Wedding Planning: Choosing your Venue

New Orleans has over the years been labeled a top destination wedding location. It's probably because of our great food and sweet southern charm and fun atmosphere. But, because we are a hot place to get married ("hot" as in top or popular or favorite), it is really important to figure out your venue wants and needs early and to book as soon as you can. You should reserve your venue at least 16-9 months before your big day.

Choosing a wedding venue is a big deal. It’s expensive (yes, you will need to pull out a budget and set priorities and stick to them. You do not want to sign a contract with an expensive venue, only to realize down the road you have no money left for that open bar or DJ you really wanted).

In a city like New Orleans, it's easy to get overwhelmed by your choices and booking a venue. I have a few tips—and a LOT of important questions to ask—that will help you figure out how to choose a wedding venue that is the best fit for you. Some of it will be very black and white, some not so much. But at some point, you will have to make a decision.

So, how do you choose a venue in a city like New Orleans filled with so many venue choices, and not so much time?

Try a spreadsheet. It creates some of the black and white. It's a place to track all of your research on wedding venue ideas, so that you can organize it and then review it without losing your mind.

In your spreadsheet for wedding venue research you'll want to include the following columns:

  • Name of Venue 
  • Location 
  • Capacity: Make sure the capacity fits your event. If you are doing a cocktail party rather than a sit-down meal, the space can likely fit more people. 
  • Availability: Include several dates you may want. 
  • Type: Such as hotel, outdoor, historical, restaurant. 
  • Layout: Note if it has space for all aspects of your wedding (ceremony, cocktails, reception). Sometimes this isn’t clear till a site visit. 
  • Rates: Enter the rough info available online. In a later column as you narrow things down, I recommend you create a “My Cost” line (see below). 
  • Website: You can easily go back and remind yourself with photos on the venue’s site. 
  • Restrictions: Does the website list any major restrictions, such as a definite end time, that would affect your decision? 
  • Parking/Transportation: Make any notes regarding free parking, public transit access, or other transportation considerations. 
  • Facility Extras: List here any items included with the venue: A/V equipment, chairs, tables, linens, etc. 
  • Caterer: See if they have restrictions on catering, such as an in-house caterer or a preferred list of caterers you are required to work with.

COST: Once you’ve done your initial online research and have a healthy list of places you’re interested in, I recommend going back to the venues you like the most and giving yourself a VERY rough sense of what this venue will cost you. Things to consider: what it will cost for your size and timing of the event (for example, will you need to pay for an extra hour?); what extras are included (chairs and tables means cheaper rental costs down the line, free parking means no transportation needed)? Is catering included or is there a minimum amount you HAVE TO spend on catering?

You probably want to create a LIST of factors all in one place—you don’t need to necessarily know the monetary value (yet). For now, a list will let you do a quick rundown and remember “Hey, this cheap venue is awesome but I need to provide transportation, all rentals, and use a restricted expensive caterer, while this other more expensive venue has a lot of items included—hence, the costs probably balance out.”

Ask yourself some key questions as you do your research and fill out this spreadsheet.

1. Can I afford this venue?

(NOBODY, and I do mean nobody really likes to discuss the budget, but it's an absolute must.) Don’t torture yourself and keep a $12,000 venue on your list when you can really only afford $4,000. It’s just going to break your soul and waste your time.

2. Is this venue available on the date (or month, or time of year) that I want?

Some venues have online calendars, others you can email for rough availability. And I always recommend double-checking their availability at the site visit.

3. Does this venue’s capacity fit my estimated guest list? Like, really?

Sometimes venues stretch what’s possible in order to make themselves more attractive to all couples. One way to discreetly figure this out is to ask at the site visit: “What number of guests is most successful in this space?” Just because you can fit 150 people into a room, doesn’t mean you should.

4. Does this venue’s layout/available space fit my needs?

For example, if you’re doing ceremony, cocktails, and reception all in one venue, does it have three separate spaces for all of those events? If not, do they recommend a “flip?” The typical “flip” is changing the ceremony space into the reception space during cocktail hour, when guests are in another area. Flips are a great way to make a venue work for you. However, make sure they are done at the venue often, and ask how they are done: where are the reception tables and decor stored? Will it require renting pipe and drape (a faux fabric wall to hide these items from guests)? Does it require a space that is weather dependent (such as an outdoor space)? This is where you can recognize potential hidden costs and hidden issues. It’s also important to talk through the flow of the ceremony if you’re having one there. Where is the couple kept prior to processional? Are there multiple places if they don’t want to see each other beforehand? Where do people process from? Is there a typical ceremony layout or “altar?”

5. Consider location. Are you okay with needing to provide transportation for guests from a hotel to your remote venue?

Does the centrally located venue allow for guests to get themselves there via walking or public transportation? If everyone is driving, is there ample parking (paid or unpaid)? Again, transportation can be a fairly big line item on your budget if you’re bussing or shuttling people to and fro.

6. Does this venue have any catering restrictions?

Sometimes a venue makes you use one exclusive caterer (who is usually really expensive—and therefore means this venue pushes your budget too far). Other times you were dreaming of having your favorite Mexican restaurant cater your wedding, but this venue won’t allow non-traditional caterers—or they will, but at an additional cost.

7. And finally, does this venue reflect the vision of your day (formal vs informal, boho vs classic and elegant)?

This is a hard one to nail down, as it’s usually a gut feeling and completely depends on the type of wedding you’re hoping to have. If you’re looking for a casual BBQ wedding, a historic, marble-laden hall isn’t the best fit. Or a black tie barn wedding might not make those guests in stilettos and gowns very happy. I do recommend you stay open to possibilities until you do a site visit. I’ve had lots of clients think they want one thing, only to visit a venue and then switch gears altogether. This is also where you should consider decor. Is the venue naturally beautiful and impressive, so it doesn’t require additional lighting or pizzazz? Or is it a blank slate that will need uplighting to warm it up, and additional decor? Take a close look at those marketing photos the venue shows you online—often they have a TON of uplighting and draping to decorate the space. Make sure you’ve either made room in your budget for that, or that you prefer the space as-is.

Now that you’ve done your preliminary research and completed your spreadsheet, you’re all ready to narrow your options and do some site visits!

Yes, you have to do a site visit before making the decision (and the only way I wouldn't want you to do it, is if you life in Never-Neverland and can't make it).

If you want some help going on your site visits, give us a call! We're happy to attend and do individual planning sessions with you!

It's Your Time Events, New Orleans Wedding Planning & Design