A couple of weeks ago, my boss got back from helping execute The Wedding That Shall Not Be Named for her sister. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and much of it couldn’t even have been predicted (wildfire smoke from Canada blocking the gorgeous view of the mountains at your ceremony site?!). I think that both she and I had the exact same thought about our own upcoming weddings when she finished filling me in on the details.
1. The more you have to plan for, the greater the opportunity for something to go wrong.
See, Mr Never Cooks & I wanted to do an outdoor ceremony because we’ve both fallen in love with the Pacific Northwest. BUT, his busy season at work is smack dab in the middle of the only even remotely non-rainy months of the year in Portland.
We (okay my sister and I) spent a fine evening on a hotel room floor with a bottle of wine looking at venues online. This might have also included occasionally picking up a crawling baby and positioning her to shuffle right on back out of the bedroom a handful of times, but we made it work.
We used The Knot to sort through venues at first, and I drew up a list of promising locations. My process for picking places became immediately clear, too.
2. It’s infinitely easier to figure out what you DON’T want than it is to decide on what you DO want.
What we were really looking for was an indoor/outdoor venue that would let us make the call on the day of the wedding to either set up indoors or outside if the weather permitted. When it came to specifics though, what we didn’t want was an overly-manicured grassy lawn, a theme that we didn’t want to have to stick to (like a Victorian house), or a location far away from the city.
Fast forward to our first venue visit. We drive up to the lot and realize…we had somehow accidentally picked a golf resort. Many people love getting married in those settings, and I’ve been in a wedding that worked beautifully in a spot like this one! It’s just that with how much Mr Never Cooks loves local plants and hates unnatural sod, it just wasn’t for us.
3. Don’t be afraid to scrap your original search and start over.
The sunk-cost fallacy is real and it’s a beast that needs to be tamed time and again with such a huge project. Sometimes the best option is to start with a new resource, a fresh list, and an open mind. And maybe a better filter function.
With that in mind, I sat down and went through venues at Here Comes the Guide, which felt much more cozy and promising. One thing that’s fairly common is for venues to not list terribly exact prices for all things on their websites, so having a form email ready to go to get more information makes your life infinitely easier.
Big costs tend to include seasonal and time-dependent venue prices (both ceremony and reception sites), catering minimums (both food and alcohol), and required gratuity. Get a feel for whether the site is á la carte style or more all-inclusive (tables and chairs, linens, set-up and take-down, etc.).
4. Know your big 3 requirements and stay flexible about the rest.
There’s this sweet spot between not knowing what you want and being too picky, and you’re going to need to find it. Some things are concrete, like knowing you want a particular view, and others are intangible, like having a low-stress wedding. If you prematurely make decisions about venue qualities that you don’t actually care that much about, you’re going to back yourself into an unnecessary (and potentially expensive) corner. On the flip side, if you don’t have ANY idea about what you want you’ll be spreading yourself too thin trying to decide between options.
Here were my top 3 wedding venue non-negotiables:
- Handicap accessible. After my Mom’s stroke last year, there’s no way I could ask her to trek out to the woods or up and down stairs a ton just to go to the restroom.
- Great food & alcohol. I wanted my wedding to be a fun group event first and foremost. I’d sacrifice most things to make sure people are fed well and happy.
- Weather-independent. I live in Portland, and I don’t feel like hovering over my forecast app for the weeks, hours and minutes leading up to the wedding.
And here were the surprising wedding details we didn’t care about:
- Date and time. We decided to be flexible where we could on the date, season and time of day.
- Ceremony Site. Sure, I liked the idea of having the ceremony separate from the reception, but I didn’t really care enough to rule venues out.
- Privacy. You definitely need to be willing to pay more for a venue that allows you complete privacy on the entire premises on your big day.
Once we figured those things out, things went so much more smoothly. I looked at a few other golf resorts even, and they just didn’t fit our top 3 list very well. Scrapped. There were some beautiful ballroom-style spaces in the heart of downtown that would be weather-independent but they failed on one of the other requirements. All of this was easily figured out online and didn’t require me to make any site visits or expend extra time or energy unnecessarily.
5. Sometimes the perfect place will be unexpectedly right in front of you.
A quirky local set of breweries, restaurants and historic hotels called McMenamin’s populate some of the most unexpected corners of Oregon. A converted school-to-concert-hall has hosted a few of my favorite podcasts live, a ballroom with a flexible floor boasts a huge 80’s dance party most Friday nights, and the art of dinner and a movie was perfected with their old theaters.
I literally looked at and discarded the idea of this venue a half dozen times before I realized I had no good reason to overlook it. It’s a strange impulse, to want your wedding to be so unique that you’ll pass on places you’re familiar with.
We visited one Sunday afternoon and fell in love with it. I’m an eminently practical person who never expected to feel that zing with inanimate objects for a wedding (like a dress, or a room). This place just felt comfortable, inviting and most importantly it checked all 3 of our boxes perfectly.
6. Don’t overthink your decision if you don’t need to.
Great reasons to wait on securing a venue:
- You’re unsure of the number of guests
- The budget hasn’t been finalized for how much can be spent
- There are questions about what date will work best for important people in your wedding
A bad reason to wait to grab your venue? The annoying and unhelpful voice in your head that says ‘what if something better comes along?’ There’s a difference between YOUR PERFECT venue and THE PERFECT venue, and that would be that the second one doesn’t exist. Know yourself well enough to recognize that you’re dragging your feet while waiting for something that will never happen. I’m a firm believer in the fact that lowering your standards for happiness is the fast way to actual happiness.
7. Choose happiness over everything else.
Okay, except a healthy budget, but I think that sticking to what you can afford is a good way to stay happy as well. And if you find yourself getting overwhelmed and frustrated, take a step back and remember that if you’re not enjoying the process as-is, you can always change your approach. There will be plenty of things to stress about later. 🙂