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Finding the right venue

July 6, 2011

It’s one of the first things listed on the wedding timeline: Book your venue. Before someone else does. It can be quite overwhelming especially in the early days of wedding planning. If you’re anything like me–sentimental and a bit sappy–choosing WHERE you want to be MARRIED is kind of a big deal. But go with the general rule when something feels overwhelming–take it one step at a time.

Like books? Library wedding via Style Me Pretty

Start with the internet.

Use venue search tools on sites like Wedding Wire, the knot, Weddingbee, and Project Wedding. Most of the sites have reviews from other brides which are helpful. But remember to take everything with a grain of salt. Just because one bride had a bad experience, doesn’t mean you will too. There was a bad review for the coordinator at my site but when I met her I instantly liked her (and still do!). I also went old school and plain ol’ Googled wedding venues in Chicago. You’ll be surprised by what you might find–like a Yelp conversation about potential spots to marry in your city. Although not the internet, wedding mags, especially ones specific to your city/region, will have advertisements from various locales as well.

A rustic choice at The Blue Dress Barn via Ruffled

Know what to look for.

After searching all the wedding sites, you’ve found some really great spots. Now you need to narrow it down. Someone gave me the advice, or maybe I read it somewhere, to limit the number of venues you visit. If you cram in too many you’ll end up overwhelmed and confused. Plus, I have to say, it’s exhausting. So use your initial search to find a type of location or characteristics in a venue that best suits you and your fiance. If you’re having trouble, make a list of the qualities you like best about the venues you’ve found–you’ll probably notice some kind of pattern.

Also, a lot of the time you’re forced to limit your search due to your budget and availability. This is where emailing comes in handy. Before scheduling any appointments, email the venues you’re interested in. Ask questions such as these:

  • What is your availability during the months of {this month} or {that month}? Obviously the less time you have to plan, the more flexibility is required of you in terms of choosing a date. If you’re planning over a year in advance, you can probably specify a date and ask if it’s available.
  • What are your rates to reserve the space? I found that some venues charge by the hour, others by person.
  • Are there any additional fees for using the venue?
  • Are there any specific rules or guidelines? Ask specifically if they require you to use an approved caterer as this may significantly affect the overall cost.
  • Can I schedule a time to tour the space?
In the mood for something grape? Winery wedding via Style Me Pretty


Once you’ve been able to narrow down your search, choose a handful of sites to visit and arrange a meeting with the venue coordinator. When you do visit, go prepared. I created a blank spreadsheet that I copied for each location. On it I included basically every detail I wanted to know about the place. Here are some key elements to ask about:

  • Rental fee & hours included
  • Capacity {specify if you’re having a seated dinner with dancing since this requires the most space}
  • Equipment included in rental vs. equipment available for a fee
  • Kitchen availability/fee
  • Staffing provided by the venue
  • Time restrictions
  • Set-up availability: Day before and day of
  • Catering restrictions/guidelines
  • Liquor restrictions/guidelines
  • Parking
  • If outdoors: Contingency plan in case of weather
  • Any additional fees

Let’s play a game. How many times did I mention the word fee? My advice? With every question you ask, also ask if there is an additional fee. You have no idea how often the answer is YES.

Our love at first sight: The Vehe Barn

Put down that deposit.

After all that diligent research, you’re ready to commit. How exciting! Now the real planning begins! Note. If you visit a place and really like it, ask the venue to hold your date as you finish up with your other appointments. They will call you if someone else wants to place a deposit on your date. It’s a good way to prevent rushing into a decision.

In the end, remember that wherever you decide to marry, the point is that YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED! The venue will be sentimental simply because it was the place where you vowed to love your best friend until death do you part and where you subsequently celebrated all day/night long with your closest family and friends. And in my experience, when my fiance and I visited our venue, we just knew. We fell in love with it right away and we absolutely can’t wait to marry there.


One Comment leave one →
  1. July 8, 2011 6:39 pm

    Great post, Kristine. It is so tricky because weddings are personal, but your wedding is also a business transaction.

    One piece of advice we like to give is that if you want the venue to hold a date for you (because you just aren’t 100% sure this is the place for you and don’t want to put down a large non-refundable deposit yet), ask if you can write a refundable $100–250 check to hold the date for a limited time. Once the coordinator or sales person takes your money, you’re automatically harder to bump.

    We have a page on our website (also a PDF) with questions to remember to ask when talking with a wedding location:

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