We’re excited to meet our new couples inquiring lately and as we get to know them, we’ve realized a lot of them have something in common: they aren’t sure quite how to officially choose their venue. Since your wedding date and your location go hand in hand, finding your venue is one of the very first steps most couples take in planning their wedding. Yet, that first step quickly becomes a leap when you realize how much is involved in picking the venue right for your wedding. Sometimes the choice is obvious, but when it’s not, I have some easy, smart ways to help you compare venues to make your best choice.
A couple things to figure out first:
- Your season and/or maybe some goal dates to help focus your options.
- Your guest list (this can be a range at this juncture, but plan for the high side when looking at venues so you don’t get yourself in a pickle!)
- Your grand total budget. Knowing this will help keep your venue pricing in proportion to your total budget and help keep you from getting yourself into a barrel of pickles!
Next, the goal of a venue comparison is to collect information in a way that you end up with comparing apples to apples. (I guess we’ll keep up the food analogies here!) You’ll find in your research, visiting, information-pulling, that venues vary greatly on what they provide, what they cost, what they limit and ultimately their value. It can sometimes make it impossible to make the right choice simply because you’re comparing an apple, orange, banana and a pineapple. While you might like each fruit for it’s own worth, the pros and cons game simply doesn’t cut it.
Note: your venue will be one of the defining factors of your day: the look/style, the guest’s experience, the way your day feels and flows, the impact on the budget and the background to the majority of your photographs. So it’s worth taking the time and effort to get smartly in place.
First, make yourself a chart. Something simple and handwritten is cool, or you can get all Excel-happy on it, whatever works. I’ve broken it down into 7 general areas of analysis, but you’re welcome to break it down even more in depth in each area if your venue comparison is so competitive that the nitty-gritty will help you make your decision. Watch out for analysis paralysis. Hopefully by pulling out the information in each area your fruit basket of venues becomes a bushel of comparable apples primed for you to choose confidently which will be the ideal wedding venue for you!
The capacity of your space needs to accommodate both your guest count and your event expectations.
The first part of capacity is purely in the numbers. What is the minimum and maximum guest count approved by each of your venues? Note it. It’s pretty obvious you won’t be able to keep a venue in the running if your guest count just won’t fit. But not so obvious, yet still worth noting, is having a small guest count in a very large room is likely to be underwhelming, no matter how well it matches your vision.
The next piece of capacity is based on what your needs and your desires are on your space. It’s your guest count PLUS any other function you have that will take up space: dance floor, buffet/stations accommodations, stage for a band, head table, lounge areas, additional bars, dessert or favor displays, a photo booth, etc. You may not know all your needs at this juncture, but having a good idea of what can fit and how, (even ask for sample layouts from your venue!) will save you lots of headaches in the future!
ACTION: Delete the venues that no longer match up, even if you love them a lot.
Price & Value
Very point-blank, a large part of your decision will hinge on how much it will cost you. The first areas to note are the basics: rental price of the space, the food and beverage pricing (if the venue offers catering), the tax and service fees, and fees you may have to absorb just to have your wedding there, like transportation of guests.
Value is simply what you get for your money and really, what is that worth to you? While you may get lots of amenities inside of a inland hotel ballroom, the value of having an ocean view could be worth the compromise of not getting as much for your dollar.
Make sure to include all fees, taxes, surcharges, etc. into your price. I like to calculate how much it ends up being per head (a.k.a. per guest) ultimately, since your guest count numbers drive price, it’s easier to see what the bottom dollar will be with your guest if you know the price per head. Some people would rather see things in a macro-amount, do whatever way helps you compare your venues!
ACTION: Crunch numbers. Don’t skip this step, it’s crucial for your success!!
Amenities & Assets
Amenities and assets are the perks, accommodations or event-specific items your venue provides. Basic items would be tables and chairs, more detailed items could be a bridal suite to get ready in. Most venues will give you a list of what comes along with the space, it may include items like: tables and sizes, chair types, (and both their quantities), provided linens, a dance floor, use of what portions of the facility, parking/transportation accommodations, lodging, coordination services. Note every perk, it might even help you to note the strength of it in hierarchy. Note preferences, like where two venues might provide chairs, but you love one venue’s chairs and would have to replace another venue’s chairs if you chose them, you’ll quickly see where your extra costs will add up. As those pros and cons accrue as you research and collect information, you’ll start to see more clearly which venue possesses the great benefit to booking them.
A sub-column to this area would be upgrades, so take a look at those, too. Whether that’s upgrades in food and beverage packages, an event lighting package, specialty rentals, linens, and items of the like, you may find these types of assets will swing your vote as you compare this list (and the upgrade pricing) to the other apples.
Just like everything in life, venues have limitations. Each comes with a list of “don’t’s and can’t’s” made to protect their facility, keep order and ensure each event on their property has their seal of approval on it. Whatever is on their list, it goes along with the territory. There are few exceptions to these rules, while you may ask for them to bend on something, part of the process is accepting the limitations and working within them.
Like assets, if the competition is stiff, I think helps to put in hierarchy of limitations, which ones are really cramping your style and what won’t phase you.
Make sure you ask the questions, pull out what the limitations are and make sure you are well aware. The hardest thing to manage after you’re into the process are surprises. So be proactive on this one!
ACTION: Do another round of evaluation, are there any venues that quickly aren’t meeting your expectations when you look at the value of pros/cons? Does they all fit in your budget? Delete!
Ease of Entry/Planning Experience
What kind of planning experience do you hope to have leading up to and on your big day? Are you a big hands-on project people? Does the planning process stress you out and you’re best off having a team guide you through the process? Do you have time-consuming careers that leave little time for wedding planning? Knowing this about yourself will help you decide on a venue, big time.
A lot of venues come along with a sales person designated to your account at the very least. They can answer questions, help you with the basic preparations of the plans and give you all the information you need to plan your day. Additionally, an onsite coordinator can be provided to not only aid in the process, but will help make your event smooth and enjoyable from the venue’s side. They however don’t have a huge part in your planning process, so if you are still in need of more guidance, you’ll want to look into a planner, coordinator or event designer based on your needs. If you have a venue that might take a lot of love to pull off, that extra help will make a world of difference!
Just like a home, some venues are turn-key. They have everything you need and want there for you to take advantage of, and that suits a lot of couples! Sometimes the more unique venues however come along with very little ease entry and there’s a lot of planning needed from your end. Depending on how you answered that first question, the ease of entry and planning experience of each venue may play a big role in your final decision.
This one is a little more vague to capture, but worth including in the comparison. I find one of the biggest priorities for my clients is making sure their guests have a blast and enjoy themselves from start to finish.
If you’re reading this before you start your full search process, here’s something to keep in mind. As you visit/tour/virtual tour/otherwise experience your venue choices for the first time, try and keep your first impression in mind as it’s similar to what the guests will experience come your wedding day. If you’ve already visited, try and think back about the first things you noticed. Logistical things like traveling to the property, signage, where to park, where to enter, cleanliness, friendliness of staff, ease of entry, impact of architecture, and those types of things are worth noting. Aesthetic things to note are things like the flooring/carpeting, how well-kept is the facility, color of the walls, overall look and feel, lighting, energy, style.
The way you plan your day will have a lot to do with the guest’s experience, but there’s a lot that you won’t want, or be able, to change with plans in regards to your venue. So it’s good to consider the state, impression and experience of your venue in your comparisons.
I hope you have a barrel of apples now! Even better, I hope you know which venue is just right for you. As a final deliberation step, if needed, I like to rate venues. (Personally, I favor stars, but 1-5 or ‘out of 10’ works too!) Take each venue, their areas of comparison and give it a rating. Trust your gut, your hard work and your senses. Lastly, if you’re still stuck, sleep on it. If the decision isn’t clear, it might not be time yet to make it. So, ease into it, it’s a big decision! One worthy of the time and effort to make the best one to fit you and your fiancé. Happy planning!