One of the first steps on a couple’s journey to “I do” is to find the perfect wedding venue for their big day. But with hundreds of options at your fingertips, it can be an overwhelming decision to pick the setting for the lifelong memories you’ll share with your loved ones. Rustic barn or modern gallery? Large and glamorous or small and intimate? All-inclusive or fully customizable? The options are limitless, so it requires careful planning on your part to ensure it’s a fit for your wedding.
Fortunately, we asked industry experts to weigh in on the key factors to consider when researching, touring, and selecting your dream wedding venue — and here’s everything you need to keep in mind to make a smart choice.
Consider your budget and venue preference
Before anything else, sit down with your partner to discuss your budget and how much you’re willing to spend on a venue. Be mindful that there are plenty of other expenses to come! “Don’t make the mistake that many couples do and make yourself ‘venue poor,’” urges Nikki Golden Photography’s Nikki Golden. “Your wedding venue should only be about 40-50% of your budget if the venue is including catering.”
Golden continues: “Couples also need to decide if they’d like to go for a more “all-inclusive” type of venue, or if they want to book a “blank slate” type of venue and bring in all of their own rentals, catering, and vendors. All-inclusive venues are certainly the least stressful way to go, but some couples would rather go for a venue that doesn’t include other vendors, so they can piece together their perfect wedding day team.”
Estimate your guest count
Next, you must consider the size of your ideal venue to ensure you don’t overfill or underfill the space. While it’s pretty simple to determine when a venue is too small for your guest count, spaces that are too large can feel cavernous and impersonal.
“If couples are going into the venue booking process without their guest count, it could make things challenging,” confirms Bri Marbais of The Bridal Finery. “A lot of the time, venues will have guest count capacities or minimums. Being aware of their guest count when booking a venue will allow couples to plan logistics and details within their space.”
Factor in your must-haves
Every couple has a few things they can’t picture their wedding without, whether it’s an all-night dance party or a luxurious bar and lounge setup. Use these as your focus points when starting the venue hunt, as suggested by Marissa McLeod of The Treasury on the Plaza and Lightner Museum: “Make a list of non-negotiables before contacting venues!”
McLeod offers up a few questions to consider: “Do you need to stay within a specific budget? Is having a huge dance floor to accommodate your party-loving guests important to you? Do you absolutely have to work with a specific wedding planner? Any “must-haves” should be discussed in your initial conversations with potential venues, so you can narrow down the options that best suit your needs.”
Consult with your wedding planner
Of course, a wedding planner can help you make important decisions and navigate every step of the planning process from the very beginning. Nora Sheils of Bridal Bliss and Rock Paper Coin recommends finding a planner before your venue: “A wedding planner should be your first booking! He/she/they will guide you through the entire planning process starting from beginning to end. Many have unadvertised venues in their back pockets and negotiated discounted rates with vendors so the sooner you book, the sooner you save not only money but also your sanity!”
Sheils continues: “I highly suggest bringing her/him/they with you for a site walk. They can give you setup suggestions and help with the overall vision of the day as you walk through the space together. They may have some advice and suggestions you may not have considered that at the end of the could make what was considered the perfect space not viable or vice versa.”
Assess your onsite venue contact
Whether you have a planner or not, your venue contact will play a significant role throughout the planning process — especially on the big day itself. Jamie Chang of Mango Muse Events cautions against venues without a point of contact: “The venue is a huge part of the wedding and, if you don’t have someone onsite to go to with venue-related questions, it can be a bit of an issue come wedding day. If something goes wrong at the venue or vendors need help with someone, you need someone on site who knows the venue to be able to manage that portion of things.”
Timeless Event Planning’s Sandy Brooks adds: “You will also want to ensure that this point of contact is responsive. If they take several weeks to send over a contract or respond to your initial inquiry, know this will most likely be how the entire wedding process will go.”
Make sure the timing adds up
Your wedding weekend is a feat of logistical coordination, so it’s vital to ensure your preferred vendor can accommodate your vision in a reasonable time. Otherwise, you may end up sacrificing important elements of your wedding simply.
Tonya Hoopes of Hoopes Events elaborates: “How many hours do you have for the set-up, wedding festivities, and tear down? If you are planning to have a large floral or decor installation, does your venue allow enough set-up time for this installation to happen? Do you have enough time in your allotted hours to get ready at the venue? If you want to include a lengthy dance party, do you have enough hours to do so? Ensuring you understand the time you have at the venue and how it works with your plans will ensure your wedding day runs smoothly.”
Inquire about contingency plans
From rain and snow to COVID and power outages, risk is inevitable when planning a wedding — so you need to confirm that your venue has backup plans to mitigate the impact of an unexpected issue.
“At a minimum, a couple must understand the inclement weather plan (note, I didn’t just say “rain”) and be okay with it,” states Amber Anderson of Refine for Wedding Planners. “As much as we’d all like to think we are special and won’t have an issue, I’ve done weddings in every imaginable condition. No one is immune here and you may not love it, but you certainly don’t want to outright hate it. Knowing the cost to dress up the inclement weather plan is important and something to ask about as well.
Be mindful of parking space
Often overlooked but always essential, adequate parking is crucial for a comfortable and accessible guest experience. Jaclyn Watson of Jaclyn Watson Events confirms: “Something that a venue should always have for couples is a parking area where guests can easily park. Another must-have is accessibility for guests that are handicapped or unable to climb stairs.”
Otherwise, you will need to budget for guest transportation, as Bellwether Events’ Janice Carnevale suggests: “If there is not enough parking, or if your venue isn’t walkable from your hotel blocks, you will need to budget for either buses or valet service. Yes, Uber and Lyft can be very easy these days for younger guests to use, but consider whether the city of your venue will actually have ample ride-sharing options at 11 pm at night – more suburban and exurban areas struggle with this.”
Check out the getting-ready spaces
The spaces where you and your partner will get ready should feel comfortable and allow you to shrug off the nerves leading up to the ceremony. Plus, expect your photographer to take shots of the wedding party’s preparation so you’ll want a nice backdrop for that!
“Ready rooms are an important thing for couples to see while on the tour for a possible wedding venue,” affirms Shannon Tarrant of WeddingVenueMap.com. “Depending upon the size and the makeup of the wedding party, the space might not accommodate everything that they need. Getting-ready spaces should be relaxed and provide the ability to listen to music and for snacks and drinks.”
Evaluate the restrooms
Last but certainly not least, check the state of the restrooms while touring venues. After all, they’ll likely be the most-used facilities during your wedding! Laura Maddox of Magnolia Celebrates, explains: “People often overlook the restrooms. Do you have 150 people coming and just two stalls in the ladies’ room? Think back to your college bar days — this is going to cause some very unglamorous ramifications once people start their cocktail hour.”
Maddox continues: “Additionally, are they setting the same tone for the event that you want? Are you having a black-tie event with restrooms that are more akin to a concert venue? I know it’s not a pretty subject but it’s something to consider.”
While these ten tips will help you settle on the right venue for your celebration, remember that there’s much more to your wedding than its location!
Cathy O’Connell of COJ Events encourages couples to be flexible, adding: “At the end of the day, the best weddings are about the people and the experience – not about the stuff. Your guests will never know the venues you considered, they will only know the one they are coming to and it’s going to be wonderful as it’s YOUR wedding!”
And to wrap up with a very important reminder from Anderson: “Marriage is more important than the party, or where it’s held. Find a great space, and work around the thing that didn’t make the wishlist, it will still be one of the most incredible days of your life! But only you can control that, your headspace being what leads the way!”
The venue you find will undoubtedly serve to provide meaningful experiences and lasting memories, which is ultimately what matters most!
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.