Starting the search for your perfect wedding venue can be intimidating, tedious and frustrating. Follow these 5 steps and you will be on the road to wedding venue bliss.
Set a Target Budget, Guest Count and Date Frame
Without these, there is not much you can do – and not much your venue consultants can work with. I have toured so many couples who come in and have no idea of how many guests they plan on inviting… I don’t need to know an exact amount, but have a target, say +/- 15%. So, 60-75 people or 90-110, or 180-220, 450-550, etc.
And so many couples don’t know what time of year they are considering (yes, it’s GREAT to have multiple dates, but to not even know the season? You might not be ready to start planning – and that’s OK, you do not have to plan your wedding the day after you become engaged!). Talk with your fiance and set up your date parameters – Any Saturday in June or July. Or, sometime Labor Day weekend, with the following weekend being an alternative.
Get real about your budget. And be comfortable talking about it. Have a number. A range. Something. Be wary of saying you want the least expensive option, and then plan to add upgrades – a venue might only here “I want something cheap” and prime dates might suddenly be “booked” or you might not meet their published minimum.
Here’s the deal. Pretend you are shopping for a house and I am your realtor. I have no idea what houses to show you if I do not know your budget. If I show you a $200K house, when your budget is $750K – you will be disappointed and not think the housing market is high end enough for you and the luxuries that you want are not attainable. On the flip side, if I show you a million dollar house and your budget is $100K, you will think I am crazy and just trying to get you for your money. Truth is, I have plenty of $100K houses, I just didn’t know what to show you, so I guessed. I tell my couples that it is not my goal to get you to spend over your budget and send you home broke. My goal is to maximize every penny that your budget allows (if not, just under) and get you everything we can cram into your (comfortable) spending cap.
Think your budget is embarrassingly low and unrealistic? I’ve dealt with less. I promise.
Start Searching Online – And with an open mind
I recommend that you start your search on the major wedding websites – theknot.com, weddingwire.com, mywedding.com and other wedding websites. Most of these sites feature reviews, unaltered by the business (I can tell you from experience that most sites do not permit altering or deleting a review, unless the company can prove it fraudulent or threatening). These sites also showcase pictures of venues, videos, packages and sometimes special pricing. I recommend you decide the geographical location that you are looking for, and start your search. At this point, I hope you are sourcing out about 15 places.
Ask For Information – then wait
Nearly all venues have an online information request form, or something similar, to let the venue know you would like information emailed to you. There is usually a spot for you to free-type specific questions – I recommend you put something there (ie. “looking for a gluten free wedding,” “do you allow sparklers?” something… you will see why later) Most will also ask for your phone number – which I recommend you submit.
How many of the 15 venues responded to you in a timely fashion? How many responded at all? Here is where you can start to weed out the list. If a venue didn’t get back to you, but you really wanted to learn about them, I recommend you try calling (once) and see what sort of response you get back. Otherwise, off the list they go.
This first point of contact is crucial. Did the venue rep pick up the phone and call you, asking questions and sounding genuinely interested in what you have to say? Did they respond to your email with a personal greeting and specific commentary on your date/guest count and/or an answer to the question you posed?
Or did you get a canned email with no personalization? Or did you get stood up, with no response at all?
Tour. Tour. Tour. – go at it alone (or alone-ish)
Once you make the initial contact with a venue, (and like what they have to say) set an appointment to go out for a tour. Hopefully, you are narrowing down to 5-8 venues to tour. By. Your. Self. (for the most part. This is not the time to bring the whole fam-damn-arella, maaayyyybbeee bring your fiance – but only if they want to be super involved with planning)
Split this over two days (so it’s all done together, but not one exhausting day). Take notes, take pictures, ask questions, and see how you like the venue person (ie event coordinator, sales person, etc). And ask for a custom quote THAT INCLUDES ALL SERVICE CHARGES AND TAXES. *I should note that I am working on a detailed post about the actual tour itself, and hope to publish it next week, so keep your eyes out for that!* The reason I recommend you go at it alone, is to narrow down your choices.
Go Back with Your Entourage
Dad needs to see the venue before signing off? Bring him. Fiance skipped the first round of visits? Bring fiance. Future Mother In Law needs to feel like she is a part of things? Let’s go baby.
I recommend that you return to your top three wedding venues with the “decision makers and check writers” for another tour – for a couple of reasons. More details in the aforementioned follow up post, but basically a second viewing gives you a chance to control the number of options that the decision makers have, to see your venue (and venue staff) on another day of the week and/or time of day, and to make sure the venue is what you remember.
Then go home, spread the three quotes in front of you, drink a glass of wine, and make your decision. I promise you, it’s that easy.
More on your wedding venue tours to come!