It is almost always the first thing on the list when the wedding planning starts... sometimes it's even been picked out before the ring! The venue is where the bride is envisioning herself when she pictures her wedding day. So, it better be good!
There will be a lot of research had (hopefully) and a lot of time spent looking, visiting, and thinking about a venue. While there will be plenty of info on what to look for and ask about concerning your choice of venue, I want to give a little something extra you might not find whilst digging through the copious amounts of blog and review pages on the internet... I want to help you picture what you want your venue to be, in your pictures! I want to leave you with a guiding back-of-the-mind vision that will help you better search for a venue that fits YOU... to find a venue that is truly yours!
What truly makes a venue, yours?
I can see the difference in the brides who picked the venue because their parents said, "We’re paying for it, get what you want", and the brides who shop and research, and go check out places and walk in to one and say to themselves, "This is where I want to tell that man I will be with him forever", or "This is where I want to have my first dance". But too often I get the sense that a bride clicked on the venue whose name she recognized the most, saw the pretty pictures and said, "That's it! That's the place!" But just because it's the place to get married, doesn't make it your place.
I want to see brides pick their venues based on who they are, or who they want to be that day, and not focus on picking a venue based solely on reviews, popularity, or other people.
So how do you do this?!
1. Don't let "beautiful" and "popular" be your first two words to describe your venue.
Ask yourself what characteristics you want to see in the place where you will be spending one of the most important days of your life. Visualize what would you use to describe it and how it connects to you personally. Then, determine how that description means something to you.
While we would all like to have "beautiful and popular" used to describe us, you aren't the only one going to that one venue because it's "beautiful and popular", and therefore, that aspect of it is not unique to you... so you need to find out what is! I am not saying don't get a beautiful, popular venue for your wedding; all I'm saying is don't book a venue just because it's beautiful and popular! Your friends will know it, your family will know it; you will know it; and your pictures will show it!
For instance, while living in Orlando, I had the pleasure of going to a Disney wedding (attend, not shoot...I haven't had that pleasure yet!). Of all the couples I knew who were getting married at the time, this couple was the least known for their Disney fandom. They had the Disney wedding because they knew it was elaborate, expensive, and extravagant, but nothing about them personally screamed, “We love Disney”. And as amazing and fantastical as it was, it wasn't necessarily their "thing", and it took away from the experience. However, I have been to less extravagant weddings where the couple's heart and soul is poured into it, and they are just as amazing and fantastical!
When searching for that perfect place, it should boil down to those qualities and characteristics specific to you. For instance, if you are a city girl who works 9-5 and loves all things modern and clean, and the beautiful hotel venue is right up your alley, then go with that concept. But if you want to do something different and let that secret country girl side of you come out and let loose for a day, own it! Go search for a barn! Don't get the beautiful hotel all your friends are talking about, wear cowboy boots and put western themed decorations up and expect it to be what you envisioned!
2. Determine what's important to YOU, not everyone else!
Two ways of falling into the trap of letting others dictate your choice of venue are trying to please someone else, and allowing overwhelming opinions to overshadow your ideas.
Too often, brides try so hard to please everyone else around them (parents, family, friends, etc.) that they lose sight of what they really want for THEIR wedding day. For example, if you envision a whimsical ceremony underneath a weeping willow tree, don't get talked into doing it in your parents' back yard in front of a pine tree full of patio lights thinking that will suffice.
While asking for your loved ones' opinions can be helpful, your own vision can get cast aside if you're not careful. So, if what you picture is some grand ballroom where you and your spouse will dance, dance, dance the night away, don't get a small courtyard venue because your friend Susie works there and says they can throw down a dance floor for you and it will have the same effect...it won't!
Think about the things that are important to you and your spouse first, and make sure that you find a venue that best accommodates that! Let the people pleasing and giving in fall by the wayside. Again, as much as it seems like it's ok to give in, if it's not where you want to be on your wedding day, it will show!
3. Learn to Let Go!
Most people have that little thing they have to deal with called a budget.
There is no "one size fits all" venue...if there was, well, you probably wouldn't be able to book it! Some venues can't accommodate more than 50 guests, while others won't allow you to use catering outside of their vendor selections. It's most likely you will run into at least one thing wrong with every place you check out... but fear not! Some of these things aren't as important! The goal is to figure out what means the most to you, and let go of the things that won't work out.
Not everyone can have their wedding at Neushwanstein Castle in Germany, or have all of their friends and family flown to Hawaii for a hilltop sunset ceremony... and that's OK! There are plenty of things that make up who you are, and there are plenty of venues that can accommodate them!
So don't fret! Your perfect venue is out there, it's just a matter of defining what you want; not letting others distract you from it; and accepting the absolute best version that works for you!
A few more helpful tidbits before you go!
Important questions that aren't always asked:
What are the catering vendor requirements? As a photographer, I usually don't know whether the caterer was in house or not, however, I can speak from experience in that the venue me and my wife used, had catering restrictions. Fortunately for us, the food was amazing (and we had leftovers for the honeymoon)!
Where will everyone park? If they aren't able to park on the property, then arrangements have to be made to get them there.
What is the maximum guest capacity? Whether ceremony venue or reception venue (or both) it is one of the first things you have to take into consideration. As I said earlier, you may end up making a decision about which one gets pushed aside... a few guests or the dream venue (you know what I would say).
Can you tour the venue at the same time of day that you plan on using it? If you are having a nighttime ceremony and reception, viewing it a 10AM may not be a good indicator of how everything will look. The time of day can make or break your pictures as far as some venues are concerned. If you love the hanging lights in the alley way in the pictures you saw of your venue and they were an important part of your decision, don't have a daytime wedding... they won't be turned on!
If it's an outdoor only venue, are they full service or not? If they are, find out what all that includes. If they aren't, you will need to figure out rates and services from outside sources.
Are there tent requirements for outdoor areas? Some venues require you to have a backup plan for inclement weather.
What are the venues' decorating policies? Be careful that you only decorate to enhance your venue and the feel of your wedding, not change the venue into something else because you chose poorly! If your venue doesn't have the vibe or style you want and you are trying to change a barn into an elegant manor, or a ballroom into minimalist chic, you are going to end up wasting a lot of money, not to mention confusing your guests. Trust me, it seems ridiculous, but I have seen it! I have seen the expensive venue used by the bride because some other rich family used it, and then "attempt" to decorate and theme it up so that it matched who she was. But in the end, it just looks like a nice venue with a bunch of rubbish covering up the pretty stuff, not a unique and personalized place that speaks of the individual!
So there you have it, 3 ways to help you look for that venue that's truly yours, and a few helpful things to keep in mind when trying to make your decision! Good luck!
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All images courtesy of Adam Cotton Photography