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NOW Planning Advice: Before You Say ‘I do’ to a Venue

Photo: Jessica The Photographer
Venue: Rosies’ on the Roof, Higgins Hotel NOLA

By Rena Sweeney, Alchemy Events

Congratulations; it’s time to start planning your wedding!  One of your first and most important steps is to select your venue. This is a key aspect of your wedding plans that will inform all other decisions as well as what will likely finalize your actual wedding date. 

As a wedding planner with over 20 years experience, I’ve developed a process to help my clients work through this decision so they make the best decision for their specific circumstances and I’m going to share this process with you!

FINDING YOUR WEDDING VISION

To get started, I ask a simple question: “How do you envision your wedding?” As they describe their dream wedding, I take note of the words they use to describe their vision for the day. Are they looking for a certain experience for themselves and their guests? Are certain elements extremely important? How many people will be celebrating with them? 

Some additional questions you may want to ask yourselves to help narrow things down are: do you want your guests to all be seated for an elegant full dinner service or do you want them mingling and chatting?  Do you want a fun take on street food or more formal options for your menu? Do you want architecture that feels like the city you’re in, an exposed brick courtyard or do you want a ballroom with huge chandeliers? Is indoor space a must or if everything is outdoors, are you willing to tent or have a “plan B”? What time of day will everything take place?  

Your answers will help guide everything from the venue options you have to choose from to the flow of the space and how much seating you’ll have down to the fun items like specialty cocktail selections. If you get stumped along the way, I recommend always referring back to your original vision.  

Take the time to determine your vision for your wedding before you start scheduling venue tours and be sure to write down everything you’re dreaming of. You may really love a venue but if it simply doesn’t meet your needs then it may not be the right fit for your reception and that’s ok, you will find the right venue!  (If you need more help finding your style, click to download your free copy of the NOW Wedding Planner for helpful tips on doing just that!)

For exceptional, unexpected, and unparalleled event design. Elegant or out-of-the-box, let's make some magic! Photo: Katie Sarpolis

THE WEDDING VENUE BUDGET BREAKDOWN

Once you know what aesthetic you want for your reception, you need to then have a general idea of your budget as well as your guest list. If you select a venue and you get more RSVPs than you anticipated, you risk not being able to fit everyone in the space you’re already under contract with. Additionally, you want to make sure that you won’t overspend and that you’ll be able to meet any food and beverage minimums that the venue may have. 

When looking at packages and pricing, venues vary greatly so there are some considerations you’ll want to be aware of or ask about if they’re not clearly stated. Make sure to consider whether they charge a ceremony fee (if applicable to you), whether they include tables/chairs/linens/china in the rental, if security is an additional fee and if their pricing already includes the taxes, fees and gratuity, which can sometimes add up to almost 30% to the final bill. 

While one venue may seem more expensive up front, another could end up costing the same if you add on everything separately like having to bring in your own tables and chairs, paying extra fees like a “cake cutting fee” or “corkage fee”, etc.  

This is a great time to put your spreadsheet skills to work so you can easily compare each venue and what their costs are. Make sure to include a column for whether or not you may need a tent at the venue, as that can also add to the potential cost of a space.

For additional helpful free planning tools and advice, click here.

THE PARKING SITUATION

Another column for the spreadsheet is whether there is ample parking for your guests or if you’ll need to provide transportation to get them to the venue. Paying for valet or transportation for your guests adds to your budget and should also be a consideration when selecting your venue.  

For some locations, like the French Quarter, larger buses holding more than 25 people can’t access those areas so if you have a large guest list, you may need quite a few buses to get everyone to your reception on time.  

Also ask about (or Google) large or city-wide events happening around the same time as your wedding as that could affect parking availability, street closures or even hotel room block availability and pricing.

SPACE CONSIDERATIONS

The layout of your reception is another important thing to consider. Some venues offer multiple spaces while others offer one large space and this will impact the feel of your reception. It’s best to go into the process knowing if you have a strong preference one way or the other. 

As you tour different locations, the venue managers can give you an idea of how they typically arrange the space for a wedding. While most venues will be flexible to suit your wants and needs, they may also have a reason for typically setting up a room a certain way including needing the band in a specific area where power is available and safety concerns.

Keep in mind if you want to provide seating for everyone (tables and chairs take up a lot of space!), if you want the buffets and bars in the same room or if a side room is an option and whether or not you may want additional things that take up floor space such as photo booths or a large band.

MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION

Once you have gathered information on the venues that are your style and within your budget, you can begin to compare them. 

Beyond looking at your spreadsheet with comparisons and expenses, imagine how your reception would look at each space. Imagine yourself going through the space as a guest. 

When in doubt, refer back to the vision you began with to remind yourself of the overall guest experience you wanted and eliminate options that don’t fit your vision.

To find out what questions you should ask when interviewing prospective venues, be sure to check out this article:

WEDDING PLANNING 101: YOUR RECEPTION

or Explore the NOW LIST Wedding Venues

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