The decision to get married is one of the biggest you will ever make. If you have just gotten engaged, congratulations; you are probably thinking about where to book your big day. If you have not, and just want to learn more about how to book a venue when the day does come, welcome – you are in good hands.
This complete and comprehensive guide will walk you through every step of the venue-booking process, from initial discussions with your partner, to what to look out for on the day of the wedding.
The guide is divided into 3 chronological sections, plus a summary of the most important tips for every bridal couple (click on the headings to jump straight down):
Remember – choosing a wedding venue is the first major challenge for many engaged couples, so keep calm and read carefully.
This is your opportunity to solve problems before they start. Use the following points to help you diagnose you and your partner’s wants, needs and expectations. However, we do understand that it is nearly impossible to know exactly what you want, need and expect at this stage of the planning, so for best effect, we recommend revisiting this section after you have read the entire guide. For now, treat these as general considerations.
Do you want a small, intimate gathering or a major celebration with extended family from both sides? A live band or a DJ? A traditional space or a funky DIY venue? A religious or civil ceremony?
Do you want your ceremony and reception at two different venues or the same venue?
Be firm about what you really want, but be prepared to compromise within reason. Take a minute to brainstorm.
Wedding venues typically get booked up 6-18 months in advance, less if you are lucky.
This usually depends on 3 factors:
- how popular the venue is,
- the season for which you want to book, and the
- day of the week for which you want to book.
If you just got engaged in spring and want to book the hottest spot in town for a Saturday in mid-summer, you’ll probably need some divine intervention. Conversely, if a midsummer Saturday is not a must, you might be able to book the same venue for the midsummer weekday of your choice, or the Saturday of your choice in mid-autumn (and for a discounted price).
The question to ask is: What is most important – the date, the day or the venue? Once again, be prepared to compromise within reason.
This information may scare couples who want to hold a ceremony/reception soon after their engagement. Fear not – in our experience, plenty of quality venues are still available 6-8 months in advance. If you’re starting out later than that, consider less conventional spaces. You will find something eventually 🙂 .
If you prefer a more hands-off experience, consider hiring a wedding planner or searching for venues with in-house planners (for example, some hotels offer all-inclusive wedding packages).
If you are prepared to be more involved, consider booking an exclusive-hire venue or marquee. Exclusive-hire venues give you the place to yourself for the entire day, so there is much more room for customisation. Marquees, on the other hand, are essentially just large, fancy tents that can be pitched almost anywhere; they are the ultimate in customisation, but therefore usually require the most work on your part. You can also explore restaurants and pubs (for instant catering), as well as other non-conventional venues.
When they first sit down to plan their wedding, many couples have no idea how involved the process will actually be. They may decide to do everything together at first, only later to discover that one hates planning aesthetic details, while the other hates coordinating with vendors (or that one is ultra-busy at work, while the other has a much more flexible schedule).
Talk with your partner about your natural inclinations (and work schedule) before you get overwhelmed with decisions you do not want to make.
Expect to spend about half your wedding budget on the venue and catering, and be sure to round up.
All too often couples end up spending more than they originally planned because they do not realise how long the list of paid items can actually get. As they move through the planning process, their inner bride- and groomzillas come out, and they start wanting things they never thought they would. The wedding industry knows this, which is why many venues offer all the extras you need, for only a small fee. Be careful, lest your budget spiral out of control.
If you are wondering how you are going to be able to pay for everything, start with who you know. See if any friends or family members can recommend a good florist, photographer, cakemaker, etc., who might be willing to work for a “friend price.” While you are at it, you can try to discreetly ascertain whether anyone is willing to make a financial contribution. You might be surprised.
One of the best things about weddings is that they bring together friends and family from near and far. But just like your budget, your guest list can easily spiral out of control if you are not careful.
It may sound harsh, but it is not a sin to make an A-list and B-list. Start early and send out informal invitations to the A-listers to gauge attendance. If you still have room left over, then you can move on to the B-listers. And do not be afraid to stand your ground under pressure, because it will become a political issue.
Remember that it is your wedding, and although some people might be a little offended at first for not making the cut, they will understand in the end. Ask yourself, do you really want to spend your big day with Uncle Fester’s college drinking buddies?
While the majority of this guide is rather universal, legal obligations in the US, UK and Australia vary slightly.
- US – Couples must have a marriage license for the county in which they intend to marry. Individual requirements for the license may vary from county to county, but unless otherwise noted, the licenses are valid anywhere within the given county, for any date within the period of validity (from: https://www.internations.org/usa-expats/guide/29461-family-children-education/marriage-in-the-united-states-16286 ).
- UK – Couples must give notice of marriage at least 29 days in advance, stating the intended date and place of marriage. In England and Wales, this notice is given in person at a registry office. In Northern Ireland, the notice can be printed and sent by post or submitted in person (form: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/MarriageNoticeFormHumanist.pdf). For religious weddings, additional restrictions may apply depending on your religious affiliation and the institution in which you intend to marry. Contact your local registry office for the most up-to-date information.
- Australia – Like in the UK, couples must submit a notice with a statement of the intended date and place of marriage, only here the notice must be given directly to the celebrant (form: https://www.ag.gov.au/FamiliesAndMarriage/Marriage/Documents/New-notice-of-intended-marriage.pdf). This must be done no earlier than 18 months and no later than 1 month before the wedding.
It is smart to carry a checklist and list of questions to each venue you visit. Otherwise, it will be easy to get lost in a barrage of information and lose sight of important details. Save yourself the trouble and download our free checklist and list of questions.
This is without question the most important section of this guide. What is written here will help you get the most out of the points in “Before Booking”, and will ultimately give you the tools you need to select the venue that is right for you.
In addition to intrinsic factors like size and location, we will talk about non-intrinsic factors like food, photography and music. Although you may end up addressing some of these factors after you book the venue itself, the points discussed below will help you make more educated decisions from the outset.
When you are getting started, keep in mind that venues will be much more likely to share information when contacted directly, so do not get discouraged if the information available online seems a bit sparse. Be assertive and pick up the phone or send a private message. And when you do go visit, take plenty of pictures. There is no way you can remember everything you see, so having pictures to compare and contrast later is absolutely invaluable.
If you think you have found a winner, visit again with a fresh perspective before you book. Once you have weighed all factors, go with your gut.
Here is what to look out for:
Cost is arguably the #1 criterion for most couples. As aforementioned, venue costs can easily spiral out of control. But with a little bit of clever planning, they can be kept entirely reasonable.
For example, having your celebration on a Sunday instead of a Saturday could cut your venue costs by as much as half. Just like you would when booking a flight, toggle dates and times with the venue manager to find the sweet spot.
Also, get an exact idea from the manager of what is included, what is optional, and what needs to or can be brought in. They may tell you that chairs are included, but fail to mention that the nice ones (the ones you want to be sitting in before you stand to take your vows) are only available for a cheeky surcharge.
Moreover, some venues apply surcharges for the use of non-preferred vendors. This does not mean you should not consider non-preferred vendors (as they may even prove to be cheaper in the end); it just means you should be careful and ask questions.
Finally, be tactful when negotiating, and do not let yourself get pressured into anything. By the same token, do not sign anything without reading the fine print. And whatever deal you strike with a given venue, be sure to get it in writing (including any cancellation fees). Most weddings are planned well in advance, and venues are constantly updating their offers, so it is not uncommon that prices quoted in February are higher when quoted in May. If you find a venue you like for the right price, at least have them send you an email.
When it comes to size, think comfort. For instance, if you are planning on having 200 guests at your wedding, find a venue that has a maximum capacity of over 200. Weddings are social events, and as such require plenty of space for free movement, so always err on the side of caution. Likewise, beware of the opposite extreme. If you have hired a venue that holds 300 for a wedding of 50, your guests might feel like they are in a Medieval echo chamber. Your safest bet will always be to view the space in person.
If any part of your wedding reception or ceremony is going to take place outside, ask about contingency plans for inclement weather. And while you are on the subject, find out if they have insurance, because accidents do happen. God forbid the venue should catch fire on the day before your event.
Also, take into account whether there are accommodations for senior/disabled guests (e.g. lifts) and children (e.g. high chairs).
For most weddings, transport is a big deal. People will most likely be coming in from all over, so if your venue is not within easy reach, your costs will soar (e.g. in case of a destination wedding). Furthermore, unless your venue is easily accessible by public transport, you are going to want a car park nearby – once again, consider any senior or disabled guests.
If your ceremony and reception are in two different locations, have a solid plan for transporting guests from one location to the other. We recommend taking a test drive/ride at the same time of day your guests will be travelling, so you can make note of any obstacles, potential delays or unclear road signage. Then print directions on the program handed out at the ceremony, so grandma does not end up travelling from Westminster to Kensington via Glasgow.
Another serious consideration should be accommodation. Unless you are going to have a dry wedding, people are going to be drinking, so take appropriate measures to curb any bad judgement that may occur. For example, if accommodation is not within walking distance from the venue, find out if guests can leave their cars overnight, and consider hiring a shuttle bus or designating some drivers to help out after the party. It will put you and your guests at full ease.
Since weddings are all about eating, drinking and being merry, the menu deserves your special attention. Many venues will have their own, in-house catering services, or at least a list of preferred caterers; others will leave it entirely up to you. Whatever you decide to do, try everything first. The last thing you want is a venue with a fantastic atmosphere, a great dance floor and mediocre food.
If you are looking for ways to save money, one option is to offer an open bar with beer and wine only, and let guests pay for liquor themselves (this might even result in less mess at the end of the night). Another option is to hire an ethnically-oriented caterer. Restaurants that serve local minority communities can often cater to weddings for lower prices than their standard, meat-and-potatoes counterparts. But once again, if you decide to use outside vendors (or even bring in your own food), find out if there are any surcharges from the venue.
Determine whether any of your guests have dietary restrictions. If you are not sure, at least have a vegetarian and gluten-free option available. Kids meals are also important. And depending on how long your reception will be, consider providing a second meal or snack later in the evening. Are people going to be hungry again around midnight? Probably.
When visiting each venue, be aware of staff behaviour. If they are friendly and focused on you, that is a good sign; if they are distracted or pushy, walk away. Do not be afraid to hound them with questions either, as this is a great test of customer service. And talk to as many staff members as you can; you might get different answers to the same questions. In case of a discrepancy, take it up with the venue manager.
One great way to vet a venue is to ask for referrals to past clients. If they are happy to put you in contact, you usually will not have anything to fear. Ask about security as well. If your reception is not in an isolated space, you will want to keep wedding crashers at bay.
Venues that may not blow your mind at first sight can look awesome when fully decorated. To get an idea of a venue’s decorative potential, look at pictures of different ceremonies or receptions held in the same space. If there are no such pictures posted on the venue’s website or other venue-finding platforms, see if you can acquire some from their past clients. Or even better – if they will allow it – arrange a visit to the venue an hour or so before someone else’s ceremony/reception. This is the best preview you can get.
Also, talk to the staff about what decorations are already on hand. Sometimes venues have a whole back room of tablecloths, candles, etc. that can be used for any occasion, and which may be included in the price of hire. Whatever decorations you decide to go with, always choose your colours after you book the venue. Otherwise, you could end up with a box of junk that is just perfect for someone else’s wedding.
Lighting is important for overall mood, as well as photography. If your ceremony and reception are going to be inside during the day, make sure to book a space with plenty of windows, or at least a solid indoor lighting system. Ask to see indoor spaces with all the lights switched on.
According to Katarzyna from Kukafoto.com,
The worst mistake you can make, whether inside or out, is to have a single or few sources of light shining directly above you and your guests. This will create shadows around everyone’s eyes, making them look haggard.Katarzyna from Kukafoto.com
So, for example, do not plan an outdoor photoshoot for high noon. Best is to have many sources of light scattered throughout your wedding space. These can be windows, indoor or outdoor bulb lights, uplighting (lighting on the floor that faces upward), candles, etc. Even if your space is generally dim and intimate after dark, you should be fine if the lighting is plentiful and spread out.
Pretty much any bonafide venue for wedding receptions will have an adequate sound system. But this is not always the case with venues for wedding ceremonies. Religious buildings and especially outdoor spaces often require additional audio solutions. For example, “Here Comes the Bride” may sound great when played on a church’s in-house pipe organ, but a recorded version of it could be totally drowned out by natural echoes when played through the in-house PA system.
Unless you want to hire an organ player, it is a good idea to have a recorded track on your phone that can be played through the PA at your first visit. If your ceremony is going to be some place outside where there is no sound system or electricity (like at the top of a hill or mountain), consider using a modern Bluetooth speaker. Those things are pretty powerful nowadays.
With regard to your reception venue, whether you want to make your own playlist, hire a DJ or hire a band is up to you. Here are some pros and cons:
- Making your own playlist is obviously the cheapest way to go. But the main problem here is that the next song on the playlist may not always be the most suited to the developing mood of your party.
- So, unless you want to be fumbling around with your computer or phone all night, we recommend hiring a band or a DJ. Although significantly more expensive, a good DJ knows how to adapt the music to the vibe at any given moment, and has an endless variety of music to choose from.
- On the other hand, a band can liven up the mood even more than a DJ at times, but their repertoire is definitely more limited, and they will definitely be more expensive…And remember to find out if there is any curfew for the noise!
When viewing a venue, find out what time (or day) vendors can come in and start setting up. If there is another event in the same space the night or morning before, your vendors might be racing against the clock to get everything ready for you. However, if you are planning early, venues may not know whether a given space will be booked up the day of or before your wedding. In this case, take the issue up with your vendors; they might be well-adapted to time limitations.
Moreover, if your ceremony and reception are going to be in the same space, you will probably need to plan for a cocktail hour (or something like that in between) to give the staff time to “flip” the space. Find out how long this will take, so you can arrange appropriate entertainment for your guests in the interim.
For larger weddings, rehearsal dinners are also a common practice. If you are interested in having one of those, see if the venue can accommodate you in the weeks leading up to the date (and do not forget to ask about any additional fees).
Lastly, find out if there are any renovations planned for the venue or venue area. Imagine showing up on your wedding day, only to be greeted by five sweaty guys tearing up the road with jackhammers. We have seen it happen.
Once you have gone with your gut and booked a winner, you can start honing in on the finer details of execution. (This section assumes that you have already booked your caterers, photographers, DJs, etc.)
Check with your vendor to see if you can take any leftover food and drink home after the celebration. Sometimes the answer is “no.”
Have a firm plan for the transport and storage of your wedding cake. Transport can be tricky, and wedding cakes do not live long outside the fridge.
Now you can choose your colours. What you want will depend not only on the venue, but the time of year. To find out what is trending this season, type “wedding colours” into Google Search and see what comes up. Some of the combinations are pretty impressive.
If you are not the type of person that wants to decorate the venue yourself, or if a decorator does not come with your package, feel free to delegate to friends and family; they might be more willing to help than you think. And the earlier you can start decorating, the better. Once your date draws nearer, work with venue staff to arrange an exact time for your people to come in.
If the venue will let you in for a photoshoot or rehearsal dinner before the day of the wedding, you can take your photographer along for a test run.
Be aware that some venues like religious institutions and museums do not allow flash photography, so let your photographer know in advance.
Photo booths seem to be popular nowadays, too.
If your ceremony is in an echoing hall or outdoors and away from electricity, select your music carefully. For example, an orchestral track for the wedding march may get drowned out by echoes in a massive cathedral, or sound underwhelming from a Bluetooth speaker outdoors. Feel free to play around, but we recommend simpler music for spaces with acoustic limitations, e.g. a guitar or piano track.
It is a good idea to print hard copies of the program for your guests. This will keep them off their phones and in sync with everyone else. It also may be hard to predict when guests will turn up initially, so you might want to have a plan to keep early birds entertained as the stragglers file in.
Also, find out when items that do not belong to the venue need to be cleared from the space after the wedding. Can you leave your stuff there on Saturday night and pick it up on Monday morning?
Congratulations again – you have made it through our comprehensive guide on how to book your wedding venue. You should now have all the tools you need to start looking and booking. However, be careful not to jump the gun. Give yourself time to visit a variety of venues, and visit more than once before you make a final decision. Remember that there may be no such thing as the absolute perfect venue, so be prepared to compromise. At the same time, do not give up on what you really want and always go with your gut.
Planning a wedding can be a long and stressful process, so you will likely encounter more than one hiccup along the way. Instead of getting discouraged, view it as an opportunity to overcome challenges together with your partner. If one of you gets frustrated or upset, the other should use the opportunity to show some real love.
Moreover, it is important to realise that no wedding ever goes off without a hitch. When the big day comes, try not to micromanage everything. You may notice that a light bulb has gone out, or that a certain staff member is not as helpful as you had imagined. Whatever happens, just go with the flow and enjoy your time with family, friends and your new spouse. In the long run, nobody will remember the little things that went wrong, but everybody will remember how great it was to see you get married. This will be the first awesome moment of your new life together and – hopefully – just the icing on the cake 🙂
Summary of Tips
Whether you have read the entire guide or have just skipped down from the top, we are happy to share with you a summary of our most important tips. To download this summary, click here.
Be willing to compromise 🙂
Off-season and non-weekend dates tend to be cheaper and more available than peak times/dates. Start early if you can, because venues typically get booked up 6-18 months in advance. If you’re starting out late, consider less conventional spaces.
For more control, consider booking an exclusive-hire venue or marquee. For less involvement, consider booking a venue with an all-inclusive offer (e.g. a hotel).
Who is more inclined to deal with what? Who is busier at work? Stop the fight before it starts 💗
Expect to spend about half your wedding budget on the venue and catering, and be sure to round up because things can easily spiral out of control. To get a better idea of what to budget for, read When Booking.
This will become a political issue, so do not be afraid to stand your ground.
See point “Legal Obligations” of this Before Booking for detailed information.
Toggle dates and times to find a nice price. Get an exact idea from the manager of what items/services are included, what is optional, and what needs to or can be brought in; venues love to impose surcharges for optional or upgraded items/services, as well as the use of non-preferred vendors. Whenever you strike a deal, get it in writing.
Book a venue that has plenty of space for the free movement of guests, but not too much; look for the happy medium. Also, be sure to ask about a contingency plan for inclement weather if any part of your ceremony/reception will be taking place outside. And find out of the venue has insurance; God forbid anything unexpected should happen.
Keep in mind that more transportation = higher costs. If your ceremony and reception are in two different places, make a solid plan for getting guests from A to B. For many couples, having a nearby car park is a big deal. And unless you are having a dry wedding, arrange transport for your guests at the end of the night (e.g. via shuttle bus, designated drivers, etc.).
Whether you decide to go with an in-house caterer or an external vendor, try before you buy. Short of cooking everything yourself, you can save money by limiting the open bar (e.g. to beer and wine only) and/or exploring ethnically-oriented catering services, which can often do the job for lower prices than their standard, meat-and-potatoes counterparts. Find out if there are any surcharges from the venue for external vendors, and determine whether any of your guests have dietary restrictions.
Pay close attention to how staff behave. If they seem inattentive or unresponsive, you should probably take your business elsewhere. One good way to put them to the test is to ask a ton of questions and request referrals to past clients. If your reception is not in an isolated space, ask about security as well.
Venues that may not blow your mind at first sight can look awesome when fully decorated. To get an idea of a venue’s decorative potential, look at pictures or – better yet – see if you can arrange a visit to the venue right before someone else’s ceremony/reception. Also, talk to the staff about what decorations are already on hand. Whatever you decide to go with, always choose your colours after booking the venue.
For the best atmosphere and photographic conditions, have many sources of light scattered throughout your wedding space. These can be windows, indoor or outdoor light bulbs, uplighting, candles, etc. The worst mistake you can make is to have a single or few sources of light shining directly above you and your guests. This will create shadows around everyone’s eyes, making them look haggard in photos.
Most venues for wedding receptions will have an adequate sound system, but be aware that this is not always the case with venues for wedding ceremonies, e.g. old religious buildings. If your ceremony is outside and away from electricity, a powerful Bluetooth speaker may do the trick. For the reception, playlists are the cheap option, but we recommend a DJ or live band for the best atmosphere.
Insofar as possible, find out what time (or day) your vendors can come in and start setting up before the wedding. If your ceremony and reception will be in the same space, talk to the staff about how it will be “flipped.” You may also want to discuss the possibility of having a rehearsal dinner or photoshoot a few weeks beforehand. And you definitely want to ask if there are any renovations planned around your prospective date.
Have a firm plan for the transport and storage of your wedding cake, and check with your caterer to see if you can take home any leftover food and drink after the celebration.
Once you have booked your venue, you can choose your colors. Look online to see what is trending this season. If you are not the type of person who wants to decorate yourself, or if you have not hired a professional decorator, your friends and family might be more than willing to help.
Be aware that some venues like religious institutions and museums do not allow flash photography, so let your photographer know in advance. FYI, photo booths seem to be pretty popular nowadays.
For ceremony spaces with acoustic limitations like remote outdoor areas and large, hollow religious buildings, we recommend simpler music (e.g. guitar or piano music as opposed to orchestral music). Play around and see what sounds good.
Print hard copies of your program to ensure that your guests are in sync with you on the day of the wedding. Also, find out when items that do not belong to the venue need to be removed after the wedding.
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