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Visiting different wedding venues was one of my absolute favorite parts of wedding planning! Especially in a place like New York City where options abound. From old converted factories and warehouses to incredible rooftops to lush gardens and parks, even the simplest weddings here start with extraordinary venues. City Hall’s Marriage Bureau is practically a landmark! The selection can feel overwhelming so I’ve got 7 Lifesaving Tips for Choosing a Wedding Venue.
You may think I’m joking with this post’s title (ok, I kinda am!) but the venue can make or break your wedding success. I’ve been to weddings where the church was so far from the reception hall that traffic jams led to half the guests missing dinner. Many Summer weddings have involved nearly melting in the heat of a rooftop surrounded by tall buildings with direct sun. A beachy themed wedding can feel really odd in a stately manor! No wedding is a failure but every wedding can be extra successful with the right venue! Here’s how to get from here to there.
See more beach wedding inspiration on my Wedding Style Pinterest board.
Tip #1: Determine the vibe or theme of your wedding.
Have you been dreaming of your wedding since you were little? If I’m being forthcoming I actually didn’t really dream of my wedding a little girl. Not in specifics anyway. I knew there would be me in a beautiful dress and I was pretty sure I’d be marrying a guy with dark hair and blue eyes (nailed that one!) with all my loved ones around us but the details were lacking. Even as an adult I didn’t have a place or theme in mind.
It wasn’t until Alexander and I got engaged that the mental pictures began to fill in. We’re both such city people that it felt only natural to get married here in New York City! But in talking about it with Alex, I was surprised to learn that he was picturing a beach wedding, perhaps out in the Hamptons where he’s spent Summers since childhood. Meanwhile for me beach meant Cape Cod where I’d spent part of my Summers since childhood! This meant our venue discussion started at least 100 miles and a 2.5 hour drive apart. That’s why I knew I needed to write these 7 Lifesaving Tips for Choosing a Wedding Venue.
In the end things came together beautifully for Alex and I — we chose a venue with an incomparable Manhattan view that is right on the water. (More on our venue in the next post!) The view you see topping this post is the view our guests got during our ceremony, except the sun in my photo is at sunrise and we had our wedding at sunset.
We got there by solidifying a vibe for our wedding. I’ve been to weddings with really fun themes! One of my all-time favorites was a travel-themed wedding where mini hot air balloons hung above all of our reception tables, the seat assignments were luggage tags and our take home favor was a cupcake shaped like a suitcase. Another wonderful theme was ‘in the garden’ and had an explosion of plants and florals everywhere with each table represented by a different flower. Right after college I went to a NASCAR themed wedding where I sat at the Dale Earnhardt Jr table (of course). Themes usually have some specificity to them. For people who love to plan, highly creative people and people with a wedding coordinator who can handle of the details that come with a theme, themes can result in a wedding your guests will never forget!
On the other hand, a vibe is looser. Alex and I are pretty low-key people. The idea of committing to a theme was a stress we didn’t need on our hands. So instead we kept things less focused and chose a vibe instead. A vibe is a feeling that has cohesion through color, pattern or some other element. It’s as much an emotion as it is physical manifestation. The vibe of our wedding was ‘love is everywhere around us, and this marriage brings us all together.’ One way we accomplished this vibe was by choosing a venue that was the marriage of Alex’s and my preferences. He got the water, I got the city.
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Get more wedding venue inspiration on my Wedding Style Pinterest board.
Tip #2: Get a general idea of the guest count.
I was in charge of all the venue research for our wedding. There are over 500 wedding venues in the New York City area — a number that is very overwhelming!! My first day of hunting through websites and recommendations and reviews, I thought I might drown in them all! So my 2nd of 7 Lifesaving Tips for Choosing a Wedding Venue is to get a general idea of your guest count. This makes it so simple to eliminate some venues right off the bat.
Many venues will have a minimum guest requirement. This means that if your wedding is going to be 100 people like ours was, you can immediately cross of any venues that require more guests than that! And likewise, some venues have a maximum guest capacity. The room we had our reception in at our venue was limited to 175 people, so we knew we couldn’t go over that amount. This alone whittled my venue hunt down by 2/3rds!
As we’ll talk about in future posts of this series, you almost never end up with exactly the guest count you expect. Numbers can swell or dwindle due to factors outside of your control. Still, having a general range is very helpful when selecting which venues you’d like to consider. On venue visits knowing about how many guests you’ll have helps to envision what the room will look like on wedding night!
We decided early on that we wanted around 100 guests. I was initially hoping we would be able to stretch the guest list to 150 so I looked for venues in the guest range of 100-150. Remarkably, every confirmed guest came to our wedding!
Tip #3: Let your wedding budget guide you.
I hope that by this point in your wedding planning process you’ve set a budget. If not, pause here and read this wedding budgeting post immediately!! Because my 3rd of 7 Lifesaving Tips for Choosing a Wedding Venue isn’t going to make much sense (or cents!) if your budget isn’t set.
I’m so glad Alex and I had set our budget before we even starting thinking about the venue. Because — let’s be frank — I have expensive taste, and it would have been so easy to fall in love with one of NYC’s most glamorous (and ahem, expensive) venues. Choosing such a venue would have stretched both budget and reason for us. We had a very healthy amount of money to spend on our wedding, but we were clear we didn’t want to go overboard on one night out of our whole lives. Overboard is of course a very subjective term in this case. I have been to weddings that cost less than $1,000. I have been to weddings that cost over $300,000. (The wedding favor at the latter was a gift card to Saks for cripes sake!)
Our five-figure budget was less than the NYC average of $90,000 but it still made hundreds of NYC area venues within our reach. The abundance of possibilities was endless! But in having a budget number, it also helped us by crossing off many venues that didn’t make sense with our budget. This was very clarifying for me! It saved me from falling in love with a venue that I couldn’t have. It also saved us from wasting time in visiting venues that were not appropriate for us. I’m sure the venues appreciated this too!
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Tip #4: Figure out your ideal time of year for the wedding.
Now we’re really getting somewhere in our venue hunt! You’ve been able to cross several (maybe even several hundred) venues off the potentials list. The next step in 7 Lifesaving Tips for Choosing a Wedding Venue is deciding what time of year is perfect for your wedding.
Alex and I didn’t really have an ideal time of year to get married. We were happy to get married at pretty much any time! We had a preference for warmer weather and longer days, but at one point we were very close to signing for a November wedding!
Knowing the length of your engagement helps. We were not in a rush to get married once we were engaged. But sometimes there are factors driving a couple towards a wedding sooner rather than later. In these cases, you can often pick venues suited to the season and cross off ones that are not appropriate. A beach wedding can be fantastic any time of year in certain climates, but probably isn’t so fun if guests have to be bundled up for Winter temperatures. An outdoor wedding could be a disaster during a known rainy season. A barn wedding might be cozy in the Winter but sweltering in the Summer if not properly ventilated. These are just a few examples.
If you do have a time of year or month or even specific date in mind, knowing this up front can help eliminate venues with a simple phone call or email. Venue not available at the time you wanted? Either your timeframe is changing or you’re crossing them off the potentials list. Popular months tend to book up quickly — we looked over a year ahead of our wedding and were shocked at how booked some venues already were! And significant dates, i.e. 09.09.09 tend to book years in advance.
You may have your heart set on a snowy mountain wedding only to discover the venue is booked all Winter, and discover that the mountain is just as lovely in the Summer! Having some flexibility helps.
One mistake I can help lead you away from in these 7 Lifesaving Tips for Choosing a Wedding Venue is to stay away from holidays. Sometimes a holiday wedding works — my cousin got married over July 4th weekend in a year that the holiday fell near a weekend. This was ideal; we had an extra day to relax before going back to work.
But Alex and I nearly got married in the weekend between Easter and Passover. Luckily, we had the foresight to call a friend and a family member to run the idea by them before we signed. Our loved ones politely but firmly led us away from this idea. For our friends and family set, this would have been one of the worst and least convenient weekends to get married. In another set, this might be the ideal time! We also almost got married the weekend of Thansksgiving, not realizing which weekend it was! This is the busiest weekend of my work year and would have been a trial to say the least. Again, a quick look at the calendar and a friendly consult saved us from a disastrous date.
So this is a personal decision like any other. I do recommend that when you visit venues, narrow down to your top 3 choices and have some dates in mind, consult with a couple of trusted advisers in your circle. They’ll help ensure you don’t accidentally book on a date that would limit your or your guests’ enjoyment.
Tip #5: Learn about venue peak season, off-peak season and off seasons.
Thanks to being later to marriage in my friendship groups, I had tons of help planning my wedding! One thing I thought I knew about but really didn’t was how to determine a venue’s peak season.
Before I dive into specific on this 5th of 7 Lifesaving Tips for Choosing a Wedding Venue I should explain what these terms mean. Peak season is the most popular season for a specific venue. Off-peak season is the next most popular season, and off season is the least popular season for a venue (but it still may be popular in general!). Some venues only have peak and off season, some have all three.
Why does peak vs non peak matter? In a word, price. Venues charge based on demand and peak season is their highest demand time. So even though a venue is the same in June as it is in January, you may find having your wedding in one of those months is much pricier at a venue than the other. It shocked our eyes nearly out of their sockets a couple of times during our venue hunt!
Previous to my own wedding planning I’d assumed that all venues have the same peak and off season months. Wrong. I’d also assumed that all Summer months would be peak season for outdoor venues. Wrong again! And I thought that there would be multiple off-peak or off season months to choose from at venues. Often wrong! Finally, I figured that every month of each peak type would be priced the same…and you guessed it, I was wrong about that too!
Depending on how many wedding venues are in your area, the climate and the demand, you may find that each venue you visit has different peak, off-peak and off season months. It can be a lot to keep straight! When we had our final venue picking chat, we kept having to refer to our notes to recall which venues were at which pricing which months.
We got married in August, in part because it was an off-peak month for our venue. Prior to planning, I never would have guessed August would be an off-peak month! Turns out many couples avoid it fearing it’ll be too hot and humid in NYC. Often they are right. We got so lucky on this factor.
Get more luxe wedding inspiration on my Wedding Style Pinterest board.
Tip #6: Consider your decoration desires.
As I combed Pinterest for wedding decoration inspiration, I was open to using or discarding most ideas, but there were a few I decided I’d really love have at our wedding. Firstly, I really wanted fairy lights above our dance floor. (And we got them!) Secondly, I wanted a chuppah for our ceremony. (Did that too!) Finally, I wanted to need minimal decoration around the reception room. (Checked that one off too.) In order to make this happen Alex and I had to find a venue that satisfied all of these requirements. I was flexible of course, but luckily this turned out to be easy in NYC.
Initially in wedding planning I’d incorrectly convinced myself that our reception room would need tons of decoration to look good. After all that’s what I saw on Pinterest and TV wedding shows!! But then we attended a wedding in a beautiful old converted warehouse where the venue itself was most of the decoration. Beautiful old wood beams were everywhere. Brilliant exposed brick walls made for stunning texture and color. Divine open ceilings let the room breathe and bask in the love for the couple. I realized that with the right venue choice, we could skip a lot of the really expensive stuff like huge centerpieces and instead let the room lead the vibe for us.
This 6th of 7 Lifesaving Tips for Choosing a Wedding Venue really can be a lifesaver, and a budget saver too! When I asked my friends what they most regretted spending on or felt like they’d overspent on, decorations were high on everyone’s lists. You’ll barely have time to enjoy the decorations as the couple getting married . And no guests ever talk about the decorations afterwards, unless they were over the top. People remember food, booze and music. That’s it! (Maybe the cake too.)
This means that you shouldn’t go to crazy decorating your venue, and choosing a venue with that needs little decoration is a savvy choice. If you want to go crazy with decorations do it! A friend of mine is a visual artist for a national retail chain, and her wedding was a showcase of her display-making talent. For her, the decorations mattered a ton! But if you’re like me and Alex this is one area where you can spend less and leave more for the honeymoon fund!!
Tip #7: Be flexible.
It’s funny but have you noticed that the less specific you are in your desires, the more you end up with exactly what you want? This leads me to the final of my 7 Lifesaving Tips for Choosing a Wedding Venue. Be. Flexible!!!
I have been in weddings where the details of desires have led to frustrations and stress for the bride and groom. I have also been to weddings where couples miss out on some attendees they wanted because of the wedding timing.
Wedding planning is wonderful but it can also be super stressful. Alex and I actively did everything we could to minimize the potential for stress. One way we did this was by being super flexible about our wedding venue choice and wedding date. He and I did not have strong feelings, and this allowed us to get a superior venue at an amazing price on what turned out to be the perfect day! When we visited venues we got a sense of when it would make the most sense for us to do a wedding at each place, and this also helped us narrow down to our final venue choices.
Flexibility can help in ways beyond the price. Vendors are often booked quickly during peak season. If you have a particular photographer, videographer, florist, DJ, whomever in mind, being flexible on your wedding timing and venue allows more potential to get exactly the vendors you want. I knew so strongly that I wanted Laurel Creative to photograph our wedding. So much so that we didn’t book the venue until we knew Lauren was available on our date!
You never know if a venue will get booked out from under you. Factors beyond your control may change your ideal wedding date or necessitate choosing a different room in a venue than you’d originally pictured. With a flexible mindset, every change is a win!!
It’s perfectly cool to have specific ideas or desires in mind — I’m not trying to dissuade you from this! What I am saying is that allowing those ideas to evolve, change or adjust based on what is available to you will make your wedding all the dreamier. And that can be one of the most important of my 7 Lifesaving Tips for Choosing a Wedding Venue.
Next post, I’ll talk specifically about our venue hunt. How did you choose your wedding venue? Do you have a dream wedding venue in mind? What kind of compromises did you make, if any, in choosing your venue?