I'm here to help you navigate wedding venue paralysis.
Finding the perfect wedding venue for you, your partner and your families is no small feat. Being one of the first checkboxes on your list, it can be an intimidating decision as it’s also one of the biggest ticket items.
The venue you choose can have a massive influence on the overall vibe and functioning of your big day. So it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.
Having visited hundreds of wedding venues across NSW and Australia, I’ve come to learn a thing or two about what factors can make or break a venue space. As you’re looking through WedShed or other wedding directories, here are some valuable questions to ask yourselves and your venue to ensure you’re making the right choice:
What date are you hoping for?
The time of year you get married influences the type of clothing you’ll wear, the time the ceremony can take place, and even the price. Typically peak wedding season in NSW extends from around November to March, so booking within this timeframe is usually 10-20% more expensive than hosting a winter wedding. Weddings on Friday to Sunday are also typically more expensive than a mid-week event. While being flexible about your date can save you money, it’s also important to remember that due to COVID postponements, wedding venues are booked well into 2024 and beyond. In other words, your venue may not be available on the date you want it, so having that mindset can help you keep an open mind and avoid disappointment from the get-go.
What are the payment terms?
Calculating a budget to spend on your venue can help filter options early to prevent you becoming too overwhelmed. You can do this by setting an overall budget for your wedding, then subtracting the approximate cost of all the other items, leaving you with a price ceiling for the venue itself. It’s also important to ask about the venue’s payment terms early on in your discussions. Throughout COVID lockdowns, many couples found themselves losing thousands of dollars due to non-refundable deposits or other contractual terms. While the future is looking bright on the COVID front, it’s important to know what percentage deposit you and your fiancé are comfortable with, and what other hidden costs you could incur.
Is it a dedicated wedding venue, or a hybrid venue?
Many wedding venues also operate as function centres, restaurants or cafés. On one hand, this is great because you’ll be able to visit the venue when it’s open to the public, sample their food and even invite your friends to help you decide. The downside to a hybrid venue, however, is that they often lack flexibility and accessibility. Having to close the restaurant to the public and set up for your wedding can mean that you won’t be able to access the venue outside of a particular timeframe. Some venues with on-site ceremonies will even limit your ceremony to half an hour for this reason. So if your venue is hybrid, make sure you ask questions about accessibility and time limitations.
How accessible is your venue for guests?
In the past few years, destination weddings have soared in popularity. This doesn’t necessarily mean getting married overseas. A destination wedding is where you and your guests travel more than a few hours to attend. Popular locations from Sydney include the Blue Mountains, Newcastle and Hunter Region or the South East and Tablelands. Some venues in these rural locations will require guests to take a dedicated bus or access the location via specific means. This can be particularly difficult for older guests or those with accessibility needs, which is important to keep in mind if those individuals are important to you. Also, the more remote the location, the less accommodation will be available, which can quickly become an issue on popular holiday weekends where everything is booked well in advance.
What are the food options like?
A set menu is the most common style of wedding food, where you and your fiancé choose two meals for each course, served as alternating options. But with increasing dietary requirements and a desire for flexibility, other options like a buffet, food trucks and grazing tables are becoming more and more popular. Knowing what you want before booking a venue is crucial. Some venues don’t allow for external catering, while others require it as a necessity. While organising a separate caterer is an additional task and expense, it can often be worth it.
What amenities does the venue offer?
Knowing your non-negotiables is key when scoping out a venue. For example, do they have a tried and tested wet weather option? If you’re getting married in summer, do they have air conditioning? Do they have a private room for the bride and groom to touch up? Do they provide tables and chairs, display frames, a dance floor, a speaker system, on-lawn canapé activities, table decorations you can use, good lighting options? Having such things available can potentially save you a lot of time, money and stress, so ask these questions early on.
What is the guest capacity?
You’ll want to know the approximate size of your guest-list before you meet with the venue owners, as that’s usually one of the first questions they’ll ask. Some venues have multiple rooms catered to various group sizes, while others will have a strict capacity limit. You don’t want your guests to feel cramped, but you also don’t want the room to feel too big. The layout of the room is also an important factor. While some venues can technically seat a particular number, this may require placing extra tables outside, or other adjustments. The band may have to set up outside rather than in the hall itself, tables may have to face the wrong direction, or you may have to make other sacrifices that dampen your guests’ comfort or enjoyment.
What are the photo options like?
As the photographer, I’m obviously going to ask this. Some venues are modern with fancy interiors, others give off stately vibes, while others are nestled in the countryside. The venue and location will heavily influence the aesthetic of your wedding photos. It’s important to consider what locations surround the venue for your couple’s shoot. Will we have to travel by car? Will it take a while to get there (and cut into our time actually taking photos)? Can we take photos just outside the venue? Is the landscape diverse and interesting, or all much the same and does it line up with what you like? This is only a minor consideration—a good photographer can work with any backdrop—and I’m happy to advise you. But still keep it in mind.
How have they been treating you?
Most wedding venues are ecstatic to help you with every question and request, but there are some who don't care because they’re in high demand. The truth is if you don’t feel supported or cared for at the start it’s doubtful it’ll get any better down the track. If it’s early days and you’re feeling unsure, a great way to find out is to look at the venue’s Google reviews. Sure, browse the 5-stars, but also take a peek at the 1-star reviews. Everyone has a bad day, but what are people’s complaints or struggles? Are they popping up time and time again? This will help inform your decision-making.
What is your overall feeling about it?
Overall, how at peace do you feel about the venue you’re considering? How much control and flexibility will you have to curate your own perfect day? Does the venue reflect your personality and wishes as a couple, or do you feel like you’re settling? At the end of the day, you need to listen to your heart. Don’t fall into analysis paralysis. Whatever your choice, your guests will simply be happy to witness you marry the love of your life, no matter where that happens.
Lots to think about, I know. But I hope those questions help you as you begin your journey to planning your big day!