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What makes a good wedding venue?

Updated: Mar 27

The venue you select for your big day really sets the tone for your event, whether you go for a casual beach to a majestic ballroom. When it comes to how to choose a wedding venue, the whole process can feel pretty daunting and there are lots of questions that you'll need to answer. Will your wedding be big or small? Outdoors or indoors? Rustic or glam? Settling on the basics of your wedding will help you and your partner narrow down the many venues out there, and find the one that’s right for you.

Figuring out how to choose a wedding venue is one of the first steps on your planning journey. Here's how to find the wedding location of your dreams, stress-free.

Here’s the rundown of how to choose a wedding venue, from start to finish.

Choose your wedding’s general location.

In our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, weddings were traditionally held in the bride’s hometown. Nowadays, however, your wedding can be held anywhere, either partner’s hometown, the city where you currently live, a favorite vacation spot, even a destination that you’ve always wanted to visit. There are certain benefits to hosting a hometown wedding (convenience!), but destination weddings certainly have their perks, too (amazing backdrop!). You’ll want to select the general location where your event will take place first and foremost, as this decision will affect all the other details of your big day, from your budget to your venue options.

Figure out your budget.

When it comes to how to choose a wedding venue, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is how much you can spend on a space. And it turns out that your venue and catering will compromise about half of your wedding budget. In the U.S., couples spend an average of $5,400 on their venue alone, with most couples spending between 27 000 and 80,500 renting a venue in a major city will likely cost more than one in a more rural area. Talk to your partner and any loved ones who may be contributing financially to your big day and come up with a total budget, then divide that number by half to determine the amount you can spend on your venue and catering (which may end up being a combined cost if you select an all-inclusive venue).

Come up with an estimated guest count.

Every wedding venue has a capacity, a firm number of guests that it can comfortably hold. This number is usually not flexible, so while you don’t need to come up with an exact number of guests before selecting a venue, you’ll need to have a pretty good estimate. There’s a pretty big difference between a venue that can accommodate 75 guests, and one that can hold 500. Don’t just pull a guest count out of thin air (“I want a 100-person wedding!”). Sit down with your partner and respective families to come up with a list so there won’t be any major surprises later on (you can always add or subtract a few guests if you need). The last thing you want is to fall in love with a wedding venue with a 200-person capacity only to realize that you have a 350-person guest list.

Think about your priorities.

Once you have a location, budget, and guest count, it’s time to start thinking about what your dream venue would look like. Sit down with your partner and choose three features that your ideal venue would have. For example, an outdoor ceremony space, in-house catering, and a rustic feel might on your must-have list. Or perhaps you’re looking for a venue that’s conveniently located, pet-friendly, and allows you to choose an outside caterer. The possibilities are endless and each couple’s priorities will be different.

Narrow down some dates.

Booking a wedding venue means that you’ve officially “set the date” for your big day. You may already have a wedding date in mind, or you may be able to be a bit more flexible. Either way, one of the first steps of how to choose a wedding venue is to narrow down a few dates that you know will work for you, your partner, and your closest loved ones. While saying that you’re getting married “next fall” is a good start, you should have some specific dates in mind before looking at venues. While some couples may figure out their wedding date based on when their dream venue is available, we recommend picking a few dates before starting your official venue hunt.

Start your venue search online.

You can even narrow your search down by your desired capacity, availability, type of venue you’re interested in, and other amenities, from catering to insurance and more. We recommend perusing venues online as a joint effort with your partner, working together to create a shortlist of venues that you’d like to learn more about.

Reach out to a few venues with some basic questions.

Once you’ve narrowed down a list of five or so venues, send each one a message expressing your interest and asking a few questions. These questions should include if they’re available on your desired date, confirming their capacity, and ensuring that they offer the top priorities you discussed with your partner earlier. You can also request pricing information to ensure they’re within budget. This initial communication can be also helpful in determining if a venue’s staff is responsive and helpful. Receiving a friendly email within a relatively short timeframe (remember that venues are likely quite busy on the weekends with events!) is an encouraging sign.

Pay a visit to your favorites.

One of the most important parts of how to choose a wedding venue is actually visiting a few select locations in person. At these in-person visits, you’ll be able to tour the space and decide if it’s the right fit for your big day. Venues may look one way in photos, but entirely different in person so while visiting event spaces might cut into your schedule, they’re super important. You’ll also be able to meet with the venue coordinator, ask any additional questions, and see if you click with the staff.

Weigh the pros and cons.

If you fall in love at first sight with a particular venue, it can be a pretty amazing feeling. However, don’t feel too much pressure to sign on the dotted line during your initial tour. It’s best to take a step back, tour a few venues, and discuss your options with your partner and, if desired, your families. Think about the pros and cons of all of the venues you toured, and work together to come to a decision on your top choice. You may think that you’ve found the perfect space for your big day, but perhaps your partner has some concerns. While you and your partner might not agree on every aspect of your big day, you should both be happy with your choice of venue. If that means touring a few more venues to be sure you’ve found “the one,” do it.

Sign on the dotted line.

When you and your partner have agreed on your desired venue, ask to receive a contract. While it can be really easy to breeze through a contract and just sign it without much thought, a venue contract is definitely worth a close read. Don’t be afraid to ask the venue coordinator about any portions of the contract that confuse you, and be sure you understand the payment schedule. When you feel comfortable with all aspects of your venue contract, sign it, return the paperwork to the venue, and pop some bubbly! You’ve officially made what’s arguably one of the most important decisions you’ll make during your wedding planning process—and that’s definitely worth celebrating.

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Things to Consider when Choosing your Wedding Venue

1. How many guests will attend your wedding?

Deciding on the number of guests will greatly narrow down your venue choices. Most wedding receptions can cater for smaller weddings of 50 guests, but there are only a few venues that can accommodate a party of 200 people.

2. What does the venue cost to hire?

Your venue hire fee will make up between 15% to 20% of your total wedding budget. Take the venue cost and multiply it by 5. If this figure is above your total budget, then it is too expensive and you will be better off to continue hunting around. Booking a venue that takes up 30% of your wedding budget means you will have to cut costs on other elements and that might make you look like a Queen serving McDonald’s at a royal feast!

3. What is included in the venue hire fee?

Venue packages differ enormously from one to the other. Find out where these things are included – If not, then you are looking at added hiring cost:

  • Tables and Chairs to seat all your guests – Do you like what they include?

  • Crockery and Cutlery for all – have a look at the quality and make sure you are happy with what they offer.

  • Waiters and Bar Staff

  • Do they allow outside Caterers

  • Can you bring your own wine and what is the corkage fee?

4. Shortlist venues in the area you want to get married in!

Do a basic Google search before you hit the road on venue scouting. Narrow it down to a list of three venues that you absolutely love and three that you like. Before you visit the venues on the shortlist, send a basic email and request the wedding package. The Little Pink Book Website has a time-saving function whereby you can enquire with multiple venues in one go.

5. Is the venue available for your date?

The popularity of the season, unfortunately, creates a peak in demand and it is for that reason that you will have to start looking around at least 1 year ahead of time if you want to be certain of getting a specific date. In the Western Cape, summer and autumn (due to high winter rainfall) are the best seasons to get married in. In Gauteng, which gets summer rain, you might decide to rather go for a crisp clear winter wedding.

But there are more factors than the climate to consider as venues can look vastly different from season to season. The best advice is to do a web search for weddings around the time of the year you want to get married in.

If cost is a factor, then you can consider taking a risk and booking a venue out of peak season. But if you do take this risk, then make sure your venue has suitable indoor facilities should the weather gods let you down. Most Venues offer better low season rates.

6. What Overnight Accommodation does the venue have?

With safety in mind and the strict drinking and driving laws in place in South Africa, suitable overnight accommodation is an essential consideration when choosing your wedding venue. Guest accommodation on-site or within close driving distance is even more important if you have guests coming from afar. A Bridal suite or preparations room at the wedding venue is a must. This will save you unnecessary travel time, which means more time to spend with your favorite people on your big day.

7. Are There Other Events on the Day?

Make sure that you have exclusive use of the venue on your wedding day. The last thing you want is to compete with another couple for the best photo opportunities or run out of parking space or guest accommodation. But then again, if you don’t mind the above and want to save on cost, sharing a venue might help to lower cost and your ability to afford the venue.

8. Catering and Bar restrictions?

Does your venue have a fully stocked kitchen that is open to use for outside caterers? If not you are restricted to the capabilities and menu offered by the in-house caterers.

Make sure the venue has a liquor license as this might hugely affect the way your beverages are handled on the night. If they do not have a license, then they most probably also do not have a bar and you will have to add extra cost to get a bar and staffing company to handle your beverages.

Most venues will require you to make use of their bar facilities as this will generate extra income for them. Be aware of the cost of beverages as an “Open Bar” might add a huge amount to your wedding cost.

Corkage is another consideration – How much will it cost you to bring in your own wine and bubbly. If this cost is high, then it might be worthwhile to opt for the wine on the menu. Make sure that the wine offered by the estate is of the standard that you are happy with.

Lastly, you should find out whether the venue comes with waiters and bar staff, and if not what the costs will be to hire additional staff to fulfill those functions.

9. Are there any lighting and sound restrictions?

Ask the venue manager about the power sources and whether the existing infrastructure can handle more lighting and the power needed for your speakers and sound equipment. If not, you will have to notify your DJ and lighting company to bring additional leads to avoid overloading and embarrassing power cuts during the evening – We’ve all experienced those!

Due to their location close to residential areas or sensitive neighbors, some wedding reception might have noise regulations applicable to them. Find out whether this is the case and if so, until what time you can lift the roof of the house. If your venue needs you to turn down the sound by 11 pm, there are other options available to keep the party going. One such solution is that of a Silent Disco – we suggest Perfect Tone so you can party to all hours of the morning without disturbing anyone!

10. Google other weddings at the venues you like

Previous weddings at the same time of the year as your chosen month will give you great insight into what you can expect. Furthermore, it will help you to ask questions when you do a site visit. You might notice the ceremony conducted in different places of the venue utilized in ways you could not imagine. In your web search, make note of these things:

  • Weather conditions

  • Are the Bridal and Groom preparation facilities up to scratch?

  • Indoor / Outdoor Ceremony options

  • Pre-Dinner Drinks areas

  • Couple photo Opportunities

  • Reception Options

  • Dance Floor options

  • Can the venue be styled to your theme

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