1. Is it within your budget? This is the single most critical factor to think about before touring. If it’s out of reach financially, you shouldn’t get hopes up or begin the wedding by causing a family conflict. Connect with potential venues on your favorites list and speak openly with the wedding experts of those venues. They will value honesty and how respectful you are to be cognizant that the budget may not be able to accommodate the needs at their property. Honesty is always the best policy. Venues are generally 12-25% of the budget depending on what they include with their rentals.
2. Does the venue set the tone for the type of event you are planning to host? The style of the property chosen for the celebration will intentionally lay the groundwork for the backdrop of the experiences. Does it fit the theme or the vibe you are hoping for guests to experience? Choose a venue that speaks to what your personal preferences are.
3. How many venues do you want to spend the day in? Traditionally, it used to be common to have a ceremony venue separate than a celebration/reception venue. But that’s not the case anymore. What works best with your vision and the type of event you want to host? Are you planning to get ready at the ceremony venue? What is the travel time between each of these locations? It’s important to map out the wedding day timeline and calculate distance and time needed for travel. Ultimately, photography and videography vendors will be compensated to travel to multiple locations. Contemplate when family formal group pictures will be taken since transportation is often provided. This will also increase logistical time needed.
4. Are you hoping for the ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing at one location? If so, how important is it that those spaces are unique? What is the weather contingency plan in the case of rain, snow, or extreme temperatures?
5. Does the venue provide adequate getting ready spaces for both sides of the wedding party? Think about the size of your wedding party and the amount of space and restrooms those individuals will need. Are showers available? Is there space for hair and makeup to be done on site? What amenities are available to the wedding party?
6. Is there space for families to get dressed? Will it feel like you still have your own space even if they are on site? Can they gather with their closest support system in their own spaces while you do the same in yours? Are there quiet and comfortable areas for them to sit and prepare for the emotional rollercoaster of their children getting married?
7. Are the “getting ready” spaces attractive for photos or will you have to leave those areas to be photographed? You will be investing in photographs and video, so charming backdrops could be very important to the wedding album.
8. How early can you setup? Some properties allow for as little as one hour prior to event start time for setting up. Don’t forget deliveries, floral installations, lighting and production needs, band sound checks, and catering preparation. The setup of bars alone and the icing of beverages can easily take a couple of hours. Inquire with the venue about early setup options once you understand what is included as part of a standard rental package.
9. What is the max guest capacity? Selecting the right sized property should allow easy adjustments in the case of inclement weather. Capacity limitations should be measured before touring facilities. Create a guest list and assume you will have 80% +/- accepted RSVP’s. Look for a location that comfortably holds at least this number of people. Speak with the venue prior to touring because often the advertised or posted capacities are not the same as what is most comfortable.
10. Noise ordinances are important to ask about before touring. Most often they are set by local municipalities, not the venue themselves. If the goal is to dance until 3am, connect with the venue contacts at your top locations and find out the rules that govern their locations.
11. Weather contingencies are one of the least romantic considerations of choosing wedding and reception venues. But for the event to run smoothly, it’s a critical part of the process. Hopefully rain, sleet, snow, hurricane, extreme heat, or other inclement weather will not ruin the long-anticipated day, but if it’s in the forecast, you will certainly be glad you made that consideration prior to booking. How much indoor (conditioned space) does the venue have? What are outdoor covered options? (Tents, pavilions, etc.) With rain plan options, are additional restrooms or lighting needed? Will fans, AC units, heaters, tent sidewalls, etc. be needed? If the rain plan is a tent, what about flooring? Is the rain going to puddle under the tent during a thunderstorm? How close can buses or transportation get to the ceremony and reception sites for drop off and pickups in inclement weather?
12. Trust your instincts. Once you’ve toured a few properties, compared the pros and cons, and make sure the top choice fits the wedding day vision, listen to yourself! It’s just like shopping for a wedding gown, sometimes you just “know”.
Choosing a venue sets the tone for so much of the overall event experience. It sets the visual style and formality and sets the backdrop for your getting ready photos. It may also dictate some vendor selections. Try to be as contemplative as possible during the information gathering stages. Be diligent in touring top choices. Be transparent with the venue and ultimately lead with your heart. And most of all, enjoy the journey!
Kim Moody is a Proprietress and Director of Events at The Estate At River Run, the area’s newest luxury venue in Goochland. Kim is also the Lead Wedding Planner at the award-winning Kim Moody Design™, a multi-planner design studio (since 2004!) that offers services exclusively to clients at The Estate at River Run. Learn more at http://TheEstateAtRiverRun.com