You will have probably heard this a lot already, but choosing the right venue for your wedding is the most important decision of your wedding (apart from saying 'I do' of course!).
So, how do you go about making such a big decision? What are the obvious (and not so obvious) things you need to think about? Here are some pointers to help you choose your perfect venue.
First of all, consider the obvious stuff. This will help to whittle down your choices. What is your budget? How many guests do you want, both for the day and the evening? Are there access or distance issues to consider for members of your wedding party? Is there a particular date that you definitely want to get married on or a particular time of year? Do you have your heart set on a particular theme that requires a particular type of venue? Do you want to get married outside? Consider these things first to help you narrow your potential choices.
Do your Research
Most venues have websites, photo galleries and wedding brochures. Use these resources to come up with a short list of potential venues. Then think about the aspects that are the most important to you and use these to make a comparison table. Some examples of column titles are: price; catering restrictions; capacity; outdoor ceremony option; accommodation; exclusive use. This will help you to compare the venues at a glance and work out which ones you want to visit. When looking at prices, be careful to consider what's included and any hidden costs. On the face of it a particular venue may seem like a cheaper option, but after all the extras are added it may well end up being more expensive than a pricey venue that comes with everything included.
This is also a good point to consider what type of approach you want to take. There are venues that supply the full works, from catering and flowers to DJs and decor, there are venues that simply provide tables and chairs as a blank canvas, and there are venues that are 'dry hire/ or 'DIY wedding venues' meaning that you simply hire the space and then put together the rest yourself. This can be both a unique and cost effective option if you are on a budget as you are saving on the costs that go into maintaining a fully managed venue.
This is the most important bit of the process so make sure you make time to go and see the venues on your shortlist. This is the best way to really get a vibe for the place and see it properly in real life rather than just in photos. You can see the great bits (and also the not so great bits that won't be in the marketing photos) and really get a feel for the useable space and potential layout. It is really useful to see the ceremony and reception spaces without all the venue dressing used in website photos so you can see if it will work with your theme and plans. Speaking of spaces, make sure you get a good look at all the options for your ceremony and reception for both good weather and bad. The venue might have an amazing outdoor ceremony location but their bad weather indoor option may not be quite so appealing. Also, if the venue is small, they might have to double up the ceremony and reception space in the same room, performing a 'flip' or quick change from one to the other during the event. If this is the case, make sure you are completely happy with how this is done, how long it takes and where the guests can go during this time. The last thing you want is people carting a load of tables and chairs past you on your big day while they do the changeover; a rushed wedding breakfast set up with wonky centrepieces; or even an unhappy wedding party that has been forced to wait outside in the cold or rain while the flip takes place.
Have a good look at where the photos will be taken in the venue. Every venue has a number of locations for the 'big money shots' and these are the ones that will be on your wall for years to come (- some people will book a venue simply because they want a particular picture on their wedding day) but it is also important to look at the venue as a whole as a backdrop to your photos. No one wants dusty cobwebs, patchy grass, or huge telegraph poles distracting from the focal point in your photos. In fact, the amount of attention to detail shown at the venue when you visit is a great indicator of whether the venue is really worth the hire fee and also how well your wedding will be managed on the day.
Other things to consider on your visit are noise and access. Is there any background noise from an nearby motorway or railway that might disrupt your ceremony? What is parking like at the venue and is there an option for the venue to assist with transport for your guests e.g. hotel shuttlebus etc if parking is limited? What parts of the venue are you and your guests allowed to access on the day? It's all very well hiring a castle or stately home for the day but it's a bit pointless if no one is allowed to go inside anywhere but the marquee! Is the venue hire for exclusive use and, if so, what do they actually mean by that? Are there any venue-specific restrictions regarding noise or end times?
Have a chat with venue management to get a feel for their experience in wedding coordination at the venue. Anyone can make a fancy website but it takes a huge amount of knowledge and experience to successfully coordinate a wedding and deal with the various issues that may arise on the day. It is a big thing to entrust the coordination of the most important day of your life to someone, so you need to feel absolutely comfortable that your wedding day is in safe hands.
Lastly, take a good look at their contract, particularly cancellation and excess costs, and any other venue specific conditions.
Last and by no means least the most important thing is to trust your gut instinct. Only you know which venue is the perfect one for you, and no amount of smart sales pitches or cut price offers can or should change that. Your venue will be the backdrop to your special day and you will have photos to look back on for the rest of your life. Choose carefully to make sure that you have no regrets and lots of amazing memories to treasure forever.