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I'm Alexa, NJ wedding photographer, and I'm so happy you're here! View photo shoots and discover resources on my blog.

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You’ve found “the one,” but now it’s time to find the other “one.” Your venue that is! Setting your wedding date is one of the most exciting parts about your engagement. From here on out, this will forever be your special date. Your beloved anniversary. And the day you can start the countdown back from on your calendar.

Choosing a venue is hard work. It’s the first decision you should make, aside from if you’re hiring a planner, since it’ll set the tone for your entire wedding. After that is set, it’s time to choose your photographer (oh, hey there!), videographer and florist, and after that your dress, cake, etc, etc.

I’ve rounded up tips from some amazing wedding planners and day-of coordinators I’ve worked with to help you with your wedding venue search…

START WITH YOUR GUEST LIST

First thing to do? See exactly how many people you’ll be inviting. “Make your guest list first!” says Chelsea Davis, Wedding & Event Director of Sales at The Shore Club, “This will help to establish your budget prior to visiting any venues.” Many wedding venues have both minimum and maximum occupancy capacities for weekends.

MAKE SURE IT REPRESENTS YOU

“My main tip for couples to consider when choosing a venue is make sure it’s a reflection of them,” says Nicole Oppelt, event planner & owner of NE Occasion and Dovetail Vintage Rentals, a wedding and event furniture rentals company. “It is your wedding day, not your family or friends. Make sure it is a true representation of who you are as a couple and meets all your wedding must haves. I hate to see couple’s compromise what they want to satisfy others.”

ASK WHAT IS ALL INCLUDED

“Don’t forget to ask key questions like what’s included,” says Alison Goldberg of Events by AFG, a wedding planner based in the Greater Philadelphia area. It sounds straightforward and you’d think a venue guide would tell you everything you need to know, but sometimes those complicated questions need to be asked in person. Among them, Alison says, “Ask who are the preferred vendors, how is payment made and when is it due.”

STAY IN YOUR BUDGET

“If there’s a strict budget, do NOT tour venues that are out of it – not even ‘just to see!’,” says Amanda Scarpaci, owner & event planner of Scarpaci Designs and June Balloon, a custom balloon art design company. “It’s really hard when you see a place and fall in love, but it’s more than you wanted to spend on your venue. A lot of times when this happens, I see couples making that “wow” venue work within their budget, and in turn, take funds away that were allocated to other aspects of their wedding, like florals, a photographer, etc. So what does this end up doing? Now you have to take away from those other avenues, and that’s no fun either! There’s a way to stick to your budget and plan the wedding of your dreams, which is what you trust your planner to do.”

CONSIDER TRAVEL, LOCATION AND PARKING

You know that old adage, location, location, location? Well, it applies to more than just real estate! “Make sure your venue is easy for guests to find and travel to. It should also be in close proximity to your ceremony location if it’s not not being held at the same place,” says Kelly Heyn, owner & event planner of SociaLife Events.  “Keep seasonal traffic and local events in mind as they may impact everything from travel timing, street closures, parking and crowds. This is especially true near the beach in the summer or busy cities like Manhattan,” she says. Besides ceremony and reception venues, take in consideration how far away overnight guests will be staying. Kelly advises, “Make sure the venue has enough local accommodations nearby for your estimated guest count, otherwise guests may have problems finding a place to stay after the wedding.” And if that happens? Budget in a shuttle!

MAKE SURE YOU LIKE THE RAIN PLAN

Kelly Heyn of SociaLife Events says, “The one thing that is out of our control on the wedding day is the weather. Make sure the venue offers a solid Plan B option if you plan on booking an outdoor event space. It’s easy to fall in love with a venue on a beautiful sunny day, but make sure that before booking you’re equally as happy with the Rain Plan.”

the madison hotel wedding

READ THEIR REVIEWS

“A simple Google search will tell us anything we need to know about ANY vendor or venue,” states Kathleen Deo, owner & event planner of Kathleen Deo Weddings, “Definitely treat these reviews like gold. Listen to previous brides who have written about their experience. A glowing review might solidify your selection, a questionable review might turn you away completely, and a mixed review might give you a few ideas on things to over communicate and confirm with the venue if you choose to book them.”  

CAN’T FIND A FAVORITE? RENT A TENT!

“So many couples fall in love with gorgeous tent wedding photos, but think about if that is a realistic option for your wedding.  Tents are not for the faint of heart and require LOTS of detailed planning, LOTS of money (sometimes more than a venue!) and come with the risk of bad weather.  As rewarding as a spectacular tent wedding can be, consider all the variables,” says Kathleen Deo. The most important thing to do if you’re going the tent route? Hire a planner! Take it from Kathleen, “It’s overwhelming to undergo on your own with so many vendors to book and elements to consider.  Hiring a planner who has tent expertise is nothing but smart and money well spent.  You’ll be thanking yourself in the end!”   

backyard tent wedding zela events

QUESTIONS FOR YOUR CATERER

“If you’re bringing in catering, it’s very important to book them early on as they will be an integral partner in the floor plan creation process and putting the rental order together,” says Kathiya Zelasco, planner and owner of Zéla Events. “Find a catering team that not only offers a delicious menu but can also bring in some flair with their creative presentations. Whether it be fun hors d’oeuvres or creative food stations that are both delicious and pleasing to the eye. This will add to the overall aesthetics of the event. Also, ask in advance how they handle last-minute dietary needs. Being offsite they need to be prepared for any changes that may occur.” Other things she suggests finding out? Kathiya says, “Learn their preparation methods and how much space will be needed for their “prep space” day of the event as well as what is included in their contract (such as staff, bartenders, rentals, alcohol, soft drinks, tables, china, etc.) and what needs to be supplemented.”

MAKE SURE IT’S PICTURE PERFECT

Last but not least, think about your photos! Consider the venue’s lighting, the amount of room inside if you need to do your family formal photos inside and if there isn’t a nice outdoor space, ask the venue coordinator if there are parks or attractions nearby that couples usually go to for photos. Also think about your favorite style of wedding photos. If you’ve fallen in love with the bright and airy wedding photography style, find a venue with lots of white walls and ceilings and natural lighting. Their style will complement these settings more than a dimly lit ballroom. Look on Facebook albums, Instagram’s tagged photos or geotagged photos of the venue and Google to see where past couple’s have taken their photos at the venue to visualize what yours will look like too!

Happy venue hunting!

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Beach babe, gummy bear addict and a New Jersey wedding photographer. 
 Find helpful tips & tricks for your wedding planning process, examples of my photography and more all right here on my blog.

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