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  • Alexis Alvarez

How to Plan a Wedding: Selecting the Right Venue for You

how to select the right venue
Photo by Sean Cook

In case you’re new around here, we are 4 weeks into a series walking newly engaged couples through an easy to follow, step by step process to planning their wedding. We’ve covered whether your wedding budget determines your guest list or the other way around, which to hire first: your Chicago Wedding Planner or your Chicago Wedding Venue, & last week we looked at the order in which we recommend you book your Chicago wedding vendors in.

This week we’re going to take a deep dive into how to select the right Chicago Wedding Venue for you.

Before we dive into the how let’s talk about WHY this topic is so important. I can’t tell you how many couples I talk to after they’ve already booked their venue who are essentially, “venue poor”. They’ve poured so much of their budget into the venue that they now are working with scraps for the remainder of their planning. This results in 1 of 2 things. Either they end up cutting a lot of things that they really wanted to remain in their budget or they end up going over budget, usually by a lot. It’s a big problem.

So let’s talk about HOW to effectively select the right venue for your wedding.

Before we can get into the venue conversation we need to know a few things:

  1. Your all-in wedding budget

  2. How many guests you are inviting

  3. A basic idea of what your catering vision is

  4. A basic idea of your decor vision

  5. Where you are planning on hosting your ceremony

  6. If you plan to hire a band or a DJ

Knowing all of these details are going to help you narrow down the hundreds of wedding venues to the one that is just right for you.

Your All-In Wedding Budget Compared to the All-In Cost to Rent the Venue

Your all-in wedding budget matters because you’re going to need to be able to run the numbers before committing. If the venue costs $10K to rent and has in-house catering with a $25K minimum and includes all of the rentals & staff you’d need, your venue costs $35K.

But if your venue rental is $5000, has a preferred catering list with an average $200pp catering cost, doesn’t include any rentals and you’re inviting 150 people… assuming (for easy math) the average chair costs $5 to rent and the average table costs $15 to rent plus a $20 linen per table, that venue costs at least $36,625 to rent.

If your all-in budget for your wedding is $50K this is going to leave you approximately $15K for photo, film, planning, entertainment, floral & decor, stationery, and whatever else you’re potentially wanting to include in your wedding. With this scenario, you’ll likely end up having to cut SOMETHING, possibly a few things.

This is why understanding your all-in budget compared to the actual cost to rent the venue is so important.

Your Guest List vs The Size of the Venue

Guys, DO NOT book a venue based on how many guests you think will show up. Book a venue based on how many you’re actually inviting. If you invite 250 and book a venue for 200 because you assume that 50 will decline and then 30 of those 50 actually come, we are in for a NIGHTMARE when it comes to seating and layout. And the first thing that will get cut is your dance floor. Literally no one wants that.

Your Catering Vision vs The Venue’s Catering Policies

I had a couple that loved a venue. I mean LOVED a venue. It was exactly what they pictured for their wedding. It seemed like a no brainer. Except that the venue had in-house catering that the couple was required to use. Sometimes that’s not a problem, but this couple wanted a fusion of Indian and Mexican food and this is NOT what the venue’s in-house catering specialized in. It wasn’t that the in house catering wasn’t delicious food, they just didn’t have the experience with the type of food they were wanting to serve enough to ensure successful execution of their menu. Here’s why this is important. If this couple hadn’t known ahead of time that this is what they wanted, they probably would have booked a venue that they loved, but ultimately been disappointed, and possibly even regretted their decision when it came time for the tasting.

If your vision is 5 food trucks for your guests to interact with, then make sure you book a venue with a lot or with large enough doors and ceilings to accommodate and an open catering policy.

If you want a fusion menu, book a venue that has a caterer on their list that can create custom, fusion menus or book a venue with an open catering policy.

If you love a venue but are on a more restrictive budget and their least expensive catering option is coming in at an average of $200pp, it probably isn’t the right venue for you.

Your Decor Vision vs. The Venues Capabilities and Rules

If you want a light and airy look with lots of natural light, a venue with dark exposed brick probably isn’t the right choice, but that’s the basic stuff, right? What if you picture hanging chandeliers? Did you know you need to A. make sure that the venue has the physical ability to suspend chandeliers and B. that they’ll allow it? Some venues don’t allow hanging installations. Some require that only certain vendors be booked if there are installations on the property. And most require insurance with a minimum amount of coverage. It’s important to know & understand this information before booking so you know if your visions can be accommodated or is even allowed in the venue and if it is, what policies they have in place that your florist or decorator will have to follow. If they have a specific set of vendors that are pre-approved for installation work, you should do the work before booking to see what their average investments are to make sure you can afford them. Another more basic example of this is candles. Make sure your venue allows candles if you want candles.

Your Ceremony Location vs Your Reception Venue

If you plan to host your ceremony at the same location as your reception, make sure you understand if there are additional costs, what the flip looks like during cocktail hour, and what the flow of the guests throughout the night will be.

If you plan to host your ceremony at a church or other offsite property, take into consideration the drive between the 2 venues. I don’t care how much you want to argue with me about it, hosting your ceremony at a church downtown and reception a venue in the suburbs is a terrible idea. Don’t do it.

Your Desired Entertainment vs The Venue’s Capacity + Tech Setup

Bands take up a lot of space, so just because your venue can comfortably accommodate 250 people, when you account for a band, it might be more like 200. If you’re inviting 250 and plan on hiring a band, then a venue that can only fit 200 people with a band, won’t be a good fit. The layout will be too tight and like I mentioned above, the first thing to get trimmed is your dance floor.

But even if you’re not having a band, it’s important to understand the tech setup of your venue. Most DJs require access to electricity and internet. While this sounds like an easy, duh, of course, my venue has these things, if you’re at an outdoor property or hosting your wedding in a country setting, it might not be as easy as plugging it in & connecting to wifi. Make sure you understand what their capabilities are in terms of tech & electricity before booking.

Understanding how all of these components work together will help you narrow down the venue that is right for you!

Wondering if you need a Wedding Planner?


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