A Perfect Venue for Your Vision
Maybe you have been dreaming of getting married under a giant Texas Live Oak or on a Kentucky horse farm since you were a little girl. Maybe you haven't considered where you plan to get married at all and are overwhelmed by the options. Read on for pro tips on choosing the perfect venue for your style and budget in the second post of our wedding planning blog series. If you missed the previous post, click here to check it out. You need a strong foundation in place before you start making big decisions.
Consider Your Wedding Style
Have you really thought about your wedding style? We are going to have an in-depth post next week diving deep into all things style-related from linens and flowers to china and stationery, but for now, just think of the things you love, your hobbies and places that bring you happiness. Most weddings can fit within one of five categories and each category fits with
certain venue types. Go with what feels right for your vision, but here is a table to make it easy if you have an idea on what your wedding style is.
What if you don't have an idea on what your wedding style is? Your wedding should be a reflection of you two as a couple and your joint style. Avoid choosing a style based on trends which change every year by looking through your closet and at activities the two of you enjoy together to find a venue. For example, if you love going to wine dinners and fine dining, a classic, romantic wedding in a ballroom or vineyard might be right up your alley. If two-stepping in boots and bottled beer is your idea of a party, I see a barn wedding in your future. Trendy colors and tattoos shout bohemian bride and a beautiful industrial space full of color and texture. If you’re boujie and you know it, opt for a modern dance party in an upscale hotel or museum.
In addition, consider which seasons you two love. Some venues can fit with most styles, particularly outdoor venues, but not every season. Hint: If you love winter, choose an indoor venue. Guests have more fun when they aren’t frozen. You can still have gorgeous portraits in the snow while everyone else is comfortable inside. Outdoor summer weddings are popular and while I don’t mind the heat, take into consideration that wedding dresses and tuxedos are hot for temps over 80 degrees. Spring or fall may be better options for Aleks fresco events.
Keep Your Budget in Mind
The best way to stay on budget is to steer clear of looking at venues outside of your budget. Begin by making a list of venues that fit within your style that you have found online at reputable places for reviews like The Knot, been to an event at or have found in magazines (Kentucky Bride is my Kentucky favorite and Brides of Austin is my top Texas pick). There are tons of beautiful venues in every state. I personally feel that a list of 15-20 venues is a good start.
Don’t forget your budget. Our last post covered wedding budgets and we try to allot 17% of the overall wedding budget for venues. If the ceremony and reception are in one place, that simplifies things. If you’re getting married in one location such as a church and plan to have the reception at a separate location, the combined costs need to be within your budget. Here is what that looks like:
$10,000 Wedding - Ceremony & Reception Venue(s) $1700
$20,000 Wedding - Ceremony & Reception Venue(s) $3400
$35,000 Wedding - Ceremony & Reception Venue(s) $5950
$50,000 Wedding - Ceremony & Reception Venue(s) $8500
$75,000 Wedding - Ceremony & Reception Venue(s) $12,750
$100,000 Wedding - Ceremony & Reception Venue(s) $17,000
The hard part is emailing these venues. Have you created an email account just for your wedding yet? Now is the time to do so unless you have hired a planner. In the case of brides with full service event planners, your planner will contact the venues on your list and should have some helpful suggestions on venues that fit with your style and may be within your budget. While day of coordinators will not email all of your potential vendors for you, they can offer helpful suggestions as well. Email each venue and request pricing, a list of amenities such as the number if any on table and chairs, capacity and a list of rules or contract. Some venues may be hesitant to send you this information via email without having you tour the venue, but there is no sense in spending time and gas visiting a venue you may fall in love with but cannot afford or that doesn’t begin to fit your needs.
For best results, email. Emailing is the preferred and professional method of communication within the wedding industry. By strictly communicating through emails, you will have written documentation of everything discussed. Calling is fine, but emailing is better. Avoid messaging venues or vendors through sites such as The Knot with the automated messages asking for pricing information. You need more information than just pricing and no one takes automated emails seriously. Visit individual websites and either email through their site or email them directly. You will find that some venue and vendor websites are awesome and have all of the information you are seeking listed which saves you time.
If you’re on a tighter budget, you might have to get creative. Do not rule out off season dates or non-weekend days of the week and venue options such as restaurants, public parks or lakes with pavilions with covered space and bathrooms. Most cities and churches have meeting spaces and halls available for a fraction of the cost of traditional wedding venues. Proximity to the city or town you hope to marry in does matter as delivery charges for vendors traveling outside of the city limits and hotel/transportation costs can add up, but many times venues outside of metropolitan areas are more affordable overall and small town vendors likely have better prices because their business overhead is lower. Many couples consider hosting their wedding on private property and having a tent. Tents are beautiful; tents are never cheaper. If you are a bride on a budget also be sure you are looking at venues that include tables and chairs.
Once you have email replies from venues and you can rule out those that are over budget, take things a step further and rule out those that cannot hold the guests you expect to have in attendance. The rule of thumb is that 80% of invited guests will attend your wedding, but this does not hold true for weddings of couples who have very carefully planned their guest lists only inviting their closest friends and family. If your guest list is made up of only your nearest and dearest, you are likely to have a higher attendance, so plan accordingly.
Just because a venue can hold more guests or has more tables and chairs, you do not have to add more guests. Do not increase your guest count to fill a venue unless you have thousands of dollars on hand to cover increased costs of everything else involved. On the contrary, if you are in love with a venue and everything fits but the number of guests, cut the guest list. Less is always more when it comes to guest count.
Contracts & Additional Costs
Over the years I have found that many couples just don’t read their contracts and this can lead to thousands of dollars in additional costs putting them well over budget. The most important things to watch:
Rental Hours & Venue Access - Most wedding venues rent in 10-12 hour blocks, so if you have found a venue within budget that offers full day rentals or even weekend rentals, you are in luck. Be sure to ask what exact hours are included. Keep in mind that the average wedding take 2-4 hours to install decor and an average of 4 hours of overlapping time for hair and makeup (unless you are planning for off-site hair and makeup), 4 hours for photos prior to guests arriving, 5 hours from guest arrival to departure and 1-2 hours for clean up. This means a minimum of 12 hours on site are required. If there are not enough hours included, ask how much each additional hour is. Tents require 8-12 hours to install. If you plan on bringing in tables, chairs, bars, lighting, furniture or large rentals, plan on late night pick up fees which typically are $300-$500 unless it is written in your venue contract that rentals can be picked up the following weekday and that there will not be an event following your event before rentals are picked up.
Tables & Chairs - Tables and chairs can be rented if a venue doesn’t have them, doesn’t have enough or if the tables and chairs they do have aren’t very nice. Ugly chairs ruin photos. This is a fact. Spending $2.50 per chair for white garden chairs if your venue doesn’t at least have those is a must and worth every cent. Ask what type of chairs the venues have and exactly how many tables and chairs. Will they have separate chairs for the ceremony and reception or will chairs have to be flipped in between during cocktail hour? Who sets up the tables and chairs? These are both very important questions and will impact the smoothness of your overall wedding day.
Catering & Alcohol Restrictions - In-house catering or the required use of a specific caterer is wonderful in the way that it is easy and the caterer has likely had hundreds of events at your venue with rave reviews, but be sure to get a catering quote before signing on with a venue, so you are aware of how the catering costs will affect your budget. Venues and caterers selling alcohol have to charge more for alcohol than you would pay if you purchased it yourself at a large liquor store because they have to pay for licenses, labor and insurance. While this is also easier, it is typically more expensive. Like catering, be sure you are aware of the alcohol costs up front. Many venues allow couples to use a caterer of their choice and to bring in their own alcohol if the caterer is licensed/insured and they hire a certified bartender.
Bathrooms & Parking - Bathrooms seem basic, but many outdoor venues do not include access to bathrooms. Renting portable bathrooms and trailer bathrooms can be costly, so if this is a requirement, be sure to price out options prior to booking a venue with no bathroom access. Parking downtown for hotels and museums can be limited, costly and difficult for your guest. If your venue does not have a private parking lot, consider what parking is available in the area and perhaps price out valet parking.
Security - Security is a requirement for most venues and even if it isn’t, you want to have security on site. Some venues include it and others do not. Ask if the venue requires security, if the security is hired by the venue and if cost is factored into the pricing or if you hire the security separately. Most police and sheriffs departments hire out off-duty officers for events at an affordable rate if you must hire your own security (typically $30-$45 per hour).
Venue Coordinators vs. Private Coordinators - Many venues include on-site coordinators, but this is not meant to save you money on a private wedding coordinator. Do not be fooled. A venue coordinator typically works for the venue to be sure the event runs smoothly and things like lighting, sound and janitorial issues are taken care of and that the contract rules are followed. They are there in essence to care for the venue. Venue coordinators usually do not handle vendor scheduling, send out timelines to all of your vendors, set up all of your decor, send you down the aisle or pack away all of your things at the close of the event. You still need to hire a coordinator even if your venue has a coordinator.
Need for Tenting & Additional Decor - Outdoor venues are beautiful, but tents are expensive if you need a rain plan. The way rain plan tents work is that you typically pay a non-refundable deposit to hold the tent. A few days prior to your event, you will have to make the call as to whether or not the rental company should install the tent based on forecasted weather at which point you will be responsible for the remaining balance on the tent. Beware: Venues which have areas that will need to be covered for aesthetic purposes such as draping in a high school gym for a glamorous feel will most likely cost you more in the long run than just renting a traditional wedding venue. On the contrary, some venues include wedding decor which is always a bonus if the options are up-to-date.
The fun part is taking tours! You've made it. You have done the hard work of emailing for information, comparing everything from pricing to contracts and narrowing down your venue options. You should have all of the information at your finger tips and have narrowed your list down to three to five venues you love most. Set up tours with your fiancé. It is okay to have family members (especially those footing to bill) attend tours as well. Arrive with a list of questions and plan to take lots of pictures to refer back to when meeting with wedding vendors. At this point, all of your options should be good in terms of style, budget, guest count and contracts, so choose which venue feels best and makes you happy. A few things to watch for are friendly and helpful staff, cleanliness and landscaping. Enjoy yourselves and celebrate with champagne after booking your perfect venue!
Thanks so much for reading along today for the second post in our wedding planning series! If you need some inspiration, check out our Instagram at @_giselle_smith. Be sure to subscribe to the blog to receive monthly email updates and to get your FREE Wedding Design Outline PDF next week when it releases. You can print this neat outline, hole-punch it and pop it into a binder with your budget and vendor contracts to keep your inspiration in order. Stay tuned next Tuesday, February 19 for our event design blog post. Designing weddings is my favorite.
Best of luck in your venue search and Happy Planning! XOXO