21 Things to Know Before Choosing a Venue
Know what to look for (besides the glistening chandeliers) in your dream wedding venue.

Besides your partner, the venue is the single most important element of your wedding. It sets the stage for your big day, and will be the backdrop for memories that will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, too often couples are led by their eyes rather than their wallet when it comes to selecting a spot, so we’ve got some helpful hints for ensuring that all of the right questions are answered upfront before you dot the i’s and cross the t’s on your venue contract.


  1. Know Before You Go: The guest list and budget don’t have be set in stone, but it’s good to have an estimated idea of what they are when seeking a venue.
  2. Overtime Fees: Always ask venues about their overtime policy. It defeats the purpose of selecting a less expensive reception spot if you go over your time limit and have to fork over for fees. If your venue of choice does have steep OT charges, end the celebrations 30 minutes before deadline so all guests and vendors have time to leave.
  3. Roomy Fit: Depending on your setup—sit-down dinner, band, bar—the empty room you are viewing can fill up quickly once you get all of the wedding day components in there. The only way to truly see its size is to take a peek during another wedding. Ask the venue director if you can swing by during a similar-sized affair and view from the sidelines (just refrain from joining in on the fun—no one likes a wedding crasher).
  4. Architecture Annoyances: Love those gorgeous columns or that expansive ceiling? You won’t if said columns are blocking guests’ view of the vows or that beautiful vaulted ceiling causes an echo in the reception music. Try to envision the area as your wedding scene so you get a good idea of the view your guests will have, and keep an ear out for any acoustic afflictions while previewing the other event.
  5. Extras: Each venue is different with what they include in the price. Some include tables and chairs, others catering and linens, or merely just the space. Be sure to have this discussion with the venue director before going to view the spot—it won’t do you any good to fall in love with a place only to find out you can’t afford the extras.
  6. Parking Problems: Make sure that the space has plenty of safe parking for guests, either in a lot or on an empty street. If parking is an issue, opt for an organized shuttle service if it’s within your budget.
  7. LGBT-Friendly: This goes without saying, but be sure you’re up front that it’s a same-sex wedding to ensure that the venue and staff are LGBT-friendly. You don’t want to lose a hefty deposit because of the venue’s poor manner. Check out Equally Wed’s extensive Local Resources for LGBT-approved locations.
  8. Details, Details: Is your dream wedding illuminated by soft candlelight or does it have elaborate décor hanging from the ceilings? Make sure you discuss your prospective vision with the venue, as well as ask for any restrictions they have, so you’re not dealing with any décor crisis while setting up the scene.
  9. Ample Outlets: While viewing the space, keep an eye out for outlets, especially in the area you want the DJ, instrumentals or band to play. Extension cords going through a trafficked area are not only an eyesore but they’re a hazard, so be sure there are plenty of plugins.
  10. All About the Alcohol: Looking to feature some libations at the fete? Be sure to ask the venue about their liquor policy and any extra fees (like a corkage fee) if you bring in bottles from an outside vendor.
  11. Handicapped Accessible: Be sure an entryway and the bathrooms are handicap-friendly. You may not have a family member in a wheelchair, but older relatives may have difficulty on stairs or a guest could find themselves unexpectedly on crutches.
  12. Hidden Costs: Force the vendor director to be up front about any hidden costs—cancellation policies, taxes, staff (waiter, bartender, security) service fees, valet service or parking garage, set-up and take-down fees, minimums for food and beverage, administrative fees and vendor meals.
  13. Rehearsal Time: You need to be able to have the ceremony rehearsal in the exact spot you’ll be doing the real deal at. Ensure that the space is available the night before (rehearsals typically last an hour) and if it’s included in the cost.
  14. Hot Locale, Cool Space: If you’re having a summer or winter wedding, especially in an older location, ensure that they have modern day heating or air conditioning. Nothing stops dancing faster than a heat wave.
  15. Cake-Cutting Costs: If you use an outside bakery, you’ll likely be slapped with a cake-cutting fee, which typically costs $1.50-$2 per person. Be sure to ask what their policy is and budget accordingly.
  16. Viable Vendors: Many places have a list of set vendors that they use, and often charge a fee or deny bringing in outside options. Be sure you approve of all of their vendors (and that they’re all LGBT-friendly) before signing on the dotted line.
  17. Site Suites: Especially for femme brides who are getting extensive makeup and hair styling, ask if the ceremony site provides a “getting ready” area.
  18. Back-Up Plan: If you’re saying “I do” with a Mother Nature background, the venue should offer a back-up plan in case of inclement weather. View Plan B just as you would your first outdoor choice, as it could become your wedding reality.
  19. Coat Check: Especially for winter weddings, ask if a coat check service is provided and if it’s an additional cost.
  20. Prospective Renovations: You want to ensure that the site you’re viewing is the site you’re getting come the big day. Inquire about any redecorating or renovation plans for the near future. If there will be on-site construction, get the guarantee that it won’t interfere with your wedding.
  21. Day-Of Director: Especially if you’re not using a wedding planner, it’s crucial that someone is there day-of to ensure your dream is executed into a reality. Most venues offer a day-of coordinator but if you’re tying the knot at a nontraditional location without one, you’ll want to look into hiring an outside source or recruiting an extremely organized friend.

Photo: Dina Kantor for Real Weddings Kim and Randie