Building Your Dream Team: Venue
Updated: Jan 11, 2022
If you are freshly engaged and starting to think about vendors for your day, CONGRATS! Enjoy this new season of your relationship and don’t rush too quickly into planning 🥂💍✨
That being said… I’m sure you ~haven’t not~ seen the posts about how crazy busy the next few years will be for vendors. Rule of thumb: start with your highest priority vendors. Dream venue in mind? Start there. Florist you’ve been following for years? Start there. (& if you’re anything like me) A photo and/or video team for which you can recite their previous couples’ wedding locations and aesthetics? Start there.
While all vendors are critical in a wedding day and our priorities are all different (ask those favorite florists and photo people for their availability!!), I must say... a place to actually get married is (maybe / probably / should be) a top priority.
Part 1! Why is the venue important?
Okay yes, I agree that this probably seems like a "duh" situation. Of course you need a place to get married and celebrate. So instead of framing this as "why is the venue important," let's pivot to, "how does the venue impact your day." Better? Is it still the same question? Bear with me 😂 We will start here then move into a #part2 about how to identify your dreamy nuptial location. The selection of your venue guides many decisions throughout the rest of your planning process and, ultimately, impacts your wedding day by...
✨ Setting the vibe: energy, atmosphere, environment, mood, aesthetic, vibe... whatever you want to call it, the venue in which you choose to house your wedding celebration will be the backdrop for it all. This is not to say that decor, flowers, etc. do not have any impact on the tone of the day, but the venue plays a major role in the overall feel. For example, if you are hoping for a black tie affair, you may not want to choose a barn venue. On the flip side... if you are looking for a relaxed, kid-friendly event, you many not want to book the ballroom at the Downtown Ritz Carlton. There is no wrong mood for your wedding day, but you want your venue to assist in building that mood, not detract from it.
⏰ Directing the timeline: this point is really specific to the decision to have one vs. two venues (a ceremony location and a reception location). This is TOTALLY YOUR DECISION, but know that two venues changes the flow of your wedding day (& honestly, this impact is often felt more by you than your guests!). With two separate venues, you will need to include additional buffer and transportation time between the two events. This simply bumps back the rest of your timeline, no biggie! Venues (regardless of if you go with one or two!) also tend to come with some time constraints - when can you access the venue for setup? When can vendors start arriving? What time must guests be out the door? These key times serve as framework for all the fun that happens in the middle of the day.
📋 Identifying other vendors / wedding day needs: a booked venue serves as a launch pad for identifying and booking all your other vendors and wedding day needs (food, decor, transport, etc.). Not only will a booked venue provide you an exact location and exact date, it can help you as you start to think through the other aspects of your day and thus the requirements for other vendors. For example: you choose to celebrate in a really ornate Victorian era home with interesting vintage collectables scattered among beautifully aged furniture. In this setting, you may not need as many floral arrangements because the home is already so stunning. Example #2: you choose to celebrate at a country club that does all the catering, bartending, and cake baking in-house... you can scratch three vendors off your dream team!
All of this to say, your venue truly has an impact on your wedding day from both an aesthetic and logistics standpoint. It is CRUCIAL that you make this decision intentionally and earlier on in your planning process. But don't let that scare you! There are no wrong decisions when it comes to venue(s). This decision simply flows into your other decisions - fun stuff, yeah? 😉
Part 2! How do I know it is awesome?
I was an operational consultant in a previous life, so forgive me as I break this process into three steps - (1) identify the need, (2) do your research, and (3) talk! This process remains pretty consistent across all your vendor selection processes, but let's chat about how it breaks down for selecting the wedding venue of your ✨dreams.✨
IDENTIFY THE NEED: any good vendor selection process begins with a thorough understanding of what you and your fiancé are looking for! Because, after all, how can you identify and contract with a perfect venue if you don't even know what defines your perfect venue? Take some time to explore the world of venues - they don't even have to be just wedding venues! Pinterest is a great starting spot, as is Wedding Wire, The Knot, Brides.com, Instagram, TikTok... you name it. Some guiding questions:
Where (geographically) do you want to get married? (This is a big question. I'm sorry.)
Is there a specific date on which you want to get married? Or are you flexible?
Do you want the ceremony and reception in the same location? Or do you want two separate venues for the big day?
Are you a planner? Do you enjoy identifying all the major players in your day? Or would you prefer to have a venue that has in-house catering, in-house bar services, all the decor, etc.?
Is there a certain style you know you want for the venue (ex: grand ballroom, seaside bed and breakfast, a forest, etc.)?
What is your budget for the venue?
DO YOUR RESEARCH: now that you have a clear vision of what you are looking for, start searching, my friend! A few places to begin:
Wedding Wire and The Knot are home to any and all (well.. maybe not all) wedding venues in the area. Their search tools allow you to filter down to a geography, budget, style, etc.
Pinterest and Instagram! These two feel a bit more chaotic during the search process, but are excellent at giving you realistic looks at the venues. This is where you can (1) learn a bit more about the "personality" of a venue and (2) see what the venue looks like in action Social media and blog posts are typically based on real weddings.. aka that is what your day could look like if you chose that venue! Hashtags will help with searching
Use your other vendors! If you booked other vendors prior to your venue, use them! They are (more than likely) local industry pros and can give you the inside scoop on nearby venues
Talk to friends, coworkers, and acquaintances! When I say your hair stylist knows all, she knows all. Learn about where other people have had their weddings, how the venue experience was from a guests' experience, how the venue experience was from an "insiders'" perspective, etc. Remember! Take all with a grain of salt and still do your own research, but it's a good starting spot
But of course, the process isn't THAAAAT easy. Do some ~desktop research~ before reaching out for an informational call. Maybe it should be called mobile research? TBD. Either way, snoop!! Some things to look for / pay close attention to:
Location: make sure that, even though the Instagram post tagged a Michigan location, the venue really is only an hour from Chicago. Does the location of this venue meet the geography you identified in step 1? If not, it may be time to move on. If not, but you are WAY TOO IN LOVE WITH THIS VENUE TO DITCH IT, loop back up to step 1. You may need to rearrange your plans :)
Location (pt 2): if you expect to have a lot of guests traveling to the wedding, link *a little bit* about their experience and the domino effect a venue choice may create. Example: February mountaintop ceremony at Deer Valley Ski Resort because that's where you and your fiancé met. In theory, a lovely choice!! In practice, your family (half of the guest list) from Sarasota, FL will have to book flights, rent cars, find accommodations in the middle of ski season, AND get Grandma up (and down) the mountain safely. This isn't to say you shouldn't do it, but do think about additional complexities a venue choice may create
Style / mood: does this venue check the boxes for all your style / mood / atmosphere needs? Venues can be versatile, but not always. Look through social media and photos of #realweddings at this venue to make sure your vision will come to life
Budget: I'm sorry.. it's the finance degree.. but if the venue lists their pricing online, please check it out (maybe even before considering the above factors). Be sure to take into consideration everything the venue may / may not come with too!
Package: in tandem with the above, read through websites and downloads to thoroughly understand what comes with the venue. This isn't to say that more is better, but rather what you need (and identified as a need in step 1) is better. If you don't need a closet full of decor, don't let that sway your decision for or against a venue. However if you know you want a clear top tent for peace of mind, there aren't other local vendors with clear top tents, and the venue has one... it is helpful to know
Reviews: I don't care if these are on Wedding Wire, Facebook, Instagram tags, Google... learn what other people are saying about this venue! On Wedding Wire and The Knot, sort from worst review to best. This allows you to quickly identify any pain points in a vendor's offering
CHAT: after completing the above two steps, you should be able to narrow down your venue options to a shortlist. Now it's time to reach out! Send a quick note to your prospective venues with your hopeful wedding date (or your hopeful month(s) and day of the week) and ask to chat / tour. Yes!! You will get to go look at your potential wedding site!!!
Fingers crossed that your shortlist of options is quick to respond, schedule time to chat, and/or schedule a tour for you. Time to prep! Venues are used to touring prospective clients, they are busy, and they have their go-to spiels. I want you to tour the venue and walk out feeling like all your questions were answered. To make sure you get the most of the time, spend some time preparing questions prior to your visit. There are tons of resources out there that share comprehensive and exhaustive lists of questions to ask (like The Knot, Brides, and Wedding Wire ). I've highlighted some of the (what I would consider to be) *key* questions, in no particular order:
Do you have vendor requirements or a list of preferred vendors?
What is the cancellation and/or postponement policy (oh thank you, Covid)?
How many hours are included in the space rental? Do we have access to the venue on days before and/or after wedding day?
Is there available (free) parking for guests?
What is the backup plan for rain or inclement weather?
Can we bring our own alcohol?
What staff do you provide day-of and what exactly is there role?
What's the bathroom situation? Enough for the guest count?
Are there any decor restrictions (i.e. no confetti, no open flames)?
Will there be other weddings here on our wedding day?
Keep in mind that it is very unlikely you find a venue that perfect checks all of your boxes. But when you have all the critical information about a venue prior to booking, you are empowered to make educated decisions about the rest of your day.
Whew! What a process! But as we determined in #part1, your venue is SO IMPORTANT in building the best day ever. Keep your needs front of mind as you narrow down to your shortlist and then start to prioritize your needs as you look at actual venues (is budget most important? Location? In-house catering?). You got this!!