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Wedding venue? I don’t know where to start!

A dinner held in Charlotte, N.C., to celebrate Capitol boutique's 10th anniversary.

The perfect venue: it’s one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your wedding planning. Here’s what I learnt hunting down my wedding venue – and the seven questions you need to ask before you get started finding your own.

1 What’s my budget?

I made the mistake of visiting some seriously luxe wedding venues before checking out their rates. The result? I fell in love with a wine estate that we couldn’t afford. Depressing! Before visiting, email each venue you’re interested in and ask: what are your wedding package rates? From the responses, immediately rule out any venues that are out of your budget. Then visit the venues that fit your brief.

Top tip: when a venue sends you its wedding packages, check the average cost of food per head. The venue hire may be in your budget, but the menu cost per head may exceed it. Take both into account when you’re considering if a venue suits your spend.

 2 How many guests do I want?

My experience from venue hunting is that venues generally fall into three categories: ones that can host up to 80 guests, ones that host 80-150 guests, and ones that work best for 150 guests or more. Don’t waist your time visiting a venue that works perfectly for 50 people when you’re planning to invite 100! You’ll narrow your list of potential venues down quickly if you know how many guests you’re hoping to host on your big day.

Top tip: just because a venue can accommodate 150 guests doesn’t mean it’s suited to your wedding if you’re inviting only 80 guests. Why? Because a big space may feel empty or cold if it’s not full. Plus, bigger venues may ask for a minimum spend on food or drink, so if you’re hosting fewer guests, you may struggle to hit the required tab – which could end up costing you.

3 What’s my theme?

Franz and I wanted a homely space we wouldn’t need to spend thousands decorating, and that had a beautiful view. We also preferred a natural, rustic feel: wood, stone features, white walls. That meant we were unlikely to find our dream venue in a plush hotel or city spot, so we focused on viewing wine farm venues. Before visiting places, be sure to view the galleries on venue websites to get an idea of its feel: some are distinctly sleek and modern in theme, while others are more rustic or grandiose and old-fashioned. If you don’t have a big decor budget, avoid venues that require walls to be draped, lighting to be hired or that use colours that will clash with your own colour theme. One of the reasons Franz and I fell in love with our wedding venue, Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville, was for its neutral white walls and wooden features, which meant we wouldn’t need to worry about paying to decorate anything other than the tables.

Top tip: fallen in love with a venue? Before you book, google other weddings at that same spot. You’ll find photographers’ websites that document other brides’ big days there, and you can see what decor worked, as well as how the venue looks when it’s packed with guests and the party’s in full swing.

4 What are my priorities?

Chat to your fiancé about the things that really matter to you – for Franz and I, it was fantastic food, an open-plan space that wouldn’t split up guests with pillars or a separate room for a dance floor, and the fact that we didn’t want our guests to have to travel from the ceremony to the reception. So we looked for venues that had a ceremony area on site and included in the package; we asked around for recommendations of venues known for their great catering; and we ruled out all spaces that split up the dance floor and dining area, or that were filled with intrusive pillars. Deciding what’s important to you before viewing a venue prevents disagreements with your fiancé. Plus, it helps you be objective about a venue even when it has something else that steals your heart (like a breathtaking view or a brilliant rate).

Top tip: if your priority is an outdoor ceremony or beach wedding, ensure the venue offers a bad-weather option, too. Is there an inside space you could get married in, just in case? If so, try and get this included in your overall package – otherwise you’ll pay extra on your big day come bad weather.

 5 Have I set a date?

Here’s the thing: Franz and I had a set idea about our wedding date, since my family and friends would be flying in from the UK. So when I emailed venues asking for their prices, I also asked if our date was still available. Even when we were looking over a year in advance, plenty of venues were already booked – so we crossed them off our list immediately. There’s no point traipsing up and down the country looking for your ideal venue when you’re visiting spots that are already booked. Another reason why this question is important: the season you’re marrying in has a big impact on the facilities you should be looking for in a venue. If you’re marrying mid-winter, you don’t want a venue whose only option is to get married outside, or whose dance floor is in an open-air area. Similarly, if you’re marrying in the height of summer, you want shade for your guests if they’re hanging around outside. Have all of this in mind when you’re visiting a venue.

Top tip: if you can, visit your venue in the same month you’re planning to have your wedding. Even better, do it at the same time that you’ll be having your ceremony and/or reception. You’ll be able to figure out important things like if the sun is glaring into your guests’ eyes while you say your vows outside, or if a neighbouring road is insanely busy and loud at the same time that your guests will be trying to listen to you say ‘I do’.

6 Where are most of my guests travelling from?

Since my guests are already flying in from all over (the UK, Joburg, Hong Kong and more), the last thing I wanted to do when they arrived in Cape Town was make them travel even further to get to our wedding. So we decided against venues in further-afield Paarl, Stellenbosch, Wellington and Franschhoek, which force everyone to drive at least an hour extra, and potentially have to book overnight accommodation. That’s another reason why we chose a venue in Durbanville: it’s 20 minutes from Cape Town’s city centre, taxis are affordable and accommodation (for anyone who wants) is cheap.

Top tip: the further away you host your wedding, the more costs you incur overall. For example, if you’re booking suppliers based in a city centre, they’ll charge extra for travel out into the countryside. Plus, you’ll accrue bigger petrol costs every time you visit the venue for things like decor meetings, food tastings and final plans.

7 Am I religious?

If getting married in a church, synagogue, temple or mosque, for example, is important to you or your family, be sure that there’s one close to potential venues. And before you book a venue, check that the local religious institution has availability to marry you on that date, too.

Top tip: if the religious aspect isn’t important to you, why not legally tie the knot in a civil service the day before – just you, your man and a witness? Then turn your big day into one big bash, without the vows. You’ll save on all sorts of things, like hiring a ceremony space at your venue, creating decor for the ceremony and printing orders of service.

Coming up next in the #GLAMWedding Blog: I talk to Gaby Frescura, the wedding pro behind the beautiful blog Southboundbride.com, about the best budget, mid-range and blowout venues in Joburg, Durban and Cape Town. Stay tuned to narrow down your search without even leaving your computer screen!

How did you choose your wedding venue? Tweet us at @GLAMOUR_sa with #GLAMWedding to share!

Sarah Browning, 24, is the managing editor of GLAMOUR. She moved to SA from London three years ago and lives in Cape Town. In this #GLAMWedding Wedding Blog, Sarah’s sharing her wedding-planning journey with you. Join the conversation! Tweet your thoughts to Sarah via @GLAMOUR_sa using #GLAMWedding.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmbrowning

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