Congratulations if your wedding is this year or next year – woohoo! So much excitement, so much to do, so much fun to have and it all starts with the big WHERE? I can’t stress how much of a huge factor your choice of venue or venues is. It’s a challenge as you have to choose your setting before you decide on so many other things, so you can’t put off the weighty stuff until later on I’m afraid!
For some couples the choice of venue is simple and it’s an easy process, for others it can involve a LOT of research in advance, followed with a lot of foot slogging. When you find the one it’s all rather magical though as you can picture your special day there and you just know.
In this post I’m not covering the how and where to find venues but as a wedding planner of almost 13 years, I know that sometimes the glossy website and the stunning venue interior isn’t the whole picture. In order to make sure the venue is really right for you, you have to do some digging and some homework (or get somebody to do it for you, such as a wedding planner dare I say?)
Here are my insider tips that I urge you to consider & check out before you sign on the line:
WHEN FIRST IN TOUCH OR AT THE VENUE VISIT
Timing and accessibility – ask what time you are guaranteed access for set up and installation. Most venues will give you 2-3 hours and sometimes this is all that is necessary but if you have more complicated marquee builds and hired furniture etc. being loaded in, this is best worked through and planned out early.
Look at finish times too – what time does music have to be switched off, what time must the bar close and what time do guests have to leave? Often venues can offer a late license until 1am but usually at an extra cost so be sure to factor that into your budgeting early on.
Restrictions – ask about any rules and regulations. Even in the most laid back venue, there are some. Hotels are the easiest and most flexible with historical properties often having many more rules and requirements.
The major things which crop up concern confetti (where, and what type can be thrown), sound limiters for live music (is there one and how strict is it?) and then the use of candles and naked flames. It’s best to be sure of these things in advance and plan accordingly. There are great alternatives these days including amazingly real battery operated candles and biodegradable confetti which some venues will accept or bubble blowing has become rather a cute no-mess alternative to confetti.
Thinking outside the package – ask what changes are possible from what you see? Some venues will be only too keen to show you what past couples have done and will be proud of upgrades and changes people have made. You might not always be offered this but usually altering things like linen, chairs and lighting in the room is all do-able but you might need to ask and lead the way.
Number of rooms and how you would use them – when you’re being shown around, ask to “walk through” the guest experience so perhaps you might be shown different rooms not necessarily in order. Try and walk from ceremony to drinks reception to dinner and then to evening so you can get a feel for the whole day and the areas you’ll use and how to dress them. Look at your entrance/exit too as the bride and groom.
Menu tastings – is there one included and how and when does this take place? It is usual that it is after you have confirmed but if you are unsure about the venue and haven’t eaten there before you could look at having some kind of pre-tasting, which might be payable but refundable on your confirmation or the other way around.
Make sure that at a full tasting when you have confirmed and further into the planning that you get to see the actual crockery, cutlery, linens and glassware that would be used at your wedding. Many venues serve the tasting in their restaurant which is lovely but often the items used will not be the same on the day. Ask to see a dummy actual banqueting table so you can see what you’re being offered and consider upgrades if you have the budget. It’s a good idea to see the venue all set up but be sure to ask what is included/standard and what is extra so you have a good idea of what your basic items are for the table and what you might need to hire in. Our wedding clients often want to really personalise the table design with hired runners, linens, crockery, glassware and more.
Wine and corkage – make sure you see a copy of the venue wine list and see if you’re happy with the prices and offerings. If sourcing your own wine is important, discuss this with the venue at the outset. You should expect to pay corkage if the venue will allow it and usually there would be one rate for wine and a higher rate for champagne. In most cases it’s not worth much of a financial saving unless you are intending to offer some very expensive wines to your guests.
Ask about service charge – sometimes this is charged on drinks served at the evening bar and sometimes on the entire food and drink budget. This should be optional but have the cost agreed in writing at the outset.
Preferred suppliers versus outsiders – ask the venue for any restrictions on who you must use – it’s quite usual that venues have marquee companies and firework companies they insist on and usually a small range of caterers (if catering is not done in house). Other than that, you should have free reign on your choices although don’t forget to look at their suggestions along with other options you might have found – often those who have worked at the venue before have lots of experience to share on what works. That said, you shouldn’t be restricted to using only those suppliers if they don’t work for you and there are venues who don’t regularly update their offerings with trends and fashions so might not necessarily have what makes your wedding unique.
Small print – look very carefully at the small print and in particular look at the minimum guest numbers in terms of price per head you will have to guarantee to cover for. Also, when any final numbers you’ll be charged on need to be confirmed – this is usually about 7 days beforehand.
Also look at maximum numbers and make sure you are well within that. Ask a venue what their maximum number is based on? Sometimes it’s using 5ft tables for 10 guests which does not give much space at all – I’d recommend 5ft tables for 8 guests ideally. Although you won’t know exactly how many guests you’ll have at this stage, make sure there is a bit of wiggle room in the numbers and you’re not up to the max at the very start especially if you want to add unique touches which always adds more space.
Deposits and possible refunds – usually deposits are non-refundable so make sure that you’re happy with the payment schedule your venue proposes at the start. After you’ve signed a contract it’s much harder to alter. Bear in mind though that it’s entirely normal to pay around 90% of the costs before the wedding. Usually a proforma invoice is issued throughout the planning which is balanced out (with any refund owing) once final numbers and actual drinks consumed are known.
Ways to trim the costs – talk money from the outset. If a venue is able to give a discount this would need to be at the start and it won’t happen once the contract is signed. There may be some flexibility the larger the booking, on venue hire or similar but it is very dependent on the venue and time of year. A summer Saturday is absolute peak and is unlikely to qualify for much of a discount.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask! It’s so much better to ask, what you might see as silly questions, at the beginning than not at all. Excellent communication is the key to success and something we put a lot of time and effort into here at Bespoke. We hope you’ve found our tips useful and would like to read more.
We’ll soon be writing about our very favourite wedding venues and why.