By CJ Dickson
As a venue owner and wedding planner, I meet with couples every day who are very stressed about finding the right wedding venue. To help make the selection process as easy as possible while still having a little fun along the way, I am sharing my three-step process to finding the perfect venue.
We are talking about your wedding after all and it should be fun! So let’s get started...
Step 1: Get Organized
Before you schedule your first venue visit, do a little bit of homework and get organized. This will go a long way to helping you keep your priorities and budget in line and also make the entire selection process SO much easier.
Part of getting organized is having three things in place before you contact a single venue.
- The Guest List
- Wedding Date(s)
- How many people will attend the wedding (don’t forget to include yourself and the wedding party)?
- What dates work best for me and my family/friends (having a few options is ideal)?
- How much can we afford to invest in the wedding?
- Now that you have a ballpark range of the “who”, “when” and “how”, it is time to start exploring “where”.
Step 2: Do Your Research
One of the great things about planning a wedding these days is how much information is available to you 24/7 online. But that fact alone can make the whole process seem overwhelming. Don’t stress! This is actually a good thing and by doing your research online first, you will save a ton of time in the long run.
Whether you use sites like TheKnot.com and WeddingWire.com to search for venues or just prefer to use Google, it doesn’t really matter. I suggest breaking the research up into 2 phases over the course of a few days. I also recommend using a laptop or a desktop computer instead of your phone just for this part. It will make your life easier...promise!
Visit venue websites and see what appeals to you visually. Don’t spend too much time going into details at this point. If you can find out the capacity, great. But really, you are just looking for a vibe or sense of the space and what they offer. If you like what you see, Pin or bookmark the venue in your browser. You will be coming back in a few days to dig into more details and having an easy reference like a Pinterest Board or bookmark will be really helpful.
If possible, shoot for Top 10 list at this point.
Now that you have a better idea of what types of event spaces could work for you, it is time to dig in.
Revisit each of the venues on your initial list.
- Check to price
- Check availability
- Look at photos - use the google “images” tab to see more than just what the venue has on the website
- Check reviews
Pro Tip: If all of this research sounds overwhelming, you can outsource it! Many wedding planners offer some kind of venue selection service. But if working with a planner isn’t your thing, there are also online options like The White Box who can do the research for you. And once you select the venue, The White Box can even help you create a one of a kind wedding style for that space. Pretty cool!
Now that you have some additional input from the people who matter most, contact the top 5 or 6 locations that fit your criteria. I recommend that you call the venue on the phone. I know this is old school, but it is often the fastest way to check availability as well as a great way to get a good feel for the personality of the people who work there. You can email as well - or complete a contact form on the venue’s website. But calling them will put you at the front of the line for a faster response.
On the call, you will:
- Ask if the dates you are considering are available.
- Confirm that they can accommodate your guest list.
- If the answer to both of these is YES, continue with:
Double check the information you got from the site is correct and current and ask them to email you pricing information if you don’t already have it.
Ask any questions you might have about the space or packages
If you really like what you hear, go ahead and schedule a visit while you are on the phone so you don’t have to call back or email to set that up later.
So why do you call the venue?
Besides simply confirming information, you are getting a feel for the overall vibe of the people who work there. These are the people that you would be working with if you decide to book with them….so this is almost like a mini-audition for them to be a part of your wedding.
Did they answer right away or did you leave a message? Did they call you back quickly? Are they nice? Are they excited about your wedding? Do they even like weddings? Are they helpful and happy to answer your questions?
Now, armed with your research, you can narrow your list of potential sites down to a top 3- 5 venues to visit in person.
Step 3: Visit Each Venue In Person
I usually recommend visiting at least 3 venues but no more than 5. Why? Because venue visits are really time-consuming! They take a lot of time to coordinate schedules with all of the key players, you have to drive to and from each one, and once you are there, you most likely meet with a sales manager and take a tour of the space. This is usually at least 30 - 45 minutes….sometimes longer.
It can also become overwhelming to visit lots of spaces. Details start to blur together and information overload will start to creep in. If you limit your visits to 3 - 5 space, you can focus more on your overall impression or feeling of the space and the people.
During your visit, take notes! Bring a notebook and jot down your thoughts during your visit. This will help you recall some of the details later.
Because you did so much research BEFORE your visit, if you love the space, you can ask if they can hold a date for you. Not all venues offer holds, but many do. This is a great way to keep your options open as you work to firm up your plans.
Once you have visited at least 3 spaces, you should have a good idea of which venue is going to be the right fit for you. Run this past they key players in your planning process one last time and if you get the green light, book that perfect venue right away!
One final note: Remember that planning a wedding is a lot of work, but it can also be fun. Don’t be afraid to delegate some of the research to your fiance or a trusted friend. If you do some of the research together, it will not only go much faster, but you will also learn a lot of your priorities and get on the same page about what is most important to you before you start to visit spaces.
You can also have fun with the venue visits. Make it like a date rather than a chore. When couple’s schedule a visit at my venue, CJ’s Off the Square, I always suggest that they grab a drink or a bite to eat at one of the nearby restaurants immediately after. That gives them time to stay connected throughout the planning process as well as to discuss the pros and cons of the space they just visited.
Pro Tip: Many venues are not available for tours on the weekend due to their event schedules. If you can find a way to visit Monday - Friday, you can usually get in much faster and have the undivided attention of the sales manager. I know, I know, you are probably saying “but I work Monday - Friday and can’t take time off to visit wedding venues!” I get it. Try for a weekend appointment, but if you really want to see a space as soon as possible, see if you can take a long lunch, possibly leave work an hour early or come in an hour late so that you can squeeze a site visit in.
About the author:
CJ Dickson is the owner and creative director of Nashville, TN wedding venue CJ’s Off the Square. She enjoys traveling around the world learning and speaking about weddings. She lives in Franklin, TN with her husband Andrew and two fur babies, Willoughby and Tara. When not watching PBS, she is probably on the patio enjoying a margarita (or three) and dancing to 80’s music with friends.