How we chose our wedding ceremony and reception locations
Now that you’ve figured out what kind of atmosphere you and your groom want for your big day, plus how many guests you would like to invite (from when you talked about your guest list), it’s time to start narrowing down the venue for your wedding.
What city or country?
There are many articles out there giving advice on how to choose a wedding venue, but they seem to assume that you, your partner and all your family and friends are in the same town, and that you can immediately start drilling down to the discussion of art galleries vs conference venues vs ballrooms for your location. For some couples, you might before that need to decide on which city, which state, or even which country (as was the case for the Reflective Groom and me). If that doesn’t describe you, feel free to skip ahead and leave us difficult-locale brides to talk amongst ourselves. 🙂
For me and my fiancé, the first decision to make was the country in which to hold the wedding: the country we live in now (where my fiancé is from), or the country I am from – where these countries happen to be in opposite corners of the globe. Before we got engaged, our plan had been to hold a full wedding in both locations… but as so many friends and family seemed excited at the prospect of going to a wedding in my country, my fiancé suggested we hold it only there.
Other than the aforementioned guest-travel-lust, there were two reasons for choose a trip to my country. Firstly, my parents are rather elderly, with my father having an ongoing illness that requires occasional hospitalization, and my mother suffering arthritis and a back problem that leaves her unable to sit for long periods (eg, on transcontinental flights). The Reflective Groom’s parents, however, are spring chickens who love to travel. Secondly, as we live in my fiancé’s country and his family and friends are more involved in our everyday lives, it seemed only fair that we celebrate a big occasion like this in my country, so that my loved ones don’t feel left out. (We did consider what many inter-state couples do and meeting halfway… but for us that would have been Sri Lanka, so didn’t seem like the easiest choice!)
Once we settled on my country as the wedding location, the next question was what city. There were really two choices here: my hometown, or the state capital two hours from that (where I had gone to college, worked and lived for my last seven years in the country). I had my heart set on the capital, because that’s where most guests live, and also because there’s a bigger choice of venues and wedding suppliers. However, my fiancé had mostly only visited my hometown when he came to my country, and as he had spent very little time in the capital he didn’t feel any emotional connection to that city. My hometown it is then!
Choosing the ceremony venue
Neither my fiancé nor I are religious, so it seemed inappropriate to marry in a church. We briefly considered parks, but – coming from a beach city – it seemed only fitting that we marry by the beach, and that this would be quite a treat for all of our out-of-town guests. My hometown has particular areas allocated for beachside ceremonies, so we visited each one to see how many guests they would fit, how visible they might be to passing rubberneckers, the view, and how many trees would be in the way of our aisle and chairs. We picked a favorite among them, but decided to remain open to any ceremony sites our final reception venue might be able to offer us.
Choosing the reception venue
I began the search process pretty much by digging through every online wedding directory for venue options in my hometown (including restaurants, golf clubs, resorts and conference centers), scouring their websites and contacting them via email. I didn’t know of any art galleries or rustic barns, and those venues wouldn’t suit our personalities anyway. My initial email to all these venues asked for their availability in the timeframe we’re considering, capacities, menus and costs. This of course ruled out a large number of places. One resort was eliminated because it demanded we book a minimum of 50 rooms in the hotel. (Bizarre considering we told them we might have 50-100 guests total.) For those brave challengers that remained in the running, they were asked about exclusive use, parking availability, closing times (we want the party to go on as long as possible!) and the possibility of holding the ceremony (or rainy-weather back-up ceremony) on-site or nearby.
From this, we narrowed the list down to five that we would see in person on our next trip home to my country: two restaurants, one golf club and two resorts. I wasn’t super keen on the golf club idea (it seems a strange choice when you don’t like golf), and the resorts had the added advantage of being able to accommodate all of our out-of-town guests. We visited them in person armed with a list of questions, including ease of access, the number and cleanliness of toilets (yeah, seriously), location of dancefloor, how involved their function manager would be in wedding planning, and of course noting our overall impression of the place (and whether guests will feel wowed when they arrive at our wedding venue).
The two restaurants were ruled out pretty quickly: the restaurant managers would not do any wedding tasks beyond organizing food and beverage, like giving supplier recommendation, and their dancefloors were awkwardly around corners and away from the action. The two resorts were fantastic. (If you’re considering a resort, ask also to see their hotel rooms, so you know what your guests can expect.) I preferred one resort over the other because its reception room and under-cover ceremony options were nicer; however, my fiancé very wisely pointed out that this resort is in the middle of nowhere, and guests would have to drive a little to get to the nearest shop or restaurant. The other resort was located close to main street (and all its shopping and culinary delights) and walking distance to the beach, in another plus for our overseas guests.
I had some concerns about that venue, so we went back a second time to ask the function manager about them, including entry, how to decorate the windowless room and where to host the pre-reception cocktail hour. In the end we did pick that venue because of the central location, the jaw-dropping hotel rooms, and because the function manager was a former wedding planner who said she could do “everything” for us on that side. We chose them quickly, and decided not to even go see the golf club option. Once this location was locked in, we settled on the beach location for the ceremony.
Now that we’re getting clo- ser to the wedding day, I’m still very happy with our venue choices, but have a few niggling worries. Our wedding date ended up being in the middle of a long weekend and school holidays, which has conse- quences for our beachside ceremony. There could be traffic by the beach and little to no parking avail- able (which led to us renting a mini-bus and that extra cost), and as the site has no specific street address it could be a little difficult to find. This means that guests could arrive late, or – worst of all – that the groom and I could. Also, being wedding peak season with so many other ceremony sites nearby, guests might wander into the wrong wedding or music/microphone sound from other nuptials might travel through to ours. Lastly, with so many holiday tourists, there could be a high number of beach-goers peeking into our ceremony or needing to be photoshopped out of the background of our (rather expensive photos).
For the reception location, we are still happy with our choice. As there are not many big events in my hometown, our reception site is used for both weddings and conferences, so is rather bland in its style. I find myself feeling jealous of pictures of grand, ornate ballrooms that I see in all the wedding magazines, but there are none in my hometown. I am also desperately hoping that there is no rain, as our Plan B ceremony option is really nowhere near as awesome as our beach location.
I’m very glad we decided to hold only one wedding instead of two. I don’t think I could handle the stress of doing this twice, and the expenses would have got out of control. It’s also much better for atmosphere and the party spirit to have one big party rather than two quite small ones.
You’ve read how we decided on the venue… now see how it turned out! Read “After: The Venue”.
How did you go about your search for the perfect wedding ceremony and reception locations? What were the criteria and how did you feel about your decision afterwards? For those still looking, best of luck with the search!