What to ask and what to see during your venue or site tour.
Generally the first step of wedding planning is to book your venue and secure your wedding date. A venue is the visual stage for one of the most important celebrations in your life. This venue will often inspire your decor and color scheme and lay the ground work for the decorations and florals you will need as you move forward with preparations. Even more importantly, this venue will be the location where all of your closest family and friends will join together to celebrate the two of you, often meeting for the first time. To say there is a lot to consider before choosing your venue would be an understatement.
Let's face it, planning a wedding can be overwhelming. Touring a wedding venue can be fun and dazzling, but don't let yourself get distracted by the scenic landscapes and stunning interiors and forget all the other important things. You'll likely cover the basics, available dates, package and hourly pricing... but there are a lot of things you may not have even thought about just yet. I strongly advise making a list of questions to help you remember what to ask to learn as much as you can before securing your venue. Grab yourself a pretty little wedding planner like this one or even a plain and simple notebook and let's get started!
The amazing and wonderful Jasmin Fish of J. Fish Weddings contributed to this post tremendously by providing her insight as a wedding coordinator as well as a former bride herself. Having the perspective of another valuable wedding vendor felt necessary and I knew I could trust Jasmin to share some wisdom with us. Jasmin is an amazing coordinator and one of my favorite vendors to get to work with and I highly recommend chatting with her if you're in need of a wedding coordinator.
Together we have put together this list of things to consider and important questions to remember when touring venues:
Is this venue within your budget?
Is there a specific date you want or a general time frame and what is the venues availability?
How long will you want the venue on the day of your wedding? Just the ceremony? Reception only? Full day?
"How many other events could happen here on my wedding day?"
"Will the venue be available to us for a Ceremony Rehearsal?"
"Do you have a preferred vendors list?"
"Why are these particular vendors on your list? Why do you prefer to work with them?"
"Does the venue have required vendors for certain things?"
"Are there any limitations on working with outside vendors?"
"Are there any decoration limitations? Can we use candles, sparklers, and so on?"
"Will you allow us to bring our own alcohol? Can we gift adorable liquor bottles as wedding favors?"
“We want an open bar, do you provide bartenders or do we need to hire our own?”
"Can we supply our own decor items? When can they be dropped off?"
"Who will we be working with here on wedding/reception planning? Can I meet them now?"
"Do you have liability insurance? Do we have to have our own? Do our vendors need to be insured?"
"What is your policy for cancellations or postponed weddings?"
"Are there any restrictions for photographers and videographers?"
"For outdoor affairs, is there a backup plan in the case of inclement weather?"
"What am I responsible for at the end of the night?"
"Who will be responsible for putting up and taking down decor and clean up and when will it be done?"
"What all amenities are included?"
I could probably make an entirely separate post about amenties and venues. This is so important and often people don't take the time to think about what they will expect to have included with their wedding venue package. While some of these things aren't a deal breaker, there are definitely some things that could save you a ton of money if you are able to utilize what the venue already has opposed to adding it to your never-ending list of wedding needs.
Before a site visit or consultation with a venue try to have an idea of the amenities you need and want and confirm with the the venue if they provide these things.
Catering: Do they have bar service stations available for use? Some venues will provide catering options, if not or if you choose to hire an outside caterer you may want to confirm if there is a suitable kitchen area for the caterers to prepare your meal. No kitchen area? No problem, I mean who doesn't love a food truck?! This will just help you better prepare when locking down a caterer.
Suites: Do they have an appropriate Bridal Suite for the bride and bridesmaids to get ready? Can you and your bridal party stay the night before the wedding? What about a Grooms Area for the guys? Does this location have guest rooms available for any of your out of town guests or do they have any nearby hotels they recommend (or even offer discounts for)?
Celebration and Reception Areas: Does this venue only have one shared space for the Ceremony and Reception and require a room flip between the two? Is there another area that could host cocktail hour? Do they offer outdoor tenting as an option (this comes in especially handy in the event of rain)?
Raigan: Having a space to serve your guests appetizers and drinks is super beneficial! A cocktail hour is a perfect way to entertain your guests during formal photos so that you don't feel rushed!
Linens: Does the venue offer pressed tablecloths? Do they have a variety of colors? Do they have any draping materials that can be included as you see fit? Even napkins can sometimes be included (and maybe they will even offer fancy folding options)!
Raigan: I had no idea there could be so many options for linens and even fancy napkin folding techniques, but my venue showed out when it came to all of these options and I loved it! Turns out a pretty napkin can really bring together a table setting.
Seating: Do they have options for ceremony seating, reception tables and seating, etc.? Standard chairs will obviously do the job, but some people may prefer church pews or bench seating. Same for reception tables, round or rectangular? How many will they seat? Do they have enough seating for both ceremony and reception or will you need to move chairs?
Jasmin: I personally wish I had found a venue that included tables, chairs, and linens. While it wasn’t on my must haves list (and I wouldn’t have changed my mind about our venue) but the rental company was late and my setup wasn’t complete until DURING my ceremony. The truck drove away as I was walking down the aisle which was distracting. So, this isn’t a must have but it is one less thing you have to worry about renting and having delivered, setup, and removed on your wedding day.
Tableware: Will they include dishes for your table-settings for your reception dinner? Chargers, dinner plates, dessert plates, silverware, glassware, candle holders and more can often be provided by the venue.
Parking: Is there a large lot, garage, street parking or even valet? Depending on the distance the parking may be to the ceremony/reception location you may want to hire a valet service if one isn't already included.
A/V Equipment: Some venues will have their own sound equipment and even projectors if you want to share a video during your event. If your ceremony is an outdoor site, are there outlets close by for A/V Equipment to be set up?
Raigan: I didn't intend on needing any A/V equipment on my wedding day, but when our friend who was asked to play live for our ceremony was still an hour away 10 minutes before our ceremony our venue saved the day with their audio equipment and quickly finding our songs. (The Adalea saves the day!) My point is, it's definitely worth asking if they have it on site and available to you - just in case!
Jasmin: I love a venue that has everything on site that you may need - tables/chairs/linens, kitchen/fridge, extra space to store leftover decor, bride and groom suites, sound system for backup indoor and outdoor, bar area, etc. Not having all of this shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but if you are tossing up a few venues really compare their list of amenities. I have worked weddings at various venues across Middle Tennessee that have provided most or all of these amenities and the planning and wedding day goes so smoothly.
Jasmin: A lifesaver on my wedding day was a friend that acted as a coordinator. She was not paid but stepped into the role. I couldn’t thank her enough for being the person to deal with the late delivery truck and communicating between me and the other vendors while I was getting ready during that stressful time. It was my personal wedding experience that taught me how important having someone with experience in that role is on your wedding day.
Do any of these amenities cost extra?!
As a coordinator, is there anything specific you would have your couples to be mindful of during their venue search?
Pay close attention to the times you are able to be on site. Remember that you may need additional time for rehearsal, decorating, etc. For example, if the venue is only accessible from 10am-11pm on the day of your wedding, additional planning needs to be done to ensure everything can be completed onsite in that amount of time.
Some venues also have a list of housekeeping items that need to be provided by the bride and groom such as trash bags, ice, containers for kegs, etc. If you are using a coordinator, make sure you make them aware of this list so they can ensure you have all the items you are required to bring.
From a photographers viewpoint, when touring a venue my advice would be this...
Most venues plan for beautiful photographs on their property and it's safe to say most of these venues will photograph flawlessly, it really comes down to planning. The whens and wheres are so important here! But maybe you're shopping a few unorthodox wedding locations, creative and non-traditional wedding spots are a fantastic idea, but because these locations may not be designed for weddings and event photography it's super important to be mindful of light in these areas and factor that into your wedding day planning.
Most tours take place in the morning, but if you already have an idea of what time you want your ceremony it doesn't hurt to ask for a tour at that specific time. Pay attention to what time you are on the property and where the sun is at during this time. Ask the venue where you can expect the sun to set, they usually know. If your venue offers a variety of ceremony locations, be mindful of what the lighting looks like in each location at that time to try to gauge what the lighting would look like at your ideal ceremony time. For example, if there is little to no shade you may want to rethink a 2PM ceremony if you don't want to have to squint to see your Fiancé at the end of the aisle. You can also apply this to pretty locations on the property that you think would be ideal for formal images or even First Looks. Your photographer can always scout the location before hand (and may already be familiar with your venue) and can offer their wisdom in these areas!