May Edition 22, Real Bride, Wedding Advice
Planning a wedding. Part 2: How to choose a venue.
Hello, I am Georgie, the founder of Gigi & Olive and lover of weddings, gifts and parties! In August 2021, I got engaged to my wonderful boyfriend of 5 years, and now I am planning my own wedding for summer 2022. It's been a very busy few months, and I have learned a considerable amount. It's been so exciting but also very time-consuming planning everything, and although I have loved it, I think there are definitely some time hacks I can share! I hope these blog posts help anyone planning a wedding in some way.
If you haven't read my first post, I would suggest starting with The Budget, as it's the first thing I would advise agreeing with your partner. After that, working out your budget will dictate everything else. Once that is clear, you can move on to the very exciting task of choosing your perfect wedding venue.
Part 2 - The Venue
Choosing where you get married is a major decision and such an exciting one! It also allows you to then set the date. Making these two decisions takes you out of limbo and into the following stages of your wedding planning, which means moving along with your next round of decisions, such as invitations, guest lists, suppliers, order of service and wedding attire!
So how to choose a venue? You need to start by narrowing it down; you can do this by answering some key questions that are important to you, for example:
Do we want to get married in the UK or abroad?
Where do you envision your day? Outdoors, in a church, by the beach?
Is there somewhere special that means something to you both?
How many guests would you like to invite?
Once you've answered some of these, you can begin your hunt. I would then start by shortlisting your favourite venues and making a list of your non-negotiables. For example, music is really important to my fiancé, and many venues we initially looked at said we couldn't have live music past 11pm. That definitely didn't work for us. However, you may have something different you want to prioritise; whatever it is, make sure you ask those questions at the beginning. Then check your budget against your favourite venues, and ask about the venue availability. (If you're also flexible on having a mid-week wedding, do also ask if there is a price variation, there often is.) Be open-minded about the dates that will work for you, don't just choose one weekend that works! We decided we wanted to get married in the UK, but when we started searching, it was challenging because we were competing with all the couples who sadly had to postpone their weddings 2 or 3 times due to covid. As long as it was in a month that suited us both with work and gave us enough time to plan, we went and viewed the venue.
Of course, you will have far more freedom with dates if you have your wedding in a private home/family house. If you have a lovely family member willing to host you in the garden, it's a decisive win! However, this might not be right for you, or you may not have this option.
The difficulty I had was that I could be a little indecisive, and I kept getting stuck, not wanting to make the wrong decision; that also comes with being a people pleaser! So I took it back to basics and wrote down a list of pros and cons for various choices I had to make. So, I've put what I learned in this blog post, some of them might not be right for you, but I hope it will be beneficial to someone.
Marquee vs Venue
Renting a venue and paying for a big marquee can be hugely expensive. It is far more cost-effective to hire a marquee in someone's garden (someone you aren't paying) or rent a venue where you don't need an additional marquee. This would mean the venue has a marquee already there or an orangery, ballroom, and large space on site that has enough space to seat all your guests. This also needs to be an indoor space that protects you from bad weather and is large enough to have a band/DJ if you want to dance.
A positive of a wedding venue is that often they come with a co-ordinator or planner on-site, someone who knows the space and can help you on your day. They are also used to doing events/weddings and hopefully be clear about what works and what doesn't. But sometimes, it can be limiting what you can do, and you may feel you have to work with all their recommended suppliers, who you may or may not love.
If you go for a marquee, you also need to consider the additional costs of renting a prominent structure, such as flooring, lighting, production, and even heating if it's cold. They also take some time to assemble, and there are many moving parts, so make sure you have enough time on either side of your day for the company to build the marquee and take it down.
Alternatively, I found less costly marquee structures, such as a stretch marquee or pole tent, which protect against bad weather, but they aren't quite the full-on infrastructure that some marquees are. This is very dependent on the time of year you are marrying and the weather. The company I liked the best and am working with are called Sail & Peg. My sister got married at Christmas a few years ago and used this company LPM Bohemia, but she needed to invest in the heating as it was freezing; however, what made them unique is they created a beautiful wallpaper backdrop.
Restaurant or Hotel vs Blank Canvas
A common misconception is that renting a barn or empty space and doing what you want inside is cheaper than going to a restaurant or hotel. What I have learnt about totally empty spaces is you need to fill them! That includes all the furniture, a bar, curtly, flowers, lighting, the flooring and then you have the caterers waiting for staff and so on top. Those costs can really add up, especially if you want live music and have to hire all the production, such as sound and lighting. However, of course, this option does give you the freedom to do whatever you like and work with the suppliers you love. So if you are creative and want to organise every detail, this can work very well.
Hiring a restaurant or hotel has many benefits; the people working there, hopefully, know what they are doing, you're often not paying for additional staffing, and you're not having to hire crockery, cutlery and glassware. Also, if you choose a wedding venue that requires the guests to travel to a location for the weekend, a hotel can be a lovely option as people can then stay on site. It also takes the stress of having to move everyone around. Equally, if you're having a smaller wedding (under 100 people), many beautiful restaurants would host weddings. Things to consider are the spacing, menu offering, their licensing hours, capacity issues, and a drinks premium (always ask if there is a corkage fee), but most importantly, do you love the ambience and the food! Choosing a restaurant or hotel means you can't bring in your own team, so you have to love what they do, which can be a huge win or a central sticking point.
Outdoor vs indoor
Many people want to get married outdoors, and if you find the perfect place to do it, why wouldn't you? In the UK, you can't legally get married just anywhere. There are restrictions, and you need to choose a licensed venue with a licensed officiant. We learnt this only after we had chosen our venue! It's pretty crucial information to get clear before settling on a venue. You can, of course, get legally married somewhere before/after your outdoor ceremony, but the legal part won't be outside. If you could find a venue with a licensed room and book a registrar to come there and sign the legal paperwork after that could also work, it just depends on what's important to you.
You also need to think about dressing for an outdoor venue. Do you need additional flowers or styling? Will you need to hire extra chairs or benches? If you think you can borrow seating from the dinner set-up, who will carry those in and out? Will you want music? If yes, you may need some sort of amplification? Where's the power going to come from? However, if you can sort all these questions, it will probably be worth the magic; it's just things to consider.
It's also easy to see a beautiful venue on a lovely sunny day and love the gardens but in the UK, choosing a venue that has a great indoor plan if the outdoor plan can't happen is pretty key. You need your wet weather plan to be a plan B that you also are pleased with. It also can rain wherever you are in the world, so I would advise wherever you go, even in the hottest places, to be happy with the indoor option and not to book somewhere solely on the outdoor part of the venue, if you are someone who is going to get upset that it rains. If you simply don't care and know you will have a fantastic time regardless, plough on!
Benefits of having a unique indoor space; you don't have to think for a second about the weather, people are warm and not complaining about being cold/hot, and the least amount of spaces you use, the cheaper your overall event will be. If you get married in x, dinner in y, or dancing in z, you may need 3 production quotes, 3 bathroom facilities, and 3 sets of styling / floral. One great indoor space can be a fanatic way to focus your budget and make something extraordinary that doesn't involve doing a rain dance every week.
Religious vs Registry Office
This is incredibly personal. If you want a religious wedding, make sure you are clued up on the place of worships requirements for you to get married there. It's also another moving part date-wise, and you need to make sure that both sites have the same availability. When looking at local churches to our venue, we found that because neither of us lived there or had any family connection to the parish, they required us to attend their Sunday prayer 6-8 times leading up to the wedding. Obviously, this may not be possible for everyone; it may be inconvenient or impractical or expensive: for example, if you're driving miles away and the service is very early, you may have to stay the night. However, perhaps any inconvenience is outweighed by the beautiful service and special union, or maybe it's not difficult for you to marry locally. I would simply advise reading up on this before choosing your wedding venue. Think about both service and reception, rather than just the party!
Wedding registries shot up in 2021 as couples were tired of waiting for a postponed day and wanted to legally tie the knot. It's often a smaller affair, personal, close-knit and less overwhelming than a huge event. It's also become a popular choice for many people to do the legal part before their big day, especially if you fall in love with a venue but can't legally marry there, such as UK residents planning weddings abroad. This is why a lot of people do it twice.
UK vs Abroad
I love both! Ultimately, we decided on the UK because we chose our venue a month after being engaged in September 2021. At the time, travelling still felt very Covid restrictive and even when we left France in August, where we got engaged, the UK was moving France to an Amber Plus list. So we felt we didn't want to risk it; however, as everyone can see in the past year, things have changed, so don't let Covid stop you from booking your dream abroad venue. However, I would definitely advise making sure you're happy with whatever their Covid cancellation policy is so that you're protected. Same for the UK, too, of course.
Destination weddings have an extra spark of excitement. Family and guests often make holidays out of the celebrations. There's a real sense of camaraderie as people get on a plane together or book the same accommodation; there's such a sense of occasion. Also, the chances with the weather are better than in the UK, so if you really do envisage your wedding in the heat, your best bet is abroad.
It also depends on your guest list; is everyone up for travelling, do you have lots of older people who don't want to get on a flight, do you have lots of friends with young children but you don't want kids at your wedding, do you mind if you have a drop off on guestlist if you book somewhere far from home? These are all questions for you and your partner to chat through and work out what's important to you.
The UK is a hub of incredible venues and suppliers; there is someone for everyone and amazingly talented people that will bring your vision to life. I will say that I hadn't quite realised that all UK suppliers add VAT to the final cost, which of course makes sense as they are registered businesses, but if you're paying for your wedding personally, you need to pay +20% to every quote, which can eat into the budget. However, I think the UK wedding suppliers have so much experience, resilience and creativity, and I'm thrilled to be having it here. Also, simple things such as speaking the same language as your key suppliers are essential; I'm not sure negotiating in French on flowers would not have been my forte.
Ultimately we chose a UK venue because we fell in love with the one we decided on; it's beautiful, we can party till late and have friends staying on-site. Although I prefer the outdoor plan, I'm also happy with the indoor one, and the Covid cancellation policy was a 100% refund or moving of the date. I've also thoroughly enjoyed driving there, having site visits easily, and meeting the lovely people who work there and will be part of our day. Those are huge positives for us. We are getting married at Wilderness Reserve, and I highly recommend it.
Next blog on guestlist & seating plan…