I see it happen all too often! Couples get engaged, and in the excitement of the moment, jump right into setting up tours at venues they've been stalking on Instagram for years. And while selecting your wedding venue is the first major vendor that you'll likely book, there are several very important things that you need to do BEFORE you commit to anything for your wedding.
We previously talked about the First Things To Do After Getting Engaged, and now we're going to start getting in deeper with the wedding plans by discussing the wedding venue!
Remember, it always comes back to your wedding priorities, so let's talk about what that means in regards to your venue choices.
Before you start reaching out to venues, make a list of what is important to you for your wedding. You might feel tempted to skip this step, many couples have brief conversations about their priorities, budget, or guest list, but get so excited about getting a date set, they quickly start setting up tours to see venues. However, it’s so easy to fall in love with a space while you’re there, and in the excitement of the moment, overlook or underestimate some important details that could come back to haunt you later on.
Wedding Venue Priorities
So the first thing you want to do is revisit your wedding priorities, but now we’re going to go in depth on those centering around venue. Some good questions or prompts to get you started would be:
Do you want an indoor or outdoor ceremony or reception?
Do you want both the ceremony and reception in the same place?
Is it important to have hotels and other attractions close by?
Would you prefer a venue that’s more all-inclusive (meaning they handling the venue, catering, and bar service), or more of a unique venue that just offers the actual space?
Do have very specific wants or needs for decor? For example, is it important for you to have real candles, decor hanging from the ceiling, or specialty tables, chairs or linens? Also consider any styles or themes that you like in this inspiration stage.
Are you or your family willing and able to help with set up and tear down?
How strict are you with your guest list? Do you want/need flexibility to add in kids, dates, or additional guests down the road?
How strict are you with your breakdown of your wedding budget and what is allocated to the reception cost. We’ll talk more about budget in a bit, but I can’t stress enough how important this step is! Find a venue within your budget, and do NOT plan your budget around your venue!
You can use these questions to get you started, and continue to brainstorm or list out other things that are important to you from the venue standpoint.
Before we get into the different types of wedding venues, I want to chat a bit more about the venue and reception budget. When we reviewed First Things to Do After Getting Engaged, we discussed the “reception site/catering” budget is typically 40-50% of the overall wedding budget, but let's break this down a bit more.
When we’re looking at the overall budget, your biggest expense will most likely be your catering cost, which for most couples will be associated with their venue bill. Because this isn’t always the case if you’re at a unique venue that we’ll talk about in a bit, at this stage in the planning process, you’ll want to refer to this as your “reception costs”. So regardless of what type of venue you are at, this 40% should include all your venue rental costs, catering and bar services, as well as basic rentals including any tents, tables, chairs, or dishware that you’ll need to provide. So that 40% may be made up of several different vendors, or it could all come from one venue.
Different Types of Wedding Venues
Let’s get into the different types of venues, and the pros and cons for them. There are three main categories that I typically divide venues into:
Traditional banquet hall or hotel venue
Backyard or a private residence
Unique venue - you rent the structure, but need to bring everything else in (catering, tables, chairs, etc)
Traditional Banquet Hall or Hotel
Most everything will be included
You don’t have to worry about staffing
They typically have standard options for menus, timelines, and layouts for you to choose from
If you’re at a hotel, everything is onsite, no worries about transportation and it’s much easier for guests
Most hotel properties will also have a restaurant or a banquet room that you can use for the rehearsal dinner or a brunch if you're doing that the next day
Summary - fewer vendors and details to manage on your own
Might be limited with bar and menu options, to what they have on site. Most spaces. Won't let you bring anything into their kitchen or serve at their bar.
They can have multiple events or weddings in the same day in the same space. So you want to ask about timing and what the policies are in regards to that.
Some banquet halls or hotels, and finally banquet halls and traditional hotel venues can sometimes blend in together. And if you're looking for something that is very unique to other weddings, your guests have been to, it might be more challenging to make it feel unique
You have the flexibility to make it exactly what you want. You pick the caterer, the bar service, the rentals, all of that. You get to pick and make it exactly what you want. It will be a truly unique wedding.
You also have the potential to save money as you don't have the minimums that you'll see in a traditional food and beverage menu.
You need to build the venue from scratch. So all rentals, the tent, the tables, the chairs, the knives, the forks, the napkins....EVERYTHING
You're responsible for bringing in catering and bar service staffing
Many more vendors/details to manage
You are the site manager, you are the event coordinator. It is all up to you.
And finally, backyard weddings tend to end up costing a lot more than you anticipate. There's going to be a lot of things that you need to bring in that you might not think about at the beginning stages of planning. So make sure that you add some wiggle room into the budget for those unanticipated extra costs.
Unique venues - falls kind of in between the traditional banquet hall and a backyard wedding.
You're going to have more structure than if you were hosting the wedding at your house, but it still gives you some flexibility to be able to choose the other details
Literal structure in that you don’t need to rent a tent, and sometimes the other hard items like table, chairs, etc
Most of the time, you're also able to bring in your own caterer and bar service
They are typically much more unique weddings, and you have the opportunity to really make it your own
It doesn’t always mean you are saving money! Similar to the backyard wedding, because you are supplying so much on your own, costs can add up quickly
You're most likely going to be doing a lot more hands on work than you would at a traditional banquet hall, but not quite as much as you would be if you were hosting the wedding at home. For example, you might be responsible for putting together your own layout and timeline on your own
Piggybacking on that, some of these spaces are rented out as an additional line of revenue, and weddings/events aren’t their main business. If this is the case, the main contact there might have a different primary role than event planner, which means that you should be prepared to tackle more of the details/planning on your own
Whew...ok, so what are you thinking for your wedding venue? Are you leaning more towards a traditional space, or maybe going with a unique venue or backyard wedding? If you’re going the unique venue route, make sure to grab a copy of our Backyard Wedding Guide to help you with the added logistics.
And when you're ready to start touring venues, check out Questions to Ask While Touring Wedding Venues.