Choosing a wedding venue is very special as it determines the overall atmosphere of a wedding.
It’s also the very first planning decision that a couple needs to make as every other decision depends on it.
For that reason, the process can feel pretty daunting. With so many unanswered questions it can be hard to know where to start.
But don’t worry, we’ve got you sorted. Below you’ll find key tips to help you decide.
Let’s dive in.
The prerequisite to finding a venue is knowing what you want the look and feel of your wedding to be, and a few tentative dates. Nothing definite yet.
You’re going to start making a list of potential venues. The most practical way to do this is with Google Docs (or Google Sheets) as it’s easy to share but any tool will work.
On your list, have a column for the venue name, the URL and the price. Don’t go overboard with too much information.
It’s easier to go back on a website than it is to navigate a cluttered spreadsheet. Less is more.
Use the following criteria to see whether the venues you find are suitable:
1. Venue Location
Where do you want to get married?
Establish a general area where you want your wedding reception to be. Then start searching for wedding venues in that area.
This might be your (or your partner’s) hometown, in a specific city or even abroad.
For small weddings, distance isn’t an issue. Everybody will be happy to travel for your special day. But for larger weddings, it might prevent some guests from making it.
Secondly, if you have a separate location for your wedding ceremony, make sure the reception venue isn’t too far away.
In general , a 15 to 20 minute drive is ideal. Up to an hour is acceptable but more than that isn’t great.
Lastly, consider the general practicality of the location. For example, how far will people have to travel for accommodation?
Pro-tip: To get married in Ireland, you need three months’ notice. In UK it’s 28 days. This needs to be done in person, at a civil registration service and it applies to all civil, religious and secular weddings.
2. Wedding Budget
What is your budget?
There is no point looking at venues that are out of your price range. It’s just a waste of time.
By searching online, you should be able to find a price (or a price range) for most venues.
Depending on the venue, they might quote a single price for the room or a price per head. If the later is a case, make an estimate of the total amount and add it to your venue list.
As a rule of thumb, the catering and the venue represents half (or just over half) of your total wedding costs.
3. Venue Capacity
How many guests are you planning to have?
You don’t need an exact guest list yet but you do need a ballpark figure. Take some time to make a headcount of your family and friends.
This quick calculation will determine the size of the venues you need to look at.
Try to find venues with a capacity that matches your guest list as closely as possible.
You don’t want the room to look empty nor do you want to make your guests feel cramped.
Pro-tip: Unless you’re planning a very small wedding, as a rule of thumb, 20% of your guests won’t be able to make it.
4. Venue Catering
Who’s in charge of the catering?
How the catering is done, is entirely dependent on the venue. However, there are three main options:
Onsite catering. This is when the venue does the catering themselves. In UK and Ireland, this is very common. It requires less planning on your part but you don’t get to choose the provider.
Preferred Partner. This is when the catering is done by a “preferred partner” in which case the venue will impose a caterer. Again, it’s less planning for you but you don’t get to choose.
Offsite catering. This is when the venue doesn’t plan any of the catering. You’ll have to find a supplier yourself. You don’t need to do one just yet but you do want to make sure they have the right facilities for them.
From our experience, this information isn’t always available online. You’ll probably have to contact the venues directly to know.
Pro-tip: As a rule of thumb, If a venue quotes you a price per head, they provide onsite catering.
5. Venue Availability
Is the venue available?
Call or email the venue to see when they’re available. Does this suit you? If it doesn’t there is no point researching this venue any more.
Obviously, the more flexible you are with dates, the easier it will be to find the perfect venue.
Starting early is also important. How early you need to start, depends entirely on where the wedding is.
Usually, a year in advance is the minimum. In UK and Ireland, for key dates, bookings are often made two years in advance.
Next Step In-Person
Now that you’ve added some venues to your list (12 to 15 is plenty), it’s time to find the perfect one.
From your list, pick 4 or 5 venues you initially like the best and book a tour.
The objective is to see all the different spaces first hand and to get an idea of how things are usually done in different venues.
Don’t plan more than five initial visits. It gets confusing.
In addition, if you’ve narrowed your selection according to your expectations, it’s likely that you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Get a clipboard and go on your first venue tour. Use the following criteria to see whether the venue is suitable:
Pro-tip: It’s worth having a checklist of questions you want answered.
6. Venue Style
Very simply, do you like it?
What is your first impression? Does the venue suit the style of wedding you want to host? Does it have the look and feel you want?
If you have an immediate love of a venue, then your search is done.
Check to make sure it’s suitable from a practical point of view, then place your booking.
However, feel no obligation to sign the contract during your first visit. If you aren’t sure, take some time to think it through.
List out the pros and cons and talk through them as a couple… Remember choosing a wedding venue is a very personal thing.
7. Space & Layout
What space will be available to you?
Apart from the main room where the dinner will be held, what space do they provide you with?
For example, can you use the outside area for the reception? Do they have a separate space for the kid’s to play and eat? Is there a dance floor for after dinner? etc
Some venues rent out the entire space at every wedding, while others rent out each space individually. The latter is usually to keep the cost down at the more expensive venues.
What facilities do they provide?
Check to see what amenities and equipment they provide for weddings. Do these meet your needs?
For example, will you have access to a kitchen? Is there a parking lot for all of your guests?
What isn’t allowed?
Some restrictions are area or country-specific while others are venue specific. For that reason, it’s worth checking ahead of time what is and isn’t allowed.
There are a few things to consider:
Decorations. Will you be able to decorate the venue as you wish? If you’re hoping to have candles, ask about that specifically! Fire isn’t always allowed.
Entertainment. At what time does the music need to stop? Is there a sound limiter in the room?
Drinks. If they are in charge of the drinks, at what time will close the bar?
That’s a Wrap
Based on these criteria you should be able to choose the perfect venue for your wedding.
Once you’ve signed the venue contract, you’ll have completed your wedding’s biggest planning decision.
We hope you enjoy your time planning and you have a great wedding.
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