From day one I was obsessed with getting all the big decisions made, partly because it was exciting but also because I wanted to give myself enough time to actually pay for everything without feeling stressed throughout my engagement. The wedding venue was the first big decision we made together and I was really thankful that we sorted it out early when it came to planning the smaller details. If, like me, you want to start looking at venues early I think there are a handful of things to consider as you visit each one:
- Wedding Type: You might be looking for a lovely Summer marquee with lots of white drapery and Eton Mess. You might be looking for a warm, laid-back barnhouse with a rustic feel. You might be looking for a manor house with large rooms, fairy lights, high ceilings and some space outside that you can use if the weather permits. Make sure you look at all the options and weigh up what 'flavour' wedding you think suits you as a couple.
- Location: Do you want a church wedding or a civil ceremony? The general consensus is that the evening reception venue shouldn't be more than a 20 minute drive from the ceremony venue. I strongly felt that I wanted to have the ceremony and reception in one venue that also had accommodation for my guests who may be travelling a long way to share my day with me. I chose a country manor house for this reason. So far we've booked Nan a room on the ground floor and she's even allowed to bring the dog with her. All is working out splendidly there.
- Capacity: Draw up a rough guestlist. This won't be completely accurate and doesn't need to be at this point but I was surprised at how many friends and family members we just simply couldn't exclude from the ceremony list. My venue holds 65 people for the actual ceremony and at the moment we're full to the brim.
- Wedding Date: The wedding date will dictate a large portion of your budget. In general, getting married in the Summer holidays, at Christmas, New Year or on a Saturday in general will be more expensive than average. Getting married on a mid-week day could half the venue cost. I picked a Sunday because people will only need one day off work (the Monday) and it was less than half the price of the Saturday package at my venue. Also, there was a difference of £1500 between choosing Sunday August 30th and Sunday September 6th (the week after!) because all the kids go back to school and it's no longer considered 'Peak Time'.
- Budget: The aforementioned leads nicely into the most stressful element of any wedding; the budget. Are friends and family helping out? Are you likely to need to pay for all of it yourself? Work out what you think you can realistically budget towards your big day but also create a plan to execute against. I am a massive geek so naturally I created a spreadsheet that factored in a monthly contribution from our salary, any likely donations from family and any times of the year (Christmas?) where you could ask for contributions to the wedding instead of gifts you don't need. You're never going to be able to budget accurately until you start getting quotes for photography, dresses and flowers but you will at least have a realistic total to work towards which in turn will help you allocate part of the budget to the venue.
- Guest Experience: I've been to far too many weddings where the dancefloor/music area is in a different room (or even separate floor!) to the tables and seating area. This can result in half the wedding party (grandparents, families with young children, those people who come to family events but sit miserably until an appropriate time of the night has occurred and they can leave), sat in an isolated environment where Grandma can't watch the kids messing around on the dancefloor without being stood on the side of it foot-tapping away to Nicki Minaj. It can create quite a disparate atmosphere and it gives people an excuse to "sit out" of your special day which I would really be upset by. Try to find a venue with a large open plan space, plenty of seating but also plenty of potential for atmosphere. Try to create 'togetherness' between age groups.
- Theme: Contrary to what Pinterest may indicate, not every wedding needs a theme. However, if you have a good idea in mind then it's important to start your research early. I went to wedding on Bonfire Night a few years ago; the bride and groom had first met on Bonfire Night, got engaged at the fireworks 2 years later and sent everybody mini sparklers with their wedding invites. Hilariously, it turned out that the venue they chose did not allow fireworks because of local wildlife restrictions. It also didn't allow sparklers because of 'fire risk'. Make sure you do your research thoroughly. A lot of venues will even help you with your theme if you let them know what you've chosen in advance. My advice would be to stay away from gimmicks; horse-drawn carriages, candy stands or rose petals that the guests sign are lovely ideas but often turn out a bit "Gypsy Wedding" on the day. Have a look around wedding fayres and try to think about what it will look like on the actual day and whether these sorts of things should influence your venue choice.
- Ask Questions: In all the excitement of the venue tour you may forget to ask a few key questions. A few suggestions are: Do you have a wedding co-ordinator who can help me between reserving the venue and the big day? How many weddings are usually held here in one day? Is catering included in the fee? Have you booked any construction or landscaping work at the venue between now and my chosen date? Don't be shy to give the venue host a grilling; they will (or should!) have been asked these questions before.
Have you had an interesting experience choosing a venue? I'd love to hear about it!