Congratulations! You’re engaged… and maybe you’ve picked a date… but now what?
Most couples begin by choosing their venue. It’s the biggest piece of the wedding-planning puzzle, and it can be difficult to plan anything else until you know where reception will be held.
Ultimately, your reception should reflect both you and your partner—and it should provide a memorable experience for your guests. Imagine you’re throwing a dinner party for 100 of your closest friends. Is it an elegant affair? Rustic? Romantic? All of the above?
Whatever your wedding dreams look like, you’ll want to choose a venue that fits your vision.
Just remember, as you’re searching for your venue, that weddings are FUN… and planning a wedding should be fun too. So relax, have a glass of something bubbly, and let our wedding professionals help you plan an unforgettable celebration.
How to choose the perfect wedding venue:
1. Determine Your Budget
Determining your wedding budget is step one, as it will dictate every other decision you make.
• Be Realistic
Remember how, on Friends, Monica had a dream wedding she’d been planning since childhood? But she found out her dad spent the money on a beach house? Fans will recall her hyper-organized wedding binder with “Wedding Scenario A.” Well, having a Scenario “A” and a Scenario “B” is a great idea!
Sometimes, the wedding of your dreams just isn’t in your budget, and that’s OK. Whether it’s riding into the reception on a horse-drawn carriage, or having John Legend playing piano while singing “All of Me” as you walk down the aisle, just make sure your wedding ideas are financially realistic.
• Leave a Little Extra
It’s always beneficial to leave a little wiggle room in your budget. Much like home renovations you see on HGTV, it’s a good idea to allow up to 10% for unexpected costs. Whether the cake gets dropped (knock on wood!), or the flower girl gets grape juice on her dress, it’s smart to have extra cash on hand for last-minute emergencies. Having money left in your budget will also give you peace of mind in the days leading up to the wedding. Whether that extra money is a few hundred or a few thousand is up to you.
Whatever the final budget number, it will be one of main deciding factors for the rest of your reception, especially your venue. On average, the reception itself will account for approximately 75% of the total wedding budget. This encompasses the venue, the food, the entertainment, the bar, the décor, etc.
2. Do Your Homework
You will likely spend a lot of hours, if not days and weeks and months, researching venues online before you even set foot inside any of them. This is a good thing! In the end, it will save you a lot of time.
But the internet can be a blessing and a curse. There’s SO much information out there, which can help you narrow down the venues that make the most sense for your vision and your budget… but it can also make it easy to get overwhelmed. (Did you know there are more than 300 wedding venues in Central Ohio alone?)
So before you venture onto the world-wide-web, sit down with your future spouse and talk about what you want in a wedding venue. Are you hoping to plan and coordinate every tiny detail yourselves (i.e., table rental, chair rental, linen rental, etc.)? Or do you want a venue that includes these kinds of items? Do you already have a caterer you want to use? Or would you prefer a venue that offers their own in-house catering? Do you already have a church or a ceremony space in mind? Or do you want a venue that has the option of hosting the ceremony and the reception both?
Knowing the answers to these kinds of questions up front (before you click on a single link!) will help make the whole process easier and more productive.
The Knot can be an incredibly helpful resource—and a great starting point for your venue search. You can filter by price range, capacity, location, amenities, etc. And there are photos of each venue, along with basic information about each place.
• Prioritize your wish list
When it comes to your dream reception, what are the two or three most important elements? The food? The bar? The location? The capacity? The date? The price? Determining early on what you’re not willing to make concessions on can help you prepare… in case you need to compromise elsewhere.
For example, if you’re flexible on the date, most venues offer reduced pricing and/or lower minimums on Fridays and Sundays. Or, if your No. 1 venue is booked on your No. 1 Saturday, ask them if they have any alternate Saturdays available. (Conversely, if you’re not able to compromise on the date, then that should be the very first question you ask the venue.)
You’ll also need a good sense of the guest list before you begin your venue search. Be sure to check the venue’s capacity. If you’re inviting 400 people, for example, you won’t want to bother looking at reception spaces that can only seat 100.
And your budget will affect your guest list. (See Step 1!) Most venues price their receptions per-person. So if your No. 1 venue is also the most expensive, you may need to make some tough decisions about whether your sister’s friend’s cousin’s ex-boyfriend is going to make the cut. (Keep in mind, though, only approximately 80% of your invited guests will RSVP yes. This means that, if you’re budgeting for 100 guests to attend, you can invite up to 120 or so.)
• Compare apples to apples
Once you have your potential venues narrowed down, be sure to ask for an all-encompassing quote—including the sales tax and the service charge. Taxes and the industry-standard 20% service charge (gratuity) can add up quickly.
Look at the venues’ quotes carefully, and take note of everything that’s included—and what’s not. Do you have pay for the linens, for example? Do you get charged extra if you want linens in a color other than white or ivory? Do you get charged extra for floor-length linens? Do you have to set up and tear down everything yourself? These kinds of costs should be factored into the quote.
If you’re comparing a few different quotes side-by-side, make sure the quotes include mostly identical elements (i.e., linens, time length of venue rental, food choices, open bar, etc.) so that you’re making an intelligent and informed decision—and so there won’t be any hidden surprises down the road.
Some venues offer all-inclusive reception packages that not only include venue rental, catering, and an open bar… but also the DJ, the linens, set-up and tear-down, cake cutting, etc. Bundled packages like this tend to save money and prevent possible headaches in the end, since practically all the necessary elements for your reception will be provided by and coordinated through the venue itself.
3. Set Up Site Tours
OK… now that you’ve determined your budget and done your homework, it’s time to schedule some tours! The site-tour phase can take anywhere from a week to a month or more, depending on how many venues you want to see and what your schedule (and the venue’s schedule) looks like.
It also depends on how many people are coming with you on the tour. To save time (and to avoid having to coordinate multiple parties’ schedules), consider seeing the potential venues on your own first, then bringing parents and/or the bridal party along with you for a second visit to only the top two or three contenders, if you’re looking for their advice and input when making your final decision. But, remember, it’s your wedding—and your decision. (That said… if your parents are helping with the finances, then it’s going to be partly their decision too.)
• It’s a big decision
Don’t let the venue representative pressure you. Booking your venue is such an important choice, and you’ll want to make the best possible decision after carefully considering all the options. The reception is the biggest element of the entire day, and it’s also the biggest piece of your budget. So take your time.
Of course, you don’t want to waste your time touring 40 different venues if only, say, 10 of them are available on your preferred date, or are within your budget, or fit your overall vision, etc. This is why it’s so important to do your homework. (See Step 2!)
If you’re planning a wedding from afar, have no fear. This is where the internet and modern technology are a definite plus. Most venue representatives will be happy to take you on a “virtual tour” using services like FaceTime or Skype. Just ask!
We recommend touring no more than two venues a day—three max. Any more than that, and the venues will start to blur together. Feel free to take photos of the venues during your tour (with the venue representative’s permission), which will help you remember what you liked about each place.
• Communication is key
Presumably, you’ve already talked to the venue’s representative at least once prior to your tour. Did he or she respond to your inquiries in a timely fashion? Did he or she seem genuinely happy to help answer your questions? Is he or she is the person you’ll be working with for the reception itself? If you’re not sure, then ask! And do you want to spend the next year or so communicating with this person?
Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions during your tour. Your third-grade teacher was right: There’s no such thing as a stupid question—or too many questions for that matter. If it helps, take notes and jot down your overall impression of the place. How did you feel when you walked through the front door? Did the coordinator put your mind at ease? Were you comfortable and relaxed in the space? Will your friends and loved ones feel comfortable in the space too?
Finding your venue is a lot like finding a wedding dress… when it’s right, you’ll know! Even if it’s the first venue you “try on,” you’ll know when it’s “The One.”
4. Choose Your Venue
There’s no magic date or timeframe that you have to book your venue by. Some couples begin their venue search more than 18 months in advance; other couples book their venue less than 6 weeks in advance. Anything goes! On average, however, most couples usually book their venue within 9 to 12 months of their wedding date.
Keep in mind that your wedding date will affect which venues are available. Popular summer dates tend to fill up quickly, as well as weddings in September and October. So if you’re at all flexible on your date, you’ll have more freedom to take your time with the research and booking process. If you only have ONE date in mind, however, the sooner you’ll want to begin the process (and the fewer choices you might have).
When you’re ready to make your decision, contact the venue representative to obtain the contract.
You’ll want to review the fine print very carefully. Do they have any restrictions on vendors? When is the final headcount due? When is the final payment due? How much is the deposit? All of these questions should be covered within the contract itself, but you’ll want to make sure you know exactly what you’re signing… and that your venue representative is available to answer any additional questions you may have.
Planning a wedding doesn’t have to be stressful. Above all else, your wedding reception (and planning it too!) should be fun. So for all of your Columbus wedding and reception needs, contact La Navona today.