

          Thank you so much for the information! It’s really good to know about the chairs! The Courthouse is serious about their grass! When they have events there, you are only allowed to bring certain kinds of chairs and blankets!

          I saw that you had a DJ and dancing at the restaurant. I really like that idea! Did you feel there was enough space for dancing? I have been to eat at El Paseo but I didn’t notice the amount of space.

          I actually live across the street from Alice Keck and have seen many weddings there!

          • JenClaireM

            There’s totally enough space to dance at El Paseo. We had a serious dance party! Paul (the owner) has a whole wedding layout scheme that includes a decent-sized dance floor (btw the fountain and the front of the restaurant). It’s really great how much he has everything figured out already.

  • Anon

    Editz: Are their hidden fees? –> Are there hidden fees?

  • lizperk23

    So we are reviewing a contract for our venue right now (farm outside of chicago) – we knew we wanted something a little lower-key, where we can have a square dance and pie, and stuff (stuff like horseshoes!). For us, having ceremony and party in one place was important. The fact that this venue does the food and alcohol, but that we get to set the budget (they provide ranges for both) is great. And the venue is beautiful in the dead of winter, and it’s one of the more affordable places that made it to my spreadsheet. And they seem lovely and we have a lot of flexibility for the things we want to do.

    Categories on my spreadsheet included things like food minimums, venue cost, per guest cost, extra fees, estimated tax, gratuity, etc…

    Anything to watch out for in the contract?

  • Meg

    We lucked out big time by having our wedding at the college we had just graduated from… it’s a private college so it counts as a non-profit, so they just charged us at cost for labor, etc. Plus, since we’re alumni, we got a bit of a discount, and it was after school had ended so we got the space for two days for the price of one! All told I think the outdoor space, getting ready room, and indoor reception space ended up being around $700 for two days. Definitely an option I recommend to other people.

    (As a bonus, our photographer/friend also went to the same school and had some great ideas for photo locations.)

  • alexandra

    I had been to a couple of blowout, $40,000+ weddings, and looked at waaaayyyy too many wedding blogs before my husband proposed, so I had out of control expectations for what a wedding ought to look like. I’m not going to have a “cookie cutter wedding”! MY wedding is going to be adorable and unique, with mason jars!

    Yeah…my budget wound up being $10,000 (for all wedding expenses) for 150 guests. I found a great, affordable indoor/outdoor venue, and then realized that it would require us to rent almost everything, plus find a caterer, lights, bathrooms, etc.. Ha! I’m way too lazy for that, and it would have been out of our budget! We wound up at an all-inclusive country club on an off-day during off-season. Served free booze and all the burgers you could eat (the country club chef worked with us to develop an affordable menu). Came in under budget. I barely lifted a finger. My wedding will never be in a blog, but it was a ton of fun and I think it looked great.

    Four months later, I can’t believe I even put as much thought and stress into the project as I did. It was a fun day and getting married was incredibly meaningful, but the trappings of it were really not a big deal. I hardly even noticed them on the day of. We never even had time to eat. People seemed to enjoy themselves, even though the food was simple it was very well done, and I’m proud of my unoriginal “cookie cutter” country club wedding.

  • Lindsey d.

    The most interesting thing about this discussion is hearing what was important for people. Some wanted lower stress, all-in-one venues. Others want total customization by bringing in all their own things. Love it.

  • Michelle

    If I say it once I will say it a million times, look at public parks and community centers! We found our adorable venue by looking in public parks in our home town of Seattle. We found a community-run lawn bowling club’s clubhouse (of all things) that is super cheap, and a super cute little craftsman-style building, and staff that were pumped to basically be able to fund their entire program for a year by us renting out their space! And we get to lawn bowl! I know APW folks are already great at looking outside the box, but community centers can be dressed up well, are often inexpensive, and you can give back to a place that really deserves your support!

  • Katie

    Finding a venue is very hard! I wanted to chime in that sometimes local wedding magazines have a surprising amount of information (after you wade through the ads). At least the Seattle magazines list venues, prices, and capacities in the last pages. They include all kinds of venues including museums, nonprofits, restaurants, etc..

  • Anne

    So, I’m having one of those weddings a lot of commenters are warning others about – a rustic outdoor venue at a farm where everything needs to be brought in. We are also planning it from across the country. And it is HARD. We are renting tents, tables, chairs, dancefloor, bar, (nice) porta-potties, and anything else humans need for a large social gathering. All but one of our vendors are coming in from at least 40 minutes away (some more than 3 hours away). We are providing transportation for guests to and from the airport, hotels and the farm because it’s in a rural area with no public transportation and 95% of our guests will be flying in.

    Why are we doing this to ourselves? Well, the venue is my family’s farm that has been in my family since the early 1800′s. It is astoundingly beautiful and has been the hub of our very large extended family for my whole life. It was also the home of my elderly grandmother, so having it there was the only way she could attend (though she sadly passed away after we had chosen to marry at the farm, but before the wedding is taking place).

    I really can’t imagine getting married anywhere else. But while the venue itself is technically free, the backyard wedding that was supposed to be cheap has turned out to be anything but.

    And that’s becoming ok with us – we are very fortunate to have parents who want to contribute and family members who will help out with a lot of the logistics (since they live on-site), and we have the desire to plan this huge party for our families in my family’s favorite place. We’re going with less expensive alternatives where we can (like doing our own flowers), but the fact that we are building a venue from scratch is making this a much Bigger Deal that we originally thought.

    So, to get to the point – my advice for anyone doing the same is:

    1) Try to consolidate vendors wherever possible, for simplicity’s sake. For example, our day-of coordinator also runs a wedding business that will source the tent, tables, chairs, dancefloor, linens, flowers, decor, etc. So, all of that is coming from the same place and we don’t have to juggle multiple vendors. She was also able to refer us to most of the other vendors we chose (caterer, DJ, etc.) because she works with them often. It’s an unbelievable one-stop-shop.

    2) Get a day-of coordinator if you possibly can. I know this is something a lot of folks recommend anyway for peace of mind, but I’m of the opinion that it’s especially crucial for this sort of venue. We didn’t feel comfortable asking a friend or family member to stage manage such a big event with so many moving parts, and since our day-of coordinator does this professionally she is advising us as to what we need to plan for (our contract includes consultation in advance). I, for one, hadn’t thought about who was bringing extension cords or whether we need a cook tent.

    3) Use of the strengths of the venue to bring the cost down where possible. For example, we’re going really simple on decor because it’s a beautiful spot anyway, we will probably gather wildflowers from the farm for centerpieces, and we’re having members of the wedding party stay at a family cabin on-site to help compensate for the long distance they have to travel to be there.

    Of course, I’ll probably have some better advice in a few months once the wedding is actually over, but so far so good… and good luck to you ladies venue-shopping!

  • Sarah E

    Um, yes a million times to the last bullet point.

    I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to rent the banquet space at the county fairgrounds ($500! for all day! with lots of space/parking/amenities!) but since they have a list of approved caterers, I have to make sure I can find a caterer to fit my budget and that we can afford the booze before I can actually tell the venue “yes, we’ll take it” and book a date. So my problem is figuring out the hypotheticals before having anything set in stone.

    It was absolutely helpful for us to sit down and write out a budget. Our numbers might not be based on industry standards, but we have something to shoot for and realize how many moving pieces there are. The next information we need is whether our booze cost estimates are on or off, and whether it’s possible/how much it would cost to insure a friend so she could be our caterer for the day. So it’s figuring out all the “If this, then we can that” and thinking down the road before we can even make the first decision about venue.

  • http://schubertandstarbucks.tumblr.com/ Corrie Anne

    I accidentally chose a venue (park) that didn’t have bathrooms. I was living overseas and visiting Minnesota during the winter (lots of snow) and was not thrilled when I was too late that it only had outhouses. And no cellphone receptions (pros & cons to that!!!!). :) So funny now. But I’d look for bathrooms if I were you!!! :)

  • Caroline

    We knew right away we wanted an at home wedding at my mom’s house, and she was amenable. There are definitely some hidden costs to doing it at home though.
    Some thoughts for those considering a wedding at someone else’s home:

    -Discuss all the logistical details with the homeowner. If you have a picture in your head of how the event is going to go down, discuss it! We’ve had heated debates over when we get to set up for the wedding, when it has to be cleaned up, whether or not we will move the living room furniture to another room. Where will you get ready? Which bathrooms can your guests use? When will you bring over and pick up decor and other stuff for the wedding? Don’t assume that you are on the same page.

    -Rentals add up a ton! We budgeted about $1000 for rentals in a high COL area, but I think we will spend a lot more. My mom’s house has enough bathrooms for 80 people but you have to consider whether you need to rent porta potties. I suspect when it is all said and done we will spend $1500 for rentals of tables, chairs, linens, and plates, utensils, glasses, etc. If we needed heaters for an evening wedding, or catering equipment because the kitchen wasn’t big enough (we are considering moving a gas grill from my dad’s house to my mom’s house so the caterer can use it), or were planning on a tent for our rain plan, it would be a lot more.

    -Unless they have a huge backyard, if you are having a decent size wedding, there may be a lot of set-up and tear-down mid-wedding. Our plan is to get it set up for the ceremony with chairs in rows and all on the back patio. We’ll have the caterer set up drinks on the front patio. Then after the ceremony, the caterer and our friends will pull out the tables from behind the house to the patio, toss tablecloths on them, and push the chairs around. No pretty tablescapes here, I think reasonably, we can get away with one-piece centerpeices but pretty much everything has to be at the buffet. Then after we eat, we, with friends and the caterer, will tear down half those tables, shove the linens in laundry bags, set the centerpieces in boxes or on other tables, to clear half the patio for dancing. Then of course we have the full cleanup at the end of the day. It will go fine, I’m sure, but it is a lot more work than a venue with the ceremony in one room and the tables already set in another, with a third space for dancing.

    -Disabled guests: Unless the homeowners are disabled, houses are often not terribly disability friendly. Lots of front steps and steps inside, small spaces and small bathrooms can be a problem for guests with mobility issues. My step-dad has some mobility challenges they expect to get worse as he ages, so the house is set up to accommodate that, but think if any of your guests may have trouble with the number of stairs or size of bathrooms.

    And also, I can’t wait to revisit our wedding venue every time we come over for dinner. So it will be worth it but it is a lot more work, and requires some flexibility.

    • laddibugg

      I would definitely print up some signs or ribbons or something that say ‘Please do not Enter for places you would like for guests not to go.

      Re: Porta Potties
      There are some really nice porta potties out there, or I guess they could be called ‘mobile bathrooms’. They have flush-able toilets and sinks, and some are actually nicely decorated.

      You have enough bathrooms it seems but it’s just a thought for those who don’t

  • Riah

    So I went to the venue directory to submit my wedding venue, but I didn’t see a link to submit them. Am I missing something?

  • Myranda

    We settled on our venue partly because it was where C proposed to me and it is meaningful for us, but also partly because it had everything we need. We’re getting married in a county park in an old farmhouse. That house already comes with tables and chairs (woo!) that we aren’t bothering to even dress up since they’re surprisingly nice if you like beige. The house contains a kitchen and a real bathroom, things I desperately wanted. It is also situated on enough of a patch of land to set up the ceremony and reception outside. We’ve done enough parties that we already have our own tents, and are building a dance floor. That part I passed off to the engineer in the family. We had to rent the house for two days, because building a dance floor the morning of was going to be a headache. That wasn’t such a bad thing, since the rental was 350. For 12 tables, 68 chairs, and the cutest little cobblestone house this side of the Genesee. Since the tables and chairs are there, it was easy to plan a barbecue rehearsal dinner at the house beforehand. Our caterer generally operates out of a food truck, though he’s ditching the truck for the kitchen day of, and was willing to travel for no extra fee. So basically we looked at a lot of alternatives that all clicked into place. The biggest thing was the huge surprise that was the farmhouse, which is rented out at close to the same price as any park pavilion and turned out to be gorgeous both inside and out. We never would have known it existed if we hadn’t started taking our dog to that park years ago. So my advice, if you can handle the logistics, is to check out places like county parks that might have that kind of hidden gem. And if you can’t handle all the logistics, but love the venue, hire a full service caterer to do things like handle the rentals, flowers, etc for you. The park is also willing to do things like find you extra tables and chairs day of, and the staff was all really helpful in the planning process. It was the one time where I didn’t feel like people were trying to rip me off because I was throwing the word “wedding” around.

  • K.D.

    Being a bride with an infinitesimal budget, I was very stressed out while looking for a venue. I found a venue that was perfect, but NOTHING was included, and there were so many additional costs & hidden fees, I had to let it go. Then, I thought I had found the perfect perfect venue (the garden of a nearby historical home), but when I finally managed to wrangle a price quote from someone, I dissolved into a puddle of tears (it really was that ridiculous). I had almost given up & decided to elope or go to the courthouse when I was talked into going to the Southern Bridal Show, where I was even bullied by a lady representing another incredibly expensive venue (she asked for my budget & then laughed in my face). But, in the back, at the very last booth I stopped at…I found my venue! A local nature preserve in my city has begun offering wedding packages, and not only are they reasonably affordable, they include everything I wanted for my wedding, and more! I am happy to say we’re getting married without going into debt, without breaking the bank, and without sacrificing what we really wanted for our wedding. So, don’t overlook your local nature preserves & state parks! Btw, I’m in Birmingham, AL.

  • AG

    We originally wanted the beach house wedding, but there were a lot of regulations about music and crowds that made it pretty much impossible. So instead, we’re getting married in the courtyard of an art museum in downtown Charleston. We have to bring everything in (food, booze, tables, tent), and I’ve found that it’s worth the extra work to save some money. All of the all-inclusive places I checked out charged a lot for food and drink (I guess because they could).
    One helpful thing I noticed, at least in Charleston, is that most rental companies have a sister bar company, and will give you a discount if you use both. Also, my caterer (Newton Farms! Love!) suggested a couple rental companies to me, and worked with them to figure out a lot of the logistics. None of this is cheap, but it’s the right balance for me of saving money in some places and still getting a lot of help. I’ve found that a lot of vendors are happy to recommend other vendors, which makes the work easier!

  • Hope

    We wanted to get married outdoors. It turns out not every parks department has regulations on weddings in public parks. There was no way, in our town, to get a permit and do it legally. Their best advice was “You could do it, but if a park warden asks you to move you’ll have to move”. With 80 guests we couldn’t go unnoticed. Still, we kept several options in mind for a ‘pop-up’ ceremony but ended up booking a private outdoor option.

    For outdoor ceremonies think very carefully about the power. Our friend married in a local park (with a permit) and was told she could use the electricity from their lamp posts. There was even an outlet on the posts. But on the wedding day there was no power forthcoming. We ended up powering the microphone and speakers from our Toyota Matrix parked nearby! It was a huge stress for the friends and vendors setting up but we laugh about it now.

  • Wendy G.

    Two words topped my fiancee’s list of things he needed from a venue — Air Conditioning. It gets damned hot in Denver during the summer months, and a wedding on the 4th of July weekend guarantees that it will be upwards of 90 degrees on our wedding day. We also have quite unpredictable weather, so indoors in case of rain (and it is not uncommon for us to have 90+ degree heat until 4 p.m. and then have a thunderstorm). I was concerned about number of bathrooms and disabled access, since we have several elderly or disabled guests. A small warming kitchen was essential for the caterers. We found a great historic school house with kitchen, two bathrooms, air conditioning, and wheelchair accessibility for about $100 per hour. Not huge, it’ll be a tight fit for our 85 guests, but we’ll manage!

  • guest

    Things that were important to us (some are extremely obvious, but helped narrow the search):
    -Look/feel of the venue – I wanted the place to be beautiful on it’s own to eliminate the need to do much on the wedding day (extensive decorating, lighting, extra flowers other than centerpieces, etc – having to worry about these things would stress me out)
    -Within budget (obvious, but extremely important)
    -Accommodates everyone we wanted to invite – we didn’t want to have to make a lot of guest list cuts
    -We are the only wedding at the venue for the entire day
    -Venue coordinator who is great to work with
    -All-inclusive without having to compromise on quality or feeling like we got robbed – I wanted to manage as few vendors as possible, so our place does the food, tables, chairs, bar – everything. We only have to deal with florist, baker, dj, limo/shuttle, and photographer. The florist and baker are affiliated with the venue (but still independent so we could use someone else if we want), so other than initial appointments to discuss what we want/get proposals, we don’t have to deal with them the day of – the venue handles that.
    -Had a decent hotel nearby for out of town guests
    -Within a reasonable distance to a church for our ceremony

  • Sarah Brown

    I’m going to chime in with everyone else saying parks and rec halls are the way to go. Before I settled on our state park shelter venue I looked at local park rec halls that were dirt cheap, came with tables and chairs, and could be dressed up nicely. Luckily I hit the jackpot with a $35 picnic shelter that is huge, has tons of parking, is full of picnic tables, is right next to bathrooms, and has a bunch of gorgeous areas around it for photos. This wouldn’t work for everyone but for a picnic theme wedding it was perfect! We also get to use FH’s church for free and it’s so pretty and NO RED CARPET!

  • Eh

    Finding a venue was the most stressful part of wedding planning (well until the end when the Best Man bailed on us). My in-laws requested that we get married in their hometown (which logistically made sense since it’s only about an hour from where we live and my family is scattered all over the country while his family mostly lives there) but I was previously told that there was no place to get married in my husband’s hometown (an extreme generalization since there are churches and community halls – and this person has been to weddings in town before, she just didn’t like any of the options for her own wedding). Before I would agree to getting married there I decided to look at venues and I fell in love an old train station that had been converted into a community theatre for the ceremony location. They are not in the business of having weddings (we were only the third or fourth to be book) and it’s a community theatre run by volunteers so they don’t have a dedicated person responding to rental enquiries. I sent a message through their website and got no response. I sent a message to their Facebook page and I got a response saying that someone else would get back to me. After not hearing back after a few days my husband asked an acquaintance who worked on some productions at the theatre who we should contact. I emailed that person who finally did get back to me. It was a frustrating two weeks.

    For the ceremony location we wanted something that was nice without us decorating it (we didn’t have the time or money to dress it up). I also wanted to get married inside because I couldn’t deal with the stress of the weather (which was good since it was threatening rain all afternoon and there were severe thunder storms in the area – a bit odd for mid-October). The location was great and had some happy bonuses – great location for pictures inside and out, large dressing room for me and the other woman to get ready, comfy seats and great sightlines, a great sound system, and tons of parking.

    For the reception we wanted the convenience of having a caterer that was affiliated with the venue (since I was doing most of the leg work myself I didn’t want to have to research caterers on top of everything else). One of the great things about our reception venue was that it the food was pretty inexpensive ($20 a person for supper and $9 for late night snack). We made our own wine for supper so there was a corkage fee but it was cheaper than any other location we looked at ($5 a bottle, compared to $10 or $15). And there was no cake cutting fee. It was also really important to us to be able to have an open bar (something that is less common in this town but the norm where I grew up) so finding a venue that was open to the idea and that had reasonable alcohol fees was important (we also needed to convince my in-laws that it was a deal breaker).

  • L

    For me the biggies were 1) what does the venue provide? 2) what can I (do I have to) bring in? 3) how much does that cost. When I first started looking at venues, I was looking at various spaces that appeared to be pretty affordable. That is, until you realized that you would have to rent tables, chairs, linens, and work within their approved vendor list. That super affordable Park District Hall that was gorgeous and overlooked the lake ended up being way over budget after adding up the cost of catering, bringing in toilets, and renting other equipment. It’s also important to find out the electrical requirements of your venue to make sure they can support a band or DJ if you choose to have one.

    After pricing out all of those options, we ended up going with a venue that cooked on-site, had their own tables and chairs, and threw in a day-of coordinator. While that venue looked like the more expensive option in the beginning of my search, it became the most affordable option after pricing out all the details. So, my advice is stay open to all kinds of options and price out all the details before making a selection.

  • JSwen

    Wrong there/their up… there… :)

    Ok, we wanted a venue that showcased the natural beauty of our surroundings, that would allow us to bring our own alcohol, and had outdoor space. The rest were details. The questions that we asked were around an itemized fee list, included services, other optional services, and that’s about it. They had an approved vendor list for us to pick out catering vendor, which I appreciated because it meant these were time tested vendors who know the space and the venue’s guidelines. It is pricey, which makes me think that we could have done it for less at a park but knowing that it is our space for 11 hours is worth it. Also having indoor/outdoor space is good for that whole “plan B” thing that I’m sure NO ONE has ever had to use, right?

  • Julie

    Lots of things influenced our venue decision, but some of the things I discovered in the process that made it very easy to eliminate an option were:

    - no clear future pricing. Enquiring about venues in Dec ’13 for a Jan ’15 wedding = not unreasonable. Anyone who said “oh we won’t have our 2015 pricing set until April/July/whenever” was immediately struck off the list. Sorry, it’s a wedding. People book those a year in advance, and if you can’t give me at least a quote in writing, you won’t get my business.

    - difficult coordinators. I spent 2 weeks emailing back and forth about a venue and couldn’t get clear answers about anything. The frustration, as much as anything else, told me that wasn’t a good choice.

    - responsiveness. If you don’t call or email me back within a week, off the list. Especially if someone has said “oh Georgie handles that, she’ll be in tomorrow, can I take a message?” then I don’t hear from Georgie for a month. Too late! This seems to be a common problem.

    Our venue fell into place easily – we visited, agreed it was pretty enough. The guy returned my enquiry within an hour, and was very friendly and helpful. They had pricing details freely available, with all the T&Cs spelt out on the website. It felt EASY, and that really sold it.

  • C

    amen to “Why is it so fucking hard to find out what it costs?”

  • Jana

    When we first got engaged, we desperately wanted to have a camping weekend at our favorite state park. They had a group camp that would accommodate us well and wasn’t too rough on the budget. Ultimately we decided that we weren’t up to the logistics of planning an entire wedding weekend, plus it would have been beyond stressful trying to book the camp. Long story short, the camp would’ve been booked out from under us anyway and we would’ve been left venue-less with only eight months to go (I know that some people plan their entire weddings in less time than this but I personally would be totally stressed about that).

    We decided to have something low key at a lodge in a county park about a half an hour from our house. It seems like not many people look into county parks but it was a great option for us. Sure, there are things that are less than stellar (i.e. the county requires us to be packed up and out by 9pm) but overall it works for us (it’s in a beautiful park, and for just $350 we have use of a lodge for two whole days that allows us to bring in our own food and booze). There are definitely times that I wish we were just having something at a venue where the logistics would be taken care of for us, but not having any hidden costs or strict rules is definitely an upside. Plus, our wedding will end early but we took it upon ourselves to familiarize ourselves with a couple of bars just a few miles from the park…. you know, just in case folks want to keep partying. :)

  • PurpleHeather

    My partner and I started our search by listing our priorities, and then looking up venues in the local area. Pretty quickly we discovered that a local steam railway does weddings. We spent 2 separate weekends and the equivalent of about $150 on transport, plus weeks of unreturned phone calls, before we discovered that three hours of venue rental alone, with a ride on the steam train but nothing else would be about $26,500, for less people than we wanted to invite.

    A heartbroken call to my dad, and he did some research. He found us an even better railway centre near to them in Aylesbury, which is more like $6,500 for all day hire, with access for setup the day before, including the ride on the steam train. It’s generally a nicer venue too, so on the 4th of October, my sweetie and I will be saying ‘I Do’ with William Churchill’s carriage to our right and the former Royal Dining Car to our left, on a platform which originally brought codebreakers to Bletchley Park during World War Two. I’m so happy, and the money we’re paying is going to a heritage railway charity, rather than a big company.

    My top tips would be to make a list of your priorities, and don’t invest much time or effort in a venue until you have a good idea of how much it will cost.

    • Laura

      This sounds like my dream wedding!! Congrats!

  • feelingfickle

    Am I the only one who has the toughest time working the venue directory? I’ll zoom all the way out from DC to the whole east cost and it still tells me no venues, even after changing all the options every which way (any cost! both reception and ceremony! just reception! just ceremony!) I’m starting to think it’s actually work catching on to me browsing the site when I have a spare moment. Maybe I’ll try at home on the fancy laptop-y thing. I swear I understand the internet.

  • Della

    I’m currently planning my wedding and have seen three venues. We visit the fourth (and hopefully last) on Saturday. We sat down with married or soon to be married friends and asked them what we should know when looking at venues. The list ended up being slightly extensive, but has been great to keep track of everything when we look back at places weeks later.
    Here is our list:
    Venue Name:
    Capacity?

    Is it Indoor, Outdoor or both?

    What is the base fee?

    What is included in fee (cancellation policies, taxes, staff (waiter, bartender, security) service fees, valet service or parking garage, set-up and take-down fees, furnishings, cutlery, linens, administrative fees and vendor meals, rehearsal time)?

    Are there any hidden fees?

    If a private club, do we need a sponsor?

    How many weddings per day are reserved at the venue? Are there time limitations? What happens if we go over the limitation?

    Do you require/have an on site coordinator or day of coordinator?

    Who will be my main contact and what is their role?

    Do you have a preferred vendor list? Is it possible to hire outside of said list? Is there a fee for doing so?

    Is outside catering allowed? Is there a tasting we could have if in house catering is required? Is there a base food/beverage fee?

    What are your alcohol policies? Is outside alcohol permitted? What about corkage fees? Do we provide a bartender or alcohol permits? What are the state laws that we need to pay attention to?

    Are there rooms for the Bride and Groom to get ready before the ceremony or have some private time in the middle of everything?

    What is the parking situation? Do cars need to have a permit if in the lot (think golf clubs)? Is valet mandatory or provided?

    Is air conditioning available? What about outside heaters?

    Is there room for a band or set up for sound equipment?

    Where are the bathrooms located and how many are there available?

    Is there a coat check? Does it cost anything?

    Are there designated smoking areas?

  • JLP

    Our reception venue is a restaurant in Cambridge, MA. I’ve always preferred the idea of a restaurant buy-out, rather than setting up in a hall somewhere. Restaurants feed and entertain people for a living — some better than others. The “caterers” are on their home turf, their own equipment, their own booze license, we’re probably using their own florist (who has experience designing for the same space), and if there are chair/linen/place-setting rentals that need to happen, the restaurant can handle that better than I can. My best friend’s wedding was last October and she’s still wrapping up litigation with their caterer (at a museum venue, lots of dropped balls), so I fully disclose that “minimum caterer snafus” is what I’m looking for in a venue.

  • anon

    The crucial questions for me:

    - does it include everything you need (tables, chairs, BATHROOMS) or do you have to truck these in separately?
    - do I like the property manager (ours is detail oriented, on her game, and amazing)
    - is it close enough to accommodations, lodging, and other things for our guests to do?
    - and a no brainer, but is it the right size?

  • Courtney Housel

    We’re going to get married and have our reception at The Old Homestead in Crockett, California this October. Originally, we had been offered two different properties (free of charge) by friends of family as potential ceremony/reception sites, but BOTH completely fell through for different reasons. I was on the verge of having a total meltdown at the prospect of actually having to pay for a venue, but then I found out that The Old Homestead only charges a total of $800 for an entire one-day rental. I think it cost my mom $325 to book (thanks mom!), which is taken out of the total cost. The best part about it is not just that our venue is amazingly inexpensive (heh, especially for the SF Bay Area), but also includes free use of their 160 folding chairs and 39 tables. They also have tons of free parking, few noise restrictions, and you’re free to use your own caterer(s). We’re only having about 100 people at our wedding, but I’m pretty sure you can have up to 175…

    Ultimately, I think this was the best option for us and that we’ve made the right decision, as it will save a lot of additional stresses and costs for us in the long run. I think if we had booked a free venue, we would have spent a lot more money on event rental equipment, but then I certainly also didn’t want to spend thousands on booking a larger, all-inclusive venue that would have placed restrictions on my choices of vendors. And before you turn your nose and think, “Ugh, there MUST be a catch for something that cheap,” just Google something like “Crockett wedding old homestead photos” and check it out. It’s a quaint outdoor space under redwood trees near the old C&H Sugar Factory. I’m super excited!