By Aleksandra Kochurova
The end of February marks six months since I said yes. It took me a while to get used to calling my boyfriend, Devin, my “fiancé,” and even longer to wrap my head around the fact that I have to plan a wedding.
Welcome to part one of “Unveiled,” a monthly column where I will share the tips and tricks I come across as I embark on the long path that leads down the aisle. This month, I’ll be talking about one of the first big steps of planning a wedding — choosing a venue.
Our wedding date is set for fall 2020 in Chicago, and while planning a wedding — picking out decorations, stationary, colors, flowers, etc. — sounds really fun, planning a wedding from afar adds a little bit of unexpected stress, especially when it comes to finding the venue.
Our Christmas visit to see Devin’s family doubled as a week of one-to-two venue tours per day. Choosing a venue is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. It sets the tone and mood for the entire celebration. But before you can even begin your preliminary research of beautiful ballrooms and trendy lofts, you have to figure out some less exciting logistics: your budget and guest count.
For my wedding, narrowing down these categories was crucial. With our guest count being around 150 people, we knew that we couldn’t have an intimate backyard wedding (Can you imagine how much the chair rentals would cost?), but that also ruled out several art galleries, gardens and even some restaurants.
After you have your preliminary guest list, you can think of what you want the general vibe of your wedding to be. Do you want to celebrate in an industrial loft or a stunning restaurant overlooking the river? A historical building or maybe a banquet room in a downtown hotel?
Another question to consider is whether you want the ceremony and reception to be in the same building. More and more couples choose that option to cut down on travel cost and guest time wasted between the two events.
Do your due diligence in researching venues before you schedule tours. We were surprised to find out most venues don’t outright post their prices and conditions on their websites, so be prepared to reach out directly via email.
When you do, have your most important questions ready. For us, they were:
1. What are your available dates for fall 2020?
2. What is the total price, including fees, taxes and gratuity?
3. How much time would we have in the venue? When can we start setting up and by when do we have to tear down?
4. Can we book outside caterers and/or can we bring our own alcohol?
5. What is your guest minimum, and is there a fee for not reaching it?
We contacted a total of 33 venues and ended up touring seven. This way we knew that we were not wasting time falling in love with a place that didn’t fit us.
In person, our follow up questions and concerns were more specific:
What does the kitchen look like?
This is especially important if you’re bringing in your own caterer. Does the kitchen have enough room to move? Does it have a fridge? Does it have a sink or will the chefs have to use the bathroom in your bridal room? (True story at one of our potential venues!)
Speaking of your bridal room…
Will you have enough space to accommodate your entire party? Does it have its own bathroom or will you have to risk having everyone seeing your dress as you sneak past the groom’s suite to the common restroom area? Also, can you bring in food?
Can you set up/break down decorations the day before or the day after?
If you can’t, you will have to gather some friends and family to help you with that ordeal the day of. You need at least one person for breakdown for every two you had for set up.
Who provides the wait staff and bartender?
If the caterer is in-house, or if it’s a traditional catering business, they will likely provide staff. But if you’re going with your favorite local mom-and-pop restaurant, chances are you’ll have to hire some people. Bottom line, never assume.
Do you like your tour guide?
In most situations, the person giving you the tour will be your main point of contact, potentially even your day-of coordinator, if that is offered in your contract. Do you vibe with them? Are they friendly and knowledgable? Do they seem to know what they’re doing? Evaluate this before booking.
Is this place animal friendly?
This is important if you want Fido to be part of your big day, but also if you’re so allergic to animals that your face will swell up when you walk through the doors, and you’ll start crying for the wrong reasons.
Consider these questions when you visit your venues, but don’t forget to also take into account all the unique things each venue can offer to you. No building is the same, just like no wedding is the same.
Enjoy your tours, and congratulations on your first big step of many.