You can't have a wedding without the perfect space to host the event, which is why understanding how to select a wedding venue is a crucial component of wedding planning. Whether you've dreamed of a destination wedding at a resort or an at-home wedding in your backyard, settling on a wedding location and the perfect wedding venue needs to happen before you get too far along in the planning process.
What is a Wedding Venue?
Simply put, your wedding venue is the place where your wedding takes place. Some venues host both the couple's ceremony and reception, while other to-be-weds opt for two wedding venues, one for the wedding ceremony and another spot for the reception. Wedding venues are not one-size-fits-all so it's important to understand what type of space you need for your big day and what options are available to you for your wedding day.
Tips for Finding Your Dream Wedding Venue
These must-know tips will help you sort through the noise of venue options and select a dream venue that'll be the perfect fit for your big day.
Talk With Your Wedding Planner
Your wedding planner will be an invaluable resource throughout the planning process, especially as you wade through wedding venue ideas early on. As the pros, they'll understand non-negotiables to be on the lookout for. They'll also be able to help you see how your wedding style could come to life in a potential space.
Amber Anderson, the event-planning pro at the helm of Refine for Wedding Planners, emphasizes the couples need to "first and foremost, book a planner before your wedding venue to help ensure that your vision fits the space. I cannot tell you how many times a couple has hired me after booking their venue only to realize the space simply does not work for their priorities. Planners know how to look at risk from all angles and can present considerations like permitting and cost for tents and other elements you may need. You also need to consider the guest experience and ease of transportation and distance, the angle of the sun in their eyes if outdoors, and ample space to avoid lines and congestion—these are all considerations that'll be top-of-mind for a planner."
Finalize a Budget and General Location
Your wedding budget and the location where you want to tie the knot will greatly affect the wedding venue you ultimately select. Having an understanding of what you can afford and where to focus your search will ensure the process of selecting a wedding venue is as seamless as possible.
Additionally, while you don't need to know your exact wedding date prior to booking a venue, as a venue's availability will greatly affect the date you select, you should have a grasp on the time of year you'd like to tie the knot. Some seasonal venues, especially outdoor wedding sites, may be closed during certain times of year and could be off the table for your wedding.
- Understand Your Vibe and Aesthetic
Without an understanding of the wedding style and aesthetic you're dreaming of, you won't be able to find a venue that aligns with your plans. If you're hoping to have an ultra-glam wedding with lots of acrylic and mirrored details, then a rustic farm may not be the way to go. Conversely, a classic hotel ballroom or contemporary art museum won't be a fit if you and your partner love the outdoors and want your guests to dine under the stars.
- Understand the Types of Venues Available and What's Included
Some wedding venues are all-inclusive—they are both a ceremony and reception venue, plus they provide rentals, catering and A/V materials. However, some spots are more bare, offering just a blank slate where you'll need to bring in many of your own rentals and details (many outdoor venues and beach wedding venues sometimes fall under this category).
Leah Weinberg, owner of Color Pop Events, emphasizes that to-be-weds "need to have a solid understanding of what is included with the venue and what you have to bring in. For example, the venue fee itself may work with your budget, but when you find out that there's no in-house furniture or no kitchen for the caterer and all of that has to be rented, that's going to be thousands of dollars more that you're responsible for. I've definitely had clients who brought me in after they booked their venue, and we ended up having to double their budget because when they booked the space, they didn't have a good grasp on what other costs would be associated with it. Unfortunately, venues are not always forthcoming with that information or forthcoming about what size budgets they usually work with, so it's going to be your responsibility to ask the pointed questions and do your own research."
- Know Your Guest List
Without a clear understanding of your guest count, you won't be able to adequately select a wedding venue that can accommodate your number of guests. Imagine booking a small and intimate space, only to discover later that your guest count is going to be close to 300 people. In order to save yourself from running into those sorts of issues, it's important to settle on the number of guests you plan to invite prior to a final decision about your wedding venue.
- Consider the Guests' Experience
From the time they arrive until they depart at the end of the night, what will the guests' experience be like? From temperature concerns and ample stairs to the presence of easy-to-find bathrooms, think of the things that will make being a guest at your wedding a comfortable and seamless experience.
- Tour Potential Venues
Site visits, ideally with your wedding planner in tow, are always a good idea. If you book a wedding venue site unseen you may run into surprise later that you would've been made aware of had you simply booked a site visit.
Sometimes other wedding vendors may wish to partake in a site visit as well. For example, your photographer may wish to scout out the space to find the best spots for taking wedding photos. Meanwhile, the floral designer may need to see the space to gain an understanding of rigging options. While these visits could certainly take place prior to booking, they're less central to the venue search and booking decision and could always take place once the venue contract has been signed.
- Make Sure it Has Backup Options
While this is absolutely a must for outdoor venues, it's also good to get a grasp of how many different options and layout are available at indoor venues as well. Inevitably, there will be something here or there that doesn't go to plan, so having a venue with ample plan B, C and D options is definitely a plus.
- Understand How Load-in and Breakdown Will Work
Many hotel venues have freight elevators that make load-in convenient, but they may also only allow a few hours for your vendors to get everything set up. On the flip side, accessing more rustic venues may be a bit more challenging, but if it's a remote space they may be willing to allow for more load-in time.
Additionally, ask about breakdown and whether an after-hours fee will be charged if your vendors don't have everything wrapped up by a certain time. Ultimately, knowledge is power and you want to consider all the minutiae before signing on the dotted line.
- Consider Parking and Accommodation Options
Do you have a lot of out-of-town guests? If so, distance from a potential venue to hotels and other accommodations needs to be considered. Additionally, the general accessibility of the venue should be thought through. If it's a farm that only have a long dirt driveway, how will guests get to the venue? Will you offer shuttles or will guests be able to drive and park? The flow of the night, from arrival to departure, should be thought through at length.
- Read Reviews
A great way to get a sense for a venue is to hear what other couples have to say and how their weddings at a given space went.
- Trust Your Gut
Dana Kadwell, owner of North Carolina-based wedding venue The Bradford, notes that while "venue shopping can be stressful, it can also be a ton of fun envisioning your day with your partner. Trust your gut. You will know when you are standing in the space that you are going to celebrate the start of a wonderful life with your person."