The first thing we started doing after getting engaged was look for venues. We did this even before developing our guest list, because we really needed to get a sense of what things cost before we decided what kind of wedding we wanted. We ballparked our guest list at 150 and started doing our research.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t already have a dream venue chosen – The Lange Farm, a dreamlike rustic atmosphere with shady trees, a barn, a freakin’ swing. I’d found and bookmarked that place months before, and almost immediately sent out an email to their event coordinator to get an idea of rates.
And wow – it was my first real letdown of the process. The place was far more than we could hope to afford, even in its smaller space. I really tried to figure out a way to make it work, but it just wasn’t possible. So the search continued.
We must have found 100 places in those first couple of weeks. Most of our work was done on the Internet, because we could rule out many of them just based on the stated rates, the location, the space available, etc. Because standard wedding venues were sure to surpass our bankroll, we started looking at less common spots. Museums, restaurants, parks – they were all part of our initial searches. Some of these places were reasonable. Others were not. Many didn’t even respond to our inquiries for more information. There was some crying (on my part) and freaking out that we could never afford this whole thing (also on my part).
I’ve already outlined how we found our current venue, and the lovely place we looked at earlier that day. In case you’re keeping track, that’s a grand total of two visits before the booking. Two (2). But in reality, the search wasn’t difficult because we could rule out 95% of potentials based on price and other criteria alone. Every time a price would be too high, the event manager would say they could tailor it, but we knew they couldn’t come far enough down to meet our price point, so we’d move on. And while I’d definitely advocate being flexible if you’re a flexible sort, well, I’m not. 🙂
I’d recommend prioritizing your needs and wants when it comes to a venue, so you know what’s a deal breaker — for BOTH of you, because yes, he has opinions, too — and what’s more open for interpretation. Here was our list:
- Available for a ceremony and a reception. We didn’t want to have to pay two separate venues or factor in travel time or transportation. A flexible enough space would allow everybody to stay in one place and, ideally, keep our costs down. We aren’t very religious, so it was fine that this ruled out churches as a ceremony locale.
- Able to bring in our own caterers. This, to me, seemed like a no-brainer. I felt like being restricted to the in-house caterer, as we would be at hotels, event spaces, and obviously restaurants, would limit our choices and increase our costs. I will tell you one thing: This is not necessarily the case. Though we ultimately did go with a venue and an outside caterer, our rental costs are very high because we have to rent everything but tables – chairs, table service, linens, everything. An all-inclusive option may have ended up being less expensive in the end, and probably just as flexible. So the key here is just to weigh ALL your costs, and maybe even get caterer costs along with venue rates if the venue doesn’t have in-house service.
- Able to provide our own booze. We’re not doing liquor, but we are doing a beer and wine open bar. We have friends with access to very affordable booze sources, so we didn’t want to be limited to the cost of a mandatory in-house bar option, or told we could only have a caterer provide alcohol. Or, even worse, that we couldn’t have alcohol at all – we did want to have something for our guests even if not the hard stuff.
- An outdoor component. I always dreamed of being married outdoors. It’s all that eye candy with the bride and groom under weeping willows and sunsets and breeze and night skies. It’s terrible persuasive, so even though this wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, it was a definite preference.
Did your venue search include many options? How long did it take you to find the one? What were your criteria — and how closely did you stick to them?