It takes a brave man to propose marriage to a wedding magazine editor. My guy is one of those brave men. This past October, atop a rocky lookout in Garden of the Gods with Pikes Peak in sight, we started our very own journey to the aisle. For the record, he crushed the proposal, it was perfect.
This Christmas, Nick (my brave beau!) and I took the plunge into the planning process and started viewing the venues that made our short list. After what felt like the longest day of all time, we came to one final decision – we’re so not ready to make any decisions about our wedding. Yes, even someone who reads advice articles everyday is somehow surprised and horrified by a less-than-ideal wedding planning experience. Instead of letting you, dear bride, make the same mistakes we did, I’m letting you in on the secrets to success – or at least choosing to tour the right venues. Plus, a few good things we did that you should plan to schedule too!
So here they are, five lessons we learned the day we decided to tour three of our favorite venues in our home city – Buffalo, N.Y..
1. Know your guest list, or at least an approximate number.
This was one bit of advice I heard previously, but didn’t acknowledge. It was one of those times I figured it might be okay to ignore – because you know, I’m an adult who can make her own decisions. Well, I was wrong. Know your guest list. Sit down with your future-husband, sit down with your parents, sit down with his parents. Get, at the very least, a bare-bones list of people who would be insanely offended if they weren’t invited to your day. Total them up, and there’s the number you need to accommodate.
Now, don’t think that offending acquaintances is the sole factor in deciding who to invite. Rather, think about who you and your parents couldn’t live without at your big day to determine who you’ll be inviting. Then, take that list and remove about 15% of the guest list – that’s who will ultimately (probably) RSVP yes. So if you’re inviting 150 guests, make sure your space will at least accommodate 135 people. Better to shoot for that 150 capacity just in case everyone on your list drops everything to attend (lucky you!).
We fell in love with the Roycroft Inn – a gorgeous arts and crafts style inn. Rich woodwork, beautifully intricate murals, warm cozy feel, best food in town… only problem? It’s small – too small. The only way we could host here is to offend more than a few friends and family members by seating them in an overflow space. It was that moment when we realized we really needed to figure out how many people we wanted to celebrate with on our day.
2. Parents fronting the bill? Offer an invite, it’ll go a long way.
Venue coordinators are busy people – so don’t waste their time for the sake of getting in to see the space simply because you’re anxious. Bring along the individual who’s fronting the bill. If that’s your parents, bring them along – it’ll go a long way to foster your relationship with your mom, I promise. In our case, Nick and I are choosing to marry in our home town – 6+ states away from our current states of residence! We carved time out of Christmas holiday to visit the venues we checked out online, and since we rarely get to spend time with family, opted to invite our moms to join us. Together we toured three venues, heard what everyone was most excited about for our wedding day and had a well-balanced pool of questions when the time came. This advice might not be for everyone, but for us, it proved to be the best thing we planned for the day.
3. If you’re touring multiple properties on one day, carve out time to debrief.
Since we were on a tight timeline, we collectively agreed to viewing multiple properties in one day – but set aside a chunk of time to grab lunch at our favorite small town eatery. Over salads and coffee, we each voiced what we liked about the property and maybe weren’t so keen on. With time in between each venue, we were able to fully realize all those little details in the dinner menu (crucial to Nick – typical groom, am I right?) and reality of cost breakdowns.
4. On a similar note, limit yourself to the number of tours per day.
There’s something to be said for efficiency. There’s also something to be said for sanity. By the end of the day we could all agree on one thing – it was a long day. Seeing so many different spaces and hearing so many different figures put our minds into a bit of a spin. How much for a plated dinner here? There? What about this hors d’oeuvres combination here versus there? Decor restrictions? It quickly became a muddled mess. Nick’s spreadsheet and math skills shined that day, while my easily-overwhelmed creative mind was buzzing.
Our advice – write things down, keep the papers they give you, and don’t over-schedule yourself. If you’re under a crunch for time like we were – it’s understandable to fit as many as possible into one day, but be realistic. (Editor’s note: Be sure to bring your issue of The Celebration Society with you to your tours! Inside you’ll find a list of questions to ask your venue tour guide, it’ll keep you on track and help you cover all your bases!)
5. Ask plenty of questions – and don’t settle until you have the answer you’re looking for.
Of course, every venue is going to claim to be the best in town. Each of them are, in their own special way. But for our day, it was important to ask questions about noise and other surrounding spaces. As a smaller wedding, there’s a possibility our awesome Motown band (still taking suggestions – it’s a fantasy as of now) could be drowned out by the DJ and 300 people in the ballroom next door. Come prepared to your tour with questions and keep the conversation flowing. You’ll feel more prepared walking in and your venue representative will be ready to share as much as he or she can about the venue with you. It’s important that both parties feel like the tour was worthwhile. Do your research before touring a venue. If it’s absolutely, no questions asked, out of your budget – don’t waste their time taking a 30 minute tour. While it’s fun to see inside the most lavish spaces in town, it’s not a good use of time.
Hosting an out of town affair? Us too. Most of our friends and family will be making a big trip north for our day – which means seeing the rooms managed by the venue owner was a good use of the last 15 minutes of our tour. For us, knowing how many rooms are available to be blocked was a lot more useful than how many people can fit inside the gigantic football-field sized ballroom. Know your event and its needs.
Are you going on your own venue tours now? Do you own a venue? Comment below with questions or advice you’d like to share!