Your wedding reception and the ceremony location will be the first thing you will have to fix after getting engaged. Without a confirmed booking, there is no date, no wedding, no invitation...so how do you find the right spot under so much pressure? Do you fix the date first and find a venue to fit or decide on a venue and be flexible with the date? Hopefully, you will have some sort of schedule by which you want to get married. With a clear budget and some flexibility, you can still get the venue and season you want.
HAVE A DATE IN MIND - AND A TIME OF DAY, DAY OF THE WEEK
If you are trying to get a swanky venue but have a limited budget, select an off-season date - maybe late fall or early spring. Also, consider a weekday or Sunday for your wedding. Saturdays are the peak days and get booked early. Dates that happen outside the usual hours and days of the week usually are free. The venue would rather get a booking than no booking. Also, the added advantage is that there won’t be dual parties going on at the same time. Or you could literally have your wedding early - as in the morning and your meal could be lunch or brunch even. This would be popular for lots of reasons - those with kids, those who have travelled far, yourselves, the venue and catering staff…
How many guests do you think will realistically be attending? Even if you haven’t got all your RSVPs back, you must have some sort of ball park figure. You don’t want a venue where folk will be crowded or cramped into labyrinthine, S-or L-shaped buildings which prevent socializing and being able to see all the bridal party announcements. You may see the venue without tables or stage or equipment and trolleys which gives a false impression of available space. Allowing for the DJ and/or band, the cake table, drinks, there may be very little space of dancing or moving.
PRIVACY IF OUTDOORS OR SHARING A VENUE
If you select a park or public outdoor venue, it is likely you will have members of the public randomly walking through your party. Is this ok with you? If not, how are you going to ensure it doesn’t impact on the exclusivity of your wedding day without appearing to be rude or awkward? Likewise, a lot of large venues have two or more wedding receptions going on at the same time during peak season. If the walls aren’t soundproofed, are you ok with having ‘Prince’ blasting through while the speeches are being given?
LIGHTING - DAY OR NIGHT
View the venue at all times of the day you will be there - not just in the evening or late afternoon when the meal will be served. The romantic, gothic feel may look seedy, cobwebby and worn at twelve noon when all the guests would be arriving. Also, consider lighting for the photographs. If you are using an indoor location, make sure there are plenty of windows. If you will be outdoors at dusk, consider extra lighting or tealights at least.
MAKE IT FASCINATING FOR YOUR GUESTS!
Even if you choose a very basic, blank canvas reception location, do ensure you provide something for your guests to look at, to stimulate curiosity or awe. It could be artwork, a chandelier, architecture, an exhibition, gardens...Choosing an interesting reception site goes a long way towards keeping your wedding guests entertained - from the oldest to the youngest - without the cost of dragging in extra entertainment. The more unusual venues are also the most available from science museums, zoos, photo galleries and art shows. Or you can vamp up your backyard - just make sure there is something to intrigue and engage your guests.
CHECK THE POWER OUTLETS
You don’t want to blow a fuse or have a cold dinner or no music. Check on how recently the building had its electrics checked and what the requirements of your vendors are.
SOUND OUT THE ACOUSTICS!
Even if you are not considering having live music, the acoustics of the venue are essential as your guests will be holding conversations and speeches will be given. You don’t want echo or reverb anymore than muffling from the thick carpets. If you are booking live music, get your band or some musician (if you haven’t yet booked) to do some soundcheck for you.
OBSERVE HOW AWKWARD OR EASY THE PARKING IS
Does the venue have adequate space for parking? It may look like it does when there’s just twelve cars parked but consider the reality of having sixty trying to fit in there. Will it work? Sometimes it may require getting in valet parking. If you shuttled your guests in and out, would that work out more practical and popular? Or do you just need a venue with more parking space? Or you could make your reception location your ceremony location also which would solve all sorts of problems and reduce costs very easily!
DOES YOUR VENUE HAVE WHEELCHAIR ACCESS?
Accidents happen and also some guests already may have need of disabled access. Does this venue cater to their needs?
DECIDE VERY EARLY ON YOUR THEME AND STYLE
Do a walk-through; accentuate the positive and downplay the negative. Think about the vibe and style of wedding you are trying to create and build from there. A theme need not be an expensive styling: you could use a monogram, a color pairing, pattern, food or flowers. It’s the details that matter and you can work on them afterwards but your theme and style is critical.
WHAT IS THE RESTROOM PROVISION LIKE?
If there’s just a couple of restrooms and you have two hundred guests, guess where the biggest line and complaint is going to be?
CONSIDER THE OUTDOOR ELEMENTS
If you truly are set on an outdoor venue, think of the elements of wind, rain, intense heat...even if you know it will most likely be a mild and beautiful day. What about in the evening? Will you need outdoor heaters? Canopies and shawls? Where will the children go - if you have invited them? Once the sun goes down, the temperatures drop swiftly and your guests will not be equipped with thick coats. Do you need a license to perform loud music past certain hours? Do you need some hot food provision if the night is going to be long and the dancing hard?
KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID!
Even if you want an elegant, classic wedding, too much self-indulgence can wear on everyone so maybe keep the combined film of your childhoods or the fire-eaters for an anniversary affair. Instead, your guests will be thrilled with something more engaging - a pub quiz on your both, sparklers or a mural wall for them to write their messages to you both.
MAKE YOUR RECEPTION LOCATION A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE
Even if the location is central, keep it from feeling too formal or corporate by building in distinctions which claim the day and territory as yours. For example, streamline your bar like a Mad Men one (if you have a vintage vibe), have a non-alcoholic or tea/coffee bar, go for a plated family meal, have a kiddies’ creative corner with specific goodie bags for the kids, put nice toiletries in the restroom or an interactive photobooth with props. Have random hors d’oevre or street food stalls - depending on your theme.