While each and every wedding-related decision plays a part in crafting your big day, there are a few choices that make a bigger impact than others. One of the biggest? Your venue. Your party space has the ability to set your wedding’s tone, which is why choosing your site wisely is absolutely imperative. No pressure, right?
Choosing a venue will be one of the first wedding planning moves you make, so you’ll likely want to kick off your search on the earlier side. But it all comes down to your personal preference. “If you are particular when it comes to the venue, the earlier the better,” says Wendy Kay of Birds of a Feather Events. “Great venues get booked up 12-18 months in advance, so the sooner you get started the more likely you are to snag your first choice—that goes with all of your vendors.”
Speaking of timelines, what comes first? Picking a wedding date or choosing a venue? It ultimately depends on what is more important to you—getting married during a particular time of year or nabbing the venue of your dreams.
Lynn Easton of Easton Events suggests going into the venue search with two ranges of dates—ones that work (a favorite season, perhaps!) and ones that don’t (holidays or other conflicting family events you’d like to avoid)—if your timeline takes precedent. But according to Gold Leaf Events’ Kate Ryan and Chelsea Dillon, the majority of couples choose a venue first. “Once you have a location, the date will follow based on availability,” they explain. “If a date is selected first, we’ve found clients limit their venue options drastically.”
Some couples scout two different types of venues: one for their ceremony and one for their reception. While others stick with just one (it’s easier on both your budget and your guests!), plenty—including those tying the knot at a place of worship says Tara Guérard of Tara Guérard Soirée—require two.
Location & transportation
Beyond a destination wedding—where some element of travel is built into the event—you’ll want to be aware of your venue’s accessibility. With two locations, what’s the difference and travel from one place to the next. Make sure you build that travel time into your day-of planning schedule.
Also check to make sure there’s enough space to park cars – without your attendees having to walk a mile from your ceremony site and back. Are there are hotels nearby for out of town guests?
Your Personal Style
For event planner Calder Clark, choosing a space that “meshes with your vision” is priority number one. Ultimately, your venue’s style comes down to personal preference—and who you are as a bride. Classic fiancées often gravitate towards indoor venues, like hotels, ballrooms, and country clubs, says Sloane. Are you planning an event ripe with rustic décor? Easton recommends an outdoor, in-bloom garden or a winery with panoramic views. Bohemian brides are the most likely to create their own venue, explains Kay. “They usually choose wide open spaces and build a venue from scratch with string lights defining the space.”
Capacity limits can make or break a venue—you obviously can’t cram 300 people into a space that’s designed to accommodate 150. The reverse is just as problematic, says Clark. “The biggest mistake we see clients almost make is actually picking an oversized space for their guest count, meaning they’ll have to spend a fortune to make it feel full and intimate.” If you’re booking a ceremony and a reception space, make sure that both can fit your total guest count.
While designating a specific portion of your budget to your venue isn’t always a science (“I’ve seen venue fees range from $2,500 to $30,000, depending on location,” says Fitzgerald), the average couple allocates around 10-15% on average, explains Sloane. “But it could be up to 20% or more if the venue includes anything.”
Which brings us to venue packages! Some sites don’t provide full service—think catering, bar, and staffing—which typically results in a lower-cost package (this is best for duos on a budget, says Kay, since you’ll be able to search for lower-cost outside vendors to fill in the gaps!). If your venue package includes the works, expect to put forward about 40-50% of your budget to cover all costs. To make sure you’re getting the most bang for that major buck, be sure to inquire about “food and beverage minimums, site fees, and other billable components could play a pertinent role in your venue selection process,” say Ryan and Dillon.
Meaning, does your venue provide one in the case of an emergency? “If a planner isn’t handling this for you, you’ll want to confirm a cancellation policy in case something happens to the venue ahead of the big day,” says Guérard, especially if you’re tying the knot at a location that may experience natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, or blizzards. It’s much less extreme, but you’ll want to confirm a venue’s ability to successfully execute a rain plan, as well.