Finding Your Wedding Venue: 12 Questions You Should Ask + My Experience

Venue shopping.  Probably the biggest "to-do" on your list once you set a date.  And trust me, it doesn't come easy.  In fact, it was because I called and visited so many venues in my planning process that I started this blog.  Call after call, visit after visit, it became clear that there needs to be a simpler way to do this.  And that someone needed to share what they learned along the way to help other brides.

As I've mentioned before, I wasn't like most girls when it came to wedding plans.  I didn't have this big idea or dream wedding envisioned in my head.  Sure, I loved watching Say Yes to the Dress, but when it came to what I envisioned my wedding to look like- or where it would be at- I never gave it much thought.  When my FI and I started this wedding planning journey just after we moved here, I actually even thought I'd probably have my wedding up in Chicago, where I was born and raised, and where most of my extended family still resides.  Thankfully, my smart (and southern loving) Father brought me to my senses, reminding me of what a unique city New Orleans is and I how would be missing out on some serious fun.  (And boy, was he right. Thanks Dad. :))

Needless to say, I was starting from square one when it came to venues. BUT, I did have a few non-negotiables that I wanted, so I figured I'd start there.  First of all, I wanted an October wedding.  The best month of the year, hands down, and as it turns out the most popular month in NOLA because of the amazing weather!  Second of all, and probably most important, I wanted my dog (now plural) to be my ring bearer.  This was absolutely not something I was willing to forego, so I knew that I would probably be ruling out a lot of nice venues; but that was just a risk I was willing to take.  Third of all, I wanted to Second Line in between my ceremony and reception.  Some people do it after the reception- or even at the reception- and to each her own, but I knew that if I was Second Lining, I wanted it to be just after saying those vows, and on our way to starting the party of our lives.  Lastly, I wanted to do all of this at a reasonable price.  I've said it once, I'll say it again, I don't believe in going in to debt for you wedding.  And as a girl who is a little farther along in her 20's than she'd like to admit, I'm allllllll about saving up some green.  To me, after the wedding and the fun party, you are left with creating a beautiful life together.  I personally want to spend my/our money on having fun together- traveling, buying a house, and building our future.  Don't get me wrong- I am so in love with weddings, and if I had a Kim K. bankroll, I'd definitely splurge a bit more.  But I think that spending more than your comfortably able to afford, and causing you to have massive payments that accrue interest overtime is just silly. 

That's. Just. Me. *Steps off soapbox.*

Tips for Finding a wedding venue

If you have your heart set on a busy wedding month, be prepared to starting thinking of finding a venue as a race.  If you start your search later- rather than sooner- 9 times out of 10, most of the Fridays and Saturdays in the month will be booked.   Don't panic just yet, but be ready to decide at a quicker pace than normal.  And be ready to settle for a Sunday (which is still a great day for a wedding) instead of a Friday or a Saturday.  {Bonus: Sunday's are usually less expensive than Friday or Saturday!}

So, where do you start when shopping for a venue?

First, finding venues is hard because, most of them don't disclose much about their pricing or packages outright.  You will have to call or email most of them to find out any information.  I personally prefer emailing because it allows me to say what I'm looking for and the date I desire, and for them to respond with their availability and packaging.  No hassle, and you can don't have to carve out time to make a phone call.  I also like doing this because, if I see their packaging is out of my budget, that they aren't available for my date, or that they won't take my dog, I can just move on. 

Anddd, in case you didn't read my post about your most important "to-do" before venue shopping, here's a brief synopsis:

Have a guest count

Keep in mind that this doesn't have to be the final guest count, but you absolutely cannot go venue shopping without having a round about idea of how many guests you will have.  If you fall in love with a cute, historic, French Quarter venue that comfortably fits 150 people, your guest list of 250 is going to have decrease considerably. 

Also, look for venues that are close to where you want to have your festivities and that are within proximity to your hotel blocks.  Sure, some brides do have their ceremonies in the French Quarter and then have the receptions somewhere outside, like Southport Music Hall.  This is all fine and dandy, but then you have to consider transportation for your guests, proximity to your hotel, and timing; not to mention how you would work your Second Line out! 

Questions to Ask Your wedding venue:

1).  Are they available for your date?

Seriously!  This happened to me a few times!  I would find a venue that I liked, it seemed to have my must haves, and I would call and start chatting with the representative.  We both would get so carried away in chatting, that it would be 3-4 minutes into the convo before either one of us would remember to bring up the date (yes, I like to talk...a lot).  Then, I would sadly find out that either that date wasn't available- or that the courtyard was going to be closed for renovations (happened with two venues!).  It seems simple enough, but the excitement of finding the amenities that you need for your wedding might supersede your initiative of asking that question.  Beat it to the punch by asking this early in your inquiry.

2).  What size guest count do they accommodate?

This is where the 'have a preliminary guest list rough draft advice' comes into play.  Before you even start calling venues, you should have that number in mind because they WILL ask!  When we first started planning our wedding, we thought we wanted to have a fairly intimate affair- maybe 50 people or so.  (Yeah, that lasted for about a minute.)  However, every time we'd discuss the guest list, one of us would remember someone else that we had forgotten to add.  During our search, our go to response was something like, "Um...well, probably between 50-100...or so...um...give or take...er...we're still trying to figure it out." (Insert sheepish grin...)  And we definitely got side-eyed a few times for it.  In the scheme of things, not knowing the exact amount isn't a death sentence this early on, but in order to venue shop, you really need to have at least an outline to base your search on.  Know how many people your venue can accommodate (comfortably- beware the canned sardines situation), and always be sure to include your vendors in that guest count.  {Yes, you most definitely should feed your photographer, DJ, etc. at the wedding.}

3).  Do you have any special requests or requirements- like a pet friendly or wheelchair accessible venue?  When and where am I allowed to Second Line? (In the Quarter, these are not far-fetched questions to ask.)

Confession: My wedding venue isn't wheelchair accessible.  I mean, the building itself was built in 1830!  While that totally adds to it's charm, it doesn't help those in need of some accommodations.  Thankfully, that hasn't posed a problem with our guest list, but it's important you make absolutely sure this won't be an issue when booking your venue.  And, as I've talked about before, my main requirement for the wedding was to have my dog (now plural) as my ring bearer.  Thus, finding a venue that would accommodate that was somewhat an issue- though not impossible (I received more positive replies than I would have guessed!).  And if you're like most NOLA brides, you'll definitely be planning on a Second Line.  Make sure your venue doesn't have any stipulations on when the Second Line can start, or if the Second Line can take place inside the venue in case of bad weather.  Whatever your special dream is- pets, circus big top, petting zoo, etc.- make sure your venue will accommodate that up front, before going any further into your search.  And absolutely do not forget to get it in writing (especially the pet-friendly part)!

Looking to have your precious furbaby as a part of your special day?  Be sure to confirm that your venue allows this- and GET IT IN WRITING!

4).  What is their general budget?  Is there a difference in price for different days of the week?

Get an understanding of their prices, and decide first and foremost if they are within your budget.  It never hurts to ask if there are any price differences among different days of the week, especially if you're on a tight budget.  Thursday weddings are totally not unheard of!  And super unique if you want to give your guests a nice, long weekend!  Also, don't forget to add in the tax and service charges, which are usually around 9.75% and 20% (respectively) in NOLA.

5a). Do they have inclusive packaging, or is it BYO vendors/rentals/etc.?

This is where you should decide what you're looking for in a venue.  Do you want the freedom to bring your favorite caterer?  Or maybe your friend owns a bar and can get you mad discounts on your booze?  Or, maybeeee you don't want to have to think about renting tables and chairs, and would just like everything pretty much "done" for the most part?  Know where you stand on this so you can make the best decision.  Take a look at my review on the Irish Cultural Museum for a more inclusive venue option, or consider looking into the Pharmacy Museum for an a la carte alternative.  But, keep in mind, many venues will work with you on a few things, like bringing in an outside caterer instead of using the in-house chef, though it will come at a price.

5b).  If the venue doesn't include vendors (caterers, beverage, etc), do they have a list of preferred vendors?  Are you required to use them, or is the list more like a guideline?

Make 110% positive that you can use the vendors you've got your heart set on!  Don't settle on a venue, then find that your favorite bakery can't be used because of contractual issues.  There are a fair amount of venues in NOLA that have preferred vendors.  When scanning the list, I usually saw vendors that I was (vaguely) familiar with, or that I heard were very popular via other brides.  More times than not, you'll probably be in good hands as far as preferred vendors go.  But do yourself a favor and ask if you can switch some out, if need be.  The last thing you want is to clash with a "preferred" vendor contract that you can't get out of.

6). Is their package based in hours?  If so, how many hours is included in the package?  And how late can the party go on?

Most venue packages in NOLA are based on an hourly rental, meaning your pricing is usually set to a 3 to 4 hour package.  Be sure to find out just how many hours are included in your rental, and if you are allowed to add hours and at what price.  Many venues will allow you to extend the party an extra hour for a minimal fee.  It's also important to know what the cut-off time is for closing.  If the venue only allows you usage until 10:00 p.m., but you envision your party going on into the early morning hours, you may want to look into another venue. 

7). Do they have a rental fee on top of their package fee, or is it included?

For me, once I found a few venues that were almost "all-encompassing" with their packages, it was pretty hard for me to go back and look at venues that required you to bring all outside vendors- or a la carte.  I also was very leery of passing up a great, pet friendly venue, while I shopped around a little more, only to return to find that my date had been snatched up.  Believe you me, dates in October go FAST, and I had a few venues tell me that someone had already inquired on my date before I'd even made the first phone call!  That being said, don't be surprised to see a rental fee of $2000 or more for a Friday or Saturday wedding (this will be on top of food, beverage, staff, tax, gratuity, and more).  Be sure to work that fee into the pricing when figuring out if the venue meshes with your budget.

8). How many weddings will be taking place on the date?

Super important if you don't want to be sharing a venue with another bride.  Having a hard time understanding how two weddings would take place at once?  Think of Bride Wars with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway.  If you've got a big enough venue, there shouldn't be too much of an issue.  But, you should consider if there would be any confusion for the guests, or any overlapping if you share the same space, but at different times.  For example, if one wedding runs later than planned, that can cause a delay for the start of the second wedding.  If your wedding and another wedding will take place at the same time, ask the venue some basic questions like: "Are there enough bathrooms for everyone?""How much interaction between your wedding and the other will occur?""Will it effect the timeline of my wedding?" and "Does it get loud?" 

9). If you are looking to perform your ceremony and reception in the same venue, do they accommodate? 

If you're not planning on being wed in a religious institution, you might consider having your ceremony at the same site as your reception.  This not only makes the day infinitely easier on you, but your guests as well.  Many of the venues in NOLA accommodate this request and have it outlined in their packages.  If this is an avenue you're thinking about taking, make sure to mention it when you first contact the venue.  That way, they can walk you through the usual timeline/events of the day when you come for a site visit.  My favorite part of the walk-through was usually when they showed me how they flipped the room and where I would be getting ready at/hiding after the guests arrived for the ceremony.  And, if you're venue doesn't accommodate the ceremony, but you are in LOVE with it as a reception site, ask the venue rep for recommendations of nearby ceremony locations.  You'll find that NOLA vendors are an absolute wealth of information!

If you're looking to have your ceremony and reception in the same venue, find out if and how the venue manages this request.

10). Is it close to where your hotel blocks are?  Are you comfortable paying for transportation, if it isn't?

Yes, this needs to be considered, especially if you are on a tight budget.  Maybe this is just me, but I really dislike being a wedding guest and having to drive a long distance to get to the venue.  I mean, having the ceremony in a different area is one thing, but the reception should be close to the hotels for your guests' convenience.  Especially if you're having an open bar (which is just classy, in my opinion).  That being said, if you aren't having the wedding anywhere near your hotel blocks, you really should consider providing transportation for your guests.  Making your guests travel to several different spots during the day on their own dime can be asking a lot- especially for elderly guests or guests with children.  Right now is when you should asses if your budget allows for your provide transportation for your guests, or if there is some budget-friendly, alternate option available.

11). If planning to have your ceremony at the same venue, is there a place to get ready before the event?

To be completely honest, this detail is what sold me on my wedding venue.  The minute the venue rep told me I had full use of the upstairs apartment for bridal prep, I all but wrote the deposit check!  Even if you're planning on renting out a suite for you and your girls to get ready in on the big day, it's important to know whether or not there is an area on-site for last minute details, and as a place to stay out of sight after the guests begin arriving.  No doubt, you will need to do some last minute primping and need a place to keep all of your things for freshening up during the wedding.  If they do provide a bridal suite, be sure to ask if there are any additional fees for use of the room before the event. 

12). Are there any restrictions on decor?  Are you allowed to bring your own or hire someone to do so?

If you have your heart set on going all out with your decor and details, be sure your venue allows it before settling.  Most venues I encountered were more than happy to allow most decor, but there were one or two who were quite strict- even past the "nothing taped on the walls" bit.  For myself, I am big on candles; something that my venue happily allows.  Remember, it's always important to ask if they have any stipulations when it comes to decor, especially if it involves restrictions in decorating areas other than the tables, such as the staircase or walls.  Keep in mind that most venues will have a clause against use of confetti or other small, difficult to clean up details in the contract.

Always ask if there are any restrictions on what kinds of decor are allowed at your wedding venue.

Venue shopping was one of the most stressful parts of finding a venue, in my opinion.  Maybe it was because I am new to this city and to the wedding scene, but it takes true leg work to nail down your perfect venue for your ideal wedding date.  I was not at all prepare for how much my heart sank each time I heard "no, we don't allow dogs" or "sorry, we aren't available that date" from a venue that I had started to get excited about.  But, all of my searching and cold calling paid off in the end.  I hope these questions help you nail down your dream venue!

Tell me your thoughts or let me know if I've left out any important questions in the comments section below!

Until next time,

-The Newly NOLA Bride