When planning our wedding, I approached it by focusing on one task until it was complete/booked and then moved on to the next. I found this helped prevent my mind from running into overdrive and it can also help you to become a bit of an expert on each thing. You will learn to recognise particular jargon photographers use or learn what the average cost of a service is. If you are trying to deal with multiple items at once, numbers can fade into an ocean of figures and you may never learn the difference between a highlight video and a wedding video (there is a 50% chance I still don’t and I just think I do). Planning a wedding is a marathon and not a sprint so take your time, one step at a time (having just run my first half marathon, I can tell you that sometimes taking just one step can be extremely challenging but more on that later – back to wedding planning!).
Step one to my obsessively organised brain – the venue, as once booked, planning can be the most effective. Most suppliers will ask for your venue and date before quoting as it will impact their costs. Think transport and peak seasons – it all needs to be considered. So stop looking at that wedding dress and start looking at venues – the sooner the better because the top ones book up months in advance.
When looking for a wedding, I recommend keeping the following four points in mind:
The world is your oyster! You don’t have to get married in the same town or country in which you live. We live in Oxford, UK and are getting married in Pretoria, South Africa! Yes, deciding to plan a wedding across an ocean is not for the faint of heart but it is totally doable. Don’t assume you need to get married down the road. Chat to your fiancé, you might discover you both have been dreaming of a destination wedding all along.
Having your heart set on a particular date can be a double-edged sword. It will help eliminate options and focus your search but it will limit them too. Decide before you even start to look at venues if the date is a deal breaker for you. Some venues have a calendar of dates on their website which is really helpful for those brides with a particular date in mind.
How many people do you expect will be at your wedding? I know you might be thinking “but Michelle, you said we don’t need to think about that yet!” You don’t need a carefully audited guest list to decide on your venue. A quick finger count between yourself and your fiancé will do. Think immediate family members and close friends – as long as your venue can accommodate these numbers you will be fine. You want to choose your venue because you love it, not because it can fit 200 people, of which only 60 really matter to you.
Yes, of course, hit up the Google machine but also think outside of the box. We found our venue through Instagram, two weeks before we became engaged (yes, I stalked wedding venues before I was engaged, don’t act like you don’t!). I was following a South African wedding dress designer (*and wedding dresses) and one of her posts caught my attention because I fell in love with the setting. She thankfully tagged the venue where the shot was taken and the rest, as they say, is history. Look everywhere for inspiration and keep an open mind. If you are not yet engaged or are engaged but not yet ready to start planning, save everything that inspires you now for when you are ready, you will thank me later. You never know, you might stumble upon a gem without even realising it.
By now you are probably wondering how I can save you some money picking a venue. I can’t really, your venue is likely to be one of the most expensive parts of your wedding and you really don’t want to bargain bin this one. But, I can make a few suggestions which might help you avoid some unexpected costs later down the road…
- Price per head: Once you’ve established the venue hire costs and its way less than you expected (yay!) immediately check out the price per head. Remember that rough guest list number we worked out earlier…
- Inclusion: are they literally just allowing you access to the venue or are there basics included? This, to me, should be a deal breaker, you don’t want to be scratching your head working out how many forks you need for your three-course meal.
- Preferred Suppliers: with some people, a suppliers list has a bad rep but you do not need to be scared of it, you just need to know where you stand before signing on the dotted line. Some venues charge you if you use a supplier not on their list (I would think long and hard before agreeing to this) and some just put together a list to be extra helpful. If there is a charge for straying from the list, ask yourself if you already have suppliers in mind who you would love to work with. Is your cousin a photographer who would be devastated by missing the opportunity to capture your wedding? If the answer is yes, the venue might not be for you, even if it is beautiful! Yes, you want to get married at an amazing venue but the wedding is one day, which you will likely be planning for months. You need to be able to work with the venue and staff without frustration or it will only make the planning process more difficult. On the other side of the coin (a sixpence ;)), some brides might find it a blessing to have a carefully curated list of suppliers who know the venue and come recommended. What works for you might not work for another bride and that is totally okay!
- Newcomers: this might scare a few people off but you could get a great deal on a soon to be exclusive 5-star venue if you are prepared to be one of their first brides.
- Seasons: it’s no secret that it might cost you a bit more to get married in summer rather than winter. If a cold wedding simply won’t do it for you (myself included) have a look at the last day of the venue’s winter special. A friend of mine snapped a great deal on her venue hire by doing this and I don’t recall giving the weather a second thought on the day.
- Days of the week: there are only 52 Saturday’s a year so its no surprise they are a hot commodity in the wedding world. But remember, it is not only your venue that will be in demand on Saturdays. A weekday wedding could also save you money with suppliers, accommodation and other services. You might also have more time to book these without the fear of them booking up far in advance.
And that my friends, is where my advice on picking a wedding venue ends. At the end of the day, it is an intensely personal decision for you and your fiancé to make. The good news is that there is so much choice out there, you are bound to find something that fits your style, budget and calendar!
Found your dream wedding venue? I would love to hear how you found it and what made you pick it, let me know in the comments!