Wedding Venue - Rosewood Mayakoba, wedding reception tables overlooking the ocean
THE HUNT

How to Find the Perfect Wedding Venue

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BY LEAH MELBY CLINTON / 11 19 21

Searching for a Wedding Venue

First things first: There’s no such thing as a “perfect” wedding venue. The spot you choose for yours, be it hotel or vineyard or grand estate, should be perfect...for you. But instead of that idea removing the pressure to find that just-right spot, it can actually add more stress instead. Where should you get married? Would your friends and family travel to a far-away destination? How many friends and family will you need to accommodate? And what will be the most special, unforgettable place that will be meaningful for you and your partner for years to come? No pressure.

When deciding which wedding venue to go with, there’s a lot more to  consider than seating capacity or if there’s availability around your desired date. Rather, the most thoughtful couples consider things like family histories and where guests will be coming from when hunting for the wedding venue that’s just right for them. 

Below, the key aspects to consider—and the order in which to do them:

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Wedding Venue - Private Residence, ceremony arch made of branches with floral accents, overlooking the ocean
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1. Consider Your Wedding Location

The first thing to figure out: Where. Options abound—the literal world, really—but asking a few questions to ground yourself is paramount and can help you identify a few unique wedding venue options. Do you want to get married where you or your partner grew up? Is there a spot that’s special in your relationship history, be it a first vacation or city where you fell in love? Do either of you have connections to certain spots that will always anchor your future family? “Honing in on a location that has played a role in your couple story can help you determine a special destination—like your favorite vacation city, where you got engaged, where you spend summer weekends or maybe the groom’s favorite lake where he and his family spent summers,” suggests husband-and-wife planners Aleah and Nick Valley of Valley & Company Events. “Alternatively, couples can choose a spot with amenities and amazing scenery (beaches, culture, spectacular views, etc.) that will lend to the experience of you and your guests.”

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Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards
North Garden, VA
Katie Stoops Photography

Once you’ve got something in mind as your potential wedding venue location, run through the practicalities.

How far is it from where you currently live?

Will you be able to do a lot of the wedding planning remotely? And, even if you can, will that work for you—or will not being able to see and touch every single detail and walk the space drive you insane? “Consider how many times you will feasibly be able to visit the location based on your busy schedule and the financial implications of a couple of site visits,” advises Lynn Easton of Easton Events. “Seasoned wedding planners can mitigate your personal need to travel, but if you plan to be hands-on, don’t forget you will want to make time to visit your wedding destination a couple of times between the time of booking and the actual wedding weekend!”

How does it affect your guests’ travel?

A destination wedding can be halfway around the world or simply a two-hour drive from where most of your friends and family live. The harder it is to get to your wedding venue, the lower yield you’re likely to have when it comes to RSVP’s.

Some people will place a lot of importance on the majority of friends and family being able to attend, while other brides have no problem leaning into the idea of, “We’re doing south of France—and whoever can make it, great!” Neither is right or wrong, but understanding which way you lean truly affects the wedding venue wedding venue that’s best suited for you. Think about your families and friends: If someone has a grandmother outside of Boston who can’t travel, but you feel strongly about her being there...maybe you’re looking at a Back Bay celebration versus Koh Samui.

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If you’ve got a small guest list to begin with and know you won’t mind if a farflung locale scares some people off, then a unique wedding venue somewhere exotic is worth considering. Who knows, pre-pandemic, couples were finding that a lot of millennials were more game to turn a far-away wedding location into an excuse for a longer vacation, leading to getting higher amounts of “yes” RSVP’s than originally anticipated. But don’t let glamorous daydreaming take your focus off the logistics: There could be language barriers, long-haul flights, and a high probability that you won’t get to see much of anything in terms of planning until you touch down on the Big Weekend. Are all those no-big-deal factors for you, or something that will adversely affect your experience from planning to walking down the aisle? 

One more thought on location, don’t forget to take popular local events into account. “Think about sporting events, concerts, exhibits and marathons when choosing your date and location during the entire week of your wedding,” the Valleys advise. “This can pose obstacles for deliveries, impact lodging for guests, and potentially raise costs.”

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Château De La Napoule
France
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2. Decide on a Wedding Budget

Now that you know your ideal wedding venue, it’s time to broach the topic of how much money you’ll have at your disposal. The conversation can be uncomfortable, whether it’s just between you and your partner, or with your parents as well, but it has to be had. Be honest and realistic and don’t allow yourself to stretch beyond what’s feasible, just hoping that the gap will be made up somehow.

The wedding reception venue is typically the biggest charge on your spreadsheet. With the overall wedding average wedding cost in the U.S. falling right around $30,000, about half of that is estimated to go towards your venue (the number includes the rental of the physical space, plus food and beverage, chair and table rentals, and other incidentals). You’ll need your budget buttoned up before you sign anything with your wedding reception venue—and a deposit is almost always required to hold the date, so it’s one of your earliest costs on top of being one of the largest, with the remaining balance paid in one to two installments leading up to your big day.

Having your budget in mind can also help you make a decision if you’re picking between a hotel wedding versus a mountain wedding venue. Hotel weddings will almost always require a package deal—you’re using their physical space, yes, but also their catering, bartenders, and staff to set-up and breakdown.

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On the other hand, if you’re eyeing a space that’s truly just a venue—or a total blank canvas—you’ll need to assemble your own team of vendors to handle everything else. This can mean catering, furniture rentals, lighting and sound—even bathrooms or building out a full restaurant-grade kitchen if you’re looking at a spot that’s more remote or rustic. “Remember to include items for a tented/backyard wedding like restrooms (for guest and staff), power, lighting, a kitchen build-out etc.” advises Virginia Edelson of Bluebird Productions. “These are often not in a typical wedding budget, and will help you get the full picture for a tented wedding.” It can feel creating your own space is the more cost-effective option, but that’s not always the case. Some degree of existing infrastructure can save you from a lot of headaches, but if you’re game to take on the project (and expense) of a full build-out, you will definitely want to hire an experienced wedding planner to oversee and coordinate your assorted vendors.

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The Little Nell
Aspen, CO
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3. Figure Out the Type of Wedding Venue You Want

When it comes to wedding venues, there’s an entire spectrum of options.  Some couples will inherently know what they’re drawn to without needing to give it a second thought, while others might never have really thought about where the walk down the aisle takes place. If you’re more in the second camp, ask yourself a few questions to take stock.

Is a religious wedding important?

If the answer is “yes,” but you won’t be at your hometown place of worship, you’ll need to be thoughtful about the options in your chosen location (and find out what they require to marry couples).

Inside or out?

The latter typically has more of a relaxed, rustic, or boho feel, though not always. It will also be more weather-dependent, both in terms of the forecast (a rain plan is needed) and the season. “If hosting an outdoor wedding during the cooler months, always plan for the coldest possible temperature once the sun goes down,” warns Easton. “Provide blankets and consider renting heaters to ensure that guests stay warm.”

How much work do you want to do (or pay people to do)?

Spots used to catering events, like hotels or vineyards, will likely have a well-oiled machine that can crank into gear. Conversely, romantic options like a tented wedding in the middle of a field or a surfside celebration tend to need a lot (reference the aforementioned portable restrooms and restaurant-level kitchen).

Thinking about your wedding “type”—country-chic versus big-city glam—can also help you narrow in on the right spot. Mood board, think back to celebrations that inspired you, or just let your mind wander. If you can quiet the noise of what’s going on, you’ll be surprised at how easily a vision, be it a barn wedding or wide-open ballroom, can take form. 

Finally, don’t forget the guests when thinking about your wedding reception venue. Do you want everyone to be celebrating where they’ll be staying, too? It can make their lives easier (and removes the need to pay for transportation to and from the venue).

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The Astorian
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4. Book the Thing!

Once you’ve done all the dreaming and deciphering, it’s time to take action. Have a specific venue in mind? Connect with them to see if they have an in-house coordinator or, if you’re planning on working with a wedding planner, ones they recommend. Planners will often do a lot of the logistical liaising with a venue, so sign on prior to properly booking your venue.

If you’ve settled on the type of wedding venue you’re after but haven’t found the spot, use our wedding library to search for some real examples. Filter by location and/or venue style (e.g., barn, beach, vineyard) and browse photos of actual weddings that took place in specific venues. Touring options in-person is always ideal, but virtual look-arounds are common now, too. The number of venues you consider is “entirely dependent upon how many venues are in line with your vision, budget, guest count, and the flow of events that you desire,” says wedding planner Cole Drake. “It could be five or more depending upon [how many] venues realistically meet your needs/wants.”

Once you’ve found the spot that looks like everything you've ever dreamed of and the date is available, make sure you ask a few final questions.

Capacity

Can they accommodate your guest list? Is there a hard cut-off?

Plan B

How have they handled rain plans for past events (and do you love it just as much as the fair-weather option)? What is the AC or heater situation? 

Frequency

How many weddings do they do a year? Or weekend? Will yours be book-ended by another that might require you to be out by a certain time? 

Additional Spaces

There’s your ceremony and reception locations, obviously, but what about the other spots you’ll want. Do they have a bridal suite for getting ready and taking photos on the big day? A good area for the after-party? Where do they set up cocktail hour? “Don’t let your guests get fatigued by hosting in only one space on the property,” recommends wedding photographer Kelli Durham. “Give them plenty of reason to know why you chose this as your location and why the venue is so unique and special.”

There’s a lot to think about, and a lot of questions to ask, but it’s the setting for one of the biggest days of your life—would you want to not be considerate about it? With a combination of thoughtful questions to ask yourself and specific details to get answered by the wedding reception venues themselves, you’re on the right path to finding your perfect spot.

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Monterey, CA
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