Advice On Finding The Perfect Venue From Isabel Smith…

Today I am very excited to introduce you to wedding planner extraordinaire Isabel Smith. Isabel has a wealth of knowledge and experience to help guide brides through the key stages of the wedding planning process. Isabel has worked at some of the country’s most prestigious wedding venues and set up Isabel Smith Wedding Design in 2009 to offer a unique approach to wedding design and management, tailored to the individual requirements of each client.  Isabel also runs ‘Wedding Venue Excellence’ – the venue consultancy branch of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners which helps wedding venues offer the very best they can to their couples.

In this post Isabel will be guiding you through the difficult task of finding your perfect wedding venue.



Where you choose to host your wedding has more impact on the day as a whole than almost any other element – not to mention being one of the most expensive decisions you’ll make.

Here are my top tips on finding, and working with, your perfect venue…

Getting Started

There are four main factors which you need to think through before you begin your venue search:

  • Location – A search radius of as little as an hour can throw up 200+ options.  Save yourself time by narrowing the location as much as possible – no more than 30 minutes journey from your church, or a radius of 15 miles from somewhere which means a lot to you and you partner.
  • Style – Are you a country girl looking for the perfect barn, a city-glam bride looking for a slick hotel or a relaxed couple looking for a hip restaurant? Do some homework by pulling out images that you like from magazines or studying real weddings on the web so that you can focus on venues that fit the look you want.
  • Capacity – Spend an evening with your husband-to-be writing out a list of all the people you would invite to the wedding if space and budget were not an issue.  Then, highlight all the names you know you simply couldn’t get married without, and this will give you the minimum number of guests your venue has to accommodate.
  • Budget – Without a clear idea of how much you have to spend on the wedding overall, you can’t possibly know where to set your sights when it comes to your venue.  As a rule of thumb, allocate about 50% of your total budget to the venue, food and beverage, and bear in mind this figure has to feed all those people you highlighted on your initial guest list!


Where To Look and Narrowing The Field

  • Since you are likely to encounter over 100 venues in your search, you need to get organised to avoid repetition and wasted time.  Create a spreadsheet – the first few columns go to venue name, website, telephone number and the name of the contact there.  The next columns should centre on the venue features you are looking for, in the order of priority.  Rank things like venue capacity, whether the venue allows corkage, whether there is accommodation on-site, whether they have disabled access for Granny etc in order of importance and enter these headings into the columns so that the sheet reads from left to right, from your ‘must haves’ to your ‘would like to haves’.
  • Start researching!  Google is a great tool since you can use the Maps feature to ensure you stay within your chosen search area.  Make sure to vary your search terms since ‘wedding venue near Marlow’ will give you different results to ‘barn+wedding+Buckinghamshire’.  Word of mouth, local magazines and national venue directories are also excellent resources.
  • For each venue you come across which seems to hit the right notes within the first few clicks, fill in your spreadsheet as much as you can with the information you can glean from their website.  As you do this, you will develop a feeling as to whether it is meeting the brief so you can decide whether to contact them.
  • Colour co-ordinate your spreadsheet – green venues are those you have a good feeling about and will contact for more information and arrange to see.  Orange ones are those you will request a brochure from and perhaps go to see if the green ones don’t work out or if you need to see more for comparison.  Red venues have failed to meet the brief in some way so can be eliminated.


When Visiting

  • Visiting wedding venues is a bit like buying a house – Kirsty and Phil would say the first viewing is about heart – do you get the emotional reaction you want and can you see yourselves marrying there?  The second viewing is about head – ask probing questions about your priorities for the day (do they only host 1 wedding per day, can you party with a 10 piece band until the small hours, are fireworks allowed)?  There are great ‘lists of questions to ask a wedding venue’ available online.
  • If you think you have found the one, ask for a comprehensive, itemised breakdown of the costs for YOUR wedding.  Don’t feel hemmed in by the packages that they might offer – get a bespoke quote for the things that you want.  Don’t forget to check whether VAT and service are included.
  • Things to look out for before you sign:

–       Are they flexible?  A surprising number of venues only offer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ package and aren’t prepared to go off-piste.  This type will only work for you if they happen to offer exactly what you want.

–       Are they experienced?  A new venue might save you some serious cash, but if they don’t know what they are doing, you must be on the ball all the time and you might not be cut out for the extra stress of this!  On the other hand, a venue with a super-slick operation may offer peace of mind, but do you want to be one of 170+ weddings they mechanically roll out each year?

–       Are they trustworthy?  Wedding venues often have a high turnover of staff.  Do you trust that if the passionate and caring co-ordinator you first met with leaves, the management above won’t let you down?


Working With Your Venue

  • As soon as you have your venue booked, ask them for their preferred supplier list since there are often big advantages to working with people who know the venue well.  Ask if any of them must be used (many venues have only 1 approved fireworks company or caterer), and where you can choose your own.
  • Ask what information they will need from your chosen suppliers – almost all venues will require anyone working on site to have Public Liability Insurance certificates and recently PAT tested equipment.
  • Before you pay a deposit, double check that your venue is happy with that specific supplier – very occasionally a working relationship may have broken down all together and no venue is obliged to allow your supplier on site.
  • Get everything you agree with your venue confirmed in writing.  This will protect you and avoid disappointment if their policies suddenly change or your co-ordinator leaves the property.
  • Every venue worth its salt operates from a ‘function sheet’ or ‘event order’ on the day.  This internal document tells the chef what to cook, the operations team how to set up and runs through the plans chronologically.  Insist on seeing this document 2 weeks before the wedding and go through it with a fine toothed comb to make sure all your wishes are clearly stated before you sign it off!


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