Although it sounds simple enough, there are about a million factors to consider in choosing your venue. I’ll try to cover just ten of the crucial questions you need to ask before you book your big day.
1. Is the venue registered?
If you’re not religious and are looking to have your ceremony and reception in the same place, find out if your venue is registered for civil ceremonies, and more specifically, which part of the venue is registered. If you’re desperate for an outdoor ceremony, you may find that the venue is only registered indoors, as all weddings have to be performed under a permanent roof under UK law.
2. What’s the capacity?
There’s no point falling in love with a venue only to find out that you’ll have to slash your guest list to make it a reality. Before you visit any venues, work out the number of people you’d like for the ceremony and meal, and the number you’d like for the evening and find out
-what the seated ceremony capacity is.
-what the seated meal capacity is.
-what the capacity is for standing / dancing.
3. Can we use our own caterers?
If you have an unlimited (or hefty) budget and don’t mind having less say over your food options, then ignore this point. However, if you’re on a tight budget, food isn’t a priority and you’d like to be able to personalise your day, steer clear of venues that don’t allow you to use your own caterers. They will often have a PSL (preferred suppliers list), will take a cut of what you pay the caterers and therefore won’t budge on price or on who you use. A venue that lets you use your own caterers, bring in food to order or even (gasp) self cater gives you more control over the price and quality of your food.
If your venue does insist on you using their caterers and you’re in love with the place, try to work out an overall price per head with the venue that’s inclusive of the venue cost.
4. What’s the corkage charge? How much are the bar prices?
Unless you’re having an alcohol-free wedding, it’s essential to find out the potential hidden costs behind the booze! Some venues charge a “corkage” fee of as much as £10 – £15 per bottle just to bring your own in. Other venues have ridiculous bar prices, which can bring the atmosphere down on the day even if it’s a free bar – you don’t want to spend your entire time worrying about the soaring cost of your wedding with every drink a guest downs.
5. How long will we have to set up / clear away?
Some venues will give you exclusive use for a package of a few days. Others will turf you out the next morning. Some will have a setting up / clearing away service and others will expect you to do it all yourself. If the latter is the case, find willing friends to whom you can owe a favour! The last thing you want to be doing immediately surrounding your wedding is frantically attending to last-minute details.
6. Will we have exclusive use of the venue?
Imagine going to the loo and bumping into another bride! Nightmare! Find out if they double-book weddings and if so, are they kept completely separate? You don’t want your guests wandering into the wrong wedding…
7. Will there be on-site help / coordination?
If not, it’s easy to hire your own. If you’re on a budget, perhaps ask one of your more organised friends to act as the MC / coordinator on the day. If there is an on-site wedding coordinator, make sure you like them. If you don’t have a good vibe with them, entrusting them with the smooth running of your day will be very difficult.
8. What time does the party have to stop?
If you’re a boring old lady like me, you won’t mind telling people it’s carriages at midnight (which doesn’t mean actual horse and carriages, by the way, as I found out the embarrassing way at a friend’s wedding… it’s just a polite way of telling you to bleep off). If you’re a party animal and want to stay up into the wee hours of the morning, make sure you find a venue that lets you do that!
9. Is there a bridal suite on site?
If you’re far from home you may want to get ready or even sleep at your venue. Find out if there’s a place for you (and your mum and bridesmaids) to prepare and also if there are separate rooms where you can meet the registrar beforehand.
10. Are there rain contingency plans?
You’ve booked a modern-day Eden. And then, in some divine joke, the heavens open. Suddenly your beautiful “under the blossom tree” ceremony and photoshoot has been rained off. Find out if there are any suitable indoor contingency plans for photos and for the ceremony or party and if not, if it’s possible to hire tents at short notice and put them up at the venue.