Your wedding Venue is the backdrop to your day.
Choosing it will help you with every other element going forward, including the suppliers who fit the Venue.
Where will you get married?
Are you planning to marry abroad, in your back garden, a couple of counties away, or have you yet to decide?
Venue Style or Type
What sort of backdrop do you envision? Are you planning on a stately home, a barn, a marquee in a meadow, a hotel by the sea or something completely different?
Will your whole day be in one place, for example if you are having a civil ceremony in a licensed venue, or will you be travelling between Church/ Register Office/ Ceremony Venue and your Reception?
To what degree does it matter how many guests your Venue can hold?
Clearly at the present time, depending upon your geography, you may be quite limited in numbers.
Are you planning a large number of guests, a small intimate affair or something in between?
Think about the maximum number a room or space can hold but also bear in mind, for smaller weddings, that sometimes there is a minimum number, below which you will still have to pay for the covers not attending.
Your Wish List of Venue Attributes
It’s important to come up with a list of attributes you would love your Venue to have.
One of the most important is to establish whether or not exclusivity is key for you. If it is, you may well have to pay a premium, however some Venues will only book, or can only manage, one wedding per day.
I have sometimes had to say to clients that their ‘27 point list’ simply doesn’t exist in the market they’re marrying in (sorry, some of my super, lovely US clients – British castles weren’t purpose built for modern day weddings, thus cannot house all guests).
Start with your ‘must have’s, then look at the ‘nice to have’s which might be up for negotiation or compromise.
For example, would it be acceptable if the stately home you desire offers 10 bedrooms, but there is a gorgeous hotel at the end of the drive which can sleep everyone else?
Or, if your perfect, really reasonably priced, reception space insists that you use only the caterers on their Preferred Supplier List, is this acceptable?
Venue desk research
Visiting Venues takes time, which is precious during your wedding planning, so start by setting aside some blocks of time for desk research.
Indeed, currently you may not be able to visit in person, or some Venues may not have reopened, but most give lots of information and downloads on their websites so much shortlisting can be done without the need to move or drive anywhere.
Since COVID struck, an increasing number of Venues also offer virtual tours.
It may well be that the last thing you want to do is get married at the same Venue as a friend, however recently married friends will also have visited other Venues so it’s definitely worth asking their opinions.
If you have booked other local suppliers, there is no harm in asking their advice too. They will have worked in various Venues and may know of some you haven’t found.
Photographers are particularly good at this. If you have booked your Photographer, or started dialogue with a couple, why not ask their opinions and advice? It is a rare wedding which doesn’t involve a professional photographer and they may well know of hidden gems which possibly aren’t even advertised as Wedding Venues.
Once you have shortlisted perhaps 4 or 5 Venues, it’s time to organise site visits if this is possible at the moment.
Email or call the Venue and explain that you are considering having your wedding with them and, if your date is already set in your mind, double check whether they can accommodate you. Be aware that, in the UK, you cannot book your Registrar slot until you know where you will be getting married.
If you have some specifics on your ‘must have’ list, and you cannot tell from the brochure whether they can accommodate these, it’s worth asking before you undertake to visit.
For example if you are desperate to have fireworks, not all Venues allow this, so always check.
It’s also worth asking for their full Terms & Conditions so you can read through these in advance and make notes of anything you need to query or don’t understand.
When it comes to potentially parting with large sums of money, the only ‘silly question’ is the one you don’t ask!
If possible aim to see a number of Venues across a weekend, or other days if that is possible for you. This allows you to compare whilst they are all still fresh in your mind.
I suggest taking a list of questions so you don’t forget to ask the sales person or Venue coordinator everything you need to.
When visiting Venues, keep in mind your Guest List, particularly if you have a number needing accessible facilities, a large number of small children, etc.
A hotel with a beautiful lake in the grounds may be stunning, but can become a different story if you have twenty under 5’s to consider.
Preferred Supplier Lists
Many Venues have Preferred Supplier Lists.
This can be a good thing and, once you have chosen your Venue, considering the suppliers on their PSL is worthwhile as usually they have chosen them for similar reasons to a sommelier choosing house wines – they work well and are good value for money.
Suppliers on a Venue’s list have generally been chosen because the Venue staff like the way they work and feel they suit the type of weddings they hold at their Venue.
These suppliers also ‘know the ropes’, the in house staff and any Venue specific timings and peculiarities, which can be very useful.
‘Must Use’ or Simply Suggestions?
Most Preferred Supplier Lists are exactly what the title suggests, however in some cases a Venue will insist that only certain suppliers are used.
This rarely applies to all supplier types, but may well apply to caterers in particular.
Venues who allow outside caterers into their kitchens understandably want to vet them.
Hotels often don’t allow this, as they cater themselves, albeit some may allow specialist Halal, Kosher etc caterers in.
Other venues may have a list of those they have vetted. If you are very keen to use a particular caterer it may be that the Venue will be prepared to go through their vetting process with them.
Pyrotechnics/ Fireworks suppliers – often a Venue will only work with one supplier whom they know to be fully insured and safe.
Aside from numbers, other main Venue restrictions to look out for include:
- finish time
- for amplified music
- for guests to be off site
- sound limiters
- some Venues have limiters set to a certain decibel, above which a band will cut out
- most bands can work to this, but do need to know in advance
- guide dogs only
Which potential restrictions would concern you?
How will your wedding flow?
It is important to ‘walk through the wedding’ as it would happen on your big day, were you to book a particular Venue.
By this I mean:
- think about how the place looks as you drive up to it (including how different it may look in the month you are marrying)
- look at where you and your guests would park
- if the Venue is in need of a lick of paint, ask whether refurbishments are planned prior to your date
- where will guests arrive?
- how will they find their way to the ceremony room if you are marrying there?
- are you, the Bride, able to arrive without being seen?
- where will you meet the Registrar (if civil ceremony) just before the wedding?
- how does everyone move from the ceremony room to the drinks reception, the drinks reception to the wedding breakfast, the meal to the evening celebrations, etc?
- think about whether there is a logical flow, or whether you might need some ushers or signage to show the way
- ask to look at the Venue’s standard layouts and check whether you can alter them if you wish
- if the same room is used for ceremony and wedding breakfast where do guests go whilst turnaround is taking place and how long does it take?
Look at the FREE Venue Check List for a full set of questions.
Who will manage your wedding from the Venue?
Ask whoever shows you round who, from the Venue, actually manages your wedding on the day.
Sometimes it will be the same person you meet, but in other cases this person works weekdays and hands over to a banqueting manager or event coordinator much nearer the time.
The latter is quite workable, but it is worth knowing in advance.
Oftentimes shifts are not agreed until very close to the wedding day and you want to be certain that the appropriate manager is aware of any changes you have made to the Venue’s ‘norms’, plus any napkins, accessories, favours etc they need to lay out.
Venues will have their own in house ‘running order’ for staff to follow, but ensure the relevant person also has your Schedule nearer the time and double check that timings etc tally.