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Wedding Wednesday: Picking a location and contracting a venue

I feel like I’ve got wedding fever lately.  I have been knocking things off my to-do list left and right and I’m feeling pretty confident I’ll get the rest done as stress-free as possible.  I’ve been thinking about whether or not I’d do anything different and in the big picture, there really isn’t.

Ryan and I are to the point where we are dealing with numbers, and totals, and what is due when and I think we were both pleasantly surprised when we found that what we have left to pay is what we have budgeted for.  If we have no hiccups or surprises, the wedding will be paid off in full by the day of–and that even allowed us to splurge on things we didn’t think we’d be able to or otherwise wouldn’t have considered.  That is sort-of why I thought I’d share on Wednesdays my experiences…because I’ve learned a lot, and we’ve done a good job planning and budgeting.  Too often you hear stories about people paying off their wedding for years afterward, and who wants to enter a marriage with that on their mind?  For us, that wasn’t an option.  I have student loans rolling off and we’d rather not accrue any debt.

While the day is important, and you should let yourself splurge on a few things that you’ve always dreamed of, you need to stay in the moment and be realistic.  In the end the day is about the two of you, and sharing the day with your friends and family.  Not the decor, the food, the drinks, the location.  20 years from now, you will look back and remember the interactions you had, not the flowers you picked or the color of the linens.

If you are like me, you have a whole picture of the day and sort-of an image you want to present, but a budget you want to keep.  So you have to order your priorities.  For me, it was attracting people to come.

I live in Wisconsin as does the majority my fiance’s family and friends.  MY family is all over the country.  When we decided our number one priority was having as many family and friends surrounding us as possible, we thought it made the most sense to stay in Wisconsin.  “But who wants to come to Wisconsin?”  Ryan and I made the decision to have our wedding in a touristy area of the state, in a family friendly/fun well rounded resort.  Our goal; present people with an opportunity to vacation.

So when picking a location, first think about your goal.  What is the bigger picture you want to present to your guests.  Do you care about ambiance? Attendance? Food? Tradition?

Once you pick your location, shop around.  Don’t settle for a venue.  When we went looking at resorts in Wisconsin Dells to have our wedding, I had been told that the one we ended up choosing had a hideous red room and was rather pricey–so we looked at that last, because in my mind it was “out”.  It turned out, I didn’t like any of the first three that we looked at–I wasn’t getting that feeling I wanted, I couldn’t envision my ideas, I just wasn’t thrilled.  I started thinking we were nuts for considering a water-parkish location.  The last stop of the day was the Wilderness Resort.  The second I walked in there, I didn’t notice the red walls, I didn’t notice the antler chandeliers (which I actually love), I just felt the vibe of being where I wanted to be!  We chose this place over the rest, because while is was a little more expensive than the others might be–it was the experience we wanted, and we knew we could sacrifice other less important things.

However, before you agree to a venue, it is imperative that you talk prices. Every place is different and this is the most important step in defining your day (in my opinion).  Things you need to know before you sign a venue contract:

  • Is my date available/what are the open dates?
  • Is there a venue rental fee, separate from that included in any other service provided?
  • What do you need to pay/do to reserve the room?
  • Will the book a bigger party over yours? (YES! This really happens, its about the dollar baby!)
  • What is the average plate price? Do they host buffet?
  • Can you bring your own cake in? Do they cut the cake?
  • Can you cater (if you want to)?  Some places will not allow any sort of food or drink from outside sources.
  • What is the service fee?  What do you pay service fees on? I would dare to say this is the biggest overlooked thing.  Some places include that into their prices, sometimes along with the venue rental.  At some venues, you will see $100-$200 plates.  That is usually because all fees are included in the plate tally.  Whereas a place that has a $35 plate will have a venue rental fee, a service charge, tax, and possibly various other fees you need to ask about.
  • What linens will they provide?
  • If you are hosting your ceremony at the same location will they have chairs?
  • What set up/tear down services do they offer?
  • Do they have a wedding coordinator, or someone who will be able to answer your questions.  I strongly recommend picking a place where you talk to the same person throughout your planning experience.  If you don’t it may be a good idea to have a wedding planner of your own.
  • Are there any special “rules” pertaining to outside vendors? ie. DJ  Some venues will only allow “pre-approved” contracts.
  • Ask for a bottom line cost.  Give a hypothetical, “If I have 175 people, and I choose a $25 plate, what would you expect my costs to be?”

Once you get your questions answered, weigh out the pros and cons.  For example, we chose a more expensive venue, therefore we would have to be cost-conscious on the details.  This was okay for us, we decided to DIY almost everything else.  This saved tremendously in cost.  We also planned for a 2 year engagement to allow us to plan slowly and pay as we go.  But if you are dead set on having beautiful floral centerpieces, you might need to go with a more budget friendly venue that lets  your centerpieces be the star!  It’s all about give and take.

Once you pick a venue and enter a contract, form a relationship with them.  Let them know who you are, and what your expectations are.  Spell everything out for them and expect the same in return.  This way, there are no surprises when the time starts to crunch!

Now all the fun begins!!  You get to start adding on the things that make your day what you want it to be!

Happy planning, check back next week for another edition of Wedding Wednesday!

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