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Wedding Venue 101 – How to Choose!

Jan 19, 2021

The reception venue is the pillar of your big day and is often the starting point of the planning process. The venue affects budget, design and sometimes even other vendor selections.

Too many times, I’ve seen dream venues become a nightmare because the right questions weren’t asked prior to laying down that big non-refundable chunk of change we call a deposit!

So let’s talk about Choosing Your Wedding Venue! Where to start and what questions to ask to avoid heart break and wasted moolah!

Audrey’s Farmhouse, Photo Credit: Kate Edwards Weddings

Availability: Don’t put the cart before the horse

From the pros, if you are having a religious ceremony, PLEASE don’t book your ceremony location before you book your reception venue and vice versa!

Many religious ceremony locales require 1-2 meetings with the Priest, Pastor, Rabbi before they will share availability with you begin that process before you get really serious about your venue search. Then you can easily cross-compare between your ceremony location and potential venue availability!

All-in-one v. Open Box: Apples are not oranges

If you have several venues on the table that you are considering, make sure you are comparing “apples to apples”. 

We like to split wedding venue types into two main categories:

All-In-One Venues

  • This is typically where the venue, the caterer, the equipment rentals, bar, etc are included in a package. You are paying one price for multiple services.
  • Can be more formulaic as they produce multiple weddings every weekend with the same package options. An all-in-one wedding venue could limit the amount of customizing you can do.
  • This will appear to cost much most at first glance, but could actually be the better deal depending on your event.

Open Box Venues

  • In this scenario, the cost will appear cheaper BUT, you will be tasked with taking care of all additional elements and logistics on your own.
  • Before signing a contract, know what it will cost to bring in that catering equipment and how much it will cost for catering itself, how much rentals will be, etc. 
  • Typically these venues are more flexible with timelines & customizations and allow you more options for set-up, dance time, decor, etc.

Be aware of what category each venue you are considering falls under and evaluate accordingly!

Outdoor Tented Events: The undercover budget sucker

There is always something so romantic about a tent wedding! Especially if the couple has a beautiful story or connection to the location. It can seem so simple and intimate to host a beautifully tented reception with outdoor dancing under the stars.

We love them BUT a word of caution: tented weddings can be complicated and often get expensive very quickly! There are many aspects of a tent wedding that can be overlooked and can have a drastic effect on budget.

Consider these:

  • Power – Will you need a generator? Where can your vendors that require power access it? Will it be enough power to sustain catering equipment, lighting, your dj, and more?
  • Vendor Requirements – Especially in regards to catering, if there is no on-site kitchen, it may require additional equipment or a more complicated setup to keep food hot and delicious.
  • Restrooms – Crucial! Where will guests be able to go? Will you need to rent port-a-jons? There are many options ranging from single stalls to executive trailers. Be sure to consider this in your budget!
  • Lighting – It gets dark outside! Once the sunsets, you will need to consider in-tent lighting and ambience to keep guests from fumbling in the night.
  • Parking – Where will guests park and how far is it from the ceremony and reception location? Will you need gold carts to shuttle guests to and from? What about any guests with accessibility needs? If you are shuttling guests back and forth from a hotel, will a bus be able to access the location and turn around easily?

Don’t get us wrong, we love a good tent wedding, just know they are a beast of their own! (Don’t worry though, we can totally help you through it!)

Photo Credit: Sullivan & Sullivan Studios

Ambiance, Lighting and Climate Control: There’s nothing sexy about “on or off”

There are so many beautiful venues out there.  But what’s the use of having a beautiful venue if it’s not lit so your guests can see you tie the knot or what they are eating for dinner.  Be sure to ask about the lighting!  Some really amazing places only have overhead lighting that is either “on or off” making the room way too bright or way too dark. That’s not sexy.  If this is the case, you may need to bring in a lighting company to help supplement – if this is a thing, be sure to “supplement” your budget accordingly!

Ask the venue to show you the lighting as it will be on the night of.  Especially be sure to investigate your ceremony lighting.  Your guests want to see you get hitched!

Along with lighting and ambiance, be sure to consider the temperature of the room or space. Is there air conditioning? And if so, how often does it get serviced?  Will there be an AC tech on call on the day of the event?

On the other hand, if your event is in a winter month – is there heat?  If the heat is steam – do they have control over it in case it gets too hot!?  The most common months to have uncomfortably hot weddings are actually January, February, March – when the steam heat for the building is blasting but there’s no way to control it!

So…there you have it!  When you’re vetting the venue be sure to do your due diligence.  Don’t rush into it until all your research is done.  It could mean the difference of thousands of dollars!  Thousands of dollars, which in my opinion would be better spent on a honeymoon. third course, or a baller bridal suite!



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