Before the seating arrangements, color palettes, and dinner choices are made, a couple must first choose a reception venue. Because your selection of venue has the power to shape your wedding, this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly.
Just as you wouldn’t go into a dress fitting without a list of preferences, or a food sampling without being mindful of guests’ allergies, selecting a reception venue must be an educated choice.
When you tour a prospective reception venue, look for these 6 must-haves:
1. A Unique Feel
Thousands of weddings are held each year, and selecting an original venue can help set your special day apart. Consider what you want the feel of your wedding to be, before looking at reception venues. From spacious enclosed courtyards under the stars, to elegant ballrooms, to 19th-century style bars that make you and your guests feel as though you’ve stepped back in time – the options are unlimited for turning your vision into a venue reality. Just know what that vision is first.
2. An Easily Customizable Space
It would be a huge bummer to book a venue, only to learn afterwards that there are rules against hanging your decorations. Yes, it does happen; and not only that, but some venues also restrict the hiring of outside vendors when it comes to decorating, food, music, and more. These are important factors to ask about from the outset – especially if you want flexibility in your vendors and décor.
3. Varied Areas
Dining and dancing are the most common elements of a reception, and a good venue provides enough space for both of these and more. Not only should the space be multipurpose, but there should be a logical flow from one end of the venue to the other. It should be just as easy for guests to get in and out as it is to cart the food from the kitchen to the tables.
Here are just a few of the purposes your wedding venue should be able to serve:
4. A Place for Private Photos
Your photographer will likely capture some fabulous shots at your ceremony venue – but, you can never have too many photos from your wedding day, right? Look for reception venues with private nooks, balconies, or adorable alleyways where you can take a romantic photo. These spaces can also serve as a nice moment of quiet with your new spouse, amid the celebration.
5. A View for Speeches
When we think of a wedding reception, we often picture the speeches, made by close friends and family, that will leave everyone in laughter and in tears. You don’t need to have a stage, but be sure your venue features a beneficial layout for speech-givers, without any obstructed views; so all guests can appreciate these moments.
6. Plenty of Room for Dancing and Dining
Yes, we mentioned this earlier — but it’s worth mentioning again, because this is really important. If you’re planning a wedding for 200 people, the last thing you want is to see your guests crammed against tables, or feeling trapped in their chairs, when they want to get up and dance.
An ideal reception venue has separate spaces for dancing and dining. You may be thinking: Why can’t we simply push back the tables to clear the dance floor? It will only take a few minutes. The problem is not in the time it takes – it’s making your guests feel uncomfortable with all that shuffling. Plus, having a dual dancing and relaxing space ensures that everyone has room to recharge. Opting for adjacent dining and dancing spaces makes the whole reception flow better.
An Audio-Visual Guru
Your reception venue should have someone on hand to ensure the technology requirements of your event go off without a hitch. From working with the band or DJ, to queuing that cute slideshow of childhood photos of you and your spouse, to making sure all your dad’s jokes can be heard loud and clear; this is definitely something to ask about when searching for a venue. Some venues – especially hotels or halls that can hold corporate events – come with state-of-the-art audio and video equipment already, so you can set your worries aside from day one.
A Place of Privacy
Wedding crashing makes for a funny movie plot, but you’ll be laughing a lot less if it happens to your reception. We’ve been talking a lot about the flow of the wedding, including how guests move about a space – part of this is making sure all guests check in at an entrance area, before continuing on to the reception.
Privacy isn’t just to prevent wedding crashers. Popular wedding venues may be hosting multiple events (including other weddings) at once. Ask all potential venues about what they can do to prevent sound from someone else’s celebration overlapping with that of your own. Bonus tip: always check to make sure there are enough powder room facilities for your guests.
Room for Guests to Stay
This is especially important if your reception will last into the wee hours. There’s a reason why hotels are such a popular choice for reception venues — they come with a guarantee that guests will have somewhere to stay for the night, significantly reducing any chances of driving home while tired, or under the influence. Many hotels offer specials and discount packages for wedding groups, and have various styles of rooms to ensure all guests are satisfied.
If your reception is out of town, or in an isolated location, consider asking if the venue has arrangements with a local company to provide transportation for guests to and from the location. This is a simple gesture that your guests will truly appreciate.
Now That You Know What to Look for…
It’s time to start searching! Luckily, you don’t have to find your perfect wedding venue alone.
Popular wedding website The Knot officially launched its Venue Concierge service in March 2016. The complimentary service prompts couples to take a venue quiz, to receive personal recommendations on a space in their area. They can then schedule a tour of the venue, and easily send in their contract once a location is selected. Though still just a few months old, the service has received positive reviews from brides across the country, including in San Diego and four other California state cities.
Most venues will also have an events manager (or similar position) who you can contact ahead of time to request a venue tour, or to discuss floor plans and seating. This person will head up the team dedicated to working with you and your wedding planner, to ensure your reception is an event to remember.