Finding the perfect wedding venue is one of the most exciting parts of the planning process. It’s also one of the most important decisions you’ll make leading up to your wedding day, so don’t book the first place you fall in love with during a quick internet search. Instead, take the time to discuss every consideration with your partner. Everything from guest count to time of year can play a role in narrowing down potential venues. Work together to create that vision for your big day, using our comprehensive checklist for choosing the right place to say “I do.”
Define Your Wedding Venue Needs
Searching for your dream wedding venue is undeniably fun, but first there are a few important decisions to make. These considerations will streamline your venue search and ensure you end up with a space that meets all your needs.
- Create your guest list. A crucial first step in finding the right wedding venue is making a guest list. Doing this before going on site visits can prevent a major headache, as you’ll have a realistic idea of how many people your venue will need to accommodate.
- Determine the wedding budget. Once you have an overall price point and a firm guest count, you can break it down even further. Decide how much of your budget will go toward the venue, food and drink, decor, attire, and other elements of the wedding. Having a budget also ensures you don’t waste time touring venues that are outside of your range.
- Consider accessibility needs. To ensure your guests’ experiences are positive, consider venues that would meet the accessibility needs of everyone in attendance. If some of your guests would have trouble navigating stairs or rough terrain, for example, you could strike those potential venues from your list. This thoughtfulness can go a long way in making everyone feel welcome on your big day.
- Discuss time of year. The time of year you get married could influence your budget and inform the type of venue available in your desired location. Not everyone is open to an outdoor wedding during an East Coast winter, for example, but if you’re flexible on the season you might find surprisingly affordable venues in destinations like New York City.
- Set your wedding date. Many venues book up months or even years in advance. Before spending too much time on a venue search, settle on a wedding date. Unless this is a non-negotiable, it’s wise to also have one or two back-up options. Once you know your date, you can save yourself time by confirming a venue is available before seeing it in person.
- Select a wedding style. Do you want a boho wedding? Something traditional, or maybe rustic? Not all wedding venues will be a fit for your aesthetic, so answers to these questions can simplify your search for the ideal space.
Determine the Wedding Venue Location
To help narrow down the many different venue types available, first decide the general location where you want to pledge your love. Here are the three primary options to consider during the wedding planning process.
- Local wedding. If simplifying planning and minimizing cost sounds like a dream, having a local wedding might be for you. This type of location eliminates travel expenses and makes it easy for you to view potential venues after work or on weekends. You can also lean on your local knowledge for a head start on choosing other wedding elements like caterers and accommodations for out-of-town guests.
- Hometown wedding. Fill your nuptials with nostalgia by planning a hometown wedding. This is an ideal choice if you or your partner feel deeply connected to the area where you were raised. It’s an added bonus if many friends and family members still live in town, as they won’t need to travel and can help with preparations leading up to the big day.
- Destination wedding. Couples with a small guest list or those wanting their day to feel like a vacation should consider a destination wedding. This type of wedding allows you to get away with your nearest and dearest and share special experiences in a beautiful location.
Decide on a Type of Wedding Venue
Once you’ve settled on your number of guests, budget, wedding style and location, you’re ready to start on your venue search. From the classic country club to a contemporary museum, here are the general types of venues you’ll have to choose from.
- Traditional venue. Hotel ballrooms, country clubs and churches top the list when it comes to traditional wedding venues. If you’re planning to host a reception as well, keep in mind that spaces such as churches often require that you provide your own decor and food, or celebrate the reception elsewhere. Hotels and bed and breakfasts can typically provide catering and an on-site reception venue.
- All-inclusive venue. Make wedding planning a whole lot easier by selecting an all-inclusive venue. The benefit to this type of venue is that your ceremony and reception are included in the package, along with a wedding planner, catering, flowers, decor and entertainment. In some cases, all-inclusive venues also provide overnight accommodations and other upgrades.
- Banquet halls at resorts. If you’re opting for a destination wedding, but still want a traditional venue, you might consider a banquet hall. Many resorts in popular destination wedding locations, like Hawaii, have a range of banquet halls located on expansive properties that offer no shortage of places to exchange vows. Find inspiration in this list of top Oahu wedding venues.
- Non-traditional venues. Let your personality pop on your special day. You can find a dream venue in the most unlikely places, from sports stadiums and zoos to bars and barrel rooms like the Nouveau Antique Art Bar in Houston or Dogpatch Wine Works in San Francisco. Before committing to this type of venue, do consider the logistics of non-traditional outdoor spaces. If weddings aren’t typically held there, you might have a hard time with amenities such as a catering kitchen, bathrooms or even electrical hookups.
- Art gallery or museum. A popular option for many couples who are art, science or history lovers is to say “I do” in a cultural institution. These types of venues usually offer an open floor plan and unique aesthetic, and are often skilled at hosting events. Plus, exhibits and artwork can provide stunning backdrops without the need for much additional decor.
Find and Vet Wedding Venue Options
Once you have a general sense of the type of venue you prefer, it’s time to focus on some additional factors that will make booking the right wedding venue a more seamless experience.
- Wedding planner. Hiring an expert in the location where you’ll be tying the knot can make finding a venue a lot more enjoyable. In the early stages of planning your wedding day, this specialist can be similar to a real estate agent — just tell them what you’re looking for in a venue and they’ll create a curated list of options that fit the bill.
- Reception venue. As you’re searching for a place to conduct your wedding ceremony, remember that you’ll need a reception venue as well, if you plan on having one. Some venues only accommodate ceremonies, while others have a separate on-site reception space. You might also find venues that have an area for wedding guests to enjoy cocktail hour while the ceremony site is reset for a reception.
- Site visits. When it’s time to tour your top choices, map out each venue and book your appointments based on a time-saving travel route. For example, you can view the venues in the north part of town in the morning and head south in the afternoon. Before you go, create a list of questions for each venue coordinator to ensure you leave the site visits with all the information you need to make a well-informed decision.
- Catering. If your reception involves food, discussing catering options with a venue is essential. While some offer an in-house catering team, others have a preferred vendor list or will give you access to their catering kitchen. If your heart is set on a particular vendor, cross off any venues that can’t accommodate them. For venues with an in-house caterer, ask in advance if you can organize a tasting during your site visit.
- Extra amenities. Make a list of extra amenities you’d like in a wedding venue, such as a dance floor, a state-of-the-art sound system, or special rooms for getting ready.
Sign the Contract
Our top tip regarding contracts is to carefully check the cancellation policy before signing on the dotted line. Reviewing this fine print before making a final decision can offer peace of mind as you enter the planning process. It’s also one of the best ways to ensure you don’t lose out on a significant amount of money if you or your partner get sick, or wedding guests can’t safely reach the venue because of travel restrictions. For many couples, it’s a non-negotiable for their wedding venue to have a flexible cancellation policy that honors the unpredictable dynamics of today’s world.