There are two “hard limits” around wedding venue selection. Your anticipated guest count – which is to say, your guest list – and your budget. These are numbers that bring quantitative definition to your wedding. They are boundaries within which your wedding must stay. Your hard limits cannot be exceeded. Nothing that anyone says or does, save for someone adding to your budget, can change them.
Establishing these two hard limits before you start touring venues, entering contracts, and spending money will save you a great deal of pain and suffering.
I’ve seen lots – and I truly mean lots – of couples who launch into venue tours before that have an inkling of how much money they have to spend, or the size of their guest list. They waste a lot of time and energy.
So, do this: figure out the size of your guest list, give or take ten guests, before you start to look at venues. And for the love of Dog, have those difficult conversations about money now so you know how much you have to spend. Nail it down to within a thousand dollars.
These two activities may be the least fun aspect of planning your wedding, but your planning experience will be a lot less fun if you start making decisions without these two hard limits in place.
With that piece of homework done, let’s talk about how to use those numbers in selecting your wedding venue.
Before you look at any other aspect of a venue and Gods forbid, fall in love with it, you need to find out how many guests it can hold. The language of the trade around this is “guest capacity.”
It’s hard for most people to know, standing in an empty space, how everything fits, how their wedding will look, and how many guests fit comfortably. You can generally rely on the guidance that the venue provides about configuration and guest capacity. That said, the venue’s maximum capacity, generally set by the fire code, can be quite different from their comfortable maximum capacity. The latter is the number that matters. More about that in a moment.
It’s a physical reality that no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to put ten pounds of flour into a five pound sack. Likewise, no matter how much you or anyone else wishes it to be so, putting more guests into a venue than the venue can hold just isn’t going to work. Even setting the fire code aside (which, at the end of the day, one cannot), people will be squeezed together, aisle space will disappear, and nobody will be happy. It’s a really bad idea.
A caveat: some venues overstate their capacities. Ask about how the venue feels at capacity, how easy it is for guests and service staff to move through the space with that number of guests present, and what the optimal guest count is for the venue. Ask, “What is your comfortable maximum capacity for each service style?”.
Here’s where things get complicated. The venue’s capacity is set by, among other things, how the room is used. Every food service style requires a different amount of space in the room. Buffet service needs space for some number of food tables, room for the catering staff to work behind or around them, and room for your guests to approach, collect food, and depart. Alternately, a seated-and-served meal requires none of that.
Both buffet and seated-and-served are typically done with full seating. On the other hand, cocktail-style service is generally done with seating for up to a third of your guests, smaller tables, and three or more buffet stations. So for a given room, the capacity might be 100 guests for buffet service, 130 for seated-and-served, and 160 for cocktail-style. The dance floor adds another element, whether it is a fixed, single-purpose space, or tables are removed for dancing.
More next time on how to choose a wedding venue!
- 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.