Hello there, January fiancés ♡ I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas full of magic, and that 2018 has started with oodles of wedding planning fun. For those of you whose holidays had some extra sparkle in the form of an engagement ring, congratulations! It’s the beginning of a fantastic journey, not just as you start planning your celebrations, but also as you start the rest of your lives together.
These first few weeks as an engaged couple may contain no wedding planning at all just yet (and that’s fine!), and the first few decisions that do trickle into your thoughts will vary couple by couple. But, in all likelihood, you’ll soon start thinking about location – so I wanted to share some tips to help in the journey to finding the most awesome wedding venue for you.
- Don’t rule anything out. As you start the brainstorm on your wedding venue, don’t limit yourself to what you think is expected. Ask yourself: what would I do if money was no question? Of course money is a question, but it may be that you can achieve something very close to your dream on a lower budget than you think, with a little bit of flexibility. Your nationalities and addresses are only a starting point: don’t feel like you can’t plan a wedding in France just because you don’t live there, and neither of you is French. If a château in France or an art gallery in Berlin is your dream, then go for it! Just keep your heart and mind open about what that might entail, like a smaller guest list or an out-of-high-season date, for example. Destination weddings may seem like an extravagant choice, but it’s actually becoming more and more popular and accessible – and there’s no reason you shouldn’t consider it. Be creative when it comes to thinking about the destination, and consider hiring someone with experience and local knowledge to give you advice on what is and isn’t realistic.
- Think outside the (hotel) box. Related to the point above is the fact that, once you’ve chosen the country you want to celebrate in, you don’t have to stick to hotels or venues with well-established wedding packages; that is, unless you have a strong tie to a particular one, and have your heart set on it – which is fine too! If you don’t, consider looking outside of the hotel sphere as well: barns, conservatories, art galleries, museums, warehouses, city bars, fields, themed spaces, disused chapels, old industrial spaces, castles, town houses, restaurants, animal reserves, botanical gardens, farms, tree houses, city landmarks, beaches, woodlands, small country hotels, planetariums, mountaintops – I could go on and on! There are so many types of spaces to choose from, for all tastes, personalities, and budgets. In your search, you may come across a venue that is very new to the wedding market, or even one that hasn’t ever hosted a wedding before yours! Don’t let this put you off, as it can pay off wonderfully in terms of value for money and freedom, but do keep in mind that it may require some extra work and some careful contract writing: with more autonomy also comes a wider array of things that you will need to keep an eye on and be aware of.
- Set some things in stone, and some in butter. Wait, what? What I mean is, if you sit down and decide every single detail of your wedding before even visiting a venue, you might find yourself disappointed that your very particular combination of look/location/cost/availability is nowhere to be found. Of course, it’s useful to set yourself some strict guidelines to help narrow down the search, if you have them: budget might be non-negotiable for example, or maybe you know your guest list size already or that your A-listers simply can’t travel beyond a certain distance. But being flexible with other aspects might save you a lot of time, money, and heartaches – for example, choosing a slightly less popular time of year or day of the week might bring that dream venue down from the clouds and into your budget. Having a general vibe in mind is good, but letting your style, colours, and vision adapt to embrace the venue’s personality is even better. You might find that there is so much character, natural decoration, or natural beauty at a wedding venue that your decoration budget can be lowered somewhat, to make space for something else.
- Be geeky about scoring your criteria. When starting a venue search for a couple, I first go through the key facts mentioned above: guest list estimate, budget, and preferences on wedding loacation. These form the basis of which venues will make the shortlist, and which won’t; for example, if you know your guest list is never going to be smaller than 200 people, I would recommend doing yourself a kindness and not even looking at venues with smaller capacities, as it can just cause you unnecessary stress (if you fall in love with it…). We then brainstorm together on which are the most important criteria to assess and which are extra nice-to-haves, the non-essential peripherals that would make a venue more appealing, but aren’t deal-breakers if absent. Prioritising at this stage will help keep things in perspective later. This process is the starting point of a spreadsheet, which has as many rows as factors discussed, and as many columns as venues under consideration. As we find out more about each venue, through research or in-person visits, we can then start scoring each venue; for example, you might give a score out of ten for each of the main categories, and then a score out of 5 as bonuses in the “extras” categories. Here is an example of a venue scoring card for a winter, Catholic wedding, with lots of international guests staying for the whole weekend:This may seem a little long-winded to set up at first, but it can really help to prioritise and to quantify the things that you liked or disliked. You might find this particularly useful if your venue hunt spans several months, and you find yourself having to pick between two or three finalists that you haven’t visited for a while. Every time you visit a new wedding venue, memories of the ones you saw before will fade a little, and the excitement of a new option can make you forget about things you’d really enjoyed about previous places. Also, the scorecard teaches you to ask more focused and useful questions as your search continues, thereby making the most of your venue visits in future. All of that said, instinct plays a huge part too: if you both fall in love with a venue as you first set foot in it, and it hits all your primary requirements, there’s no reason not to sign there and then, regardless of the other options available to you. The spreadsheet is just a way to keep the facts straight, to make sure you’ve asked all the right questions (and are comparing apples to apples), and to record how well a venue fit your expectations when you first came across it; you can then make an informed decision on just how awesome this venue will be for your wedding.
- Switch party mode on. This tip doesn’t apply to everyone: I know that some brides prefer seeing venues bare and neutral, so their imagination can fill in all the details. But if you’re not sure, consider asking venues whether there are any open days or upcoming parties and weddings, as you might find that seeing the wedding venue set up gives it a very different vibe to when it’s all empty. A blank canvas can be wonderfully rewarding to style in a way that is very personal to you, but there’s no harm seeing a venue dressed up for a party and showing off its best assets while you’re looking around. When my husband and I were choosing a location for our wedding, we were so undecided about one particular venue that we booked tickets for their upcoming New Years’ Eve Party, just to see how it felt! If that’s not really an option for you, then consider tracking down photos or videos of real weddings held at the venue on wedding planners’, videographers’, and photographers’ websites and blogs.
- Take your time, over and over. You may have family or personal reasons for wanting to get the wedding organised quickly, but, if not, I will repeat here something I’ve blogged about before: if you can, don’t rush. Choosing a venue can actually be very fun, if you use it as an excuse to visit and get to know some beautiful places around the world! You can take family members with you, stay for the weekend, and soak in the atmosphere while being treated like royalty. If you’re looking around an area of the UK, for example, you might find that countryside or city breaks planned around your venue visits can make the whole experience very pleasant, and reduce any possible stress over the decision. You’ll find that you get “better” at visiting venues over time, in the sense that you refine your questions and know what to look for, and once you have a framework for comparison, you’ll be able to better assess what you’re being offered. Meet lots of people at each venue, and test that their customer service is always up to your standard. Are they friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable? Also, you might want to visit venues more than once in different seasons (how do the colours and flowers change?), or simply go back to your favourite one every so often to check it still feels right. Take your time to ask questions, make notes, and take lots of photos, and save them in separate folders on your laptop or phone; also, consider sending coordinators post-visit thank you emails outlining what was offered and discussed, so that you’re all on the same page (and you can check back later to remind yourself). But most importantly, stay true to yourself and have fun with it! Definitely don’t rush just because the first question everybody has been asking you is “So have you chosen a wedding venue yet?” – you’ll be glad you took your time, when the day comes.
You got this ♡ And if you want some help through your wedding journey, for anything, just get in touch.
Photo in the header by Nataly J Photography ♡