Choosing your ceremony and reception location(s) are one of the first (and biggest!) decisions you’ll make after deciding to get married. There’s a lot to consider and a fairly steep learning curve, along with an often a lofty price tag, so you want to make sure that your investment is what will really serve you best.
First things first: What do you actually want?
Take a moment to be still with your partner, and think back to what you’ve always imagined your wedding day would look like. Was it an outdoor wedding in the crisp fall leaves? A ceremony at the church you grew up in? Could it be a beach wedding filled with sand and sunshine? Or maybe a green summer ceremony at a National Park? What about a stylish modern ceremony at an elegant wedding venue? Whatever you choose, let it be what your hearts truly want, and not what you feel pressured to choose by well-intentioned friends and family.
Some questions to ask yourself
How many friends and family will you invite, and how many people with the venue comfortably fit?
Is a stylish, smooth and professional experience important to you? If yes, you might want to consider paying a bit more and choosing a high-end wedding venue (such as Little Lights or Ashton Hill in eastern Iowa). Often they provide a lot more service than just a big enough space, and will have a staff team available to smartly help serve all of your guests.
Do you want to have a big enough space but just want to go with the flow and allow everything to be more rustic and easygoing? Finding a barn space, rentable city space (such as Terry Trueblood in Iowa City)
Are you picturing just you, your partner, and a small group of closest friends and family? You have a lot more options this way. (Check out micro weddings on my wedding information page.) With a smaller party, you save quite a lot on your budget, perhaps go somewhere or do something that you truly care about, and have a less stressful day.
If your vision includes the church you grew up in, make sure your partner is on board and all that’s left is finding a reception venue. Assuming you have also booked that stylish wedding venue for your reception, keep in mind that your typical wedding venue will only have one wedding per day, so you wouldn’t be getting any discounts for having your ceremony off-site (at your church). You could use any venue for a reception venue, so talk to the team that runs it to see what your options are.
Now: Choosing a reception venue.
As always, budget comes first. While you don’t have to give up your dreams to save, you also don’t want to start the journey of your lives together by going into massive debt. If you can afford a wedding venue and have your heart set on one, here’s some questions to take in with you to your first meeting:
- How many people will the space hold?
- What are the total fees? What will be an add-on fee?
- Are tables, chairs, and ceremony seating included?
- How many guests can sit at each table?
- Are there extra tables for dessert, gifts, decor, etc.?
- Are linens included?
- Can we have our ceremony here?
- What are our ceremony options? Indoor, outdoor?
- What is the rain backup plan for an outdoor ceremony?
- Will the entire venue be ours for the day?
- Will the venue provide an arbor (wedding arch)?
- Will the venue staff flip between the ceremony and reception?
- Does the venue staff help with planning?
- What are the venue staff’s responsibilities?
- How many times will I be able to tour in person before my wedding day?
- What rules does the venue have?
- How does it work to serve alcohol at the reception?
- Can we bring our own alcohol at any time?
- Does the venue have required caterers, DJs, etc.?
- Are there any hotels nearby for my guests to stay at?
- Where will the dance floor be?
- How will we play music if we don’t hire a DJ?
- What time will we need to be completely out at the end of the night?
- Are pets allowed to be part of the wedding day?
- Is there a place for us to get ready at the venue?
- What do you provide for small children?
- How do you collect payments for the venue?
- What is the deposit?
- If I cancel, do I get my deposit back?
- If I have to reschedule, do I get my deposit back?
- Are there any discounts available?
- How do winter weddings work?
- When do we decorate?
- Do we get the night before to rehearse?
- What kinds of decorations are allowed?
- How does cocktail hour work?
- What is the clean-up process?
- Is wedding insurance required?
Some more stuff to think about
After your first tour, consider how the venue handled your correspondence and questions. Often this is a good indication of what you can expect when they carry out your wedding day! Were they prompt or delayed? Did they immediately know the answers to your questions or did they falter?
How did you feel when you left? Our logical mind will come up with plenty of doubts and questions later on, but did you feel comfortable and inspired while getting your tour? That’s a good sign that this could be your place.
At the end of the day, it matters less where you’re getting married than who you’re getting married to. Don’t over-stress! Remember that everything is going to be amazing, no matter what. Do take your time considering the venue, and if they’re pressuring you about fast-booking dates, don’t fall for it!
I hope this helps, and happy wedding planning!