I am so surprised and touched by how many people have peppered me with great advice about weddings. They are drawing on their personal experience for how to bypass those tricky little points that can cause stress ahead of my big day.
I think it's great, that they care so much and want to help, although since my engagement I've been pretty laid back about the whole wedding plan, perhaps it will be a mad scramble at the end, in which case, writing all this down now will be a big help. In the meantime for those of you who, like me, have been blessed with an amazing partner and are eagerly planning your big day in 2021 or beyond, I thought I'd pass on these wonderful gems that have been so generously gifted to me.
This post is all about how to get your wedding venue right.
So it turns out that wedding planning is pretty hardcore, and competitive, which I hadn't considered before. One factor adding to that competition right now is that many people have put their wedding plans on hold in the 2020 season due to restrictions and lockdowns. That could mean a bigger flood of brides to be, desperate to make amends and get their wedding back on track.
With that in mind, the very first thing is:
Is the venue able to take you? Before you get your heart set on anything else enquire about available dates. Even if you are flexible with your dates, venues can be fully booked for an entire year so have a line-up of potential candidates and send out enquiries to all of them.
A spreadsheet will help you keep track of who you have contacted, when you contacted them, what dates they have open and a link to their website and contact details.
Super tip: Start asking for venue availability as soon as you are engaged. You can set your wedding date around what's available with your dream venue.
How many people you have varies tremendously from family to family. For some couples, it's about doing a headcount of your loved ones and coming up with a guest capacity that will include all your people. For others, it's about deciding how many people will fit into your budget and coming up with capacity numbers that way. For others still, it's about nailing that ideal venue and filling it to capacity.
There is no right or wrong number. It has to be what fits you and what you are comfortable with. A wedding with 30 or a wedding with 300 needs to be true to your heart. This isn't a decision for Instagram or social media to decide. What is going to have you feeling loved and supported as you share your day together?
Remember not to squish everyone in like sardines. You’ll need to leave ample room for everyone to sit down at the same time, plus so extra for standing up, moving around the tables and of course, dancing!
Many venues are quite small so be sure about what your number one priority is and work to that. If push comes to shove is the ideal venue or the ideal capacity more important? Knowing this in advance is great for reducing stress and giving you the ability to make strong decisions.
A beach, a vineyard, a garden, a chapel. Here's what people have told me about the location. It's not as important as convenience. Some people have shared about how they bent over backwards to get a location for their dream wedding only to have the weather turn on them, the car breaks down, or to have a super stressful time packing everything and checking everything from a distance.
If you find a location close to home that you love, all the better. If you do go away make sure you give yourself plenty of time before the wedding day to be there, get settled, check everything over a few times and enjoy it! If you are planning a different location for the wedding ceremony and the reception (most people do) make sure that access between them is easy, there is plenty of parking. Again it's a matter of priority so know in advance what you MUST have, is it the perfect ceremony location or the perfect reception venue. If push comes to shove, which one are you prepared to be flexible on?
When it comes to a grown-up party, you can typically bet there is a heavy focus on alcoholic beverages. So what are your obligations as the hosting couple?
As always, the golden rule with your wedding plans is: what you say goes.
Here are some extra things to keep an eye out for: Does your chosen venue have a liquor license? If so they are in total control of all alcohol provision and service for your big night. This will be an extra cost so make sure you factor it into your budget. You will get a lot for that money, especially peace of mind. You'll have everything taken care of for you, including a supply of alcohol and mixers, glassware and everything to make cocktails with a decorative presentation. As well as the drinks, you'll also have professional staff to pour, shake and stir as well as ready all glasses for toasts.
Here's the really important thing about alcohol: it's your choice how much you spend. This can be one of the most expensive elements of a wedding so you need to take the reins early on. From the very beginning talk to your venue about your budget and what they provide. Be firm about what you can afford and absolutely have a bar limit or cash bar in place for your budget. Do not be bullied or feel socially pressured on this. People are there to see your big day, that's the number one reason for your party. A great compromise is to have certain drinks available on your tab, and others, like the more expensive spirits paid for by the people who want them. That gives people the choice of how they want to enjoy the evening.
Ready for some fun? You can work with the bar staff to have a customised drink list and specialised drinks that compliment your tastes or your wedding theme. It's a great way to get creative and make the day your own!
You must ask up front (before you make your deposit) as to what is and isn't included in your hire. Do keep a detailed list so it's easy to check back as you get closer to the date.
If you are looking at hiring a venue that is known for formal events in most cases the furnishings will be part of the price tag. The other way this avenue helps you is they will have floor layouts that are tried and tested that they can recommend. On your day they will have everything ready for you.
Never assume that something is included, however basic the item may be. Make sure you know where the gaps are so they can be filled and polished well before your wedding day.
This is a big part of your budget but also your stress levels. If you are at a venue that isn't normally an event host (or you notice it has a budget price) you may have to arrange for hire, delivery and arrangement of tables and chairs, including extras like non-alcoholic drinks and decorative trimmings like seat-covers and tablecloths.
The more companies you need to involve and the more moving parts you have going for your wedding preparation, the greater the chance that something will be overlooked or forgotten. For that reason, it's best to consolidate your workload as much as possible to keep the process straightforward and accountable. That might mean a little more money towards your venue hire compared to do-it-yourself, but the peace of mind is worth it.
The alternative to this is a kick-ass checklist that has a detailed list of everyone you are using and what they are responsible for.
Would you believe that having a caterer can actually be the cheapest option for your wedding! No, really. Caterers can get food wholesale, which means it is fresher and at a much better price than you can manage at the shops or even the market. They also have the experience to prepare food per head, which means you are not buying too much food (that needs to be thrown away). The other benefit of hiring a professional is an amazing menu of foods that can be perfectly adapted and styles for your special event.
Exclusive catering: Ask about this from your venue provider upfront. It will not only define your catering options but also your menu and prices.
Want to self-cater? Splitting the food items across your family is another way to go. This brings a plate option that can be great for big families who want to contribute something to your wedding. It's really important to keep some things in mind here though. Food allergies; caterers know and understand their ingredients and can easily bypass any food hassles. Make sure you fully understand the dietary requirements of your guests and understand the process for removing these foods. Lives can depend on it.
Insurance and food handling. Catering staff have industry food hygiene standards in place for everything they do and how they do it, which may not be the case for your family members and their food preparation areas, including food transportation and any time food might be left in temperatures not ideal for safe food keeping. It's not an easy thing to control, no matter how much you beg, plead or nag you can't oversee the entire menu. As well as having the right conditions and training for safe food handling, a catering company should have insurance to cover any side effects that your guests may face in the worst possible scenario. Knowing what you are up against may change your mind about self-catering, also keeping in mind that overall the cost and stress might be significantly higher without a caterer.
The final important thing you need to consider before you book your venue is who needs access. Are there relatives who are elderly and will have trouble with stairs or walking long distances, or perhaps guests in wheelchairs who will need ramps, toilets and wide doorways to fit through? Make sure you take every possible need into account and ask your venue about what they have and what work arounds you can put in place if a plus-one needs assistance. Remember, it's about your guests enjoying the wedding so ask what setups are available for venue entry, ceremony seating and participation in the reception celebrations for any additional needs for your loved ones.
Your wedding is about your experience, which is far more important than the view or the setting. Take the time to talk to your potential venue provider about what they offer and how they can help your day be magical. If you don't feel like you have their support and understanding (within reason) then maybe that view is not worth the stress and struggle. Just remember, rules and limitations will most likely be part of the venue package in some way or another, it's about finding the ones that work for you and embracing that the number one priority of your guests is to see you happy. So keep your focus on that and have fun!
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