How to choose your wedding venue
Woohoo! You just got engaged!
First you feel on top of the world having just got engaged. Then you come back down to earth with a bit of a bump when you realise you’ve got to find a wedding venue and do a whole load of wedding planning which makes you feel suddenly overwhelmed. Does this sound a familiar?
Well, the good news is that you’re not alone. This is how I felt 3 months ago when I got engaged, and also what I hear from many of my couples. So, where to start?
Start with your wedding venue hunt!
I may only be a few months ahead of you, but to help you along your way, I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt and put together a few handy tips as well as share my wedding venue comparison spreadsheet which you can download for free.
Gather some wedding venue inspiration
Do you have an idea of where you want to get married? How about a rustic barn? Maybe you want a church wedding before moving to a luxury country house hotel for the reception? Or what about a woodland wedding? What sort of venue speaks more to your heart than your head? Falling in love with a venue is often a great place to start.
Some couples (and often it’s the brides) have a very clear idea of where they want to get married because they’ve been dreaming about it since they were little. For others, it may not be so obvious. If you fall into the second camp, don’t panic! Before you put any pressure on yourselves why not grab a cuppa, sit down with your other half and do a bit of venue googling as a way to spark some ideas?
One site which we really enjoyed looking at was cocoweddingvenues.co.uk. When you enter the site, they’ve already put together categories (such as rustic romance, classic elegance, coastal cool, modern vintage, etc) so by browsing those galleries you can start to get a feel for the sort of thing you like. They also have a venue finder search function so you can browse by location, capacity, venue type and wedding style. Oh, and did I mention the photos on this site? Simply stunning! I’m sure you’ll be swooning over venues in no time! 🙂 (Sadly they’re not paying me to do their advertising. Maybe I’ve missed a trick!)
Start your wedding venue list with the ones that excite you and then get into the practicalities to narrow down your options.
List your 3 non-negotiables
Maybe you dream of having your wedding ceremony on a beach? Maybe live music is important to you? Or having as many of your family and friends there as possible is a must? The list goes on. Knowing what is most important to you can really help you draw up a shortlist. Do also keep in mind that these non-negotiables might change as you go through the process though. (They did for us!)
Your wedding guest list
Now that you have some rough ideas about the sort of venue you’re looking for, my next recommendation is that you have a stab at putting your guest list together. At this point, you obviously don’t have to have a finalised list, but having an estimate will certainly help as you continue to define your search requirements. The last thing you want is to find the perfect venue and then later down the line realise that it’s going to be too small for the number of people you want to invite. (Believe me, I’ve been there, done that and it is really disappointing!)
Do you want all the kids or no kids? If you’re not spring chickens, then many of your friends might already have their own families. In which case you might want to say no to the little ones to keep your numbers down and wedding affordable. Your guests might thank you for not inviting kids and relish the night off. If in doubt, phone a friend! (With kids).
Alternatively, we found some venues which have childminding facilities/contacts, so that could be an option worth exploring.
You’ll likely spend a lot of money on your wedding, so make sure you invite who you want!
Your Wedding Budget
Ooops, I mentioned the dreaded “budget” word, but having an idea of your wedding budget is really important. As many people will tell you, weddings are very expensive and then some! In fact, there was a time during our wedding venue hunt when we had a bit of a wobble and wondered if we’d prefer travelling around the world for six months rather than spending all that money on one day! In the end, as for many people, we decided it was really important to us and to continue with our venue search.
Oh, and an interesting thing we found out – some venues have a flat rate hire for the venue, others have packages based on certain numbers, and others price their venue per head. It can get very confusing, so again, if you’ve got a spreadsheet where you can work out all the different numbers in the same way, this is a big help. (Cue: Wedding Venue Comparison Spreadsheet template!)
How important is it that your wedding is close to where you live? Are your family nearby? Do you have any elderly relatives you’d want there who wouldn’t be able to travel long distances? Are there any places where you have a special connection? Or like for us, are numbers and the type of venue more important than where it is?
If people are coming from abroad, we figured that location is less of an issue as they’ll be travelling anyway, so what’s a few extra miles? Plus a destination wedding is a great excuse for a holiday!
Do think about what is important to you.
Time of year
Do you have an idea of when you’d like to get married? Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of a spring wedding with sunshine and blossom-filled trees? Or perhaps you love autumn colours? Venues always ask what dates you have in mind, so having this information ready is helpful.
For us, we have friends and family up and down the UK as well as abroad, and some with school-age kids. We didn’t want to make it difficult for those with kids, so we drew up our shortlist of dates that coincide with school holiday dates. (Why Scottish and English school holidays are different, I do not know. Don’t you wish they’d make them the same?!)
It is worth noting that venue prices can vary incredibly depending on the time of year and even the day, so this is one reason why we came up with our wedding venue comparison spreadsheet as it was impossible for us to keep track of all the different prices otherwise.
If keeping the costs down is more of a priority than the time of year, you’ll be pleased to know that some venues have winter or last minute deals. However, many of these deals have limited capacity e.g. 60 day guests and 40 evening guests – so if you’re planning to have more than 100 guests, then you may not end up making the saving you were hoping for.
Be warned – crazy thought it may seem, some venues get booked up months if not years in advance. So if you fall in love with a place and decide you want to go for it, please don’t delay!
If you decide to get married locally, then accommodation for you and your guests may not be such a big thing to think about. But if you’re considering venue options which are further from home, then it’s a good idea to check that there are enough accommodation options (with varying prices to suit a range of guest budgets) in the local area before booking.
Some venues include accommodation in the hire price. You could invite your guests to make a contribution, so that could make a difference to your overall costs.
Travel and parking
Is your venue easy to get to? Does it have enough parking? Hopefully the answers to both those questions is yes, but if you’re thinking about having a more remote wedding (or if you know parking will be an issue) hiring a bus to pick up your guests, deliver them safely to your venue and then drop them back at their various accommodations at the end of the night could be worth looking into.
Food and drink
Have you got a particular type of cuisine in mind for your wedding breakfast? Do you want the traditional canapés and 3-course dinner, an afternoon tea style picnic, an Indian banquet, a hog roast, or something totally different?
Some venues (particularly hotels) will only let you use their own chefs or choose from a select number of recommended caterers, so keep in mind you won’t always get such a varied choice everywhere.
To give you an idea of prices, we found that the cost of catering can vary HUGELY! Roughly speaking, we found that catering costs start at around £35 per head, drinks packages start at £20 per head, and evening packages start at around £15 per head.
What happens if it rains?
Gaaaaah! No one EVER wants that to happen, but hey, this is the UK and the weather can change in the blink of an eye, so asking your venue about their bad weather solutions is a really good thing to do.
We fell in love with a venue near where I grew up (on the east coast of Scotland) where you could have a beach wedding ceremony in the Spring/Summer or a woodland ceremony in the Autumn/Winter. Both ceremony locations looked gorgeous BUT if it rained on your wedding day, then you’d end up having your entire day in the marquee. In our eyes, that defeated the idea of being in that location, as the whole reason for us loving that venue was the outdoors. Having all the photos in a marquee just wouldn’t be the same either.
Hotels often have an outdoor garden ceremony option or an indoor option in one of their function rooms, so they’re often better equipped.
Lighting and space for photos
When you’re browsing wedding venues online (or visiting them in person) DO have a think about light. (Being a wedding photographer, I could hardly write a blog post about venues without mentioning light now, could I?)
Photography will be an important trigger for happy memories of your day, I’d imagine. It’s therefore vital to think about the light and if the lighting is good enough for the photographer to work with. Do you prefer natural light photography like mine? Or do you really love more arty, moody photos which use flashlight for added dramatic effect?
If the former, then be sure to look for venues with lots of beautiful outdoor space where you can have photos taken using natural light PLUS indoor spaces with enough natural light and plenty of space for group photos so there’s absolutely no problem come rain or shine.
Is there such a thing as a budget wedding?
You may prove me wrong (and I hope you do!) but we quickly realised that planning a wedding for less than £10,000 (for 100 day guests and 50 additional evening guests) was NOT going to be realistic for us.
Ok, I should add a caveat here. IF you are happy with a small wedding, IF you are prepared to do a lot of the work yourselves, IF you have family or friends with land where you could pitch a marquee, IF you have lots of friends who are in the wedding industry and don’t mind doing stuff for free/working on your wedding day, and IF you have very business savvy/creative family and friends, then maybe you can have a DIY wedding for under £10,000!
The other way we found that could reduce costs would be to have a small intimate wedding ceremony at your local registry office followed by your reception at a local pub. One of the pubs near us in Winchester said that so long as the wedding party spent as much money as they would usually make on a given Saturday (or whichever day you chose for your wedding) then there wouldn’t be any additional hire cost. So on that basis, you could keep things relatively inexpensive.
And finally a word to the wise – however hard you might try, it will likely be impossible to please everyone! So please stay true to yourselves and choose a venue that feels right for you as a couple, and don’t compromise (too much) on your dream for the sake of others.
The Wedding Venue Comparisons spreadsheet
And now finally, here is the link to our wedding venue comparison spreadsheet template for you to fill out and use! We tried to keep it simple, yet also detailed enough to make it helpful.
I’d love to hear how you get on, and if you’ve any questions or if there’s anything I can help with, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Wishing you lots of luck and fun with your wedding venue search!
All the best,
P.S. Oh, and if you’re curious, we’ve decided to get married at Crear Weddings. It’s an exclusive-use destination wedding venue on the west coast of Scotland with absolutely breathtaking views across the bay to some of the Scottish islands. I cannot wait!!!
Featured wedding venues:
Eynsham Hall, Oxfordshire
Caswell House, The Cotswolds
Barnett Hill Hotel, Surrey
The Elephant Hotel, Berkshire
The Barn at Avington, Hampshire
Sanctum on the Green, Berkshire
The Glade, Avington, Hampshire
St Mary’s Church, Chipping Norton, The Cotswolds
Fison Barn, Oxfordshire