Saying “yes” to the venue is the most important decision you’ll make about your wedding, followed closely by your choice of caterer. There are lots of things to think about as you plan your wedding. If you take them one thing at a time and do them in order, the process can be what it’s meant to be– fun and exciting!
You’ll want to get two big hard things done right up front in your wedding planning process: your budget and your guest list. You need to know how much money you have available, when it is available, and the number of people you plan to invite (give or take ten guests) before you can do anything else.
Almost all of your planning depends on knowing your wedding date, time, and place. So once the money and the guest list are in order, it’s time to choose your ceremony and reception venue. Let’s get right into how that’s done!
If you’re planning a church wedding followed by a reception at another venue, get a list of available dates from your church before you look at venues. Churches are often quite specific about the time of day and day of the week when they’ll have weddings. Reception venues usually have much more flexibility.
Start organized – 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. That spreadsheet will really help later on. Trust me on this. You’ll love being able to sort venue by venue to narrow down your finalists.
Guest capacity – Venues all have a maximum capacity. Some venues overstate their capacity, which means that your guests will be jammed up against each other and have difficulty moving through the room. Nobody wants that! Ask the venue manager, face to face, “What is your comfortable maximum capacity?” That’s the number you want to use.
Location – Do you like the neighborhood? Is it a hospitable and interesting area? Are there nearby venues for your rehearsal dinner and after-party? How accessible is the venue from highways and main roads?
If you have guests who will be staying overnight, how much lodging is there within a reasonable distance from the venue? What is the lodging like, and what kinds of rates might your guests expect to pay?
Outdoor ceremony – Are you thinking about an outdoor ceremony? Ask the venue manager about the rain plan. Will guests be seated auditorium-style, or at their dinner 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?
Catering – How venues handle catering varies widely. On one end of the spectrum, the venue is run by a caterer, with the venue fee included in the catering fee. On the other end, the venue is totally laissez-faire about catering, allowing you complete freedom to use any caterer that you choose, including self-catering. Between these are several other common ways that venues handle catering. We’ll look at the pros and cons of each in the next issue.
Go visit – I’m a visual and visceral person. I have difficulty visualizing spaces from afar. I need to be standing in the space, feeling it, to know if it’s right for me. I know that’s also true for lots of the couples I meet here at Chase Court. So get out there and visit venues and see which ones touch your heart!
Once you have a list of venues that meet all of your needs, let your gut feeling be your guide for the final choice. Look and feel are ultimately your key criteria for venue selection.
Next time: All about wedding catering.
- David L. Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a wedding and event venue in downtown Baltimore. Visit Chasecourt.com, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook.