How to vet the wedding venue
Before you make an appointment to check out a potential wedding venue, chances are you’ll do a lot of online reconnaissance: Read every word on their website, click through photos and search for other couple’s reviews of the space. Here’s what you should keep in mind when doing your not-in-person first pass, and the details you can’t know outside of an in-person meeting:
Start your search online
A venue’s website or Facebook page often gives a taste of the location’s style and vibe, and it should include a lot of practical information that can help narrow down the search.
“It’s very important for a bride to know exactly what type of atmosphere and environment she wants for her wedding before looking at venues,” says Kimberly Schlegel Whitman, a Dallas-based party and lifestyle expert and author of “Wedding Inspiration: Ideas & Advice for Your Perfect Wedding” (Gibbs Smith, 2012). “It’s also important to know details like how many guests you’re aiming for, and if you want a venue that allows outside caterers or if you’re happy with one that takes care of every element of the event for you. These factors help a bride know what to watch out for and what to ignore.”
The price and availability are also key elements to search for, as there’s no point in visiting if it’s way over your budget or you aren’t able to adjust your wedding date, says Marsha Heckman, a San Francisco-based wedding planner and floral designer, and author of “A Bride’s Book of Lists: Everything You Need to Plan the Perfect Wedding, Revised and Updated” (Welcome Books, 2013). Also, Heckman advises seeing what they say about available parking (do you have to pay a valet service?), noise restrictions, cleanup and what, if any, furniture, linens, dishes, etc., are included in the price.
Scan all the photos on the site and feel free to ask the venue for more, Heckman says. It’s beneficial to know what an outdoor space looks like in the actual month you plan to get married (flowers, furnishings, exterior lighting), she notes, or if an indoor space will have seasonal decorations that you’ll either love or hate.
Independent review sites (think Yelp or a local bridal publication) also may be helpful, but be sure to read the specifics of any complaints, as they may not apply to you. Even better, ask other wedding vendors for their insight, Whitman says. “Florists and caterers often know what works and what doesn’t at each spot.”
Nail the details in person
When a venue seems to meet your wish list, make an appointment, Heckman says. It will be apparent right away if it doesn’t look like it did in pictures, but you also want to make sure it’s clean and well-kept inside and out, that it meets the “sniff” test and that the restrooms are acceptable. And don’t minimize the importance of the venue staff and/or included event coordinator’s personality, Whitman adds. You’ll likely be working with these people quite a bit throughout the planning process and during your wedding, so it’s essential that you’re compatible and that they understand your vision. You also can’t get a true sense of the flow of a space until you visit it in-person, Whitman says. Walk the path that your guests will take so that you know exactly what their experience will be.
At the end of the visit, ask yourself if you can envision the space as the location for your beautiful day, Heckman says, but give yourself at least a day to decide if it is.