As we come out of engagement season, it's officially time to dive into wedding planning, and let me tell y'all — I'm scared. Wedding planning is daunting and can get oddly competitive, especially if you want a late summer/early fall wedding. For me, the easiest way to soothe my anxiety and prevent bridezilla-itis was to lock down a wedding venue asap. My fiancé and I wrote down a list of qualities we definitely wanted in a venue, which is essentially our wedding's home, and began our search. Once we got to the touring stage, we were overwhelmed and very obviously green. Thankfully, we had a few helpful venue tour guides and by the time we settled on our venue (and put down that initial terrifying deposit), we were pros. So, my dear wedding planners, I impart my wisdom to you — here is everything you'll definitely want to as you search for you your wedding venue.
Most venues will list their maximums on sites like Wedding Wire and The Knot, but it can be trickier to find their minimums. Many venues will have a minimum guest count or a minimum food and beverage spend, so definitely ask! If you're planning to have a small wedding make sure you find a venue that will allow for a small guest count so you don't end up having to pay extra for non-existent guests. On the flip side, if you're planning to have a giant wedding, make sure your dream venue can hold all your friends and family before you go visit and fall in love. This is also a great time to ask about additional fees and taxes — many venues will have a 20% admin fee and a small percentage of state tax, so make sure to include that in your budget.
After you have your guest count squared away, this is the next question you have to ask your potential venue. Some venues will offer you a full service of catering, linens, chairs, insurance, decorations, etc, and some venues will be more DIY. It's best to ask this question before you put down a pricey deposit so you know if you'll have to spend extra on making sure your guests have forks and knives and a place to sit. This is also a good time to ask about any add-ons that might cost more money. Many venues will have ceremony spaces, additional lighting, bar options, and other upgrades for an additional fee.
Whether they're exclusive vendors or just preferred, ask your venue about vendors such as DJs/bands, caterers, tent rentals, and photographers. Some venues will require that you use their specific vendors and others will be looser with your choices. Either way, getting their list of vendors will help you put together all the pieces of your wedding and can often provide you with vendors that are already familiar with the ins and outs of your space.
Food & Drink
Your guests will be spending upwards of six hours celebrating your love, so you'll probably want to feed and water (and/or alcohol) them. Find out what your venue does for food — do they offer passed hors d'oeuvres, a buffet, a plated meal, or a combination? Will they pass out cocktails at your cocktail hour or is it bar service only? Do they offer customizable bar packages or are they set in stone? Do they do an open bar, cash bar, or consumption bar, or do you get to choose? Do they make cakes in-house or will you need to bring one in? This is also a good time to ask about tastings since you'll definitely want to test out the food and drink before serving.
This may seem like a weird question but ask about the floors — especially if you're having any type of outdoor celebration. You'll want to let your guests know if they need to wear terrain-appropriate shoes for a farm or beach wedding or if they can whip out their stilettos for the hardwood floors of a hotel. You'll also want to ask if they have a designated dance floor or if you'll need to bring one in/add a floor on (especially for outdoor weddings!).
Ask your venue if they have on-site lodging either for the wedding party or your entire guest list, and if they don't, ask for their recommended hotels and bed and breakfasts. You'll want to make sure your guests can stay closeby without a lot of hassle, especially if you're having a large wedding. This is also a good time to ask if there are any accessibility issues you should make guests aware of, such as a lot of stairs, steep hills, or difficult acoustics.
Many older venues don't have a lot of parking, so ask your venue if their parking space can handle all your guests and vendors or if you'll need to provide a shuttle bus to the ceremony and party. Some venues may even require you to hire a shuttle if you have a large guest count. If this is the case, make sure you find out their favorite shuttle company as they'll often have deals with local companies.
Sharing The Venue
Some venues do morning weddings and evening weddings, some do one venue a day, and some do only one a weekend. You'll definitely want to ask if you'll be sharing the venue so you can coordinate timing with your vendors and guests. This can also help you make a decision when choosing your venue if you have a strong preference for having the space to yourself.
Values And Ethics
Make sure your values and ethics align with your venue. If you'll be having a religious or culturally-specific wedding, make sure your venue is set up to accommodate your needs (for example, the venue I chose has a chuppah, a necessity for a Jewish wedding). For me, it was really important to find a venue that was comfortable with my queerness. I'm a woman marrying a woman and though it's 2020, not every venue we toured felt comfortable with our queerness or could ensure that our queerness wouldn't be an issue with outside vendors. You can usually get a feel for a venue and its staff while getting a tour, but just in case, it's always good to ask the harder questions to make sure the space holding your special day deserves to witness your love.