Congratulations, you’re getting married! This is a time for joy, so definitely take it all in – pop some champagne, get all blissed out on your soon-to-be boo for life, and welcome everything that comes with him or her putting a ring on it, but get ready for some big decisions, too, starting first and foremost with a pretty big necessity: the venue. In addition to being one of the biggest investments you’ll make while wedding planning, the venue also sets the tone for the entire event. We see it as the glue that holds all the elements of your wedding day together, from ceremony all the way to send off. Needless to say, choosing a venue is a big decision! So, before you get down to the nitty gritty of finding your dream venue, let’s talk about the steps you need check off your list before starting your search.
1. Find a Planner
If your budget allows for one, hiring a wedding planner can make the process OH so much easier. Having someone who can design and plan your big day, down to the last detail, not only takes some pressure off of you as a couple, it also helps to bring on an advocate, advisor, and all-around wedding pro who can make things more manageable ((and stress-free, which is major)). The right planner will be with you every step of the way as you narrow down your venue options, and can help negotiate the contract to get the most bang for your buck. Our full Wedding Planning Guide is the perfect resource for knowing exactly what you need in a planner and how to find the right one for you.
2. Set a Budget
Hiring a wedding planner might be to-do numero uno, but determining your budget is right up there in rank of priorities. Knowing who is going to be contributing to your overall wedding finances will help you set realistic expectations on every decision you will be making. Granted, that conversation, whether it be between the two of you or all of the parents (and even extended family members), could be a tough one. So, in our experience, it’s best just to bite the bullet, sit down with your beverage of choice, and figure it ALL out together. Keep in mind that exploring expectations vs. reality can be a learning curve, and things may need to be adjusted down the road. Just try to stay nimble with those nuptials needs!
3. Consider Dates
There are a few things to consider when looking at wedding dates. The first step is to sit down with your partner and determine what season works best for the both of you. You may ask yourselves:
- Is there a particular season where life is less hectic for you?
- Do any “must-have” loved ones have limited availability due to health, travel, or work?
- Is there a date or season that has particular meaning to you as a couple?
- What kind of climate, florals, menu and overall feel are you envisioning for your day?
Determining the answers to these questions will help you narrow down the range of possibilities. The overall feel you want will serve as a guiding light time and time again when planning the details for your day. If you want a cozy gathering with natural textures and warm tones, consider hosting a fall wedding at a venue with stunning foliage. A springtime soirée might be the answer if you want lush green grass and flowering trees in full bloom. There are advantages and disadvantages to all seasons, so be sure to weigh the options carefully. Check weather patterns and plan accordingly, from the beginning, for a pleasurable experience for guests, rain or shine.
If you’re not particular about a season or range of dates, there are a couple things you can do to save money. First, consider booking in the off-season. This will vary based on where you are located, but venues should be able to give specifics. In addition, booking a day other than Saturday ((which used to be the gold standard in wedding-perfect days of the week)) can also help the budget, but in return is a bit less convenient for guests. Holidays may also create some scheduling conflicts with guests, so consider avoiding those. Remember that dates that play with numbers (11/12/13, 08/18/18, etc.) tend to be popular and more expensive, so if booking one of those dates is important to you, reach out to venues sooner rather than later.
Above and beyond personal preference, the biggest factor in selecting the date is the actual availability of the venue! Venues often book 12–18 months in advance, so keep those timelines in mind when setting appointments. Going in with several date options or a general season in mind may be best ((again, that flexibility can be SO important for keeping your sanity)). Keeping options open ensures you’ll be able to book a venue that truly speaks to you, rather than one that just one that just happened to have your date open.
For more advice on how to pick your wedding date, check out our article, What to Consider When Choosing Your Wedding Date.
4. Determine Guest List
It’s easy to underestimate how many people will actually end up on the guest list, especially when you factor in whose parents (or other hosts) might want to take part in the planning, from a financial standpoint. Having a firm number early on of who you’d like to be invited will reduce the likelihood of squeezing people in a space meant for a smaller count, and will help determine what venues fit your needs. Knowing the size of the guest list will also help budget considerations, as the number of people invited will affect the cost of things like stationery, catering, rentals, centerpieces, etc.
Of course, some invited guests will not be able to make it to the wedding. When estimating final count, it is normal for about 85% of invited guests to attend a local wedding, and 65% to attend a destination wedding. Keep in mind that it is best practice to be more generous with plus ones for destination weddings, or in any situation where a guest is traveling a long distance, so you’ll find that your guest count, here, will need to be increased.
“99% of our couples are destination weddings so we typically see about 60–75% of invitees attend.” – Ashley Peterson, Sugar Beach Events
5. Location: Domestic vs. Destination
More and more couples are choosing destination weddings, and with breathtaking locations like Paris or Provence, Lake Como, Tulum, and Santorini increasing in popularity, it’s not hard to imagine why. When deciding between destination or domestic, think about what makes the most sense for you based on your style, budget, and schedule. In addition, you may consider:
- Tourism Seasons: High tourist traffic can affect everything from transportation to accommodations.
- Guests: It needs to be realistic for must-have loved ones to attend, financially and otherwise.
- Budget: A destination wedding is more costly than a domestic one, especially considering transportation to and around the location. Given all the nuances of planning nuptials abroad makes things even harder to navigate if you’re doing it sans expert counsel (in a wedding planner), so you might also want to consider enlisting the help of a destination planner. These professionals know all the ins and outs of curating celebrations in your coveted locale(s), so they can handle a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Again, this requires extra spending against, but it’s a completely worthwhile endeavor (if you have the means!)
- Culture and Language: Planning a wedding remotely necessitates a different approach than planning domestically, so think about potential language barriers, laws and cultural differences.
- Safety, Health, and Politics: Dive deeply into research (and we mean deep!) to make sure guests have easy access to information regarding safety, health, and political issues. The extra thought and consideration given to your guests might take more time and planning, but it will pay off in spades when navigating any potential sticky situations. TSA reports, friends who’ve visited, planners, and other couples who’ve gotten married at the location are great resources for this research.