The first step in your wedding planning process (after showing off your engagement ring on social media, of course) is to find your wedding venue. Unless you’re marrying your high-school sweetheart and already know the perfect venue in your hometown, you’re going to need to do some research. The process of finding a wedding venue can be really overwhelming. Do you want to get married in the town where you’re from, your significant other is from, where you live now, or maybe even a destination? Do you want to have the reception and ceremony at the same place? Have you accepted that prices for wedding things in your area are astronomical? No, that’s just me?
Since I went through the process of finding a wedding venue, I thought I’d offer some tips that worked for me.
Plan for a wedding date at least a year from now.
I might be in the minority here, but I’m a strong believer in taking your time when planning a wedding. By not rushing and starting the venue selection process early on, you set yourself up with the best odds of snagging your favorite venue. James and I got engaged in October 2015 and began looking at venues a month later in November. We were planning a September 2016 wedding (which at the time was 22 months away) and a handful of venues were already booked. In addition, a lot of the popular wedding dates (summer and fall months, Saturday evening weddings) were in the process of being booked/confirmed by the venue. We were looking for venues for an event almost 2 years down the road, and every single vendor told us “You’re looking at the perfect time. 18 months is the ideal amount of time to book a wedding and you’re looking before the Christmas/Valentine’s Day engagement rush.”
You’ll also want to know your venue’s location and aesthetic before you book all your other vendors. For example, you shouldn’t be booking a photographer that lives 2 hours away from your reception venue. They often don’t travel that far, or if they do they charge you a large travel fee. The same goes for your wedding theme/aesthetic. A country club wedding is very different from a barn wedding, and your dress/florist/DJ should all match up.
Read reviews, but don’t rely solely on them.
We ended up visiting four venues in total. I’ve been told this is extremely low and that’ I’m “a really relaxed and low-maintenance bride” because apparently some people look at 10 to 20. For the four venues, I obviously read all the reviews on sites like The Knot, Wedding Wire, Yelp, etc. One of the venues — the one we ended up choosing, actually — didn’t have a ton of reviews. And the reviews it did have were fairly old. At first I took this as a warning sign, but came to realize that it was a venue that just got lost in a sea of other venues. Where we live in the NY/NJ area, there are hundreds of venues to choose from. So it makes sense that some of the more popular ones would have more reviews than some of the hidden gems.
What matters instead isn’t the number of reviews, but the quality of them. Look at the negative reviews and see if there’s a pattern. If there is, that’s a red flag. If there isn’t, it’s likely just someone who was butt-hurt about something going wrong on their wedding day. And don’t discredit a venue just because it doesn’t have 100 reviews or awards on their website — a lot of those reviews and awards are paid or given because of personal relationships with the vendor. Sorry to burst your bubble.
Focus on the two or three things you value most.
For us, we cared about the price per plate, the quality of food, and having a lot of “green space” for photos. We didn’t care about there being huge, gaudy chandeliers or a stage for us to make our entrance on. We didn’t care if the carpets were red or green, since all carpeting in wedding venues is hideous. We didn’t care if the venue was the one that Snooki got married at. By narrowing down the areas we actually cared about, we were able to eliminate lots of venues and instead focus on the ones that shared our values.
Our runner-up venue was affordable and had a lot more food options, but it was in a really bad part of town. The area surrounding the venue was gross and there was no areas to take photos. It came off as a little over-the-top with all the gold embellishments and marble. So because it had things that didn’t match with our needs, we turned it down and chose a different venue.