You’ve said the “I do’s,” kissed the bride, and now it’s time to party! You want your reception to be unforgettable. The venue itself, the food, the ambiance, and the overall guest experience determines just how your reception will be remembered for years to come. Where to host your reception is a huge, day-defining decision. There’s so much to consider. Luckily, we’re here to help!
Before you can determine the type of venues to look at for your reception, ask yourself some broad questions. What style of wedding do you envision? A relaxed, summer wedding and a formal, winter wedding are better-suited to very different reception sites. Below are some examples.
Rustic style: Barns, farms, country inns, and ranches.
Traditional/Classic style: Ballrooms, banquet halls, hotels, country clubs, or community centers. These are often all-inclusive!
Natural/Open Air style: Waterfront, forest, vineyard, city park, or other locations where Mother Nature’s beauty shines. Also consider a Plan B for inclement weather.
Non-Traditional style: Museums, zoos, planetariums, and antique stores.
Urban/Industrial style: Downtown lofts, art galleries, and warehouses.
Intimate style: Unique spaces catered toward small weddings — historic homes, a small party room at your favorite restaurant, or a tent in your parents’ backyard (tented weddings can work for other styles, too).
Once you’ve settled on your reception’s aesthetic and the type of spaces you wish to explore, it’s time to get to work. Here are the first three factors to consider during your hunt.
Guest Count and Budget
These sound like two separate entities, but are in fact totally entwined. You can only afford to host the number of people that your budget allows; therefore your budget will determine your wedding’s headcount. That, or you need to increase your budget to accommodate more folks. Once you finalize your budget and total number of potential guests, this will quickly eliminate any outlying reception venues: venues that are too expensive or too small.
If you’re committed to a particular wedding date — perhaps it’s your parents’ anniversary or a holiday weekend — this will also narrow down your options. If a reception site doesn’t have your date available, move on. If it does, know that nothing is final until you’ve signed a contract and made a deposit. Once your decision is made, it’s critical to officially secure the space as soon as possible. Some choice venues are booked one to two years in advance, particularly on popular dates.
On-site vs. Off-site
Most on-site locations provide the majority of goods and services needed for your reception: catering, beverages, tables, chairs, tableware, linens, and serving staff. Such locations are typically hotels, ballrooms, private clubs, restaurants, and more. These facilities usually charge on a per-person basis and have a minimum guest requirement.
Off-site locations offer the use of the reception space only — no other services. You’re responsible for supplying the caterer, furnishings, décor, waitstaff and bartenders, and everything in between. Such locations range from open-concept urban lofts to tented receptions.
The responsibility of coordinating your own reception goods and services might sound like a headache to some brides, and to others, it’s an opportunity to fully personalize their day. Off-site venues are often a blank slate, allowing you to furnish and dress up the space as you like, bring in whatever food and drink your heart desires, and run the day on your own schedule. There are pros and cons to both on- and off-site venues — what matters is what’s right for you and your wedding!
Once you’ve determined the above, it’s nitty-gritty time. Below are seven details to take into account as you visit and evaluate reception venues.
Location. Consider the distance between the ceremony and reception locations. Is it more than a 30-minute drive? That’s asking a lot of your guests. If the distance to your reception is lengthy, if the place is difficult to find, or if the spot is inconvenient (say, located near a baseball stadium on game day), you might want to provide transportation for your guests.
Size and Layout. You’ve already eliminated sites that are too small for your guest list, but you should still make sure your friends and family have plenty of room to mix and mingle, rather than bump shoulders. Will the entire reception take place in one room, or will there be a separate space for cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing? As you look at spaces, think about where to situate the tables, dance floor, DJ, etc.
Privacy. Public spaces such as county parks won’t close down for your reception. Bear in mind that a wandering local might stumble upon your party! Or if your venue has multiple event spaces (such as a hotel with several ballrooms), find out if there will be another party going on at the same time as yours. Make sure there is enough separation between the event spaces so the two parties don’t interfere.
Parking. Confirm that there is ample, well-lighted, and convenient parking for your guests. If there isn’t, find out if a valet or shuttle service is available.
Technical details. Whether you’re planning to have a DJ or live band, ask about possible restrictions on the type, volume, or duration of music. Confirm that there’s adequate power and electrical outlets for speakers, mixers, and amplifiers, and consider the acoustics of the space. It’s not uncommon for a venue’s coordinator to invite future brides and grooms to stop by a scheduled wedding to get a feel for sound levels and acoustics. If this is a real concern for you, just ask if you can do a drop-in. Odds are the site coordinator will be welcoming.
Room décor. Most sites are rather neutral, but it still pays to take note of the permanent decorations in an event space. Do the flooring, wall color, window treatments, and artwork suit the style and season of your wedding? Is it a room with a view? If photography is of great importance to you, search online for professional photos from weddings staged in the space. Does it photograph well?
Services offered. With each site you visit, note what’s included in the rental price. Whether it’s big things like catering and waitstaff or details like candles and breath mints in the bathroom, it pays to get those details up front. Also bear in mind that the included services greatly impact whether or not a reception site fits within your budget. An affordable venue that doesn’t include any furnishings, for instance, might not be so affordable in the end. B