So, you’re engaged an planning a wedding… congratulations! I have made this guide to picking the a wedding venue intentionally to host the wedding of your dreams. Your venue is incredibly important to almost every aspect of your day. After attending over 150 weddings myself as a photographer, and also being a bride myself, I wanted to share things I have learned along the way.
What Makes a Wedding Intentional
An intentional wedding is simply a wedding that has been crafted to have each aspect be all about the experience. From the morning getting ready, to your ceremony, to the end of the night, each part was made to create a wonderful experience for the couple + the people they choose to share their day with. These weddings are not necessarily about following trends (but just because you include some things you loved on Tiktok doesn’t mean your wedding is NOT intentional), they aren’t about doing things you hate to appease grandma and they’re certainly not about how much money you spend.
You can have a meaningful, special, wonderful wedding for $100 or $100,000. 0 guests or 500. I don’t want to be another person on the long list telling you that you need to buy or have ‘xyz’ to have a great wedding day. I don’t want to diminish the role that money plays either. All of us would love to have 100k deposited in our bank account to throw a party (or perhaps buy a house). I’m just tired of the narrative that is a never-ending list of things couples need if they want to have a great wedding day.
Intentional wedding planning is the antithesis of what most of the wedding industry has been pushing. No, you don’t need ‘xyz’ to have the perfect day. All you need is an experience that makes you happy. Things that give you, your partner and your loved ones an amazing time together. You should leave your wedding feeling fulfilled, a little sore from smiling and definitely giving each other a big happy kiss as soon as you sit down in your exit car. You are allowing space for memories to be made, love to be shared and to not feel rushed through your day. Not an all day photoshoot, not a big production, not something that is made to appease everyone but yourself. Before you read any more it was really important to me to say that to you.
Why Your Wedding Venue Matters
- Your Wedding Venue GREATLY Impacts Your Photographs. Think of some wedding photos you enjoy- what do you enjoy about them? What is the background like? If you really love bright, clean + happy images a hotel ballroom with no windows is not going to give you the results you love no matter who you choose as your photographer. If you really love photos that are moody, have dynamic lighting or vintage decor, an all-white barn with floor to ceiling windows is not the best option for your wedding. It is true that a great photographer will move mountains to give you beautiful photos, but there is nothing they can do to change the lighting or color theory of your venue. Your venue will likely be in 100% of your photos- pick one that you like the look of!
- Guest Interaction is Directed by the Layout of Your Venue. How your guests interact with each other is directly influenced by the way the venue is laid out. It also impacts how the room ‘feels’ or the overall atmosphere. Each place you go to has a certain flow and energy to it. Lighting, occupancy space, and intuitive walking spaces all have a great impact on the overall atmosphere. Will your guests even see your guest book, or will it be tucked away in a corner no one is going to visit? From mingling flowing freely during cocktail hour to the comfortability (and therefore livelihood) on the dance floor, how your venue curates interaction is important.
- It Sets the Overall Style. Do you love garden weddings? Don’t book a venue downtown (unless your downtown has a lot of gardens… then please let me know where you live!). If you love places with charm and character, a historic estate may be perfect for you. Want a place that your guests can stay without worrying about a commute? Get a big cabin, retreat, or hotel venue!
- How Much You Spend on Decor. If your venue is a ‘blank slate’ you’re going to spend more time, energy and money on filling the space. However, you will then have unlimited creativity to create the exact vision you’d like. If your venue has features like intricate landscaping or is already an estate, a lot of the vibe and decor is already established for you. A lot of people who do backyard weddings (which I am a HUGE fan of) don’t realize how much it costs to rent, all the chairs, etc. There’s no universal better option than the other, as both have their own pros and cons. It is just crucial to establish what YOU want before committing.
Some key questions you need to consider; How many guests can this venue accommodate in comparison to my own guest list? What do I want the color/decor/vibe of my venue to be? How much do I want to rely on the venue to provide decorations/chairs/etc. I promise you that all the photos/decor/articles/magazines of weddings you come across will have one thing in common; a great venue.
Evaluate Your Wedding Priorities
Have a sit-down date with your partner where you write out a list of the top 3-5 things you both want on your wedding day. Share them with each other and discuss. These can be as big or as small as you want; are photos really important, do you really, really want a red velvet cake? Do you hate cake and want waffles instead? Do you want no guests or to invite all your favorite people?
It is also important at this point to discuss a realistic budget and expectations. How much do you have to invest on this day? Take this number and reference your list to see what you should prioritize investing in. You shouldn’t be spending 20% of your budget on something that didn’t make the above list.
How to Find a Wedding Venue
So, I’ve given you this whole guide on how to evaluate your venue. But how do you find a venue to evaluate? Here are my tips to finding venues;
- Utilize online resources, but vet them carefully. Many popular wedding planning websites (*cough, cough*.. Looking at you The Knot and WeddingWire) make vendors pay to be a part of them at all. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing- part of running a business is investing in advertising. However, they can be terrible on the vendor side of things and a lot of wedding vendors will not use them because they charge crazy fees for not a lot of return. You’ll find some awesome vendors on there, some not so awesome vendors, but you will never find *all* the vendors there. If you visit those websites and don’t see the perfect fit for you, don’t panic. Cross-check the reviews you read on there with google/Facebook reviews as well.
- Search Engines. Searching‘Wedding Venues in My City’ may yield some awesome articles. For my Texas couples I made a list of the best places to elope in Austin and also an Austin’s Best non-Traditional Wedding Venue post.
- Social Media. Just typing in ‘My City Wedding Venue’ or #xyzweddingvenues will pull up so many profiles. You can also check local vendor’s profiles for places that stand out; wedding planners, florist and photographers are constantly posting work from all the different venues. Find some local ones and search their profile!
What to Look for in a Wedding Venue
Wedding Venue Capacity
TLDR; The venue determines how many people you can host. Are you planning on inviting 15 people? A venue that can host 500 people will likely feel a bit empty. Alternatively, if you are inviting 250 people and the venue capacity is 150, you’re either going to have to cut that list or find a new place to get married. Every venue knows their capacity and will have an answer when you ask. They usually will have both a ‘seated capacity’ and overall venue capacity number.
Wedding venues are required have a number on hand that is used to pass fire and safety inspections. Please *do not* get married at a place that does not know this number. It is also worth noting that if a venue has a max capacity of say 150 and you invite 145 people- you are going to be crammed. Consider that you need space for a dance floor, gift tables, cocktail hour, ceremony space, and more. Leave some wiggle room.
Is grandpa using a cane? Does your sister need to be able to use her wheelchair? Do you have chronic knee pain? Make sure your venue can be accessed considerably by the people you are inviting. It will set a positive tone to consider not only yourselves but others, and will make the space seem that much more inviting. It is also worth considering the overall venue location. Is it 45 minutes away from the closest hotel? People will leave earlier then, and if you are hosting a celebration with alcohol how will you make sure they are driving safely? Will you have to rent a shuttle?
Can you host your ceremony AND reception there?
I’m going to be a little too honest here as a wedding vendor; having two separate venues sucks. You spend much more of your day just rounding everybody up and commuting. There is less time spent just enjoying your day and more time spent just dealing with logistics. If you want your wedding day to flow naturally and be a lot more enjoyable, book a venue that can do it all; from getting ready, to ceremony, reception, dinner, etc. I know that some people can’t imagine not having a religious ceremony at their place of worship; I understand that. Again, do what makes you happy. However if you’re impartial, pick the venue that can accommodate everything with ease and beauty.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Wedding Venues
This perhaps plays the biggest role in overall feeling and atmosphere in my opinion. I love AC, but I also love golden light pouring in through the tables set in the garden during dinner. Is the risk of inclement weather worth it to you? Do you love being outside or do you love the idea of a cozy indoor place?
Wedding Vendor Policies
Do they have required vendors or can you bring your own? Venues are all over the place about this. You’ll have to ask! If you really want your favorite restaurant catered in, you’ll need to make sure your venue allows outside catering/vendors. I know food is crucial to many couples and you deserve to have a meal that is delicious.
Final Tips For Picking a Wedding Venue
….and also tips for planning an intentional wedding in general!
Ask A Friend
Go out to breakfast or coffee with a married friend and ask them honestly, what do they remember most about their wedding day? Ask your parents what their favorite memory is from their wedding 30 years ago. Ask them their biggest regret. Listen to their answers; these people aren’t you, but they have experienced a wedding day. Consider how you’d feel in their shoes, and how you feel about their answers. If they had an amazing venue they may want to share that with you! Personal experience is honestly the best- you’re getting the truth straight from the source.
Visit the Wedding Venue Before Booking
Whether you’re planning your wedding from abroad or local to you, please check out the venue to the best of your ability. If you’re far away, ask for a video walkthrough, and/or zoom call. Look at all the customer reviews, google blog posts by photographers that have a bunch of photos of the venue. If you’re local, tour the venue before booking! A venue that won’t let you tour before giving the money or singing a contract is honestly a huge red flag. Physically stand in the venue and see how it feels to you before committing any time or money to the place. Good venues care about your experience and will be happy to show you around!
Trust Your Instincts
Do you walk in and it just feels right… or wrong? Listen to that! Picture yourself sitting next to the love of your life.. do you see the people you love standing in the room? Do you pull in the driveway of the venue and just think “hell no”? Trust yourself! Do what feels right to your gut, even if it seems perfect or imperfect on paper.
Enjoy the Wedding Planning Process
This is a special time in your life you only get to experience for a short time. Enjoy your engagement! Wedding planning should not be an emotional drag. Like all great things in life, it isn’t perfect every moment but it should not leave you and your partner feeling defeated. Spend time together, enjoy each other, and remember how amazing it is to be with the love of your life.
If you enjoyed this post, let me know. I would love to hear from you about your own tips and planning. Looking for a wedding photographer for your intentional wedding? I am Rebecca, I am a wedding photographer based in Austin, Texas. my specialty is to capture irreplaceable memories for you to cherish forever. You can read more about my style here.
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