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Twenty top tips for finding the perfect wedding venue

Twenty top tips for finding the perfect wedding venue

Wedding planner Siobhàn Craven-Robins, London, has been arranging stylish, elegant and beautiful weddings since 1996. Here she gives her 20 top tips to help you find your perfect wedding venue

After becoming engaged, and shortly after making your guest list, your first wedding ‘task’ is to find your reception, and possibly ceremony, location.

This is an exciting aspect of planning your wedding, but also one that can take considerable time.

Firstly locating the wedding venues available to hire in the proposed area, then checking that they are available and finally finding a mutually convenient time to visit can take months.

The following are my top tips to help guide you through this process, the questions to ask and the points to consider, so you can find your perfect wedding venue.

  1. CEREMONY

    Decide where you are getting married first! If you are not looking for a location that can cater for both your ceremony and reception, then you need to be looking at venues within a reasonable distance from where you plan to get married.

    If you are planning a ceremony of some kind (legal, religious or non-legal) at the venue of your choice then you do need to check that they cater for, or are allowed under their licensing rules, to have such a ceremony performed on their premises.

    Some venues that have a civil licence cannot hold a religious service in the same room that is licensed; it is contrary to their licence agreement.

    Options for ceremonies at locations other than a civil ceremony are a religious blessing e.g Christian, Muslim, Hindu or a non-legal or humanist blessing which allows you the freedom to design the ceremony you want. Such a ceremony can only be performed once you have legally married.

  2. LOCATION

    The location of your reception venue is largely dictated by it’s proximity to where you plan to marry. You should also consider where the majority of your guests are travelling from.

    If they are flying in for your wedding, it makes sense to choose a venue easily accessible from a major airport either by train or coach. If the reception location is quite remote, you may want to think of laying on transport from the ceremony location to the reception to make your guests’ lives easier and prevent them getting lost.

    If the majority of your guests will be travelling to the location, then it is an advantage if the venue has on site accommodation or hotels nearby where guests can stay.

  3. SIZE

    It is advisable to choose a location that comfortably holds your number of guests. Being too few in a large venue can lose atmosphere and disperse your party too much.

    Similarly there is no such thing as fitting in a few extra guests. A maximum capacity, is just that, and the venue is breaking their licensing law if they accommodate a number above that.

    It is also uncomfortable to have too many guests in too small an area or to seat too many around a table. You want your guests to be comfortable while they are dining. It is, therefore important that you check the venue’s maximum capacity.

    Questions to ask include:
    • Is there room for the drinks reception, dinner and dancing? In other words can they accommodate your number of guests in these 3 locations without splitting the party? Do you have to move tables and, if so, where do your guests go? Some venues offer dining and dancing in the same room and ask that you leave the room after dinner while they take 45 minutes to an hour to ‘turn the room around’. If this is the case then where do you and your guests go while this is happening and what do you do so that it does not interrupt the day and cause it to lose momentum?
    • Can they accommodate the same number for the ceremony as for dinner? Some venues can accommodate less people for the ceremony than they can for dinner. You need to check this as it may mean you invite some guests to the ceremony and dinner and some just to the reception>
  4. IN-HOUSE PLANNER
    This is beneficial, as a planner would have recommendations for good suppliers and experience of what works and doesn’t work at the venue.

    Floor plans and all other necessary info will be available to you. Most importantly, do you have a rapport and confidence in them, as you will be dealing with them for some time?

    It is an advantage if you have one contact who will see you through all the planning and be there running the event on the day. It will help you relax.

  5. INSIDE v OUTSIDE
    Even if you are marrying in the height of summer, you must still consider the possibility of inclement weather. Keep this in mind when looking at locations and ask how do they make the location work for a good weather and bad weather scenario.

    Is the venue more suited as a summer or winter venue? Take into consideration the weather when you are viewing it. If it is a lovely summer’s day you will focus more on the outside than the inside, but think about it on a rainy, miserable day too! Similarly if you are viewing on a rainy and cold day you may not get to appreciate any grounds or beautiful gardens the venue has to offer.

    Your final choice of venue must be one that is as beautiful on a dull day, as on a sunny one. You do not want to feel compromised if you end up spending your entire reception inside the property.

  6. MARQUEE OR MARQUEE EXTENSION
    Some venues offer this as they cannot accommodate large numbers in the property. If this is the option for you, do check what is included in the cost of the marquee.

    Items such as heating/cooling, toilets and furniture can all be extras that add to your total cost. Ask to see pictures so you can see what details such as the flooring and the toilets look like.

  7. CATERING
    is it in house or do you bring in caterers? If you have to hire caterers, do they have a list of recommended ones familiar with the site?

    Do they require a catering tent and equipment and is this included in the venue hire price or is it an extra? If you are bringing in caterers, it is a good idea to request estimates from a few of them on the recommended list to compare menus and costs.

    Most importantly regardless of whether the catering is in house or hired in, you must ensure they offer a tasting so you can try your menu and make any adjustments prior to the day.

  8. WHAT IS INCLUDED
    Once you have narrowed down your choice of venue, ask them to supply you with an estimate of costs for your wedding so you can establish what is included. Some venues include items such as linen, tables, chairs, stationery, flowers, nightlights/candles in their per person cost.

  9. CHILDREN
    Does the venue allow them? It is important to establish this if you are intending to invite children to your wedding. Is the venue suitable for children, some may just be too hazardous and if you are not having a crèche for them, it may be risky to leave them to run free.

    If you are having a crèche, check there is a room that can be put aside for this purpose. It is helpful to have the children cared for, fed and entertained in another room so they are not distracted by what else is going on.

  10. CORKAGE
    If you want to supply your own alcohol, then you must ask if the venue allows it. Many don’t, and those that do, may make the price prohibitively expensive. If you are bringing in your own caterers; then corkage is usually an option; and at a much more competitive price.

  11. PARKING
    Is there any parking at the location? If it is restricted, it is advisable to let your guests know when you send the information with your invitations. This way they know to book taxis. If you are providing transport for your guests, check the driveway can accommodate coaches or double deckers.

  12. ACCESS
    Do you need to consider disabled guests? Is there a ramp, lift and disabled toilet?

  13. STAFFING
    Ask how many staff they provide for wine and food service. (You can usually expect a food service waiter per table and a wine waiter per 2 or 3 tables).

    What do they wear? You may want them to compliment your colour scheme or theme, is this an option?

    Is there security at the venue to stop gatecrashers or unwanted press attention?

    Is there a front of house manager who will make all the announcements if you are not having a toastmaster or MC? Does your planning person also run the event or hand over to ‘house’ staff? Some venues do operate this way, and it works fine, but it is helpful and reassuring for you to meet the staff that will be running the event on the day.

  14. TOILETS
    I always feel an indicator of a venue’s standard! What are they like? Check that they are serviced throughout the reception and towels or napkins are regularly replaced.

  15. THE WEEKEND WEDDING
    I would suggest discussing this as an option if you want to get married somewhere further afield. I have many London based clients who choose this for their wedding. We ask guests to arrive on the Friday evening and organise an informal ‘rehearsal dinner’ for everyone.

    The wedding normally takes place on the Saturday, and on the Sunday there is a brunch or BBQ for guests before they depart for their homes. It gives the couple more opportunity to mix and mingle with their guests and enjoy the whole wedding experience.

    The day itself, although wonderful, usually flies past as a blur. If you are considering such a celebration you need to be looking for a venue that either has accommodation for all your guests on site or they have the option for you to book it exclusively.

    Otherwise you are looking for somewhere that has sufficient accommodation in the nearby area to house all your guests. It is a considerate gesture to send out a list of things to do in the area with the invitations so your guests have the option to enjoy something during the day or explore the area before your wedding commences.

  16. TIMING
    How long do you have the venue for, what is the hire period? Does this include set up and break down by vendors? If your suppliers need to set up earlier – does the venue make an extra charge? If you want a later party can they apply for a licence extension?

  17. DOS AND DONTS
    Ask what you can and cannot do at the venue. Things that may be prohibitive, for a variety of different reasons, are stiletto heels, amplified music, late licence, drinks licence, red wine, fireworks, children and confetti.

  18. CHECK YOUR CONTRACT
    Once you have confirmed and the venue has issued a contract, do check through it carefully for items such as guaranteed minimum numbers, starting prices quoted for menu, wine etc. Do the prices include VAT and service?

    It is better to be contracted for fewer guests than you are expecting. That way if you do end up with fewer, you have not been contracted to pay for them. Some venues scale their per person costs to the number of guests, again, you want this to be realistic.

  19. LOCAL ACCOMMODATION
    If the majority of your guests are travelling to the wedding then ask the venue to provide you with a list of local B&B’s through to 5 star hotels so your guests have an option on where to stay and what to spend.

  20. INSURANCE
    Once you have booked a venue, your wedding arrangements are firmly underway! At this point I do recommend taking out wedding insurance so that if anything untoward does happen, you are covered for the deposits you have paid.

Wedding planner Siobhàn Craven-Robins is acknowledged as the country's most well-known and respected wedding planner for planning the perfect wedding day. Renowned for her attention to detail, wonderful weddings, discretion and personal touch, her clients range from celebrities to professional people to couples for whom time is scarce when planning their wedding day.

Siobhàn is the wedding planner and expert for both AOL and GMTV, planning and co-ordinating the televised interactive wedding for the show each year. She also writes for Wedding magazine and is frequently invited to appear on national radio and television to comment on planning the perfect wedding and has presented many televised wedding features offering wedding planning tips.

Contact Siobhàn today at www.siobhancraven-robins.co.uk to see how she can help you plan your perfect wedding day.

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