Congratulations on your engagement! Of course, you're ecstatic about planning your perfect wedding and spending the rest of your life with that perfect someone. And while taking care of things like floral arrangements and invitation fonts can wait, it's not unwise to set your date and book your venue as soon as possible.
Places get booked well in advance. And whether your engagement is 6 months or 18 (the average is 14 months, according to a Brides.com study), the sooner you start checking out venues, the better chance you have of landing the one you want. If you have your heart set on a specific location, let that dictate your date.
If you're more open on your venues, keep time in mind when deciding on a date; busy periods at work, high-traffic events in your area and nearby holidays are just a few things to consider when thinking if a date is doable, especially if you have a large number of guests that you'll need to reserve hotel rooms for.
If you're getting married in a house of worship, get a list of dates that are available and mash it together with a list of available dates at your desired venue to figure out which works best.
Style & Simplicity
Throughout all the venue-picking, keep your weddings theme and style in mind. You don't want a huge space if you're having an intimate wedding with only a few guests, and vice versa.
If you're going to have a lot of out-of-town guests who aren't familiar with your area, it may be wise to go with a hotel location or a venue with one nearby, so that the overall logistics of the weekend remain simple.
One thing you might not think to ask about is privacy/intimacy: Will there be other weddings/events taking place on the same day?
The Total Package
Obviously, budget is a big thing when picking out your reception venue. Your venue may be a "wedding package," which includes obvious things like food and drinks but also some other items that may be less obvious. To get a handle on costs, keep these points in mind:
Costs: Most places will require that you spend a certain amount of money. Obviously, you'd like to be committed to the lowest possible tab, especially if your guest list isn't super large. A gratuity or service charge often is built in. When you're spending thousands of dollars, a 1- to 2-percent difference between venues will make a big difference. And if you're looking at spots in different townships, again, the slight difference in local tax will make a difference on your total bill.
Food: Your per-entrée price is going to cover a lot, pretty much everything that's included in your package. So, yes, you don't want to pay $10 or $20 more for the same filet you could get at a different location, but you need to keep in mind what else you're getting in your package. Also: Are you paying a per-item price or at the rate of the highest menu item? Are appetizers included in your per-plate price or are they a separate, per-guest expense? Is there a dessert course in addition to cake?
Drinks: How many hours of open bar are included in your package? How many bartenders will you have? How many beer selections do you get? How much is a package upgrade or additional hours of service? Is there wine service during dinner (when the bar is typically closed)? Is it unlimited or is there a limited per-table quantity? Is there a champagne toast and after-dinner coffee service?
Cake & Flowers: Some venues may partner with local vendors to include your cake and centerpieces as part of your package. You pick out/design your creation, and they make sure it's set to go for your big day. Does your venue do this?
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