Choosing a wedding venue is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when planning your wedding. It’s typically your largest single expenditure, especially if catering and alcohol are included in the venue contract. You can expect to spend 20%-25% of your total wedding budget on the reception hall alone. Add in catering and alcohol (if you’re providing it) and you can expect to spend 40%-50%, or more. Because it’s the biggest expense, it pays to be a savvy customer. Shop wisely and you can save a lot of money. Otherwise you may pay more than what’s necessary.
Before you begin the process of choosing a wedding venue, be clear on the difference between your guest list and your attendance list. Do not expect every one on the invited guest list to show up for your wedding. The actual attendance on the day of your wedding will be about 20%-30% less than the number of invited guests, depending on the number of invitations. The general rule is the more people you invite, the higher the attrition rate will be. Keeping this in mind will help you save money when negotiating with wedding venues. If you sign a contract based on your invited guest list, you may end up paying for 20, 30 40 or more people than you actually attend your wedding. The lesson here is overestimating your attendance will lead you to over pay. By the same token, underestimating your guest list can cost you too. Wedding venues book based on guarantees. If you underestimate the attendance you may lose out on the opportunity to leverage your guest list for extra services.
When you start your search, create a list of 8-10 possible locations. This gives you a manageable number of options, which is key to reducing the stress of picking a wedding venue. One thing to consider at this point is the distance from your ceremony location. Unless you’re providing transportation to and from the ceremony and reception forcing your guests to travel from one side of town to the next is less than ideal, especially if you have a significant number of out of town guests.
Start calling wedding venues. Unless you’re using an experience wedding planner, don’t expect venues to give you detailed pricing information over the phone. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. Your goal at this point is to determine if they have your date(s) available and if they are in the general price range. If the answer is no to either one of these questions, then you can mark the venue off your list. Some other questions to consider are: What minimums do they require? How do the minimums vary from Friday, Saturday or Sunday receptions? What is the price per person?
Review your list, which will likely be down to 4-6 choices, and highlight any that stand out as your favorites. If you’re using a wedding planner, or if you have the time to invest, you may want to schedule visits to all of the reception venues that made the first cut. On the other hand, if you’re not using a wedding planner and you don’t have a lot of time to invest you may only want to schedule visits to the 3 or 4 stand out venues.
Visit your favorite venues. It should go without saying, but here’s a reminder anyway, always treat your vendors with respect by taking care to be prepared, arrive on time and show that your truly interested in what they have to share. This sets the tone for the for the rest of your working relationship and can make the staff more likely to accommodate requests that are not in the contract. When you arrive, take a minute to note your first impressions of the facility, the person that greets you and the person that shows you the property. Write it down and try to be as descriptive as possible so you can review it later. You never know what will make the difference between you selecting wedding venue A over wedding venue B. Cellphones and tablets are particularly useful for taking pictures and notes to refer back to when it’s time to make your final decision. Be prepared to spend about 45 minutes to an hour at the venue.
Find out what’s included in the pricing. At this point you’ve probably spent 20-30 minutes touring the facility and know is your opportunity to sit down and get specific on what’s included in the quoted price. Try to get as detailed as possible (number of hours included, hors devours, choice of entrees (table side or in advance), buffet, vegetarian options, champagne, cake, beer, wine, liquor, waiter service). Is the gratuity included in the quoted price? What is the breakdown of the gratuity (administrative vs service fee)?
Dive into the details by asking additional questions that may not have been covered. How soon will our coordinator, captain or maitre d’ be in touch with us? What time do the doors open? What times can we put on our invitation? How much does extra time cost? Are there additional charges for set up and cleanup? Are there any nearby hotels that offer discounts for wedding guests? What are payment terms? What is the cancellation policy? Can I choose my own vendors or do we have to use the venues preferred vendors? At this point, you should have a good understanding of whether or not you like the venue and the staff and whether or not it fits your needs. If your overall impression of the wedding reception venue and staff is good and it suits your needs, then add it to your final list.
Review, compare and make your decision. If you’ve followed each of these steps you should have more than enough information to make a good decision on choosing your wedding venue. That’s not to say that the final decision will be easy. It might not be. But whatever choice you make will be a good venue that meets your expectations and needs. If no one venue stands over and above the rest, it may come down to a judgement call. If that’s the case, trust instincts, make your decision sooner rather than later and move on to the next part of the wedding planning process.