If you’re planning a church wedding followed by a reception at another venue, book the church first. Churches are often quite specific about the time of day and day of the week when they’ll have weddings. Churches sometimes have membership and other requirements that need to be met several months before your wedding. You’ll want to know about all of that as soon as possible. Reception venues usually have much more flexibility. Have an available date and time with the ceremony venue and an available date and time with the reception venue before you commit to either one. The idea is to have the ceremony experience flow right into the reception experience. Church ceremonies typically run 40 to 60 minutes long. Add to that the travel time between the ceremony and reception venues, and you’ll get your reception start time. While you’re making photographs, your guests are making a beeline for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres!
Now let’s focus on reception venues and venues that do both ceremonies and receptions.
Selection criteria – Sorting through venues can be lots of fun, and it can also be confusing and frustrating. You can make the process go smoothly and easily by creating a set of selection criteria to apply to all of the venues you’re considering. I encourage you to set up a spreadsheet to keep the information you gather together and in order. Later on you can sort the whole thing, venue by venue, as you narrow down the finalists.
(In the next column, we’ll get into the very important aspects of look and feel, which are ultimately the key criteria.)
Here are some topics to consider:
Guest capacity – It’s important to know the size of your guest list before you start to look at venues. By now, you should have it narrowed down to within ten or so guests. Venues all have a known maximum capacity, generally set by the fire code. Having said that, an important question to ask is, “What is your comfortable maximum capacity?” The numbers may differ. The latter is the one that matters. If dancing is important, you’ll also want to ask about the capacity with a dance floor.
Location – In what city or town is the venue located? Is it in a particular neighborhood? Is it a hospitable and interesting area? Are there nearby rehearsal dinner and after-party venues? How accessible is the venue from highways and main roads?
Speaking of accessibility, it’s important to know if you’ll have guests who are mobility-impaired, and if the venue can accommodate them.
If you have guests who will be staying overnight, how much lodging is there within a reasonable distance from the venue? What is it like, and what kinds of rates might your guests expect to pay? If your party might need ten or 15 or more hotel rooms, it’s possible to block-book rooms at a group rate.
Outdoor ceremony – Are you thinking about an outdoor ceremony? If that’s possible at the venue, you’ll want to know about the rain plan. Where would your ceremony be held in case of rain? Will guests be seated auditorium-style, at tables, or will they be standing? How far ahead in hours or days do you have to make the decision to invoke the rain plan?
Parking – Questions to ask about parking include: Where do guests park, and what is the cost to do so? How many parking spaces are available? How far is the parking from the entrance to the venue? Some parking facility operators are set up to allow you to pay for your guest’s parking, if you like.
Next time: more on choosing your wedding venue.