There are so many beautiful wedding venues (especially true in the Milwaukee area). It’s hard not to feel torn between wedding venues—especially when the choice is so important. Your wedding venue is more than just a backdrop. It’s the foundation of every wedding planning detail, the first thing your guests see, and the place you constantly contact as you set other details in stone.
Fortunately, the process of choosing a wedding venue doesn’t have to be excruciating—especially if you follow these steps for finding and booking the “one” wedding venue that’s right for your big day.
Decide on a location for your big day.
The first step of finding and booking a wedding venue is a simple conversation. Talk to your fiancé and discuss key details of your wedding, such as whether you want a big wedding or a smaller occasion with close friends and family. Come up with a general number of guests you want to invite; your guest number doesn’t have to be exact, but you should have an estimate when contacting wedding venues.
Talk about your time; do you have time to plan your wedding? If not, add “wedding venue with a planner” to your list of wedding venue criteria. This is also your chance to find out if there are any “musts” either of you has to have. (Use this list of wedding questions to steer your discussion and get answers that guide your wedding planning.)
Most importantly, discuss where you want to hold your wedding ceremony and reception. What country/state/city do you want to get married in? Talk about whether you want a destination wedding or to get married in your hometown, the city you met in, or your current “adopted” city. If you have a favorite part of town, narrow down your location criteria even further.
Next, discuss the criteria for your venue (or venues) in your chosen location. What do you want in a ceremony site? Do you want a religious ceremony? Or would you rather hold your ceremony and wedding reception at the same venue? Do you need a venue near hotels for your out-of-town guests?
Set a budget.
Once you’ve narrowed down your location criteria for a wedding venue, set a wedding budget for the venue and vendors; this wedding checklist from Real Simple or a wedding budget app can be invaluable during wedding planning. In addition to setting numbers, have an honest conversation with your fiancé about where funds for the wedding is coming from.
Your wedding budget conversation may need to go beyond the two of you. If any friends or family has offered to help with the wedding financially, ask them for specific details and an exact gift amount. To avoid any misunderstandings, try to avoid general statements. “I can pay for the venue” or “I can help with the wedding dinner” is a generous offer, but also one that can lead to drama later; the gift amount they are picturing may be very different than the actual cost.
Decide on style and season.
The location and budget are the first of several criteria for your wedding venue search. Next, decide on the style of venue that fits you as a couple. What kind of big day do you both picture? Decide whether a rustic barn, urban loft, or an elegant wedding venue fits your wedding day vision.
Now it’s time to ask the big question: what is the right day for our wedding? If you’re completely blank on where to start, use this list of ways to set a wedding date (i.e. favorite season, special day, etc.) You don’t have to come up with an exact date. In many cases, a month or season is enough to start a wedding venue search.
Use your answers (and this wedding venue checklist) to create a short list of venues in your chosen location. If you have a set date, contact the venues and ask if they are available on the day. For couples not sure about the date, ask venues what dates are available during your favorite month or season.
Use interviews to narrow down the list of venues.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to set up a million wedding venue tours (pro tip: never book a wedding venue without a tour). Narrow down your list of wedding venues further by contacting venues and asking these questions:
- Will my wedding be the only event held at the venue?
- What is the guest capacity of your venue? Can your venue hold a ceremony and reception?
- How much is your venue rate? How many hours are covered by that rate? What is the overtime fee if my wedding goes beyond that length of time?
- Does your venue rate include any services and staffing? Is wedding planning services offered?
- Does your venue carry liability insurance? (This can be important in case a guest is injured.)
- Is there a cancellation policy?
- Does your venue have a list of required vendors? Can we use our favorite vendor (i.e. caterer, photographer, etc.)?
- Does your venue have a policy pertaining to alcohol? Do we need to bring in alcohol or hire bartenders?
- Is there parking available? How far do guests have to walk to the parking lot?
- Is the wedding venue handicap accessible?
- Can I tour the wedding venue?
Set up venue tours.
A wedding venue tour is your chance to see the space guests see and the spaces you use. Ask the wedding venue staff to see the main spaces where guests circulate, as well as the restrooms, changing spaces for you and your attendants, and parking lot. Use this checklist for touring the wedding venue.
As you tour and contact the wedding venue staff, make sure you include your impression of their customer service into your final decision. Do they respond promptly? Do you feel comfortable interacting with the staff? As you plan, you are going to have to interact with staff quite a bit; make sure you are comfortable with the staff and their level of customer service.
Review and confirm.
Before you sign on the dotted line, review the contract for any red flags. Carefully look over the overtime fees and cancellation policy. Feel free to ask venue staff members any questions and don’t feel obligated to sign. Once you have your wedding venue booked, it’s time to move on to the next step of wedding planning and enjoy every step of the process.