Picking a Venue
This probably should have been the very first blog in my planning series, because you really can't do any planning until you have a venue. Your wedding venue can make or break your day, and every venue is so different in so many ways for how they work or what they offer.
Thankfully, South Jersey is such a great place to get married just because there are so many different options for locations. You can fit just about any vibe from beach and formal or barn and rustic with everything in between.
There is so much more to picking a venue than the location though, if you are planning a wedding you already know how difficult it can be. Many couples are limited to a certain area or within a certain budget that can limit them on what their options are. Choosing something convenient for guests, can accommodate your guest list, fits your budget, and your style? Yeah, there are options, but some couples struggle to find the right fit for them.
Most couples will tour many venues so they can find one that is right for them. Also, lots of venues like to wait until you are in the hot seat to talk about the financials. So, the couples need to go to see if it is an option for them.
If you are looking at venues use this template below to get all the right questions answered and to keep track of your tours so you can make a decision!
As you can see by the massive list of questions I think you should ask, there is lots of variations between different venues and what they offer. There is no PERFECT venue. You will just need to adjust what your priorities are to find your match.
I will go over some of the main points so you have an idea what is typical and what is preferred for when you are doing your own venue tours.
The Bridal Suite
The getting ready space definitely has the most range among local venues. Some venues have vast beautiful spaces for getting ready and some don't have a space at all. This is likely not going to be your biggest priority to picking which venue you choose, but you should know what you may encounter and this should be known ahead of time to help you plan.
Many venues offer some sort of space for getting ready or putting your things down for the day. I have noticed that many venues that were converted to be a wedding space set their bridal suite up as an after thought. Many are very small, which is difficult for large bridal parties. Additionally they won't have a space or a dedicated space for the guys
Many are poorly lit and have no windows.. which you WANT windows for those getting ready photos. Many times I will encourage a bride to step out of the bridal suite and near a window for better photos in these situations.
Venues that were built for weddings offer beautiful large well lit and comfortable spaces, but many times they require a fee to use for the day. On the contrary some venues give time restrictions on when you can access the space that can leave you scrambling to figure out where you will get your girls together.
Ideally you want a venue that offers a larger space that has windows, offers a dedicated space for the guys, and offers a time frame prior to when you need to be ready that you can make work. Typically having multiple hair and makeup professionally can help you make your timeline since it can take up to 2 hours for 1 person's hair and make up to be done.
If the venue that you chose doesn't have a bridal suite there are lots of other options for spaces to get ready. It's just not nearly as convient.
I think every bride wants an outdoor ceremony these days. Who can blame them? I love them as well! However there are some things you should ask about having your ceremony at the venue.
Many venues don't have a dedicated indoor ceremony space if weather becomes an issue. Often times they just convert the reception space into a ceremony or they will just have your ceremony in the reception space. I have to say nothing breaks my heart like a bride finding out they will have their ceremony in the middle of the reception space. It is so different than a typical ceremony. Their walk down the aisle becomes a walk through tables and it sucks! Make sure you talk to your venue about options and how your day would change if there is inclement weather!
Check with your venue about what they offer for the ceremony. Some venues have built in arches or platforms that are beautiful! They should also have chairs available they will set up for you. However, that isn't always the case. Some venues aren't able to offer these things. So, if you are responsible for chairs and an arch/backdrop keep that in mind when you are selecting your venue. It is not ideal to rent 100 chair and/or an arch for a 30 minute ceremony.
Limitations can be an aspect that many couples wouldn't think about when selecting their venue. Limitations can come up with churches as well as indoor spaces. Limitations can be the use of petals or decorative walk ways. Make sure you ask what you will and will not be allowed to use to decorate if you had a vision in mind for your ceremony. Additionally, it will be important to check if electricity is available at the space. Not only for your DJ to play ceremony music, but incase you had a vision in mind that included something that needed to be plugged in!
Lighting is a challenge for photographers at just about every single venue when it comes to the ceremony. Obviously we cannot move the ceremony to get better lighting. Often times the venue choses a space that just looks good to the eye without taking the lighting into consideration. Ideally you want a ceremony space and a time where you have nice filtered light. What I mean by that is there isn't harsh bright lights right over head. The best times for a ceremony are within 2 hours of sunset and when the light is filtered through trees so everyone has even lighting.
Lastly, a MUST ask.. Will the venue offer a coordinator for the ceremony. I love helping during all aspects of the wedding day, but I can't assist with getting people up the aisle when they are supposed to since I am at the front for photos. Your DJ also will not be able to help since they are set up to change music. No bridal party ever seems to remember what they are supposed to do, even after a pricey rehearsal. It is best that you have someone that can assist with the timing and ensure that the ceremony goes smoothly.
Cocktail and Reception
This is where most venues are going to sell you. This is their main event. This is the space that you are really looking at when you visit the venue and this is what you will be sold on. There are still somethings you should ask to be sure it is the venue for you.
For cocktail hour you will simply want to know what is included. The basics are is it grazing style, meaning the food it out and self serve, or will the servers be handing out the hors d'oeuvres? Also are their stations set up? These things do not make or break the venue, but give you an idea of what you are getting. I honestly have never had a bad cocktail experience.
For the reception there are some major things to ask that can change how the party goes. Venues will offer you a sit down dinner where dinner is served to the guests at their tables or a buffet where they will go up and get the food they would like. These options are both great! I think most find the sit down is the nicer option, but as you may be sold on the idea of a number of courses there is a down side. They can take up A LOT of time. While sit down dinners usually offer really nice meals I have found that many venues have a way of prolonging the dinner and delaying the other events of the night. If you are a foodie and you don't think there is much dancing on the agenda then a sit down is wonderful, but if you have an itch to party you will want to ask your venue to give you all the details about how they serve their dinners. You will want to know the turn around time and how much of your night you should expect to be dedicated to dinner. Some venues will allow a dance break between courses, but some will require that the DJ only play dinner music for the duration of all the courses.
Also, more about food.. Ask if you get to sample the dishes prior to making a selection or if you will just have to guess which dishes will be best based on their description. Also, if you are expecting vegetarians ask if you will need to choose a vegetarian dish as one of your options or if they include a vegetarian option separately. Additionally, kids! If you are having kids attend your wedding ask if they offer a dish for them. Typically they do and it is chicken fingers and fries. But, will they be offered a kid's price? Or will they be the same price that you are paying for a filet for your adult guests? And lastly, vendors. Will your vendors be offered a complimentary meal? Or will your vendors be charged to you as a guest?
On to Alcohol! If you want a bar you are going to want to ask some things about how your venue does it. You will ask how many bars and bartenders will be offers, if they aren't you will need to plan for that. Also, asking if they provide the alcohol or if that is something you will need to purchase and bring yourself. You would be amazed how many out sources options you will have on these things if they are not included for you. But, if you aren't being offered a package with your venue get the help of a bartender to help you ensure that you will have everything you need.
I don't really understand why something so simple can be so complicated, but it can! Many venues offer a cake. I think we are out of the days of intricate cakes. Many of my couples are option for a traditional cake with a pretty topper. However, you will want to ask if that cake is included and what options you have to customize it. Also, if they can't accommodate what you are asking what the rules are for using an outside bakery to do your cake. You should ask if the included cake would be taken off if you chose another bakery and if they would be charging a cake cutting fee if you chose to do that. Last I checked (in 2012 so this could be very different now) cake cutting fees were $3 a guest so super important to ask!
You will be in awe of the beautiful landscaping of your venue, but you won't realize the limitations of where you can go until it is wedding day. I don't know why venues don't disclose this early on, but it is very common to have limitations to where you can go for portraits. It is especially common with venues of multiple purposes. For example, golf courses. Make sure you ask where you will be allowed to go for portraits, if you have different limitations then your bridal party. If you will be offered a golf cart to travel to the spaces, if a coordinator comes with you to supervise and ride the cart or if you can ride it yourselves. If there is a limit to how many golf carts and if there is a required way to do your portrait time.
There is one venue in particular that leads me to this set of questions, because most venues are pretty flexible. However, the venue in mind will say you have to do bride and groom photos first (terrible idea), then will drive you to the one space you are allowed to use for photographs, they make your photographer ride on the back holding on for dear life, and they do not budge on this set up. It is pretty aggravating and I always give the couples booked there a big heads up about it.
No matter where you select you will have a beautiful day. Just ensure you are asking the right questions so you aren't scrambling and you are prepared. The most important thing is that you trust the staff and the venue to deliver great service and you can relax and enjoy!