Choosing a Wedding Reception Venue!

We were going to write today about prioritizing all of your wedding vendors, but we figured for this week we’d start with choosing your Reception Venue specifically and talk more about ALL wedding details in exactly ONE month at the start of April.

We’ve been wedding photographers for 10 years now, so we have a LOT of experience photographing your big day’s reception AND getting a feel for a vast array of venues from wedding prep in the morning at hotels, homes, or in bridal suites to ceremony venues to reception venues. One of the FIRST things you should book is your reception venue OR your ceremony venue depending on which is more important to you. Next you’d want to book your photographer (we book 1 to 2 years in advance, though some people do luck out and book us 9 months in advance if we do still have their date available). Your venue is very important to book first because that will determine the date that your wedding is on and professional full-time photographers as well as all of your other wedding vendors have to have a set date in order to reserve the day for you.

Reception Venues

Now, sometimes our couples book ONE venue for both their ceremony and reception. This probably happens about 25% of the time. This is absolutely fantastic not only for you, but also your guests. You and others don’t have to scramble around trying to make sure that you’re not running late getting to the next venue before cocktail hour is up- instead you can get ready at your venue, have your ceremony there, go off to take photos on the property or nearby, and not be worried about having to drive all the way to your reception. We are fantastic at sticking to a schedule and getting you everywhere on time, but it does add a bit of stress to the day to have to walk and drive places and make sure that you’re on time to your reception to be announced in if you have a tight schedule and different places to drive to throughout the day.

About 75% of our couples do choose two separate venues for their ceremony and reception though which is just fine. Some people prioritize their date and ceremony location first if the ceremony location means a lot to them. This is often the case with our nationwide and worldwide couples who come back to have their wedding at The University of Notre Dame (often specifically the Basilica, though there are many other venues on campus), St. Mary’s College, Purdue University, and other colleges/ universities. This is also the case when someone is coming from far across the country/ out of state to have their wedding ceremony at their hometown childhood church!

Other times the reception venue is the most important place to our couples and is the first thing that they book of all wedding details. In these cases they prioritize the venue above all else and base their wedding date on when their favorite reception venue is available. When booking a reception venue there are many factors to consider. Here’s a good go-to list in determining what type of wedding reception you may be looking for:

Questions to ask when looking for a Reception Venue:

1) Do you want a rustic look, classic look, urban look, romantic nature look, or something else? There are so many types of reception venues from rustic barns to traditional country clubs to very urban halls that all make your wedding day take on a certain aesthetic. It’s important that that aesthetic fits your personalities and relationship, so try to pay attention to what speaks to you.

2) Do you care what time of year your wedding is? Often barn weddings in the Midwest are closed during winter since they don’t often have heat and often certain places on university campuses are booked or closed during certain times of the year. You should definitely take that into consideration when booking before getting your heart set on a date/ season. NOTE that here in South Bend, Indiana up north we do NOT get fall leaves until often November and then they’re gone by the end of November. The snow (if you want it) here in South Bend is often not present in December anymore, but is often much more reliable in January or February, though not so much in March. The window for fall leaves and for snow has dramatically narrowed in the past 15 years and it’s been a sad thing for many couples who wanted fall leaves in early October and never got them at their wedding or wanted snow in December and never got it.

3) Are you on a budget? If you are, sometimes the do-it-yourself reception venues work well if you know how to plan things thriftily and cut certain things out, though they can actually cost more than those that have built-in catering, tables, linens, etc. if you aren’t careful. After renting tables, getting caterers, getting food, etc. at a do-it-yourself venue, your costs can really sky rocket if you don’t prioritize certain things.

4) Do you have a specific caterer in mind…? If so, MANY venues already have their set food service and do not allow outside catering, so wanting to bring in your own food or drink from other caterers will narrow your reception venue down significantly.

5) Are you having an intimate wedding or a full-on 100 to 300 person wedding…? Some venues are better for more intimate weddings while others can spaciously hold hundreds making your guests feel at ease rather than cramped. A venue that’s too big will feel a bit empty as well, so try to plan the size of your venue for the size of the guest list of folks you think will come.

6) Do you have a wedding planner…? If not, some of the higher end reception venues have Event Coordinators that will help you with an immense amount of details for your wedding from setting up your physical framed photos and memorabilia around the reception hall to contacting the DJ or musicians prior. These Event Coordinators also obviously have a lot of recommendations and referrals to give about the best in the business from florists to DJs to bakers. If you don’t have a wedding planner or day-of coordinator, try to designate one very responsible, timely, and tough family member or friend to keep things running smoothly before and on your wedding day. That person can be the go-to person for vendors to ask questions to so that you aren’t stressed on your wedding day.

7) Do you really want to tear down flowers, decorations, etc after your wedding or do you want the venue to take care of that…? If you want to DIY your entire wedding because you’re very organized or if you want to do it because you think it will save you money you may be able to ask family and other loved ones to help you get your things out of the hall that night exactly on time. Often guests are tired, a bit buzzed from alcohol, stressed, or just not looking at a clock and may not want to spend the night cleaning up trash and decor (or may forget to). If you can find a venue that will allow you or guests to clean up the next day/ morning after or BETTER YET will clean up for you, you may want to consider investing in that venue or service.

8) If planning for a destination wedding, have you asked an expert (wedding planner or event coordinator) about their opinion on certain venues that fit your style…? Often these experts know far more than your friends who live in those cities/ countries and can give you literally priceless advice on the best venues at your price point and aesthetic. Our couple getting married in Italy this year did this (got a wedding planner that’s in Italy since they themselves live in Germany and she recommended certain places to them) and found an amazing villa that they get for 4 days for they and their guests that the entire wedding will be at (AMAZING). Our Puerto Rico couple planned their entire wedding on their own (even getting a makeup artist in Puerto Rico booked prior) and absolutely killed it on their rehearsal dinner location, ceremony castle, reception venue, etc. They did say though that in hindsight (even though they went there to check places out prior) they sort of wish they would have gotten a wedding planner to coordinate it all since it can be so hard to coordinate from across the country or literally from another country while both of you work full time and have pets, a home, etc (language barriers, cultural norms to consider, insider expertise, etc).

9) Does the venue offer a payment plan, payments by card, etc.? Not all vendors offer payment plans or payment by card (though we do offer both and have for 4 of the past 10 years), so if you can’t pay your deposit or full amount all up front, you have to consider reception venues that offer flexibility and these important options.

10) Do you care which reception venue makes your family and friends the happiest? We personally think that YOU should be in charge of what is chosen for your wedding day, but often mom, dad, or others are helping pay for the wedding and do have some say in what type of venue they’ll pay for. Maybe you’re really artistic and your parents are extremely conservative or vice-versa? In those cases of big clashes in style preference, we’d recommend trying to meet in the middle and compromise on a venue that will make both of you and those contributing financially happy as well.

We hope that these tips on choosing a venue have been helpful to you! These questions are all important things to ask yourselves as the couple that the entire day is about, so hopefully these help in guiding you to your ideal reception location!

_________Unrelated: In just a day and a half we’ll be off photographing Lex & Jessica’s Palais Royale wedding here in South Bend! Their wedding is THIS Friday and we cannot wait to capture the entire thing so soon! Next Weekly Wednesday’s blog post (next week) will be about 150 to 200 edited Teaser photos that we’ll be choosing and editing all of the days leading up until Wednesday. Before then, though, we’ll also be partaking in the Morris Park Country Club Bridal Show THIS Sunday the 10th from 2 to 5 pm (daylight savings). If you know anyone who is engaged and planning on getting married in Chicago, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, etc. who’d like to meet with us or any other wedding vendors, send them our way-! We’re the only photographers who’ve been at this awesomely classy expo all 4 years in a row and we can’t say enough good things about it. Here’s the link to sign up and save on the small entry fee:

We hope to see you there-! Check back to the blog NEXT week for Teasers of Lex & Jessica’s beautiful Palais Royale wedding-!