A guide to choosing the perfect wedding venue

06-06-2014

Not too long ago my fiancé and I took our mothers out for a weekend of wedding venue shopping. I expected the decision to be quite clear cut and easy, but it turned out to be a lot more difficult than I expected. I was completely unprepared and found myself feeling very overwhelmed by the pressure from the wedding venue coordinators. It's hard to think straight when a venue tells you that they only have one date available.  - very suddenly all common sense goes out the window! I was lucky enough to lock in a wonderful venue that I’m really excited about, but I did learn some important lessons along the way. Here are some tips I picked up in the process...

1. Know your ABCs and 123s

You need to know how many adults and children there are on your guest list and be realistic about how many you think will actually be able to attend. Know what your budget is - not just for the whole wedding, but how much you can realistically allocate to the reception alone. Most venues charge per head, with a minimum number of adults that you will have to pay for in order to secure the room. If your venues per head costs take you to the top bracket of your budget, ensure you have ticked off all of the elements on this list or you may find yourself more out of pocket than you think.

2. Location Location Location 

When evaluating venues, don’t just think about the inside of the room but also consider if the venue is easily accessible for you and your guests, is there parking available and how long it will take to get there after the ceremony itself. Are there photo opportunities outside and how does the reception venue accommodate for different weather? Will you have exclusive use of the venue or will there be another wedding or two on at the same time? Are the walls soundproof enough that you will be able to listen to speeches without being interrupted by the Zorba next door? What does this mean in terms of privacy?

3. Would you like that on the rocks?

Although most venues offer unlimited drinks for the full duration of your reception, the quality can vary considerably. Make sure you ask exactly what alcohol will be included. Don’t know much about wines? Neither do I, but a quick search on Dan Murphy’s will tell you if the wine in your package is $6 a bottle, or closer to the $20 mark. If you want to bring your own spirits as well, make sure that you discuss this with the venue upfront. You would be surprised how many venues won’t allow this as it is against their liquor licence.  

4. They say you never eat at your own wedding 

But your guests do, so think about your menu carefully. Will canapés be served on arrival? Will the menu contain alternating meals or does everyone get the same dish? Do they adequately cater for dietary requirements? Will you be provided with a complimentary menu tasting and for how many peoples? The quality of food is one of the most common complaints that guests have about weddings so it's important to ensure that the menu doesn't put a dampener on your big day.

5. Have your cake and eat it too

While some venues offer a cake as part of the package many others don’t so this is something to consider. In my experience the wedding venues only tend to offer very basic one or two tier cakes. If you are looking for something a little more grand and the venue won’t budge on the inclusions, see if there is the option for you to pay the difference to the supplier directly and upgrade to that 4 tier cake you always wanted. 

6. Wait! What happened to our first dance?

Do you want to have a DJ, MC, a band or all of the above? While a DJ can keep the music going, an MC will ensure your reception runs according to schedule and you don’t find yourself suddenly rushing through speeches because no one kept an eye on the time. Many venues have their own DJ's and MC's that come very highly recommended (or they wouldn't get repeat business) so make sure to negotiate with them on cost.

7. Define "capacity"

What a venue considers as maximum capacity can differ greatly from what is actually comfortable for you and your guests. It’s not uncommon for venues to pack so many people into one room that your guests won’t be able to shift their chairs back and will be constantly knocking elbows with the people sitting beside them. This isn't fun for anyone and will impact the mood in the room. If possible, ask to come in and see the venue set up for a similar size wedding to yours so you can really see how close the tables are pushed together. 

8. A candelabra can be costly

Every table has a centrepiece and that centrepiece can range from a vase with flowers to a candelabra draped with chains of pearls and Swarovski crystals. Whatever your taste may be, ask the venue to show you what centrepieces are included in the price and what the upgrades would cost. A chair is a chair, except when you’re planning your wedding. You need to think about chair covers, coloured sashes or if you want to upgrade to those beautiful white Tiffany chairs. With 100 or more guests, even a simple ribbon can quickly add up. Are you happy to use the standard white table skirting that most venues offer or are you looking for something extra? A good question to ask is if all the decorations in the brochures (including that sparkling chandelier you can’t get your eyes off) are included in your package? My experience taught me that most of what you see in a venues advertising was hired from an external supplier for the photo shoot and will cost a fortune to replicate. Be aware of what decorations are actually included in the room as standard. 

9. Can I get that with dark pink polka-dots?

Your invitations may be the most expensive stationary you ever pay for, but you also need to keep in mind the seating chart, place cards and menus. Getting these thrown in by your venue can help you save some much needed dollars, but they might not necessarily match your style. Don’t forget there is also the wedding favours/bomboniere to consider! 

10. The getaway

When it’s time to leave, does the venue throw in a car to take you and your loved one to your next destination or are you required to hire your own? Are they willing to throw in a luxury hotel for the night or will this be at your expense? This could save you a lot of money as the car alone won’t come cheap!

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Take a look at our 5 tips for choosing the perfect wedding photographer