Looking at venues an be an overwhelming process; I get it. It took me around 3 months to research when I finally decided on something. The site that won my heart was a garden.
Here’s to hoping that your venue process will be smooth!
The size of your guests list will impact your venue. Have you decided on your list of guests? Get on it! Once you’ve estimated how many attendees you might have for the big day, it’s time to venue shop. Depending on the size of your guest list, this will narrow down many different ceremony or reception sites. Smaller parties tend to have a more intimate setting with many options, whereas if you have a large party, only a few venues can hold over 200+ (at least in the Bay Area).
Don’t set your heart on a specific date. Many venues only have a few dates available because people book in advance. Your venue may be the one choosing your wedding date! Be flexible.
Other things to think through when choosing your venue.
Do you want your ceremony and reception to be at different locations or all in one? Because MG and I also had a Chinese tea ceremony before our traditional ceremony, we wanted our families to be at one place throughout the day. This also saves money because you’re paying for one place! If you decide on two different places, ask yourself, do you want something indoors or outdoors? Church setting? Garden setting? Barn? Golf course? Winery? Antique reception hall or a conference center (like the Bentley Reserve in San Francisco)? Your style also needs to sync up with your venue. For instance, we wanted something rustic so we looked at barns in the beginning. When we realized barns only hold about 100 people, we had to brainstorm again what else we would like, and we settled on a garden theme.
Think about venue lighting for photography. Many people forget about this. Sometimes the light can be too harsh. Maybe the ceremony backdrop is directly in the sun. This could give the photographers a challenge. Sometimes sunlight can creep through the trees and make your face splotchy with shade. If it’s indoors, make sure there’s enough lighting. Ask your venue owner if you could see some pictures and Google some images from the venue that you’re looking at. See if you like those pictures before booking the site.
Keep in mind that the venue may look different in different seasons. This is especially true when looking at outdoor sites. When we looked at venues, it was in the winter. Because it was a garden, it was dull, grey, and everything was brown. We had our wedding in the Spring, and everything had bloomed so it was a totally different scene. Lighting could also change. Try and see the vision! Take a look at our Winter vs. Spring pictures!
Find out if the venue serves food or alcohol. This is especially important if you are on a tight-budget. If the venue serves food, wonderful. I’m sure you can negotiate a reasonable price for the night. If they do not serve food, ask what types of food can be catered. Some venues only work with specific food vendors. If the site does not serve alcohol, you’ll need to also find an alcohol license, which is an additional fee. Fortunately for us, our venue had a buffet. Thankfully we didn’t have to pay per person, and we paid one flat fee for our party.
Ask if there’s a food-prepping room. If you do go the outside catering route, ask if the venue has a food-prep room. This is really important! Think about a catering business having to make so many different platters of food. If there’s a prep room, they are able to put it all together right before serving vs platting and delivering, which could cause the food to get cold or melted.
Wine, specialty cocktails, and open bar? Really important to ask about alcohol options if you have a budget. Open bar is pricey! Other options can be that there are a few specialty cocktails for the night or you can simply pay for house wine and champagne. If your guests want other drinks, have a cash bar. We only paid for wine, champagne, and beer. Liquor was based on a cash bar. We decided on this because our family doesn’t drink much so an open bar wouldn’t have made sense for us.
Ask if your venue has a coordinator. Most of the time there is a ceremony coordinator and a primary reception contact. These are the people that ensure your wedding is on schedule and things are running smoothly. The ceremony coordinator will be working with your officiant to make sure the wedding party knows what they are doing day-of. The reception contact usually make sure your food is being served to the right people first, cake is cut at the right time, and the lighting/sound is just the way you want it. However, do not confuse your venue coordinators with a day-of coordinator. I highly recommend a day-of coordinator for all the details that you worked so hard on.
I did research on venues at herecomestheguide.com (great resource!). Once I narrowed down how big of a space I needed for the venue, there were only a few pages to choose from (vs in the hundreds). I found Wildwood Acres and made an appointment the following weekend to look at it. When I got there, I immediately loved it. The venue owners were great to work with, and we synced up right away. I knew this would be the place for my tea ceremony, ceremony, and reception.
Tell the venue your budget. Most of the time, they want to work with you. Negotiation is key here. To our surprise, the venue owners worked with us and our large party. We even got a great deal! Work with the venue, and I’m sure they will provide you with the best. Our venue owners even threw in a coffee cart for mochas, cappuccinos, and lattes. They also provided grilled cheese sandwiches as snacks at the end of the night. Both were surprises to us, and our guests loved it!
In the end, if you walk through to doors and you can picture yourself with your gown on (or tux/suit), pick it.
Married people, any advice that you want to include? Share!
Fun Fact: We chose this site because it was different from other weddings that we’ve attended. Truthfully, people forget about weddings since they go to so many in their lifetime. We just wanted people to remember this venue so we chose it. Good tip, decide what you want people to remember and spend your budget accordingly. The best part? This venue had tiered seating for the tables, which means that people could overlook the dance floor.
All wedding pictures by Orange Turtle Photography