I never thought about it this way, but your venue is your backdrop. The palette which sets the stage for your special day. For us, we didn’t have one venue going in that we had our hearts set on. This ended up being a very helpful thing, as we learned just how far out some venues book. We both really liked the likes of the Green Building in Brooklyn, but the space was booked essentially for the entire year. Insane.
And it’s not just them. This is pretty common for some of the more notable spaces in the city. If you have one particular venue you want, then a last minute, 6 months or less til wedding day approach might not be possible. If you are set on that one venue, then you should start with the venue and then plan the details from there. For us, going in we knew we wanted something that felt cozy and represented our relationship but that also had enough space to accommodate our wedding size. We ended up going with a venue that was a Brooklyn brownstone, beautiful and with enough space for our slimmed down guest list.
It wasn’t as simple though as just choosing the vibe we wanted. Choosing a venue boils down to a few main considerations you’ve thought about, and a number of additional ones that might not have yet crossed your mind.
Budget – Let’s be honest. What catches your eye matters far less than the amount you can and are willing to spend. This is the biggest consideration in choosing this foundational piece of your wedding. It doesn’t take looking long to realize just how much this will cost. If you don’t have your budget set going in, it will be hard to hone in on the level of venue you can realistically swing.
Size – The length of your guest list sets a lot of things about your wedding, especially your venue. This is a secondary almost paired layer to the budget. You may want a bigger guest list than your budget can realistically support. It may help to choose venues which would allow you to have a larger group and ones that are fancier for a smaller audience as you choose which one works best for you two. Also ask regarding seating capacity for the venue for the ceremony portion. For ours, for example, we learned the venue capacity and the seating max were different – so if we’d gone up to the “venue capacity”, a portion of guests wouldn’t be seated for the ceremony. Might not be a show stopper for you, but important to know as you’re weighing options.
Layout – Spaces in NYC are interesting. Some are event halls, and those tend to be a bit more flexible on the space you’re working with – open and able to be customized a bit based on the needs for your event. Others though are a bit more restrictive. We personally visited an open banquet hall (looked a bit more funeral than wedding), one venue that was more art gallery set-up, and another which had U-shaped theater style seating (complete with red plush chairs – an important factor to know as you contemplate the color for the event). All three were so completely different than where we ended up choosing to go with – but all could work as well, depending on your needs.
Plan B – The outside element. It can be such a lovely piece to the aesthetic of a wedding, but ah – such a wildcard. If your venue incorporates in or depends on a portion of the wedding to be outdoors, it’s important to understand what (if any) “Plan B” option exists for your venue.
Venue décor – There are some venues that are more all-inclusive — those are ones which include in things such linens, silverware, chairs/tables, etc. These are preferable when you are on a shorter timeline and when you really want to be certain that your budget stays within a certain max. Alternately, you can go with shell space, where you essentially have a blank canvas to really customize the space to your liking. Many people prefer this, since it allows you to really make it yours and to make sure all of the decor aligns with your theme. Bear in mind that this requires renting all of these additional pieces, coordinating the delivery day of, and then returning all of them back to the various providers. Depending on the venue, this can get pretty involved. Some spaces even require that you take care of lighting, portable A/C or heating units, and even port-o-pottys.
Location – Do you want the venue to be in a particular part of the city? Is it important that you find a spot within a certain distance of the official wedding hotel? Is proximity to public transportation important? (Note: if it’s a bit far out, or if you choose to split up the ceremony location and reception location, renting a van or bus may become an additional pricing consideration.)
Food – There are a number of pieces that come in to play regarding the food service at a given venue. For some, catering is in-house, forcing a very defined budget for all pieces in one. Others require working with a venue approved caterer, which may limit you to options you don’t want. Note, some even include who can prepare your cake, which is a pretty big consideration in my book. Others allow you to bring in any caterer you wish. You’ll also need to see if there are options between plated food and buffet style. One interesting option we considered but ultimately did not go with is a food truck via Roaming Hunger. Considerations there would be if the venue requires certain types of proof of insurance and there may be considerations depending upon the location of the event space (i.e. are any special permits required for occupying the space in front of the venue).
Beverages – This can be another pricey layer. Some venues require all alcohol be provided by them. For ours, there was the choice of non-alcoholic only, beer/wine, or beer/wine/liquor. You also may be able to customize the number of hours included for the beverage service (we adjusted the timeframe slightly down for ours since our wedding was on a Sunday evening). Some will allow you to bring your own alcohol, but require paying their bar staff to serve. Others allow you to bring your own, but also require you staff the bar with licensed bar staff. Many will also require you meet a certain threshold for food and beverage in order to book your event.
Sound System – Hearing throughout every portion of the event is pretty key! You want to make sure all your guests are able to hear everything, from your amazing vows to the tunes you choose to get down to towards the end of the shindig. This is more of a factor if you aren’t hiring someone outside to come DJ and/or perform at the end of the event. In our case, we thought it would be fine if we did not have a mic on hand. While we did get by, it would have been much better to have had the option to use this during the speeches. We also learned that the in-house speakers were a bit on the softer side, as we DJ’d our own via Spotify on iPhone. Some venues will add an additional fee for you to use their in-house stereo equipment, so again, push to learn the details!
Clean-up – I think this might be where I learned the most in this process. Some venues are all-inclusive, meaning that the clean-up at the end of the night (typically excluding any major over the top decor elements) is included. Some even include in the gratuity, which covers off on all staff support for the event from start to finish. Some though have very different approaches. Some venues will have a separate clean-up fee. Almost all do not disclose this initially on their website as an additional expense, so be sure to ask specifically about this. We found there are venues that charge you per bag of trash they remove, so you want to be clear up front on how they will charge you.
Contact – Who will be your point of contact during the planning phase and for the day of? Some venues have someone prepping but don’t necessarily have a true day of event person running the show. Some places I spoke with didn’t seem to know how to operate if you haven’t hired a wedding coordinator or a day of coordinator on your own. Our venue had a team there who helped queue the music when I went down the aisle and handled cutting/plating our cake. Without their help, our day would not have gone so smoothly. It’s helpful to get an idea of what to expect for support here.