Doing a Wedding Site Visit: Questions to Ask


Everyone should do this, not just people with fancy wedding planners

by Kate Levy, Marketing Manager
  Bride and groom on wooden bridge under "How To Do A Wedding Site Visit" text
We’ve already talked about how to start your wedding venue search, and what research you should do to help narrow down your options. Let’s assume you’ve done that. Now you’re ready to decide between your finalists and bring this grueling wedding venue search to an end. Hooray! All that’s left now is to just show up and look around, or just call up to see what dates are free and write a (gulp!) check, right? Well. Not exactly. If you want to make sure that you’re making an educated decision before handing over a chunk of change, you’ll probably want to do a formal, pre-scheduled wedding site visit at your venue. (Or, if you really can’t, at least a question-filled phone call.)

We partnered with Wedgewood Weddings to go over a TON of important questions to ask—that will help you determine if your favorite venues are right for you. While Wedgewood specializes in all-inclusive venues (they are the largest family-owned wedding venue company in the country with over thirty venues), we’re going to go over questions you should ask no matter how traditional or non-traditional the venues you’re looking at are.

That said, PRO-TIP. Here on the too-cool-for-school Wedding Internet, we often totally ignore all-inclusive venues, but as our founder Meg noted in the #APWPlanner, all-inclusive venues like those run by Wedgewood can offer economy of scale (translation: they do a lot of weddings, so that lets you get nice stuff for less), and way less stress. Plus, their venues are as diverse as their couples, ranging from country clubs to garden estates with scenic surroundings like rolling hills, ocean views, and more. Wedgewood’s all-inclusive packages can be highly customized to fit your specific needs, and their expert planners are there to help you every step of the way. Plus, many of their packages start as low as $3,000. HOLLA!

Ceremony venue with white chairs and wisteria on a pergola overhead

But regardless of what kind of wedding venue you’re using—whether it’s a ballroom or a dive bar—you’re going to want to do a wedding site visit. If you’ve been wedding planning for a while, that might be a term that you’ve heard but assumed it was something reserved for Very Fancy People With Very Fancy Wedding Planners. Not so, my friends. A wedding site visit is a brief walk-through of a potential venue, usually with a representative or sales person associated with that venue. The site visit allows you to actually see the space itself, ask more detailed questions, and frankly, make sure that what you’ve seen and read online is for reals. Much like those hotel rooms that look spacious and luxurious online but end up being teeny tiny closets, venues are businesses and they’re going to do whatever they can to make themselves look great online. So go see it in person, and ask very specific questions.

Because these site visits take time and effort, we generally recommend only doing site visits for your top three choices. Worst case, you may need to do some more, but usually you have some favorites and it’s best to start with them. As we mentioned in our venue post, please don’t do a site visit with a venue that doesn’t fit into your budget. It’s just like trying on dresses out of your budget—you’ll just torture yourself and nobody needs that. However, if you’re having a hard time deciding if an all-inclusive venue is right for you, we definitely recommend doing a site visit to both an all-inclusive and a standalone venue to get a feel for what you like.

In the #APWplanner Meg adds:

You may also want to do a walk-through closer to the wedding, along
with your day-of coordinator, wedding stage manager, or other helping hand, especially if you’re using a non-traditional venue or one not used to hosting weddings.

Talk to your venue about what they recommend, but ALWAYS do at least one walk-through before you sign a contract!

Reception tablescape with the number 6

It’s worth mentioning that some people aren’t able to do site visits, despite our protestations. Perhaps you’re planning your wedding from across the country, or your schedule is just too busy to fit it in, or it’s a destination wedding. In that case we recommend asking the venue for references of past couples so you can talk to real couples that used the space. I also recommend you trust your gut regarding the photos and details online (if it seems too glam to be true, it probably is)—or ask the venue for more details, such as additional photos, actual floor plans with dimensions, etc., to reassure you that you know what the space is really like. And if you know (and trust!) any friends or family in the area of the venue, see if they’re willing to do a Facetime tour for you! Yay technology!

The Ultimate List OF WEdding Site Visit Questions

Let’s assume you have the time, you’ve narrowed it down to your top three, and now you’re ready for the actual visit. We talked with the teams at Wedgewood on Boulder Creek, The Retreat, and Sierra La Verne. Here is a list of wedding site visit questions you should be armed with at each venue:

1. HOW MANY HOURS ARE INCLUDED IN THE RENTAL?

The average hours needed are two hours for load-in, and one hour for load-out. Make sure that the remaining hours are enough for your event, and if not, find out how much it will cost to add hours (if the venue offers that option). The average venue rental is eight hours (three hours for load-in/load-out and five for the event).

Side note: Assume that people will arrive for the ceremony thirty minutes prior to the invite time (the time listed on your invitation). Therefore, load-in needs to begin two hours before guest arrival, not the invite time.

2. IS A CEREMONY REHEARSAL INCLUDED?

If so, how long is the rehearsal, when does it usually take place, and how far in advance can you book the time?

3. DISCUSS LOAD-IN AND LOAD-OUT.

Is there a loading dock? An elevator? Ask if there are any specific difficulties or challenges at this venue. Sometimes the building is old and has a tiny elevator, meaning load-in takes a lot longer. Sometimes there isn’t one at all, so the rentals company will charge more to carry things up and down stairs.

4. WHERE ARE THE ENTRANCES AND COAT CHECK?

If your wedding is during a cold or rainy season, do they have a built-in area for a coat check or do they provide coat racks? Also consider where guests enter—some venues have multiple entrances and you may prefer one over the other. Some venues might also have security concerns (ask about whether a security guard is required, recommended, and included in the rental fee). This is also where you want to consider accessibility issues—if you have older guests or guests with disabilities, will they have any trouble entering and maneuvering around the facility? Is there an alternate entrance for those guests, if necessary?

5. WHAT SORT OF LIGHTING IS INCLUDED IN THE VENUE?

Is it dimmable? (Very important! Romantic and dim lighting: GOOD. Fluorescent, corporate lighting: BAD.) Lighting is often forgotten since most site visits are during the day, but many events are in the evening. Or on the flip side, do you need to bring in additional lighting?

6. ASK ABOUT ELECTRICITY.

Vendors often pull a lot of power from the building. Make sure you have a sense of whether outlets are scarce or if there’s plenty of power to go around. It’s also helpful to note where the outlets are located to help you later determine your layout (for example, the photo booth can go in that corner, but only if they provide a ten foot extension cord).

7. WHERE ARE RESTROOMS LOCATED?

Are they easily accessible or do guests need to use stairs or an elevator to reach them? Are they wheelchair accessible?

8. WHERE DOES THE CATERER SET-UP?

Some non-traditional venues that have been turned into wedding venues don’t have a catering kitchen. Make sure you’re okay with the location, setup, and logistics.

9. ARE THERE ALCOHOL RESTRICTIONS?

Some venues don’t allow red wine or dark liquor. Others require special permits (which sometimes will be provided by the caterer, so ask who normally provides them). Still others will allow you to provide your own alcohol as long as it’s served by the caterer, while others won’t allow it at all.

10. ARE THERE DECOR RESTRICTIONS?

Lots of venues don’t allow confetti or other small items to be thrown. Others have open flame and candle restrictions, as well as sparkler restrictions. If these things matter to you (you were dying to do that sparkler exit), best to know now and let that inform your final decision.

11. ARE THERE VOLUME RESTRICTIONS?

Some venues, especially outdoor ones, have restrictions on what can and can’t be played at certain hours and in certain spaces. Some venues don’t allow amplified music, for example. It’s a bummer if you have the space until 11pm but your party has to end at 10pm since that’s when the DJ needs to stop playing.

12. DOES THE VENUE EVER DO MORE THAN ONE EVENT ON THE SAME DAY?

If the venue is large and has multiple spaces, or if it’s a non-traditional space such as a theatre, it’s important to know what else, if anything, will be going on in the venue. How will guests know where to go, and how will the venue keep others out of your space? Will you get the attention you need from the venue staff?

13. DOES THE VENUE PROVIDE ANY EQUIPMENT?

Sometimes venues have tables and chairs available to clients, or A/V and lighting equipment. Be sure you SEE the chairs (some of them are hideous… just saying), and ask the venue if they have an equipment inventory list that they can share or email. When you’re going the all-inclusive route, find out what your options for customization are. Many have upgrade options, or simply allow you to tweak existing options.

14. ASK IF THEY HAVE A LIST OF NEARBY HOTELS THAT THEY RECOMMEND.

This can help you make those transportation decisions later on, as well as start researching group rates at nearby hotels. Also some venues partner with local hotels to help get you the best possible group rates. Be sure to mention your venue when inquiring!

15. Get a clear price breakdown and ask about hidden fees.

While many venues skirt this issue so as to avoid sticker shock and scaring off couples, they also know exactly how much it costs to have a wedding at their site. You’re entitled to know what the bottom line is BEFORE signing a contract and paying that deposit. Also ask about any hidden fees that might be lurking about. Venues have been known to try to tack on extra fees once you’ve signed a contract, like for moving existing furniture or changing the ceremony area set up, or even for having fewer guests than originally planned. Even venues that are not all inclusive can give you clear pricing breakdowns—so ask away!

16. SEE IF YOU CAN GET A SAMPLE CONTRACT AND BE SURE IT INCLUDES THEIR CANCELLATION POLICY.

In general, no one loves a contract. It’s a lot of words and frankly boring. But when it comes to weddings and venues, it’s truly in your best interest to really, really, really read through it. It’s not fun to think about, but wedding cancellations can and do happen. Make sure the contract is clear on that issue and that you’re comfortable with their language. Also, keep in mind that canceling doesn’t just mean if YOU have to cancel. Find out what protections you have if say, the venue is damaged prior to your wedding or they cancel on you for some other reason.

Bride and groom kissing in garden with flowers

And again, while at the site visit, revisit some of those initial questions you asked yourself when doing online research! Those questions will keep you focused on what you really want and whether the venue truly meets your needs. Will you feel silly unfurling your enormous list of questions? Maybe. Will those questions ensure that you find the best venue for your event? YES. It’s worth it. So tell the venue manager to get comfortable, and rattle off those questions proudly!

No matter what your budget or style is Wedgewood’s expert wedding coordinators can answer all your venue questions! CONTACT THEIR TEAM TO MAKE YOUR PLANNING FUN AND STRESS FREE. And stop by their BLOG FOR more helpful venue tips and wedding trends!

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

    Also: who will be on site and what are their responsibilities? That way you know if someone is available and whether they’re available for small questions or just “something is on fire halp” things.

  • Amy March

    Do they seem like they know what they are doing? A venue should have all this info at their fingertips and be offering it to you. If they are disorganized and confused when they are trying to sell themselves to you they won’t get better once they have your money. It’s like someone showing up on a first date wearing a dirty shirt and messy hair- this is their best effort.

    • penguin

      On the same thought process – do they seem like they WANT you to book with them? We toured a winery venue that looked beautiful online, but the person giving the tour (who was in charge of working with couples that have their weddings at the winery) could NOT be bothered with us or our questions. They were also very rigid in how they do things, which we were glad to find out up front (we didn’t book with them). Online it looked great, but in person we found out that they keep the winery open during your wedding (so random winery customers can sit at picnic tables right next to your ceremony and watch it), and weddings with under 100 guests are only allowed in the nearby restaurant, not in the very cool looking pavilion thing on site.

    • Totally agree with this. Along the same lines; How many weddings have they done? Are they just starting out or have they been doing weddings for years? Of course, amount of weddings doesn’t necessarily make the place better—they could have tons of uptight rules as a result of every possible bad scenario happening, for instance—but it’s still something to be aware of and I think, in general, a plus. Our venue has several weddings a week and we found that that meant the staff were extremely knowledgeable and offered us a ton of helpful advice about how long to plan for set up, how other couples had done their lighting, etc. Our caterer had even catered at that venue several times before.

      • Amandalikeshummus

        It seems like “how many weddings have they done” could be a useful negotiating tool, too. If you know they haven’t done many, maybe you could get a discount for letting them use your pictures or something.

      • angela

        Agreed this is a good question! We went with a venue that was just starting to do weddings, and with that we got a ton of flexibility with our date, a really great rate, and a lot of personal attention. However, the site worked with an established catering/events company and our site planner had been doing weddings at other sites for a long time (and was really excited to start up weddings at this new venue). We got the benefits of their experience along with some of the perks of being at a new site eager for wedding photos/reviews/etc.!

  • Katelyn

    Another thing to keep in mind for loading dock/elevators: handicapped guests. When we were looking for venues, we had one strong contender with a couple of quirks, but then we found this beautiful restored mansion venue that we thought had all the strengths of our top pick without any downsides.

    About 5 minutes into our tour, we found out there was no loading dock or guest elevator for the ballroom on the second floor. In our case, my fiance’s grandmother would then not be able to attend, so we were pretty much ready to waltz out the door.

    I get that many weddings don’t plan on having guests in wheelchairs, but I would feel awful if a friend or family member couldn’t come because of it. Caterers are professionals and it’s an inconvenience, but in the end, you’re hiring them to do work. Making a guest uncomfortable and possibly embarrassed if they don’t know it’s not handicapped accessible is a dealbreaker for me.

    • rebecca

      I get that many weddings don’t plan on having guests in wheelchairs, but also……I think a lot of people with mobility restrictions are more likely to go to a wedding than another event and there are some people who don’t regularly use a wheelchair in their home or on short errands, but will bring a wheelchair for an event where a lot of people will be standing around for several hours. I wish accessibility was something venue managers prioritized more.

    • jem

      Also, a particular guest might not be in a wheelchair on the day you do the site visit, but end up on one by the day of the wedding. This happened to us! Venue has no elevator and right now, we are scrambling to come up with a plan.

      • Hannah

        Precisely! Anyone is capable of needing a wheelchair, if they get injured, have surgery, or realize it’s time for them to start using one.

        In your case, would it be possible for your guest to be carried upstairs by a strong friend? Maybe not the most dignified option, but it would get them there.

      • laddibugg

        Also, just because you’re not in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you can easily navigate stairs, especially long flights.

    • sage

      Yep, this was a huge consideration for us because fiance’s mom exclusively uses a wheelchair. We were shocked at the number of places (that do TONS of weddings) that weren’t fully accessible. One place we toured had assured me that they were accessible beforehand. But even though they had indoor ramps, there was no direct path from the parking lot into the venue except through a very narrow garden path (not covered, brick walkway, with hedges on both sides), plus all their restrooms were single stall with entrances that did not look wide enough for a standard wheelchair. A complete waste of our time.

  • Just Me

    I definitely recommend using technology if you can’t be there in person! We planned a wedding in ~5 months so it was a tighter time frame than most, and it was in a different part of the state that was closer to our guests than where we lived (about 8 hours drive). Instead of visiting multiple locations, we pretty much decided on one and my now-husband went down to check it out since I couldn’t get off work. We had already confirmed that this place had our preferred date, had asked most of these questions, and just needed to get a feel for if the layout would actually work for our guests. My parents went with him and they skyped me in, it worked great!

    As someone pointed out below, I’d ask about access for those with mobility issues. We had someone in a wheelchair but also older guests who just don’t move as well as they used to. Our ceremony was ~1/2 mile from the parking lot but the venue had a golf cart available to shuttle in anyone who requested a lift and they had elevators onsite which made it very easy for everyone who attended.

  • Leah

    Some other questions that might be irrelevant for many but which are central to most/all of the weddings I attend (including my own) out here in Montana (outdoors in non-traditional locations):
    Are dogs allowed on the site?
    Is camping allowed on the site?
    Is there enough parking/what’s the parking situation?
    Is there refrigeration on site?
    Are event tents allowed (some places don’t like them because they put holes in the grass)
    Are dance floors allowed (some places don’t like them because they can hurt the grass if left down too long)

    • sofar

      YES, parking is so important. At once place we looked at, a school down the street offered their lot as a fundraiser for a really cheap rate. At another, the venue lot was the only option and quite affordable — but, turns out, they required you to pay for two parking valets (which you then must also tip). And at one place, they had a contract with the parking lot next door but only for 20 cars.

      Ditto on refrigeration. My in-laws threw us a reception in their city and confirmed that they could have the cake dropped off the night before. But they did NOT confirm there was a fridge on-site large enough to hold it.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    I can’t imagine most people would respond well to a blunt, “What are your hidden fees?” What’s a better way to ask that question?

    • penguin

      Are there any other charges, taxes, or fees? Are there any other costs not included in this estimate? You can also ask about a lot of specific things (is there a charge for parking, does the “service fee” go to the staff as a tip, etc).

    • Jan

      I just asked to see a line-item list of what was included in the quote I was given, and then asked what other fees are charged on top of that list. It was always something, like a fee for using a dance floor, or that you *had* to use their specific vendor for linens or whatever. It was all moot in the end because we’re doing a DIY backyard wedding, or what I like to now think of as “The Land of Hidden Expenses You Never Knew You Could Incur” (alt. title: “This Isn’t As Cheap As We Thought It Would Be”).

  • Kaitlyn

    What exactly should we be looking for in the cancellation policy? Reimbursement, help finding a new venue, etc? We finally got our final contract for our venue over the weekend and I’m pretty sure I didn’t see anything about cancellation policy, so I want to ask about it.

    • KitBee

      Full disclosure, I have never planned a wedding, so I don’t know what a “good” or “bad” cancellation policy is. But if there’s not one in the contract, I would definitely ask the venue about it and put some sort of agreement in the contract! For example, will you get ANY money back if the wedding is cancelled? If so, how much? Or, conversely, will you have to pay a cancellation fee? Does it make a difference if the cancellation is your “fault” (e.g., a better venue opens up at the last minute), the venue’s fault (e.g., their renovations took longer than expected, and the space you requested won’t actually be available), or an accident (e.g., the venue gets struck by lightning and burns to the ground the day before your wedding)? Are there any “deadlines” you should know about (e.g., you can get 50% of your money back until the month before the wedding, but you won’t get anything back if you cancel within that last month)? Your question about whether they’ll help you find a new venue is a good one, too. In general, I’d assume that anything not explicitly covered by the contract will be your responsibility, not the venue’s, so be thorough!

      • Kaitlyn

        Ooh these are all good points! I just skimmed it quickly so it might be in there, but I’ll def ask these specifics. Thanks!

  • NolaJael

    Visiting at the right time of day is really important! We’d picked out a ceremony location based on pictures, only to find that all our guests would be facing into the blinding setting sun at that spot — which we only discovered by being on site the day before. 50 ft over and a small rotation and happy guests were in the shade and participants and guests could see without needing sunglasses.

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