Choosing where you host your big day is often one of the most stressful parts of the wedding planning process, which isn’t surprising given that venue costs are likely to eat up the largest share of the budget.
Before going ahead and starting your search, it’s worth thinking exactly what your requirements are from your venue, whether you need capacity for a large wedding, are craving an outdoor ceremony, or are trying to keep costs to a minimum.
SoBristolWeddings’ guide to choosing the perfect wedding venue offers a helping hand for couples, giving you plenty to consider before putting down a deposit on your venue.
As Phil and Kirsty say, ‘location, location, location’ is key, and this especially rings true when thinking about where to tie the knot, with couples needing to consider everything from accessibility for transport, to proximity of where the bulk of your guests live.
If you’re planning on having your ceremony and reception at different venues, make sure you do a recce and test out the travel times between the two to see if it’s feasible, and also ensure you allow extra time for vintage cars and buses to get from A to B.
Couples should also think about whether the venue is easy for guests to find. There’s nothing worse than choosing a beautiful rustic venue that’s so remote that the wedding party will struggle, even with the help of Sat Nav, to make their way there. And, you certainly don’t want lost guests frantically calling you on the day!
Also, if you’re having elderly relatives attend, you might want to pick a venue that’s only a short distance from where they’ll be travelling from, to make the journey to the wedding as comfortable and stress-free as possible.
If you’re planning on exchanging your vows in a church then you don’t need to worry, but if not, make sure you find out if the venue is licensed to conduct civil ceremonies, and also check that a registrar is available to officiate on your chosen day.
For a list of approved venues, visit the Bristol County Council, South Gloucestershire, and North Somerset Council websites where you’ll find a directory of licensed places to say ‘I do’ in and around Bristol.
While many smaller venues, boutique hotels, and restaurants aren’t licensed, there’s always the option to have a legally-binding ceremony elsewhere or at a register office, before holding a blessing at your venue.
If you’re thinking of going down the route of a blessing, then it’s worth considering having a celebrant, who can conduct ceremonies completely tailored to your requirements.
Capacity is a huge dictator as to whether a venue is right for you or not, so before you fall for somewhere, make sure you know how many guests it can accommodate.
Many venues will be able to welcome different numbers of guests for ceremonies, wedding breakfasts and evening receptions, so make sure to check the exact capacity for each aspect of your day to make sure it works for you.
Some venues can also offer the option of having a marquee, which often increases the number of people you can invite, and it is definitely worth asking the venue’s wedding coordinator if this is an option.
As a general rule, bear in mind that manor houses and big hotels will often have capacity to host larger-scale weddings, while country pubs and restaurants are more suited to those planning intimate receptions.
Whether you’re lusting over the idea of serving afternoon tea or want to create a festival vibe with street food trucks, be aware that your catering dreams might not always be possible at every venue.
Before you get carried away and start pinning to your heart’s content, check what the venue’s catering options are, with some, especially hotels, working with their in-house chefs or committed to a particular supplier.
Keep in mind that catering teams will be experienced at creating a variety of different menus throughout the seasons, with many offering the option to craft bespoke dishes to suit your tastes and needs.
If you like the idea of doing a booze cruise to stock up on wine and Champagne for the big day, remember that some venues won’t let you supply your own alcohol, so do check before catching that cross-Channel ferry and also enquire about corkage fees.
Popular venues get booked up fast, with key dates such as Saturdays in the summer months and bank holiday weekends often being reserved up to two years in advance.
If you’ve got your heart set on a certain date, be prepared that you might have wait longer for your big day. Meanwhile if you’re willing to be a bit more flexible, look to weekdays, which are also a cheaper option and the norm for weddings these days.
Those planning weddings in the low season, November, January and February, will have much more chance at getting their desired date, with the winter months offering the perfect chance to create a romantic cosy-themed celebration.
For couples who are completely flexible on dates, keep your eyes out for late-availability packages, with many venues offering discounts on last-minute bookings.
Falling for a venue and then realising it’s completely out of your budget can be heartbreaking for couples, so nip it in the bud before it happens by finding out how much your desired venue charges for weddings.
Some venues will disclose costs, from venue hire to catering, on their websites or in their wedding brochures, while others prefer you to enquire over the phone or by email before sending a breakdown of costs.
Do make sure you look at the all the costs involved to avoid any hidden extras, and don’t forget to check that the quote includes VAT, as that can be a surprising financial sting that you’ll certainly not welcome.
If you find a venue and realise it’s slightly out of your budget range, it’s worth discussing with the wedding coordinator to see if it’s feasible to shave off any costs, such as reducing the drinks tab or opting for a cheaper menu, in order to make it more affordable.
With wedding invite lists including family and friends from near and far, having somewhere for guests to stay during the celebrations is an important factor for couples to consider when viewing a venue.
Some venues, such as bigger hotels, will have ample accommodation to welcome large numbers of your wedding party, with many including the option to stay over the night before the big day and offering preferential rates for guests.
For those looking at smaller venues, speak to the wedding coordinator to see what the accommodation options are in the surrounding area, and think about calling in to view the rooms before recommending them to your guests.
If you’re planning a festival-themed wedding and the venue allows, consider offering camping as an option for guests. Obviously this isn’t ideal for older relatives so you’ll still need to have some B&Bs, hotels or holiday cottages up your sleeve as an alternative.
While you might already have a Pinterest board full of ideas for your dream rustic wedding, it’s worth remembering that certain themes translate better to certain venues.
Generally, barns tend to lend themselves perfectly to rustic themes; hotels, depending on the décor, can encompass everything from contemporary chic to olde-worlde charm; castles are more suited to fairy tale celebrations; and country manor houses are ideal for traditional weddings.
If you’re unsure if your theme idea will work at the chosen venue, ask the wedding coordinator to see a portfolio of images of past weddings to see what other couples have done.
When thinking about themes, bear in mind that some venues will be listed buildings or National Trust properties and will have some limitations on what you can do décor wise, so do check in advance to see if there are any restrictions.
If you want to tie the knot with only your nearest and dearest in attendance, you’ll need to find out whether the venue offers the option of exclusive-use hire.
Be prepared that you’ll pay more for the privilege of having the venue to yourselves, and not every venue offers the option of exclusive hire, so do check when doing your research.
Many venues that aren’t able to offer exclusive use are large hotels that still have plenty of dedicated function spaces in order to accommodate both your wedding party and other weddings seamlessly, without interruption on the day.
Some venues that offer exclusive use require a minimum spend during the hire period, or a set number of hotel rooms booked in order to cover the costs of you taking over the venue for your celebration.
Some venues will be complete with everything you need for your big day, and some won’t, so it’s worth checking what’s included with venue hire before signing on the dotted line.
Things to consider are, whether they have chairs and tables, or if they do, if there are a sufficient number to cater for your wedding party, with some venues having to hire in additional furniture to accommodate for larger celebrations.
If you’re planning a marquee wedding, you’ll most likely have to hire the marquee itself, along with toilets, catering tents, refrigerators, and lighting, which will need to be factored into your big day budget.
It’s also worth finding out if the venue offers any décor touches, such as chair covers, vases, or lighting, which can be incorporated into your wedding.
By Anna McKittrick
Friday 23 September 2016
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