How to Choose a Wedding Venue (No, Really)


Breaking down the big first step

by Kate Levy, Marketing Manager

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.

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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  • Sarah E

    This is so helpful. One of the anxiety-causing aspects of the search was my uncertainty in what questions I should be asking.

    In the end, I cried at the first venue we looked at (thanks, mom), we saw two more, drove back to our home state, sent the moms to look at two more, then ended up booking the very first one we saw. LE SIGH. The good news is, I’m really jazzed about our location and pleased that happy circumstance gave us a venue with a lot of personal meaning to me.

  • Sosuli

    We recently booked a venue here in the UK, which I love… but felt a bit pressured into booking, due to having a very specific date, and the venue very quickly filling up for summer 2016. A few of the points here are making me a little nervous about our choice. It’s a gorgeous little house with a medieval hall (smaller than it sounds) and various different and quirky sections and beautiful gardens. It’s so lovely and much more unique than any of the other venues we looked at – but I’m getting doubts because of how expensive it was (over 3,500 GB pounds just for venue hire for the daytime). We’ve put together a budget and were willing to give up or DIY other areas to pay for this… and now we’ve paid our deposit already, so there’s no going back… but I can’t seem to stop apologising to everyone I speak to about how expensive it is! How do I get myself to stop telling everyone I talk to “It’s so beautiful… but so expensive!”

    • Kayjayoh

      Start by taking a deep breath and stopping yourself at “It’s so beautiful!” Then start mentally subtracting the cost of all the extra decoration that you won’t need to provide. (Which is both a cost savings and logistical.) When you have your basic white box of a space, you end up needing a lot of flowers, balloons, signs, banners, etc to make it festive. When your space is lovely and unique, you hardly need to add anything.

      We had a visually amazing (and a bit pricey space) but as a result the only flowers we bought were for the hand-held bouquets, and the rest of the decoration was almost an afterthought. So much time saved!

      • Sosuli

        Thank you – this is what I keep telling myself, but it’s good to hear that this worked for someone else. My partner is remarkably relaxed and confident about this, but instead of that calming me down, I’m just worrying for both of us.

        • Kayjayoh

          It is remarkably relaxing when you start to to a mental calculation of large-scale floral and/or decorations, and subtract those from the cost of your venue.

          I think we spent $20 on flowers, $200 on vintage paperback sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks that served as table decorations *and* favors, and a bit of DIY labor on some scrap fabric pennants and a pinata. It mostly fit in a single plastic bin, and cut down the set-up time by a lot. Meanwhile, the place looked AMAZEBALLS.

      • TeaforTwo

        SO TRUE. We had a moderately priced venue, but they let us bring in our booze without a corkage fee, and then asked if it was OK to leave up the Victorian Christmas decorations (we were married December 14th). I was OVER THE MOON. “Are they free? Yes. Please. Do not dare take them down.”

    • Sarah E

      Practice, practice, practice. Sometime I blurt stuff I didn’t want to say just because of muscle memory. Repeat to yourself over and over “It’s lovely, we’re so excited,” in response to imagined inquiries. Because, really, your finances are your business and no one needs to know how expensive it was. If they really truly ask what it cost, be ready with a firm but fun “It fit in our budget just fine!” and change the subject.

      I’m pleased that so far my family hasn’t inquired too far into our budget or how we’re saving money. We had planned to pay for the wedding ourselves, but my fiance’s family offered a sizable gift that will more than cover our budget. Since we haven’t really needed to save money towards the wedding, we haven’t. But we are absolutely firm that my mom (love her as I do) does not need to know about how anything is paid for except for her own, more modest gift. It’s something I rehearse because my mom asks tons of questions in general, and I’m just waiting for it.

      • Sosuli

        Yeah, it’s tricky when it’s family asking the question. I’m not from the UK originally, but from Scandinavia and weddings are soooo much cheaper there, so whenever my sisters or parents ask about prices, they gasp at how expensive UK stuff is. And it’s good to hear someone saying it’s okay not to tell them every detail of your budget, since my mother-in-law to be keeps saying she wants us to give her the full breakdown of our budget so she and my future FIL can decide what they’re going to help with… and I reeeeaaallly don’t want to do that. We’re paying for most of it, including the venue, so why should we run everything past them?!?

        • Sarah E

          Nope, nope, nope. My dad hasn’t asked for anything detailed like that, but when he asked what his financial role should be, I told him that we’d gratefully accept anything he decided to gift us, and the easiest way would be to give us either a flat dollar amount, or a particular item he wanted to pay for. Even our in-laws, who are paying for everything, have not asked to see a budget, especially not line-item. Either it’s a gift or not. Refer to the first few chapters of Meg’s book for better conversation guides :-)

          • Sosuli

            My copy of the book just arrived in the post a couple weeks ago – I better get reading!

        • clairekfromtheuk

          we paid a squillionty pounds for our amazing venue and IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT.

          And as a fellow brit I don’t even thing £3.5k is *that* much for an awesome venue :)

    • Meg Keene

      STOP TELLING PEOPLE WHAT IT COST. And then stop apologizing.

      This is the first rule you have to learn in wedding planning, and luckily it’s a great life rule to. You make the choices you make, and try not to regret them, and try to remember they are no one else’s business. Good practice for later not apologizing for what your house cost. Or the price of your kids daycare. Or fill in the blank.

      • Meg Keene

        Also, second lesson of wedding planning: once you write the check, the money is water under the bridge. You can’t get it back, so let it go. The best thing you can do is try to ENJOY the damn thing you paid to enjoy in the first place. (This actually holds true over time BTW. Our wedding was more than a few pennies, but I never think about that money anymore. It was spent, we had a lovely wedding that we’ll always remember and hopefully never have to do again, and onwards.)

        • Sosuli

          Thanks Meg – I don’t usually actually tell people the price other than saying “aaah, expensive”, but having read APW for a few months, I really like that people can share those sorts of details here. It is really helpful to get a sense of what things actually cost – though speaking just from my position, I wish there was more info for UK weddings on that front, I just feel like quite a lot is more expensive over here and get a bit stressed out!

          • TeaforTwo

            Yep, talking about numbers can be super helpful, but only when it’s actually going to be helpful, if that makes sense.

            FOR EXAMPLE. I have a spreadsheet from when I was doing research with the 20ish venues we considered in our city that lists their rental fees, minimum food orders, and initial for our 150 person afternoon reception. I’ve shared it with one friend and one cousin who were also planning Toronto weddings, because I knew it would save them a ton of time. But when my other already-married-not-local cousin asks me – in front of the whole family – how much our catering cost (which she has now done more than once) I just shrug and say “Oh, we wrote so many cheques I can’t keep them straight. I can’t remember.”

  • Lisa

    Oof, Question #3… we booked the loft space of a fantastic downtown Chicago restaurant, which we were told could accommodate up to 120 for a seated dinner if we were ok with having a very small dance floor. We decided to go with it since dancing wasn’t that important to us at the time.

    Three months before our wedding, we were turned over to the new event management director since the current one was going on maternity leave shortly before our wedding. Once we started talking to the new girl, she flat out said, “You can’t have a sit down dinner in this space for 100 people. It’s not feasible. You’ll have to have a cocktail-style reception with very limited seating instead.” Cue horrible, horrible 24 hour freakout.

    Fortunately we had our contract and all of the communications from the first lady. In order to make it right, the restaurant ended up shutting down their main dining room (which we couldn’t originally afford based on our budget) for the first three hours of the reception, and then we had the last hour dance party on the third floor.

    Tl;dr: all of our troubles with this could have been avoided by asking Question #3 at the outset instead of letting the first coordinator convince us that the space could work.

    • Kelly

      Yeesh. Our venue didn’t have a coordinator–we just rented it and had to figure out our own seating. The space rental included 100 chairs and x amount of tables, so we assumed that meant there was room to seat 100 people at tables. Not really. Plenty of room for 100 people in chairs, sure, but not when tables got factored in. We were also planning from afar, and I kept trying to reconcile our table floor plan with pictures from other weddings I’d seen online, and I just kept thinking about how the space looked smaller in other people’s photos than the room dimensions the staff had given us. Sure enough, we asked some local folks to go measure, and the room was something like 30 feet shorter and 5 feet narrower than we had been told. It all worked out in the end (scrunched together banquet seating–how cozy!!) but that was not cool. Do your homework for #3. Also, having photos of other events in the same space helps, too.

      • Lisa

        That is just so so shady. One of the problems with the wedding industry is that (beyond the reviews vendors get) there’s really no one holding them accountable to a certain standard because few people are looking for places to host another large scale event again so vendors can treat you horribly, and once there’s a contract signed and money exchanged, there’s not much you can do about it.

        • Kelly

          Totally. You go in without event planning experience and you don’t know what you don’t know. This is why APW is so helpful. In our case, I don’t think anyone was trying to be sneaky or malicious, it was just that the staff at the venue was pretty hands-off (do whatever, just clean up when you’re done), which meant they weren’t necessarily offering up a bunch of helpful information.

    • A.

      I couldn’t agree more; the way that question is phrased is a really great way to ask it, and I think our venue coordinator would have had some advice for me if I had asked it that way. Our venue had listed online that the capacity for sit-down dining was 80 people. Turns out that’s only possible if you use the venue’s rectangular tables and have them set up in one particular layout. I did not know this, so our layout and linen rentals were based on using the venue’s round tables. We sent out 75 invitations and, due to 4 last-minute no-shows, had 55 people show up. 4 doesn’t sound like many, but it’s half of an 8 person table! I ended up redoing the whole seating chart (and by extension the place cards) two days before the wedding in order to get rid of one table and have more space in the room (the caterer still had to take down the buffet table in order to have enough room for a decent dance floor, but that was the plan all along.) I am very, very glad we didn’t push the limit in terms of people in that space, and even though we were well under it we were still somewhat cozy.

  • Jules

    This is EXACTLY how we approached wedding venue hunting with a few exceptions.

    – We had very little idea what we wanted, so we left question 7 til last (general vibe). I could tell it wasn’t right if it was available, in budget, and we weren’t excited about it at all.

    – My Cost: This was so helpful. You can look at the prices for all inclusives when you’re not familiar with wedding costs and rule it out too soon, when it turns out that the “a la carte” wedding you want may be just as expensive once you total in the big 5 (Venue Fee, Rentals, Food, Alcohol, Staffing) plus any miscellaneous charges like valet parking.

  • Jeneal Smith

    Thank you so much for this!! We’re actually signing papers for our venue this Friday and I am over the moon excited about it. We ended up only looking at two places simply because when you’re a local to Las Vegas and you don’t want anything Las Vegas about your wedding, your pickings are narrowed down quite a bit!

  • Eh

    I want to say that having to go with a specific caterer does not always mean more expensive. The price of food at our reception venue was similar to the other caterers would charge just for the food (e.g., not including table, chair and table setting rentals). Since our caterer was the restaurant for the venue we didn’t need to rent anything.

    There were two things I didn’t like about the caterer 1. we were told that it was included with the venue so we were expecting one invoice at the end of the night and we got two (one for venue and the other for food), and 2. the caterer was rude/unprofessional (our MC told him to talk to her if she had any questions but just before we were going to cut the cake he asked us if we were “done” with it so he could serve it and then later in the night he came up to my husband and gave him the invoice which was illegible – I had a hard time figuring out what the total was – and someone else had the cheque which he would have known if he talked to our MC). I was at another even (after our wedding) at the same venue and he had his staff clearing table clothes off the tables before people were done eating dessert (while people were making speeches at an award ceremony). He also rudely approached the organizer of that event with the bill also.

  • Lindsey d.

    In addition to all this great advice, one of the best things I did was google “(our venue) wedding.” I got a great look at the way other couples had used the space, decorated, how it looked at night and day and even an idea for photographers who I thought made the space look the best.

    Don’t just rely on perfectly planned glamour shots from the venue itself. It’s great to see it in action. The venue we went with actually had several real wedding albums to look through at our first walk through. It was a nice touch (but of course, only feasible if you are using a space often used for weddings).

    • M.

      Yes, this. Ours wasn’t often used for weddings (I found one online), but is at a university that has a lot of functions. I searched on Flickr just for the venue, and found GREAT shots of a fundraiser they’d had, from tons of different angles and full of people. It was SO helpful!

    • Leah

      Yes, absolutely this. I also looked at the portfolios of local wedding photographers, and stumbled upon many great shots of weddings at our venue that didn’t float to the top of a google search, so that is definitely another thing to try.

      • Lindsey d.

        Ooh, that’s also a way I found other possible venues. I looked at the portfolios of local photographers and checked out where they were shooting weddings. I found places that did not come up in google searches.

  • Spot

    Also, check if your venue (especially if it’s less traditional/not strictly used for weddings) has a Facebook page. There will probably be photos not shown on the website with different angles, lighting, times of day, and varying quantities of decoration. Plus, it’s probably good to see reminders of the space that aren’t through a professional photographer’s lens.

    • Lisa

      In a similar vein, I searched “[name of restaurant] wedding photo” and got lots of local photography blogs with lots of different weddings. That was helpful in seeing how a space that was pretty blank at day would like for an evening wedding!

  • Katie

    DON’T FORGET THE FEES AND TAXES. Hotels always have some sort of “room fee” that they usually aren’t upfront about, and everyone has taxes. Make sure you ask them if they have any and what they are. They could add 20% to the venue cost, so you wouldn’t want to be surprised later.

    • enfp

      Yes this is important when assessing what the venue might actually cost you. I would also add staffing. A lot of the venues we looked at did not include staffing costs in the fee for the rental, but had mandatory requirements to hire certain staff (e.g. security for your event, venue coordinators etc), which significantly increased the cost of the venue.

  • notquitecece

    As we were doing our venue research, I started using a little app called Soulver (for Mac and/or iPhone) that lets you do quick calculations. (You could also do this in Excel, but I found Soulver more intuitive.) That let me basically take notes about all the damn fees and costs and per-person amounts — we were mostly looking at restaurants — and compare apples to apples instead of getting confused by the different structures. Happy to post a couple screenshots of examples if anyone is interested.

  • justme

    One very important thing not listed here (though this applies to less formal venues): the personality of the owner. We booked our venue largely based on there being no time restrictions. When we asked how late the wedding could go (most places answered 10:30-11), the owner answered “well its not a party if it doesn’t go till 4 or 5!” He was also incredibly warm, friendly, and very on top of his game.

    Six months later (but still before our wedding) he has added beautiful outdoor tables and chairs, beautiful lights around the exterior of the yard, and added wonderful landscaping. The venue is much more beautiful than when we saw it. My number one lesson in planning so far is: go with nice, low stress people!

    • Yes! I agree! We chose our venue partially based on the fact that we liked the owner and she was easy to work with! Several of the other places had coordinators that just were not good personality fits for us.

    • C_Gold

      Our vendor at the hotel we’re getting married at is super helpful and friendly. Coincidentally, he graduated from the university where my fiance and I teach. He’s a former student of both my fiance AND my fiance’s ex-wife. I was a little horrified when we realized this, but he’s such an awesome, friendly, helpful guy.

    • I don’t disagree with your comment, but I have something very important to add: Experience. We had our wedding at a quaint countryside inn that had 9 rooms that our guests bought out. The owners had never done a wedding before but they were totally excited by the idea, had all sorts of ideas, and let us do basically whatever we wanted with the property. The problem is that they were completely inexperienced and unorganized. They went back and forth on their pricing many times, it was hard to get information from them and just check-in during the planning, and they weren’t very organized on the day of with respecting our timelines etc.

      The disorganization of the venue owners didn’t ruin our wedding because we had only 30 guests and we aren’t high strung, but under different circumstances, it could have been a total disaster.

  • TeaforTwo

    Ugh, capacity. I would suggest, wherever possible, giving yourself lots of leeway here.

    Our venue had a capacity of 150, which sounded like a reasonable wedding size to me. We had about 140 family members, but we knew not everyone would make it, so figured that gave us enough wiggle room to invite our closest friends.

    What I wouldn’t have given for a bigger space. I think we sent out 175 invitations, and then I was nail biting for two months hoping we would get enough “regrets” that we weren’t over capacity. On top of that, there were a few people our parents wanted to add to the list later on who were big sources of conflict. If it had been a money issue, I would gladly have ponied up for the extra guests to resolve it, but instead I was crying out “BUT THE FIRE MARSHALL!”

    • Eh

      Our ceremony venue only fit 140 people and we invited 165 people. It wasn’t until the week of our RSVP deadline that we got enough regrets to be until the 140 people limit.

      In the end we actually had the opposite issue (room looking empty) with the reception hall capacity. When we book our two venues we were thinking that about 120 people would come to our wedding. In the end less than 80 people came. The reception venue could easily seat 180 people. We were creative to make the room look less empty. First we didn’t put any tables on the dance floor (which is my preference anyway because who wants to get kicked out of their seats for the dance?), and then we spaced the tables out through out the room, so people could easily walk between the tables (I also hate when you are sitting at a table and your chair is hitting a chair from the table behind you and you have to get up every time someone wants through). I have been in the same hall when there was a supper for about 60 people where they only used 2/3 of the room and it was weird since you wanted through the empty part and only 2/3 was decorated and had table settings.

  • D

    Oh the venue…. The one thing I’m dreading when it comes to planning our wedding. I’m actually more execited about drafting our prenuptial agreement, wills and finances than booking the damn venue.
    I know, I’ve read The (APW) Book, so I know a venue is one of the first decisions. But we are just not sure yet. So for now, we just concentrate on the ceremony (which is in city hall) and the prenup. I guess that will keep me sane for now.
    (In the meantime, I will focus on moving my designstudio to a space where I hopefully will be able to host our wedding as well)

  • Mandi P

    Whew! Living (and planning a wedding) in small town might make some things more difficult – try finding a DJ within a 30-mile radius – but it made choosing the venue easier!
    Three places in our town are large enough for our wedding reception. One is an ugly gym and I didn’t want to work too hard to spruce it up, so that was off the list. Another allows no amplified music/sound after 6pm, so that was off the list.
    No need for spreadsheet about venues!

    • Sosuli

      We had a similar spreadsheet-free experience, though we were mainly limited by venues that are licensed for civil ceremonies (thanks UK bureaucracy…).
      1) lovely house and gardens (which we’ve now booked)
      2) slightly run-down hotel with overpriced food and drinks (the equivalent of 14 dollars for a glass of bubbly!)
      and 3) a university dormitory dining hall, which wasn’t available on the very specific day we chose. While we could have gone for somewhere further afield, this is where we met and still live and it was important to us that the wedding is here.

    • Eh

      We also got married in a small town and had limited options. Most of the options (community hall, curling club, service club halls) required too much decorating. One had an oddly shaped reception hall which would have meant that half of our guests wouldn’t have seen use during supper (and a very expensive corkage fee – we made our own wine for supper). And one that wouldn’t have required too much decorating would have required us to hirer bar staff, buy alcohol, and have an external caterer. The one we went with had one of the cheapest rental fees (actually gave us a discount for having an open bar, and had a reasonable corkage fee), and had an onsite caterer.

  • Lulu

    This may or may not slot neatly into a spreadsheet, but my advice would be to make an honest assessment of the work the venue will demand and whether it’s the kind of work you want to do or pay for. The amazing raw loft space might not be ideal if you don’t want to devote mental or physical energy to planning every table, chair, and piece of cutlery, just like the easygoing restaurant might be a no-go if you can’t imagine your night without your lovingly constructed ceremony backdrop. It’s a great proving ground for embracing what matters to you and letting go of the rest, which is the golden ticket to happy planning!

    • april

      This is really important advice. One thing I quickly realized when searching for my own venue was that the stated cost of a particular place can be deceptive, depending on what is or is not included in the rental fee. So a $5000 rental that already has tables and chairs and includes set-up/take-down costs in the rental fee may ultimately be a better value than the $2000 place where you’re going to have to rent all those items separately and pay someone to move them around.

  • Danielle Antosz

    Particularly if you are on a budget, don’t forget the less obvious venue choices: a park, an art gallery (flash wedding anyone??), a really lavish rented house (we rented a beach house), etc.

    • Leah

      And VRBOs! I helped a friend through an incredibly low-budget and very beautiful potluck wedding at a great rented VRBO house – it was wonderful, and the couple’s families all could stay there for the weekend to boot.

  • april

    Another tip – if you can, try to find photos from actual weddings that took place at the venue. Search local wedding blogs or the portfolios of local wedding photographers. As this post points out, the promotional pictures for the venue are typically highly styled. Looking at the venue in other people’s weddings can give you a sense of how the venue, realistically, can be styled.

  • Claire

    A few things regarding capacity- if you are questioning whether a venue can REALLY accomodate what they claim, ask to visit when they are setting up/ set up for an event (usually your second visit, coordinator person will obviously be busy during this time, so it’s not the time for questions).
    I did this, just said “do you have any weekend events coming up, where I might drop by for five minutes and see the space all decked out? Sorry, I’m terrible at visualizing how it will look.” I took a few pictures, counted tables and chairs, and slipped away (bonus: I found my florist this way, she was setting up at the venue at the time!).

  • Yes to Leah! – VRBO! We are going this route and were able to find a truly amazing place/backyard. Huzzah! (Also, GRR! Frustration Warning – see below)

    In fact, our venue has weddings fairly often because most VRBO places don’t really allow events. I researched almost every vacation rental in Northern California to find this one!

    We are going VRBO because we care about:
    – having license to do it our own way, and make it all up from scratch
    – bringing our own wine
    – having food that we love
    – intimate feel of the space
    – no time/room fee/etc restrictions

    We anticipated some extra effort and additional costs (renting kitchen equipment etc) to make this relatively inexpensive blank, beautiful slate work for us – but have been surprised at just how much is required.

    We basically locked ourselves into a location that has hugely restricted our choices and introduced many extra costs – not because of corporate policy or contracts but sheer distance from options. (We are going to pay travel/lodging for an important vendor we couldn’t find nearby)

    We are looking forward to our VRBO wedding and the reasons we chose the venue still stand – however, I’d really like to warn the wonderful, ambitious, creative people considering this path..
    Think twice and make SURE there is sufficient SUPPORT for your awesome vision. :)

  • Cayla Mella

    Hello everyone, I am proud to testify this testimony. i saw a post on how a lady got her husband back and i decided to try the spell caster that helped her because my relationship was crashing. although i never believed in spell work i reluctantly tried him because i was desperate but to my greatest surprise the spell caster Dr Camara helped me get my husband back after 5 month of divorce and my relationship is now perfect just as he promised my husband now treats me like a queen even when he had told me before he doesn’t love me anymore. well, i cannot say much but if you are passing through difficulties in your relationship contact him on his email: camaralovespell@live.com he is the only answer to relationship problems once again his email is CAMARALOVESPELL@LIVE.COM

    • Stephan Gardner

      Your husband treats you like a queen? So, are you saying that your spell-caster made him into a King? Wow. Or maybe your spell-caster made him into a slave for your twisted view of reality.

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  • Budget is a key determining factor in wedding venue selection. The venue sets the tone for the day,most important is that the venue feels right for your celebration.Venue of weddings in west yorkshire compliment the style of your wedding and enhance the atmosphere.

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  • There really are so many things to consider when choosing a wedding venue. I appreciate you sharing the different columns you added to your excel sheet. I totally would have forgotten about caterers! Also, I love that you mentioned the importance of cost. Of course, you want a nice place for your reception, but you also don’t want to break the bank. Thanks for sharing!
    Megan | http://www.weddingbanquethallmanteca.com/weddings-stockton.html

  • C.

    Great advice for all couples when booking a venue, not just the financial and logistics of the wedding but if it’s the right one. | Rowton Castle

  • angela

    Thank you for your great tips. This really helped me to narrow down my options. I am getting married next summer in Vaughan. I am planning to finalize the Le Jardin banquet hall in Vaughan.
    http://www.lejardin.com
    It has a beautiful Victorian decor and provides in-house catering. Just like we always wanted .I have compared the rent for all banquet halls in Vaughan and Le jardin banquet hall fits our budget the best

  • Isabel@DBG

    You got just about everything. I agree that really, the most important tip is simply, if you’re getting your wedding vibe from the venue.

  • Wendy Cartright

    I really want to find a venue that already has a lot of it’s own decor. I have seen some absolutely gorgeous hotel venues. It would also be great to have the guests stay at the hotel venue. http://www.georgios.com/

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  • Mea Rice

    I agree with the advice! You need to choose a venue that is going to help you through your wedding. I was very lucky to have such a great hotel as my venue, they couldn’t have made it easier for me!

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  • Diana Will

    This is amazing advice! I love it! I will definitely be using this to plan my wedding. I have also been look at EventUp blogs, this website is also perfect for event planning for weddings. https://eventup.com/blog/

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  • Access Analytics

    If you’re looking for a good location in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, why not check out 1010 Social (www.1010social.com)? They’ve got a staff that can go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure your wedding is as beautiful as you can make it!

  • Sruthi Keerthi

    Wow ! Great information. searching for best wedding venue checkout this link also http://www.fortgrand.com/

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  • Annika Larson

    This fall my fiance and I are planning to get married. We want to make sure that we choose the right venue for our ceremony and reception. We are looking for a more traditional, religious wedding. As you said, the venue should fit the general vibe, and it’s a good idea to stay open to possibilities until you go visit the venue. Thanks for sharing! https://upstatechapel.org/weddings/