How to Choose a Wedding Venue (No, Really)


Plus an ode to the all inclusive venue

by Kate Levy, Marketing Manager

Two brides kissing below text "How To Choose A Wedding Venue"

Picking between wedding venues is a big deal. It’s expensive. It sets the tone. It’s the “meat” in the wedding sandwich, if you will. It’s also an incredibly overwhelming process. How can you possibly find a venue that A) you can afford, B) you actually like, C) is convenient for your guests, and D) isn’t already booked? (Hint: it is possible.) That’s why we teamed up with Wedgewood Weddings to go over a few tips—and a LOT of important questions to ask—that will help you figure out how to choose a wedding venue that is the best fit for you.

If you’re not familiar, Wedgewood is the largest family-owned wedding venue company in the country with over thirty venues and growing. Their properties include country clubs, garden estates, and even on the beach, toes in the sand ceremony sites (with packages starting as low as $3,000 at some locations). And Wedgewood’s all-inclusive packages can be highly customized to fit your specific needs, plus their expert planners are there to help you every step of the way. As Wedgewood’s vice president put it:

We’re great for the client who wants something nice but doesn’t want to spend too much. If you’re saving for a house, or for life, you can get something nice without having a Kim Kardashian budget.

Basically, if the idea of finding a venue and a caterer and a rental company (and… and… and…) stresses you out, then you might just want to skip right to the section on all-inclusive venues below. Otherwise, keep reading for our best advice on how to choose a wedding venue:

Bride and groom in a field of cacti

First: Before you make any venue decisions, you need to make a draft budget. Don’t sign a contract with a venue, regardless of the price, only to realize down the line that you have no money left for that DJ you’ve been coveting.

Second: Prep yourself with a venue research spreadsheet—a place to track all of your research on wedding venue ideas, so that you can organize it and then review it without losing your mind. Also figure out if you’re more of an all-inclusive couple or looking for a la carte options. This will help you narrow down your options further.

We talked with Katie Wannen of The Plannery about the challenges of researching venues:

The most frustrating part of finding a venue is the initial research. Much like the college application process, venues and their websites are all completely different. They offer a variety of information in various places, and sometimes they don’t offer any information at all, which is even more fun. Try not to get too frustrated by this. If you can’t find answers on a venue’s site, use the spreadsheet to track what info you still need and reach out with your questions via email. Often venues are stingy with info online, but if approached, they have a marketing packet ready to share that has a lot of the initial information you are looking for.

Katie suggests including the following columns in your research spreadsheet for wedding venue ideas:

  • Name of Venue
  • Location
  • Capacity: Make sure the capacity fits your event. If you are doing a cocktail party rather than a sit-down meal, the space can likely fit more people.
  • Availability: If it matters to you.
  • Type: Such as hotel, outdoor, historical, restaurant.
  • Layout: Note if it has space for all aspects of your wedding (ceremony, cocktails, reception). Sometimes this isn’t clear till a site visit.
  • Rates: Enter the rough info available online. In a later column as you narrow things down, I recommend you create a “My Cost” line (see below).
  • Website: You can easily go back and remind yourself with photos on the venue’s site.
  • Restrictions: Does the website list any major restrictions, such as a definite end time, that would affect your decision?
  • Parking/Transportation: Make any notes regarding free parking, public transit access, or other transportation considerations.
  • Facility Extras: List here any items included with the venue: A/V equipment, chairs, tables, linens, etc.
  • Caterer: See if they have restrictions on catering, such as an in-house caterer or a preferred list of caterers you are required to work with.
APW Wedding Venue Guide Spreadsheet

DOWNLOAD THE APW VENUE GUIDE SPREADSHEET

Your Cost: Once you’ve done your initial online research and have a healthy list of places you’re interested in, we recommend going back to the venues you like the most and giving yourself a VERY rough sense of what this venue will cost you. Things to consider: What it will cost for your size and timing of the event (for example, will you need to pay for an extra hour)? What extras are included (chairs and tables means cheaper rental costs down the line, free parking means no transportation needed)?

  • Please note this line item could just LIST these factors all in one place—you don’t need to necessarily know the monetary value (yet). For now, a list will let you do a quick rundown and remember, “Hey, this cheap venue is awesome, but I need to provide transportation, all rentals, and use a restricted expensive caterer, while this other more expensive venue has a lot of items included—hence, the costs probably balance out.”
  • You can also use that draft budget of yours and create different versions of the budget for each venue you’re considering. There you can get more detailed and add in actual venue costs, rental costs, etc., for each venue. This will give you a hard look at how different the venues really are and can help you make that final decision.

Sweetheart table with flower arrangements and draping with uplightingAsk yourself some key questions as you do your research and fill out this spreadsheet.

1. Can I afford this venue? (See what we did there? We mentioned budget again. ’Cause it’s important.) Don’t torture yourself and keep a $12,000 venue on your list when you can really only afford $4,000. It’s just going to break your soul and waste your time. Georgina from Wedgewood on Boulder Creek says:

Many people are afraid to ask for a detailed proposal. They gather information and numbers from venues but don’t ask to see a real breakdown and final number. Many venues don’t offer this so couples aren’t automatically scared away by the price tag. However, it gets really overwhelming to try to compare locations side by side when you don’t have a clear number. Every venue has the systems in place to generate those numbers, so ask! A wedding is a huge investment (time, money, energy) and you deserve to know what you are getting before you book.

2. Is this venue available on the date (or month, or time of year) that I want? Some venues have online calendars, others you can email for rough availability. And always double check their availability at the site visit. Georgina had this tip:

Try not to decide on a date beforehand. It can set you up for disappointment throughout the entire process because very often you’ll end up hearing “no” first. Many folks don’t even have a reason for the date they picked; instead, have a time of year picked out and be flexible.

3. Does this venue’s capacity fit my estimated guest list? Like, really? Sometimes venues stretch what’s possible in order to make themselves more attractive to all couples. One way to discreetly figure this out is to ask at the site visit: “What number of guests is most successful in this space?” Just because you can fit 150 people into a room, doesn’t mean you should.

4. Does this venue’s layout/available space fit my needs? For example, if you’re doing ceremony, cocktails, and reception all in one venue, does it have three separate spaces for all of those events? If not, do they recommend a “flip?” The typical “flip” is changing the ceremony space into the reception space during cocktail hour, when guests are in another area. Flips are a great way to make a venue work for you. However, make sure they are done at the venue often, and ask how they are done: Where are the reception tables and decor stored? Will it require renting pipe and drape (a faux fabric wall to hide these items from guests)? Does it require a space that is weather dependent (such as an outdoor space)? This is where you can recognize potential hidden costs and hidden issues. It’s also important to talk through the flow of the ceremony if you’re having one there. Where is the couple kept prior to processional? Are there multiple places if they don’t want to see each other beforehand? Where do people process from? Is there a typical ceremony layout or “altar?”

5. Consider location. Are you okay with needing to provide transportation for guests from a hotel to your remote venue? Does the centrally located venue allow for guests to get themselves there via walking or public transportation? If everyone is driving, is there ample parking (paid or unpaid)? Again, transportation can be a fairly big line item on your budget if you’re bussing or shuttling people to and fro.

6. Does this venue have any catering restrictions? Sometimes a venue makes you use one exclusive caterer (who is usually really expensive—and therefore means this venue pushes your budget too far). Other times you were dreaming of having your favorite Mexican restaurant cater your wedding, but this venue won’t allow non-traditional caterers—or they will, but at an additional cost.

7. Does this venue fit your general vibe? This is a hard one to nail down, as it’s usually a gut feeling and completely depends on the type of wedding you’re hoping to have. If you’re looking for a casual barbecue wedding, a historic, marble-laden hall isn’t the best fit. Or a black tie barn wedding might not make those guests in stilettos and gowns very happy. I do recommend you stay open to possibilities until you do a site visit. I’ve had lots of clients think they want one thing, only to visit a venue and then switch gears altogether. This is also where you should consider decor. Is the venue naturally beautiful and impressive, so it doesn’t require additional lighting or pizzazz? Or is it a blank slate that will need uplighting to warm it up, and additional decor? Take a close look at those marketing photos the venue shows you online—often they have a TON of uplighting and draping to decorate the space. Make sure you’ve either made room in your budget for that, or that you prefer the space as-is.

8. And finally, if you’re going the all-inclusive route, what does that really mean for you and your budget? Between the wedding industry’s emphasis on personal weddings and the indie wedding industry’s focus on unique weddings, it can be hard to take the idea of the all-inclusive venue seriously. “A wedding factory? Where there are six weddings a day and they’re all done the same way? Why would I ever consider it?” But as Meg writes in the #APWplanner, “For some very good reasons, actually. All-inclusive venues like Wedgewood span from banquet hall complexes to resorts. And unlike more traditional wedding venues, you generally pick a package you’d like, talk to the preselected vendors about your preferred cake flavors, menu, and flowers, and then show up in some hot outfits.” Trying to make sense of what’s included in an all-inclusive venue can be a little daunting at first, but you want to get really clear with your venue about what the package contains, and what changes you’re allowed to make. Most all-inclusive venues like Wedgewood have an array of options available and actually don’t want every couple to pick the same selections over and over. Find out if you’re able to use vendors who aren’t on their list and if there are fees for doing so. With all-inclusive options, and venues in general, it doesn’t hurt to ask! Don’t assume something is okay—this will cause undue stress and confusion the day-of. The teams at Wedgewood on Boulder Creek and Sierra La Verne told us what their couples love most about all-inclusive options:

Having a straightforward pricing breakdown and knowing what your wedding is going to cost, upfront with no hidden fees, is probably the best part. They get one main point of contact, which is a huge stress-reliever. No more contacting and tracking down each vendor separately. Plus, bundled pricing means you’re getting the best wedding for your budget.

Bride and groom kissing at wedding ceremony in tropical courtyardNow that you’ve done your preliminary research and completed your superstar spreadsheet, you’re all ready to narrow your options and do some site visits! Click here for a detailed look at site visits—what they are, when to do them, and most importantly, the list of questions you should come prepared to ask.

If you’re looking for a fresh take on all-inclusive venues, Wedgewood offers highly customizable packages and locations for every style and budget. Contact their team of wedding specialists to make your planning fun and stress-free. Check out Wedgewood’s blog for the latest in wedding trends and venue tips!

What next? Learn more about event rentals (and what they cost). Figure out how to avoid wedding sticker shock (and plan a wedding you want and can afford). Look at creative wedding budgets from $3,000 to $30,000 to help get you started budgeting and planning. 

This post was sponsored by Wedgewood Weddings, a collection of beautiful ceremony and reception venues across California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, and New Hampshire. While the locations are diverse, they all have something in common—Wedgewood’s affordable wedding packages. Their all-inclusive package options can be customized to fit your needs—and your budget. Add or remove any service to design the event exactly as you want. They’re a one-stop shop experience with over 30 years of experience! Wedgewood’s teams will walk you through the entire planning process: from vendors and decorations, the ceremony to your first dance song, and everything in between.


The Info:

Photos courtesy of Wedgewood Weddings

Kate Levy

Kate is APW’s Marketing Manager. This Bay Area native built her own business as a wedding hair and makeup artist, before shifting gears to work in marketing. She’s an avid iPhone photographer, loves all forms of social media (especially Instagram, #katesskylog), and makes a really mean chocolate chip cookie. Kate is a collector of spoons, enamel pins, and reusable bags she never actually brings to the store. When not getting sucked into the ASOS app or an Instagram hashtag blackhole, Kate can be found hanging on the Peninsula with her wife, 3 cats and 2 dogs.

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  • I have very little patience with venues that aren’t upfront about cost. One of the ones we were considering wouldn’t even give us a ballpark until we visited in person, and wouldn’t consider anything detailed unless we showed commitment to booking (i.e. confirming their availability, their caterer’s availability and the registrar’s availability). Obviously a massive waste of everyone’s time, because once we wheedled the ballpark out of the person showing us around it was immediately obvious it was charging twice as much as a very similar venue, and frankly wasn’t as as nice on the inside.

    The most galling part is the venue was owned by a company both of us used to work for, who seem to genuinely believe that keeping prices a secret is the only way they’ll get people through the doors. They have lovely, lovely properties that punters are so excited to visit, but the way they try to use shame to force people to hand over money leaves such a bad taste in my mouth.

    • idkmybffjill

      Amen. In fact, I sort of kept this policy for almost all of my vendors. If their prices weren’t either 1) readily available or 2) readily provided upon inquiry… I just didn’t have time for that. In the few cases I went the extra step to find out how much it was, it was always too much. And in my inquiry emails I ALWAYS included my budget and found it so frustrating when they didn’t just respond with “we don’t have anything that fits your price range”. Like… neat – flowers are gorgeous, love those photos you sent. Their beauty will not make my $1500 floral budget $3000. Please save us both the time.

      • Abby

        I agree. If you can’t be upfront about costs at the outset, I don’t trust you not to try to sneak in hidden costs later.

        • idkmybffjill

          This is a really great point that I hadn’t considered. Very true. I think alot of wedding vendors tend to operate under the assumption that there’s more money to be spent if they can just convince you it’s worth it – and in my case there just wasn’t more. Even if I really did think it was worth it, we didn’t have more money for it.

      • sofar

        Absolutely. I had no problem scheduling a call/walk-through because I understand prices can be custom and hard to quote without a fuller conversation.

        But dammit, it was such a red flag, when, after the walk-through, I’d ask to sit down and talk cost and they’d STILL try to distract me with pretty pictures. At that point, I would just assume it was out of my budget.

        My other pet-peeve was when they’d try to get you in the door with an estimate that was totally unrealistic. I had told one venue I needed space for 300 and sent them my max budget, and they emailed me back saying, “Our venue packages start at [amount that was totally well within my budget], so why don’t you come by to tour the venue and we’ll talk more?” So I show up at the walk-through and am like, “Hmmm this space looks too small for 300.” And they go, “Oh well this area seats only 150! You can fit 300 if you book the entire building and grounds and have some people seated in the covered patio outside! Also, we can set up tents on the grounds to seat more people.” The cost of that? Waaaaay over my budget. Just the amount of disrespect that’s involved with assuming I’ll show up and be so taken with the romance of the lovely venue that I’ll totally triple the budget was enough for me to take a hard pass. And then they tried to sell me on hosting the rehearsal dinner there, too.

    • toomanybooks

      Yeah, when I was looking at venues I pretty much just considered places that listed their price. I didn’t have the energy to ask everyone how much their venue cost to rent, and I didn’t want to even consider a place that just might be wildly over budget. My process after finding out about a place would be to check the price first and if it was a) actually listed and b) not too expensive, I’d move from there to looking into their other details on their site like capacity and event rules. There are just too many possible venues to email every one that doesn’t meet this first step! Because I wasn’t looking for the absolute dream venue and then working backwards – I was looking for the most affordable venues and then seeing what the best option would be from there.

    • Bsquillo

      Yeah, as a musician who works as a wedding vendor, I totally get not necessarily listing the full detail of your prices online- there are a lot of factors that can affect cost, and while we do have a standard pricing structure, we may be willing to negotiate more for something that’s 45 minutes away vs. 3 hours away. And in general, I think people at the beginning of the wedding planning process can be appalled that something like a band costs thousands of dollars, whereas after a bit of research and price comparison, that seems less shocking.

      However, we always always always give a detailed quote if someone reaches out to us via email, with the offer to meet up in person if the client has questions before signing a contract. I can’t see how it’s not ALSO a waste of the venue’s time to have people come for a tour if it’s totally out of their budget. I think transparency is super important from your vendors- in many cases, you’re going to be in contact with these folks for months or over a year, so it’s nice if you like working with them!

  • Amy March

    Ask about tax and service charges. They can add a lot to a per head price. Also make sure you know if there is a minimum guest count you’ll be stuck paying for.

    • emilyg25

      A lot, as in like 24% here (18% service + 6% tax)!

      • penguin

        Yep this was a shock for us that I’m glad APW warned us about. All prices consistently had a note about how it didn’t include 7% tax + 15% service charge + 5% “administrative” fee, or something similar.

      • NolaJael

        !!!

    • idkmybffjill

      Ooh yes! And if there’s a minimum, ask if those service charges apply to it. We somehow didn’t think about the fact that they’d obviously be separate and were operating under the assumption that that it was XX total (including service & tax).

    • penguin

      Yeah minimum guest count! We had to ask a bunch of places about that up front, because some flat out wouldn’t consider a wedding with under 100 people, and our maximum guest list was like… 85 people.

  • emilyg25

    As a person who had a DIY venue in a raw space, I cannot stress the awesomeness of an all-inclusive venue enough. I love planning and logistics, so DIY was okay for me, but it’s soooooo much work. And stress. “Unique” is overrated. (And besides, your ceremony and your personality and your guests will make your wedding unique no matter where it happens.)

    But also, consider transportation but don’t sweat it. Our venue was 15 minutes from the nearest hotel and we just couldn’t afford a shuttle. Adults can drive themselves.

    • Amy March

      Agreed. I think the only time transportation is a must is when you’ve chosen a venue that is uniquely difficult to access. If not, people can figure it out, the same way they do when attending any other social event!

      • NolaJael

        Shuttles are overrated. The weddings I’ve been to the planners always regretted the wasted effort and money because people either don’t know about them (because they don’t read the wedding website) or don’t use them because they prefer their own methods, like having already rented a car or are accustomed to UBER/lyft, etc.

        • Bsquillo

          Yeah, and if you do have shuttles, make sure you have them running enough times throughout the evening. Don’t trap your guests until 11PM for the first shuttle when most things are really winding down at 9. In my experience, there are a fair amount of older guests who plan on leaving right after the cake cutting.

          • Kara E

            Dunno on this. We had a shuttle to/from the ceremony site for our DC-area wedding (we figured our guests could walk the block from the hotel to reception site! – though I believe my parents and uncle shuttled my grands directly to/from the front door of the reception site). Many people drove to the ceremony, but for some of our elderly guests and those unaccustomed to city traffic, it was really helpful.

            The only problem is that my grandparents hopped on the first shuttle after the ceremony and missed out on pictures – since by the time we figured it out it was too late to go and get them. Should have enlisted a better “minder!”

      • Hannah

        Any tips for managing the mix of an open bar and lack of shuttle service? We are at a venue that is easy enough to find, but about 45 minutes away from where most people are staying. If someone’s had too much to drink, it’s not like they can catch a ride and then pick up their car in the morning. It’s also remote enough that I doubt taxis or ride shares serve it. We are happily treating our guests as adults for the most part; but also, if we’re serving people alcohol, I think we’re responsible for making sure they all get home safely. What are your thoughts?

        • Amy March

          Well, if it’s 45 minutes away from any lodging and there are no taxis that serve, then I think you’re starting to get into particularly difficult access territory. [ETA- only if that’s really the case. If this is just a venue that is, say, 45 minutes from your home town where they mostly is, I don’t think you have any particular responsibility.]

          That being said, guests have options. They can carpool and have designated drivers, they absolutely can leave their cars overnight and get a ride back it would just be inconvenient, or they can book a car service, often available even if there isn’t taxis service.

          I happen to not think it is generally your responsibility to get them home, but if you do a shuttle is the obvious answer.

          • penguin

            Yeah I think part of the responsibility of being a drinking adult is figuring out your own transportation to get yourself home without drinking and driving.

          • Amy March

            Yup! I just think people need to be aware that if you choose a hard to access venue and don’t provide transportation, one option your guests may chose is RSVPing no because it’s just too much work. Which is perfectly fine and no one has done anything wrong, just a factor to consider.

          • Hannah

            :-) Thanks for the reassurance.

          • Hannah

            Thank you! The venue is in a small mountain town east of Seattle. If folks had wanted to stay close by, they could have, but almost everyone has chosen to stay in the city, instead. We offered to match out-of-town guests with locals for carpools, but there haven’t been a lot of takers.

            (Side note: it’s a daytime wedding, so I don’t imagine people will be going crazy at the bar; but sometimes people surprise me.)

            I think we’ll appoint a couple of people just to be on the lookout for folks who shouldn’t be driving. If necessary, maybe a passenger from another car can drive them back to town.

            Does that seem like a reasonable solution?

          • Amy March

            Yup. You’ve given people more than enough options!

          • Hannah

            :-) Thanks for the validation!

          • emilyg25

            Yes! If they chose not to stay nearby, that’s really on them. My wedding was similar in that the venue was less than an hour from where many of our friends live, but they all opted to get a hotel for the night.

          • idkmybffjill

            Totally reasonable!

        • Kaitlyn

          Are you doing hotel blocks? They tend to have small shuttles that they’ll be willing to include to get people to and from.

          • Hannah

            No, folks are staying in various spots around town. We did offer to arrange carpools for people, but only a few have sought this out.

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          Just a note, because I work in insurance: If you’ve hired a professional bar service of some kind to serve your alcohol, they probably have insurance in case somebody drives drunk and they get sued. If you or your Uncle Joe are serving your booze, or you’ve just provided a table of bottles and people are serving themselves, you may be legally liable if somebody drives drunk and their is a suit. Liability and insurance laws vary from state to state, so do your research, YMMV, etc.

          • Hannah

            Thank you, yes. We’ve got insurance covered already. Just wanting to keep everyone safe. :-)

        • Alex K

          If you are sort of near an area with rideshare uber events lets you tell uber that people need rides in that area and they in turn tell their drivers.

          • Hannah

            Interesting! I did not know that. We will look into whether that makes sense for us.

        • idkmybffjill

          I think this is a circumstance where providing transportation is the right thing to do…

        • suchbrightlights

          We are sort of here, too. We have an open bar, and transportation provided from a parking area to the venue itself (which is a private home in the sticks and can’t accommodate parking for everyone.) People are coming from all over the place, with those in the hotel making up a minority of attendees, so a shuttle back to the hotel (which we will consider depending on how many people actually stay there) will not solve this problem.

          I think this is where I have to trust in people to be goddamn bonafide grown ups and make relevant arrangements. The only person I am worried about is one of the groomsmen, who historically has to be cut off, and that is one of a VARIETY of reasons that we are encouraging bridal party members who live two minutes away from each other to carpool.

      • CA

        I’ll push back on this a little, partly because we just had this discussion for our wedding. I think if you have a decent number of guests flying in, it can be an important courtesy to have a shuttle, even if the venue isn’t in a remote area. Those guests are already paying for plane tickets and hotel rooms (both of which are expensive in our case because it’s a holiday weekend), and I don’t want to give them one more expense on top of that or to force them to figure out the bus system in formalwear. This is extra true for us because many of those flying are grad students or other broke millennials. I think that it will be more appreciated than spending that money on favors or whatever.

        The shuttle turned out to be a little complicated because there’s another event that the hotel wants to use it for that weekend, but they had already committed it to us via email, so we are figuring out how many rides we need by asking guests on the RSVP form if they will use it. But this does have the benefit of making sure they all know that there will be a shuttle.

        • Amy March

          I mean I agree it can be a really nice thing to offer, and the less expensive a far away wedding is, the more likely I am to attend. I just don’t think it’s required.

          • CA

            Sure. I guess all I’m saying is that how important it is can depend on multiple factors in addition to venue accessibility.

    • sofar

      Yes, and I think there’s a HUGE misconception out there that DIY venues are always cheaper, even for large weddings! I made a psychotic spreadsheet of pretty much every venue in the city where I got married that factored in EVERY single cost (including chairs, cleaning fees, etc.). And the Giant Event Halls consistently came out less expensive than raw spaces (because they have all the furniture and stuff on hand).

      I found it really funny that so many people were like, “Have you checked out that cool warehouse venue downtown? You can probably save SOOO much money because you get to bring in all your own chairs and tables and shop around for a great price!” And I would just laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.

      Raw spaces are amazing and unique and I love them. But, as you say, they are so much work!

      • idkmybffjill

        YUP. this. We saw an amazing raw space… but after considering everything we had to bring in I was like… for the savings we’ll have to hire a wedding planner or at least of DOC, because there’s too many vendors to manage – not to mention set up! We showed up to a set up space and didn’t have to do ANYTHING. When we toured the raw space there was a family setting up and doing a TON of work. Our family wasn’t local and that just wasn’t gonna happen for us unless we hired people to manage it. Any savings were a wash.

        • NolaJael

          I went to a wedding where the young-at-heart couple relied heavily on serendipity and good will in lieu of planning and they had — I’m not kidding — no tear-down plan for after their DIY outdoor wedding. In a vacant lot. In a city. None. The hungover wedding party was called in the next morning, but it had rained and things were already missing and ruined. And garbage was everywhere. A lot of people were pissed, and rightly so.

          • Amy March

            Yesssssss. Consider whether anyone will be required to do actual work at the venues you are considering.

          • Kaitlyn

            Ugh my brother did that, my dad was at the venue (my sister-in-law’s grandparents’ farm) the next day at 6 AM cleaning up everything himself.

        • toomanybooks

          And, on the day of, no matter how motivated I once had been do Do Everything and set up decor and whatever… I did not have the time or headspace for that on the actual wedding day! My biggest wedding planning tip now that I’m done is to plan that you and your intended do nothing on the day of the wedding, and as many days beforehand as possible. Unless it involves, like, being pampered.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes, absolutely agree. I plan events very regularly for work and I was like, “look – we could totally do this if I was the event planner that day, but I want to be the bride, and don’t want to be consulting a timeline and calling vendors for ETA status.”

      • emilyg25

        Yesssss. The only reasons ours was cheaper was that we chose a cheap caterer, had a really shitty rain plan (yay sun!), and didn’t need to rent bathrooms. Nice port a potties and tents are shockingly expensive!

      • penguin

        Yep one of my wedding goals was to not have to worry about coordinating vendors for chairs/tables/tablecloths etc. Yay for the all-inclusive! Ours didn’t even have a rental fee, just a per-head cost. To be fair the per-head cost was higher than places with a rental fee, but it roughly evened out overall. Totally worth it in my eyes.

        Ours included: cocktail hour food, buffet food, a wedding cake that we get to choose from a local bakery, all set-up/breakdown/clean-up, they will put up our decorations, and there is an event coordinator that we met who is totally lovely and competent. They do the alcohol as well, and the cost is just based on consumption. And they have tables/chairs/bathrooms, etc.

        We have to find/pay for a DJ and florist ourselves, but the event coordinator will work with them for whatever they need.

        • jem

          I’m soooooooo jealous right now. We went for a raw space and I am tearing my hair out trying to coordinate all of the vendors at the moment. It’s so. much. work.

        • sofar

          Yep that’s pretty much what we did! It made me a little sad we couldn’t choose any caterer we wanted, but the food was totally fine.

          So we just had to coordinate the photographer, music and dessert. And that was stressful enough!

          I think a lot of people don’t think about clean-up when they DIY (at least that’s been my experience with my friends/family). When they find out how much it costs to have a company come in and breakdown/clean-up, they just decide, “Eh we/our guests will do it.” I’ve learned that, if the wedding is in barn/warehouse/park, that I should leave early if I don’t want to stay super late and clean up.

      • penguin

        Related other thing – there was this beautiful wedding venue that we both loved, and it would have been a DIY scenario. So we emailed them for a quote, and found out that just the rental was $10,000. It wouldn’t include any chairs, or tables, or food, and I don’t remember if it even included bathrooms. We had a moment of hysterical laughter and then moved on to looking at other venues.

        • sofar

          Ah yes. The most famous venue in the city where we got married is $10k JUST for the venue alone. And it’s … not that much better than the much-more affordable venues that are literally right next to it. It just has name recognition. And so many people were like, “Oh! Are you considering Famous Venue?” I don’t think anyone understood why I was laughing so hard when I’d say, “Nope.”

          • Kara E

            Wedding planning in DC was like that. 45k minimum (5 years ago)? No thanks!

  • Montecristo Travels

    We stopped looking when we realized we had the perfect venue: Our condo. With vue of Parliament hill, and all the work we put in it and as minimalists we have little furniture and zero “knickknacks” … all of a sudden we just went “wait…? why pay? that’s crazy!” so it settled it. It’s an evening afford starting at 7:30pm … finger foods and lots of dessert. And we chose the date based on … ready? The firework competition …. that we can see from our condo (9th floor). It just made sense and we shifted to a much smaller and far more intimate ceremony as a result.

    • Hannah

      That sounds like a dream!

  • idkmybffjill

    All inclusive is SUCH a jam and I can’t recommend it enough. It saved us so much time and energy that we were able to devote our DIY cravings to the things that really mattered to us (designing/hand painting the invitations, making the signs – basically all things design and/or lettering), and not have to think at all about coordinating a ton of vendors. All told, including beauty vendors, we only had 6 – and our venue coordinated with our (outside) florist & dj. It was amazing.

    • Brynna

      AGREED!

    • toomanybooks

      Yesssss. Coordinating a ton of vendors was a tough part for me because trying to keep up with emails and calls and meetings for every person we were trying to work with was so draining. (Anathema to my hide-indoors-and-don’t-talk-to-anyone personality too lol – I preferred to plan on my own schedule and not be accountable to a bunch of people who needed to do consultations!) I’d have weekends where I’d just bail on a vendor meeting because I simply didn’t have the energy for more than one in the same weekend and I just wanted to lie down lol. Not to mention FINDING them all in the first place can be an ordeal!

  • Jane

    My friend is just starting to plan her wedding at an all-inclusive venue and I am feeling pretty jealous. I’m happy with our venue for lots of good reasons – but DAMN there are a lot of balls I have to keep in the air that she doesn’t ever have to think about.

  • Going into wedding planning, I had this idea that only hotels or country clubs were all-inclusive, and we definitely didn’t want a hotel or country club wedding – we wanted a cool space. Turns out, lots of cool spaces do a lot of weddings/events and have all-inclusive pricing! Our venue, McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis, made it super easy to take care of everything, and it was nice to not have to worry about bringing in a ton of rentals. We got the cool space we wanted AND much less stress! #win

    • Kara E

      U of M has some nice places (and pretty reasonable). My very favorite venue in the TC is the U of M’s Landscape Arboretum!

  • Kaitlyn

    After watching the amount of time, effort, and money that went into a couple of DIY weddings, I knew that route wasn’t for me. Our venue is all-inclusive (but only does one wedding a day!) and I was so happy when I walked in and the coordinator was like, “The cake goes there, the DJ goes there, we have two hostesses that will do all your needs, we have 28 different colored table clothes and fancy sparkly ones for your sweetheart table, we set up, we break down, and send you on your way”. The venue itself is GORGEOUS and I have enough little DIY projects that will add our own touches. I’m mostly excited to show up, get married, dance, and leave haha

    • penguin

      That’s great! We toured one all-inclusive place that did multiple weddings a day and it was a mess. We had trouble even finding the parking lot, and apparently multiple weddings there can kind of overlap in terms of where people need to go, so I could just see our guests getting lost and trying to figure out which wedding is which. They were also walking us through areas set up for a wedding right then, and I felt super awkward because the person giving the tour was like “oh yeah the bride is in that room right now getting ready”.

  • Bsquillo

    One other thing to consider on this list: BATHROOMS. When we were researching venues out here in Colorado, there were so many beautiful outdoor spaces that would only have porta-potties for guest bathrooms. And while I’ve been to a couple weddings with fancy porta-potties and have done just fine, that’s definitely a know your crowd scenario. I think most guests are willing to endure some inconveniences to see you get married, but not being able to wash your hands with running water for 6 hours is…less than ideal.

    Just realize that if you want that “unique” wedding in a raw space like an open field, you will also get the “unique” experience of working with portable bathroom rental companies!

    • emilyg25

      If you’re going to need to rent bathrooms, price them out before you commit. Those nice bathroom trailers are like $1,000 a day.

    • Yup, I found a lot of venues in Joshua Tree that were more the DIY route and we’d need to rent portos, which were not cheap. It ended up that a B&B that was a bit pricier up front was actually our cheapest option in the long run!

  • Not Sarah

    We ended up picking a restaurant that has a separate building next to their main building and that’s what they use for weddings. It’s working out really great! They even include table flowers, so basically all we need to bring is escort cards and our scrapbook/guestbook. The hardest part of wedding planning for us was the guest list. We invited a lot of out of town family, totalling up to 179 people at this point. We had a lot of difficulty finding a venue because we honestly had no idea how many people to expect. We are honestly expecting about 80-100 at this point, which had we known this in advance, would have made venue hunting much easier! The venue we ended up picking listed 125 as their max capacity online, but when we emailed, they said they had some room to accommodate, which it really turned out they did. I’m really glad we picked them in the end since we will very likely end up under their ideal capacity!

    • Bsquillo

      Yup, nailing the guest list number was tough for us too since about half our guests were out of town. We did all our planning and budgeting for around 125 people, and then only had about 85 guests at the wedding. On the bright side, that definitely brought us WAY under budget, and it was a lovely size for a wedding!

      • Not Sarah

        Our guest list was about 2/3 out of country, across the continent. We’ve also been planning and budgeting for around 125 people! We are going to come in so under budget because of that, which is nice and actually closer to our original budget. (We were originally hoping to spend $15k, would have ended up spending $30k with 125 guests, and will likely end up spending around $20k it looks like.) I’m still leaving it at 125 for now so that it doesn’t look like we go over budget if we find more things we need to spend money in in the next two months ;)

  • Angela Howard

    One additional thing you may want to consider is accessibility – my best friend uses a wheelchair, so this was paramount to me in selecting a venue, but just this weekend my in-laws attended a wedding that was challenging for my MIL to walk from the parking area to the reception and very difficult for the groom’s grandmother who uses a wheelchair.

    • Hannah

      Yes! This was important for us, too. You also never know when someone’s going to break a leg the week before your wedding.

  • CW

    Such perfect timing! I’m currently deep in research and spreadsheet land on venues and it’s hard to figure it all out given the huge number of factors.

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  • Aimee

    One thing I’m having a lot of trouble with is coming up with a “my cost” number to compare between inclusive and raw spaces. Like if I know I’m able to choose my own caterer, BYO alcohol, but have to do all the rentals myself (what do I even need?!), for example, I feel like I’m just wildly guessing numbers for all those things vs. a solid per head number from an inclusive place. Is there a good way to get idea of what things cost without asking a million places for catering and rental quotes on top of all the venue research?

    • Sarah

      A lot of rental companies in my area had prices online. For caterers I knew what my local bbq joint charged ($22) because they have a standard catering menu- so used that as a low-end price- and one venue I asked about pricing to said offered that most of their clients spent $140pp for food+ rentals on average. So I took that as a high end, because the venue was out of my price range. It really helped to figure out what I could get for different budgets.

  • Katie

    I seriously appreicate the shout-out to more inclusive venues! My FH has been trying to get more involved in the wedding planning game (AFTER we’ve booked most of the major vendors, but I guess he’s trying?) and has been sending me wedding podcasts after he listens to them. Well, he sent me one from Bad With Money, on weddings, where she spent the first 15minutes interviewing someone who runs an AirBnB type service for non-traditional wedding venues where they all laughed about how ridiculous inclusive venues are, and who would ever do that? Included caterers would cost sooo much money, especially in bar pricing!
    Which basically led to me yelling “MY TIME IS NOT FREE” incoherently at my speakers and getting funny looks in traffic. Yeah, a venue where we contracted everyone separately or DIYed a lot more (like the bar) could cost us less money (maybe), but its sooo much more work! Researching all those vendors, contacting them, getting contracts…. and the idea of having to calculate exactly how much alcohol I thought everyone would drink, and find a wholesaler, and buy it, and transport it, and have stuff to serve it with makes me want to tear my hair out. And that was why we booked a mostly-included venue.

    • +1 for “MY TIME IS NOT FREE!”

      I already had a full time job when I was wedding planning, I didn’t want another. I loved my all-inclusive for having done the major work of finding the caterer and the bakery and whatnot. I wasn’t even concerned with the expense as much as the time it would take to research, contact, choose, and hire all those individual services.

  • Essssss

    I’m currently recovering from helping a friend put on a beautiful wedding at a nothing inclusive venue which was very exhausting and relied on a lot of people, and yay for people being willing to help and pulling together as a community, but also, never been gladder for our all inclusive venue.

  • Sarah

    APW is all about knowing your priorities, and I definitely knew mine and repeated them often in the process: 1. very little stress for me on the day-of (I want to be getting my hair done, not worried if the rental company has dropped off the chairs) 2. A list of 9 must-have guests and 3. something that felt like us. We went with a country club that was all-inclusive- meaning space rental, catering, chair and table setup, and linens. I could have cared less about having the exact same wedding as someone else. I knew this place had weddings down to a science and so it met my first goal. I got a wedding that “felt like us” through the decor I bought, the cake, the flowers I picked, and the music we chose.

    It was probably a little pricier than DIYing everything, but I absolutely don’t regret it. My Dad ended up in the ER for his heart problem mid-reception, and our vendors were so professional about the entire thing. I think I would have had a mental breakdown otherwise, but they worried about all the logistics, while I worried about my father and still having a good wedding.

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