Updated: Apr 28, 2020
Before you sign anything, make sure your first choice checks off all these boxes.
Choosing your wedding venue is one of the biggest decisions you'll make during the planning process. According to our 2018 Real Weddings Study, booking a venue was the most expensive decision couples made while planning their nuptials. But other than budget, you may be wondering what else to look for in your wedding venue. Of course, you should be searching for that special feeling of finding "the one," but there are other factors to consider as well. Before you book your wedding venue, make sure you ask all the right questions and ask to take a tour of the property. As you walk through your potential wedding location, be on the lookout for these certain things.
See our list of what to look for in your wedding venue below—and then head over to our list of vendors to find your perfect match.
A Roomy Fit
It sounds obvious, but when it comes to what you should look for in your wedding venue, this is so important. Make sure the room or space is large enough to accommodate the number of people on your guest list. The site may look enormous when it's empty, but wedding essentials—tables, chairs, a buffet, bar, the band or DJ setup, the dance floor—will fill it quickly. And, of course, your guests will need some elbow room. The best way to assess the size of a site is to go see it when another wedding (with a similar guest list size) is all set up. On the other hand, if you decide that a special site, like your favorite bar or your parents' garden, is the only place you want to celebrate, you can always work backward and tailor your guest list to match the venue.
Eating, Drinking and Partying Areas
There should be logical places within the venue where guests can eat, drink, mingle and dance. When you're standing in the space, try to envision where each activity would happen (especially if your ceremony will also be there). If a room is too small to separate into sections accordingly, you might feel cramped. If the space has an odd configuration (like it's shaped like an S, for example) that could potentially compromise your party's flow. We always reccomend working with an event planning pro to help you map out a space if you're having trouble. Also, note the locations of columns or other obstructions in the room—will they block your guests' views of the dance floor, the cake table, or where speeches will be read?
Light can make—or break—the mood and space. If you're marrying during the daytime, double-check that your venue has plenty of windows. Who wants to spend six hours in a dark room when the sun is shining? If you're planning an evening affair, make sure the room's not too dim—or that the lighting can be controlled for the big entrance, dinner and dancing. If you're marrying outdoors, say, at dusk, will you be able to set up candles or other lighting if necessary?
To ensure your venue has good lighting, we also recommend visiting the site at the same time of day you've chosen for your wedding. Even if the space looks romantic by candlelight, you may be surprised by the sight of that outdated carpet during the day. If you only check it out in the evening, you'll also miss a chance to see how the sunlight streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows completely transforms the room.
If the space is too echoey, it could give some unexpected reverb to the band, not to mention make it difficult for guests to hear one another talking. A tile or wood floor will amplify sounds while a thick carpet will tend to muffle them. Check out the room's sound quality during an event and tailor your music to the venue. A jazz combo will sound better at an intimate art gallery than a 14-piece orchestra would (not to mention the fact that it takes up less floor space).
A View You Like
Keep in mind that your venue will also serve as a backdrop to the events taking place, so you should consider the view. What will your guests see when they walk into the room? Whether it's your city skyline, a stunning vista of rolling mountains or crashing waves, locations with exceptional views are always a plus. If there's no "view" per se, look to a place's décor or architectural details. Artwork on the walls, fine Persian rugs on the floors, period furniture in the corners or an amazing crystal chandelier as the room's centerpiece all give your reception site that something extra.
The Proper Palette
If you're considering a certain theme and color palette for your party, make sure the site's existing, nonremovable décor doesn't clash with your vision. The venue doesn't have to be done in the exact colors as your planned decorations, but the walls, carpets, chairs and curtains shouldn't drastically conflict with your party's mood or theme. If you want a spring wedding brunch, a space with pastel colors or floral motifs would be a perfect fit. For a classic wedding, consider an elegant room done in neutrals or black and white.
Plenty of Parking
Make sure the site is near a good parking lot, garage or big, empty street where it's legal (and safe) to park. If parking is a problem, look for other ways to get everyone to the party. Can a shuttle bus or vans take guests from the ceremony to the reception? Inadequate parking isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but it may mean spending more time and money to figure out a viable transportation alternative.
A Backup Plan Option
While you might not even want to think about rain putting a damper on your outdoor wedding, you can't look at venues without considering an alternative plan of action should Mother Nature have other ideas. Figure out if there's an indoor space you can use should the weather turn, or if there's an option to set up an outdoor tent if your heart is set on an open-air celebration.
A less glamourous subject, but a very important one: bathrooms. Checking out your potential venue's restrooms is an absolute must. You want to be sure that there are enough to handle your guest count and that they're clean. If you or your guests require ADA-compliant bathrooms, be sure to confirm that your venue has them available.
Privacy varies widely by venue, as does the importance couples place on it. If you're having a daytime event in a public spot, such as a park, beach or botanical garden, be prepared for strangers to trek past your party. They may smile, wave and come by to offer their well wishes. If you're okay with that, book your dream venue. If not, consider a more secluded alternative like a lawn on a private estate or golf course.
This caveat isn't just for outdoor weddings, though. Banquet halls and hotels often hold more than one affair at a time. If there'll be other events going on simultaneously in nearby rooms, you may hear karaoke-loving guests belting Madonna through the walls or guests may meet them over the hot-air dryers in the bathroom. If this bothers you, try to schedule your wedding when there won't be another one next door. If that’s impossible, visit the site on a dual-party night and see how the sound carries—and whether there are any other major problems before you make a decision. Alternatively, you could rent out a restaurant or gallery for your reception so your party is guests-only. Ask about available security at your site to keep wedding crashers at bay.