Don’t let selecting a venue overwhelm you – follow the steps I used when choosing my own wedding venue.
When it comes to selecting a wedding venue it can be hard to know where to begin. You can spend hours and hours googling and after weeks of hunting still feel like you don’t have a clue. There’s so much info out there in cyberspace that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. So using my own upcoming wedding as an example, I’ll break it down into four easy steps.
For years I’ve been thinking about locations where TB and I might want to have our own wedding. But after planning beautiful weddings for clients at most (if not all) of the wedding venues in central Kentucky, I still did not have one picked out for us when we got engaged. I even began to feel overwhelmed – how was I ever going to find one that is perfect for us, if I haven’t already stumbled upon it over my time in the wedding industry? So I walked myself through the following steps.
Step 1: Determine how you want your wedding to feel?
What are your major requirements? Have you always envisioned yourself getting married outside under a beautiful arbor of flowers, or does the thought of relying on nice weather send your head spinning? Before you even start your search sit down as a couple to visualize your day and determine what you’re looking for in your wedding location.
Ask yourselves the following questions:
- Do you have a certain date or month you want to get married?
- What city or area do you want to have your wedding?
- Do you want your ceremony and/or reception to be inside or outside?
- What do you want the style to be? Rustic, Classic, Garden-y, Elegant, Formal, Informal, etc?
- Do you want the ceremony and reception at the same location or two different locations?
- What are your must-haves? And must have-nots?
- What portion of the budget has been allocated to a venue? (If you haven’t determined budget yet – visit the Budget Post)
- How many guests are you planning to have (plan for 75-80% of your invited number of guests actually attending. If you haven’t set your guest list yet – visit the Guest List Post)
Once you’ve decided on those questions, you’re ready to begin your search.
This is what TB and I’s answers looked like when we explored those questions ourselves…
- Certain Date? I knew we would be juggling several schedules, so it was important to find a date that worked for everyone we wanted to have involved.
- What City or Area? This one was harder than most for us. I’m originally from NW Ohio, but I spent 10 years and met TB in Lexington, KY, but now we live in Indianapolis. We also have a couple vacation destinations that mean a lot to us. So where was definitely a discussion point that we didn’t get ironed out in one evening. But we finally decided on the place that meant the most to us that would also require the least number of guests to travel – Central Kentucky.
- Inside/Outside? Outside – but with the ability to have a solid rain plan.
- Style? Rustic Elegance – hopefully, the perfect blend of both of our personalities.
- Same location for Ceremony & Reception, or Different? Ceremony and Reception should both be at the same venue – we are having quite a few out of town guests, so I wanted to make sure that we were making transportation as easy on them as possible.
- Must-Haves? It has to be close proximity to where the vast majority of our guests will be staying so guests can have as much fun as they want at the open bar and the ability to find a safe ride home.
- Must Have-Nots? A required vendor list.
- Budget? $2,000-3,000 (but the lower the better so we could spend more in areas that were more important to us – like decor, bar, and band.)
- How Many People? Inviting ~200 guests so the venue needs to have a capacity of 150.
Step 2: Start your Search with the intent to find 6-8 venues you like.
Yes, you can always start with the classics – Google, The Knot, Wedding Wire, Pinterest, etc. But here are a few tips that I use when searching for venues for clients:
- Search Hashtags on Instagram – I’m a huge fan of finding vendors on Instagram. What a great way to instantly see their portfolio, real weddings, and their work. Try searching for #[yourcity]weddingvenue, #[yourstate]wedding, #[yourstate]venue, etc. Once you find a venue you’re loving, make sure you check out their tagged photos too!
- Talk to friends and family members who are married and who live in the area you want to have your wedding. Personal referrals are the best! I completely understand if you don’t want to have your wedding at the same place where you’ve attended several weddings of friends and family members. But these people know the area and likely have attended weddings you’ve not been invited to. Therefore, they understand what it’s like to search for a venue, and they might be familiar with some you’ve not thought of.
- Join and post in local wedding Facebook Groups. Most areas have a group on Facebook for brides in the area to connect – whether it be to sell things one bride purchased for her wedding and no longer needs or to ask each other questions and advice. So find your local group, join, and post to gather recommendations from other members on wedding venues in your area. Be sure to post how many guests you’re planning for, what price range you’d like to stick to, and the overall feel you’re looking for, so you can make sure to get helpful responses.
- Think outside the box. Especially if you’re trying to stick to a tighter budget, think of places that might not be your typical wedding venue. Check out parks, museums, spaces owned by local non-profits, state historic sites, etc. These are usually places that are a bit more budget-friendly and can really be unique to your wedding.
When I started our search, I jumped straight to asking a friend. I knew that if anyone would be able to help me, it would be my trusted florist. She knows the area better than anyone I know and she also knows TB and me well. Sure enough, during our first conversation, she hit the nail right on the head once I told her what we were looking for (from the answers in Step #1.). Someone who knows you well is always a great place to start.
Step 3: Narrow down your findings.
Once you’ve found 6-8 venues that look incredible, gather some further information before you start scheduling tours. Here are some things to check out:
- Look at their website – many venues have quite a bit of information listed on their website – look for capacity, pricing, what’s included, etc.
- Use google – Something I’ve started doing when I want to see more photos of a space is this: do a google image search of “[venue name] wedding [city], [state]”. For example “Keeneland wedding, Lexington, Kentucky”. This will likely show you additional photos of weddings in that venue that might not be on the venue’s website or social media.
- Check reviews – For anything unfamiliar to me, I’m a huge fan of checking reviews. I look on Google, Facebook, WeddingWire, and TheKnot for reviews of the venue. But also be reasonable when searching for reviews. When I’m looking for a client, I look for a venue to have a majority of great reviews. If a venue has any bad reviews – I always read the bad ones but sometimes disregard them if they seem to be off the wall or a lot of time has passed and they have a lot of good reviews since.
Once you’ve checked those items, reach out to any venues you’re still loving. Ask them to send over rental and capacity info (if you didn’t find this on their website), and ask to schedule a time to meet with them and tour the space.
Step 4: Know what to ask.
When touring venues it’s important to know what questions to ask up front. You don’t want to end up in a situation where the rental fee sounded great and fit inside your budget, but then all the venue’s requirements and caused you to end up way outside your originally budgeted amount. Here’s what I like to ask when doing a potential venue visit:
- What comes with the rental? Is it a blank canvas, or do you get tables and chairs? If so, how many? Will you need to rent additional chairs for your ceremony if you’re having that on the property as well?
- If you need to bring in any rentals from an outside source – what are their drop off and pickup requirements? (Most rental companies will not come back to pick up the night of an event without charging additional fees, so you want to avoid that if possible.)
- Are there any required vendors? It’s pretty common for venues to have preferred vendor lists – this is a list of vendors that the venue knows, trusts, and likes to work with. You are not required to use vendors from a preferred list and are still able to work with vendors who are not on the list. But some venues have required vendors in certain categories – it’s most common to see these in catering, bar, and/or rentals. These are vendors that you must use if you are having an event in their space, and you are not allowed to bring in vendors outside of those on that required list.
- What additional fees do renters typically see? Are there any taxes, service charges, etc. that are not included in the standard rental fee?
- Are there any rental items that are not included in the rental, but are required to get through the venue? Tables? Chairs? Linens?
- What time will you have access to the space on the wedding day to set up? Is there any chance of getting access the day prior if they don’t have another event booked?
- If this is your ceremony location – will you be able to have access for rehearsal the day prior to the wedding? Is there a certain amount of time? Are you able to bring any items to drop off at this time and leave in the space for the next day?
- What time does the “party” have to end (music off, bar closed?)
- What time do you and all vendors have to be cleaned up and out of the space?
- Are you able to come back the following day to pick anything up?
- Are there any restrictions as far as hanging decor or candles?
- Are you required to purchase a liability insurance policy?
- What does their contract/booking/payment policy look like?
- Can you have a hold on the date for a certain amount of time until you’re able to make your decision, or can someone else meet with them at any point and book the date you want?
Phew – I know that was A LOT of information. But as one of your largest wedding decisions, it’s important to go into choosing your venue with your eyes wide open, knowing what you’re getting into so you don’t have any surprises later on.
Good news is – once you have your venue, you now have a set wedding date! So you now have an answer for all the friends and family who have been asking you “when are you getting married?!” since 5 minutes after you got engaged! 🙂