There’s a lot to know about planning your wedding! There are many, many details, and a lot of decisions to make. In the next few issues I’m going to walk you through the first and generally the biggest wedding planning decision: choosing your ceremony and reception venue. 

Why do this first? Because once you have your venue you’ll have your wedding date, time, and place. Almost all of your planning depends on those three things, and they all come with booking your venue. So let’s get right into how to do that!

If you’re planning a church wedding followed by a reception at another venue, now you have two venues to book. You’ll want to contract with the church first. Why? Because churches are often quite specific about the time of day and the day of the week when they’ll have weddings. Reception venues usually have much more flexibility, so securing your date and time at the church is the first thing to do.

The earlier that you’re in touch with the church or churches that you’re considering, the better. We’re talking 12 months or more of lead time. Churches sometimes have membership and other requirements that need to be met several months (or more!) before your wedding. You’ll want to know about all of those requirements as soon as possible. 

Now you need to do a little bit of juggling. Be sure you 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. You don’t want to commit to either until you know that both are available when you need them! Once you have potential dates from both, don’t wait to book. While churches might hold your date, reception venues usually don’t guarantee availability until you’re under contract with them. 

Speaking of availability, timing is a thing. I like to have the ceremony experience flow right into the reception experience. I think that keeps the mood, and is the most fun for everyone. Here’s how to do it when your ceremony is at a church: 

Church ceremonies typically run 40 to 60 minutes long. Add that to the travel time between the ceremony and reception venues and you’ll get your reception start time. For example, if your ceremony is set to start at 4 pm and you expect it to last 40 minutes, start to finish, and if it takes 20 minutes for your guests to get to their cars, drive to the reception venue, and park, you’ll want to have your contract with the reception venue to start at 5 pm.

It’s a good idea to check the travel time between the church and your reception venue by doing a dry run yourself. Go to the church on the same day of the week and approximate time of your wedding. Start your timer for either the pews for the door, walk to your car (which you’ve parked where your guests will park), drive to the reception venue, park, and walk to the door. Make a note of the elapsed time.

It’s important to have the reception venue and your caterer –  along with all of the rest of your wedding professionals  – loaded in and fully ready to greet your guests when they arrive, so be conservative in your planning. If you think your ceremony might run between 40 and 50 minutes long, use the shorter time for planning purposes. If the travel time to the reception venue is 20 to 25 minutes, count on your guests doing it in 20 minutes. As much as they love you, while you’re making photographs, your guests are making a beeline for the cocktails and hors d’oeuvres! Plan to start your reception based on the first guest who leaves the church and who is the first to arrive at the reception venue. That’s one of the many ways to guarantee that everyone has a great experience at your reception!

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David Egan
David Egan
David L. Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a wedding and event venue in downtown Baltimore. Visit, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook.