I'm a published wedding and portrait photographer located in a small town outside of Charlottesville. In addition to capturing beautiful images, I love spending time with my family, am freakishly good at word games (Hey Wheelmobile!), love an ice cold can of Coke or Dr. Pepper, know every line to Hocus Pocus and can never pass up a Chick-fil-A waffle fry or a trip to HomeGoods.
Now that you’re engaged and you’ve been thinking about what you’d like in a wedding, it’s time to find the perfect venue to bring your vision to life.
Hopefully, by this point you’ve already created a draft budget. If you haven’t, as a popular wedding song says, REVERSE REVERSE! Draft your budget first (and do the other five things mentioned in the previous blog post). You need to know what you have to spend in order to find a venue that both fits your vision and your wallet. You also need to have a rough guest count. A 50 person venue will never work for a 200 person wedding. Also important—have a rough date in mind. Venues often book a year in advance so you’ll need to see if your desired date is available. If your flexible, that may not be a hindrance. However, if you have a date you really want, that may narrow down your venue options.
Using that budget, think about where you’d like to be in terms of location and style. Here in Virginia, I’m surrounded by gorgeous venue options. We have wineries, breweries, cideries, plantations, estates, ballrooms, country clubs and more. You name it, we likely have it. We also have a variety of vistas. Do you want to be near the water, have a view of the mountains, see the city skyline? These are important questions to ask yourself. If you want to get married near the ocean, a venue in Richmond isn’t going to work for you so cross those off. If you want to get married with mountains in the distance, Charlottesville would be a better option than Virginia Beach. And this is true in any state. Narrow it down to a basic geographic area that fits your vision. If you’re torn between mountains and beach or city and mountains, narrow it down to those two. As long as you’re crossing out some options, you’re still moving that much closer to finding your ideal I do location.
Now that you have a starting point in terms of location and budget, start researching. Zola.com and TheKnot.com are great starting points in that you can search by location and budget. You can also narrow it down by the type of venue (ballroom, country club, winery, etc.) Keep a running list of any you like. If you’re Type A like me, this would be a great time to introduce a spreadsheet. Create columns for budget, guest capacity, pricing, what’s included, etc. Your spreadsheet is great thing to keep in your wedding planning binder.
When you find ones you like, that are within your budget and that fit your vision, contact them and schedule visits. This part is super fun and kind of like touring colleges. You’ll know the right one when you see it. Make sure you show up at the venue prepared. Know your numbers—budget, rough guest count and rough date.
“Finalize your budget before arriving on-site at the venue,” The Dominion Club Catering Sales Manager Phyllis Case advises. She books weddings and events for the club, which is located in the West End of Richmond. “Have in mind an approximate guest count. Have a desired wedding date, but have some other dates in mind. Couples often book the venue first, so unfortunately your first choice date may already be booked.”
Colleen McDonough, event coordinator at Keswick Vineyards, agrees.
“It’s not worth visiting a wedding venue if they’re not going to be able to support your guest count or your desires for what you envision your dream wedding to be,” she said.
What should you be asking when touring venues? McDonough said at Keswick, one of the first questions couple ask is what the rain plan is.
“A lot of venues nowadays have outdoor ceremony sites so they couple wants to ensure that their ‘Plan B’ is adequate and strong enough for them,” she said. “Another question they ask is what our availability is. Venues book up quickly around the Charlottesville area with the wedding industry booming. If couples are looking at a specific day—like Saturday or Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend—they have to be ahead of the game and jump on the date quickly.”
Case said in addition to asking about available dates, Dominion couples ask about pricing, venue fees and food and beverage minimums. They also ask for the venue’s capacity and what’s included in the fees. However, there are some things they should be asking, but aren’t.
“What dates are more budget friendly?” she suggested. “Does the venue offer a military discount? We have a hard stop time at 11 p.m. Know when the venue closes for the night.”
McDonough said couples also really have to ask is whether they can do a wedding at their desired venue within their budget.
“While we do have a large range of vendors with different prices for their services, we have couples that come to the venue hoping to only spend $15,000 on their wedding,” she said. “While it is hard to tell them, you really have to be honest and let them know what the average cost of a wedding at your venue is so that they’re not blindsided through their wedding planning process.”
Case said other things to keep in mind are the time frame for the vent, parking accommodations for guests and possible overnight guest accommodations for those traveling in from out-of-town. But while thinking about guests is important, it’s not the most important thing.
“Pick the venue you like, not the venue that you think your guests will like,” Case said.
Also, be mindful that the venue will look very different during a tour than it will on a wedding day. It’s kind of like that “Say Yes to the Dress” moment when they “jack” the bride up with a veil and jewelry. The extras take the girl from wearing a white dress to being a bride. It’s the same thing with a venue.
“When visiting a potential wedding venue, something to keep in mind is that it will likely look different than how it looks now,” McDonough said. “You really have to envision how it will look during the season you’re getting married [in]. For example, if you’re visiting during the spring, the venue is going to look very different in October or November when the leaves and plants are changing.”
She said couples can envision their wedding day in a space not currently setup for a wedding by looking at past photos of weddings held at the venue as well as the venue’s blog, if they have one.
“That’s a reason why venues and photographers share their photos so couples should use them to their advantage,” McDonough said. “Searching the venue on Pinterest or just doing a simple Google search will also help direct couples to photographers and other vendors’ photos of the venue.”
However, don’t be stuck on what others have done in a space. Your wedding is yours. Make it unique. Also, keep an open mind.
“My one piece of advice to couples is keep an open mind when touring venues,” McDonough said. “If you don’t there will always be one thing that a couple doesn’t like about a wedding venue. Sometimes you have to compromise on various aspects of the venue, but your wedding day will still turn out perfectly!”
Phyllis Case is the catering sales manager and books weddings and events at The Dominion Club. The club was established in 1992, is nestled in the Wyndham Community, was voted the Wedding Capital of the West End. It includes 5,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor event space including two breathtaking ceremony sites and an elegant rotunda for weddings up to 250 guests. Approximately 45-50 weddings are held at The Dominion Club each year. Visit www.thedominionclub.com for more information. Case can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colleen McDonough is the event coordinator at Keswick Vineyards. The family-owned and operated winery is located just outside of Charlottesville. Weddings are held on the property at Edgewood Estate which is nestled in a valley of rolling farmland and surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. The venue was a 2018 and 2013 pick by The Knot Best of Weddings and has earned the WeddingWire Couple’s Choice Award 2014-2018 and the WeddingWire Bride’s Choice Award 2012-2013. Visit www.weddings.keswickvineyards.com for more information. To contact McDonough, email email@example.com.