The guest list and budget are finally behind you. It seems like from here on out it will be smooth sailing planning your wedding. Then you realize how many venues there are in your city. Each one is offering something different. Each one including different things you will need (i.e., tables, chairs, linens).
It’s no wonder picking a venue is one of the most stressful parts of wedding planning. Like with all other areas of planning, the best way to avoid stress is to plan properly. Here is a breakdown of everything you need to know about selecting your wedding venue.
How Far Out Do Venues Book Up?
Couples are often shocked by how far out venues are booked, especially during peak season. Venues can start booking up two years in advance. Seems crazy, doesn’t it?
However, many couples are now booking significant items, such as venues, before even getting engaged. How many couples do you ask? According to a recent study by Zola, 60 percent of couples planned part of their wedding before being engaged. Fifteen percent of those selected their venue.
Moral of the story, don’t surprised if the venue you want is already booked on the day you want especially if your date falls in September or October.
If your date means something to you, you will want to hop on venues the second after you set your budget. If you are flexible on the date but know the time of year, keep your options open. Be ready to strike the moment you find the one.
Quick note here, Saturdays fill up first. Once those are full, venues will sell you on booking a Friday or Sunday date. Some venues will offer you lower prices for these dates. Some won’t. Either way, make sure to ask. Oh, and if your wedding is on a holiday weekend, say Labor Day or Memorial Day, don’t even ask if you get a lower rate. You are paying the same for that holiday wedding. Hey, wedding vendors like lake season too!
How Do I Pick the City or Part of the City?
According to the Zola survey above, 55 percent of couples have a location in mind before getting engaged. We are not sure if that means the city or part of a city, so we are going to talk about both.
Let’s start with the city. It is not as easy as it once was to pick a city. Rarely, do we have couples who are both from Kansas City originally, they still live here and so does their family. People are spread out all over the country so picking the location for your blessed day can be a tough one.
Our advice, it is helpful to be one of the following:
- Living in the city you chose to get married.
- Have a close family member (think mom or sister who will be involved in planning) who lives in that city.
- The ability to go back to the city often for planning meetings.
- No matter what, especially if planning from out-of-state, you should seriously consider hiring a wedding planner. Shameless plug, we know!
By all means, you can plan a wedding in a different city or country you have no connection with whatsoever. We are all for a destination wedding and will even pack our bags and go with you! I am merely trying to make your life easier during this process, and living in or having someone close to you living in your wedding city is by far the least stressful option.
One final note on the city, do think about what your guests will have to go through to get to your wedding. Is it an expensive part of the country to fly into? Do they have to rent a car and then drive for several hours to get to the location? While these should not make your decision for you, they should be a factor.
The same goes for what part of the city. You will find in most major cities the majority of venues are concentrated downtown or in trendy neighborhoods. These are often surrounded by hotels, shops and places to eat, making it more of a vacation for your guests.
If a downtown area is not your vibe, you will have no problem finding a venue in a nearby suburb or the country. If your venue is not close to hotels or entertainment districts and it’s in your budget, you should consider providing transportation for your guests to and from the hotels. The easier you make it for your guests, the better the overall experience they will have.
To Have or to Hold Both Ceremony and Reception in One Space
Another thing to consider when looking for spaces is do you plan on hosting both your ceremony and reception there or only the reception. Most venues will tell you right off the bat if both are possible.
If automatically you know you will have two different spaces, say a church and venue, consider the distance in between the two. Generally, the closer together, the better.
If you are doing everything in one space, you will likely need to do a flip. A flip is when the room begins as a ceremony. Then during cocktail hour, people will ‘flip’ the room into the reception. HUGE caveat here. If the venue is selling this, ask if they provide a team who will assist with the flip. If they do, they will likely charge you an additional fee. This is 100 percent worth the money.
If they don’t have a team, then you will need a planner or to work out an arrangement with your caterer to assist with the flip. Otherwise, your mom, dad and family are about to move some tables, and no one wants to be doing that on your big day.
Also, check out their cocktail hour space. Cocktail hour spaces are one area where venues sometimes will try to squeeze more people into the space than really possible. They do this because your guests will only be in there for an hour. If their cocktail space is an alley or can just hold half of your guest count comfortably, really think about that before signing the dotted line. Again, it all comes back to what guest experience you want to provide.
If you are not sure if you want to do two different places or have it all together, look at all your options. Consider transportation, look at the cost difference (this should be minimal because flipping fees are similar to church rentals), think about the different décor needed and how much time is allotted at both spaces. Ultimately, it comes down to where you see yourself being on the day of your wedding.
What Do Venues Include?
There are three main types of wedding venues:
- Country Clubs
- Hotels/Convention Centers
- Event Specific Spaces
No matter what category the venue falls under, it will likely offer something completely different than its most direct competitors. Everyone includes something a little bit different to try and make themselves stand out from the pack. This can include:
- Linens – ask what colors and lengths
- Dance Floor
- In-house catering, exclusive catering or open catering
- In-house bar, exclusive bar providers or BYOB
- Place settings
- Service Fee
- Fees for flipping the space between ceremony and reception
- Ice Machines
Okay, we are stopping after ice machines, because the list goes on and on. The more you can get included with your venue, the better. This will leave you with more money for other items.
When touring the space, ask them for a list of everything that is included and for REAL wedding examples. Most venues will show you their most high-end weddings or cool stylized shots that contain items not included in the base venue price (hello, linens and chairs). They do this to show you what you can do with their space. Don’t be blinded by the pretty, stay focused.
What Venues Don’t Tell You
There are several things to consider when looking at venues that will either not be brought up or you will be too distracted to think through. However, these are incredibly important and can make all the difference in the world.
If a space tells you, we can hold 200 people that often means 200 people without a dance floor or room to move about. They give you their max capacity, not comfortable capacity. Ask for layout examples including chair count so you can see what a wedding of your size looks like in there.
We are not talking about coordinators. We are talking about people who are there to empty the trash, refill toilet paper, or help with any electrical problems. Ask if someone will be on-site from the venue the entire time of your event. You will be amazed at how often the answer is no.
Ask about the hours you are allowed in the space. Many spaces will give you the “event time,” which is usually 5-6 hours. This doesn’t include set-up and tear down. Make sure to understand their exact rules of when you are allowed in and have to be out.
Once you have found the venue that is giving you the warm fuzzies, read through the reviews of the space and thoroughly read the contract. If in question about something, ask. It is always better to understand from the beginning what you are getting, then be surprised at the end.
Speaking of what you are getting. In the next article, we talk about choosing the rest of your vendors. We dig into how to select the rockstar team that will bring your wedding to life.
If this left you wanting to learn more and you live in or around Kansas City, you are in luck. We are offering an intimate, hands-on wedding planning workshop full of award-winning cocktails on February 18. More information and tickets can be found here.
Sarah Quinlivan is the owner and lead planner of Quintessential Events, an award-winning wedding and event planning firm that does events throughout the country. From classic to over-the-top, Quintessential Events prides itself on creating weddings that are uniquely you. Why have the day others have already had? Focus on having the day; only you can have. For more information, check out the company’s website and Instagram.