What to Look For in a Venue
One of the first things you'll think about after you've gotten engaged (beyond the dress of course) is find your wedding venue. Once you've have the right spot, all the rest of those wedding day details (color, style, decor etc.) should fall into place. What should you look for in your reception site (aside from that sense of rightness you know you'll have the moment you see the perfect spot)? Keep these helpful hints top in mind.
A Roomy Fit
It sounds obvious (because it is) but make sure the room is large enough to accommodate the number of people on your guest list. The space may look enormous when it's empty, but wedding essentials -- tables, chairs, a buffet, a bar, the band or DJ setup, the dance floor -- can take up a lot of space. Not to mention your guests will need some elbow room. Even if you choose an outdoor site, you'll need ample room on the lawn, in the arboretum, or poolside. The best way to assess the size of a site? Ask to take a peek of the space when another wedding (with an equivalent guest list size) is all set up. Of course, if you decide you must have your wedding at your favorite bar (the one with one bathroom, two booths, and three feet of floor space), you can always work backward and tailor your guest list to match.
Eating, Drinking and Partying Areas
There should be logical places within the space where guests can eat, drink, talk, and dance. When you're standing in the space, try to envision where each activity would happen (especially if your ceremony will be there). If a room is too small to separate into sections accordingly, you will probably feel cramped. If it's shaped like an S or some other oddball figure, that could compromise your party's flow, as well. Also, note the locations of columns or other obstructions in the room -- will they block people's views of the dance floor or the cake table where the best man will give a toast?
Privacy varies widely from place to place, as does the importance couples place on it. If you're having a daytime event in a public spot, such as a park, beach or botanic garden, be prepared for strangers to trek past your party. They may even smile, wave, and come by to offer their good wishes. If this is okay with you, go for the park. If not, opt for a lawn on a private estate or golf course. Or, hold the reception at a restaurant or gallery that will allow you to buy it out (as in, guests-only). Be sure to ask about available security at your site to keep gate-crashers at bay.
In addition, don't think that just because you're indoors, you're safe from uninvited guests. Banquet halls and hotels often hold more than one affair at a time. If there'll be other events going on simultaneously in rooms close to yours, you may hear karaoke-loving guests singing their hearts out to the sounds of Madonna through the walls or meet them over the hot-air dryers in the bathroom. If this bothers you, try to schedule your wedding when there won't be another one next door. If this is impossible, visit the site on a dual-party night and see how the sound carries and whether there really are any major people problems -- before you make a decision.
Lighting Light can make -- or break -- the mood and the space. If you're marrying during the day, make sure your hall has plenty of windows. Who wants to spend six hours in a dark room when the sun is shining? If it's an evening affair, make sure the room's not too dim -- or that the lighting can be controlled for the big entrance, dinner, and dancing. If you're marrying outdoors, say, at dusk, will you be able to set up candles if necessary?
Visit the site at the same time of day that you've chosen for your wedding. Even if the space looks romantic by candlelight, you may be surprised by the sight of that 20-year-old carpet during the day. You'll also miss a chance to see how sunlight streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows completely transforms the room, if you only check it out in the evening.
A Great View
What will your guests see when they walk into the room? Whether it's your city skyline, a stunning vista of rolling mountains beyond the windows, or the crashing sea on the sand behind you, exceptional locations with a view are always a plus. If there's no view per se, look to a place's decor or architectural details: artwork on the walls, fine Persian rugs on the floors, period furniture in the corners, or an amazing crystal chandelier as the room's centerpiece all give your reception site that something extra.
The Right Color
If you're considering a certain theme and color palette for your party -- say, a modern lounge-style cocktail party reception done in black and red -- those gold cord swag curtains are really going to wreck the effect. The site doesn't have to be done in the exact colors as your planned decorations, but the walls, carpets, chairs, and curtains shouldn't clash or conflict with your party's mood or theme. If you want a spring wedding brunch, look for a space that's done in light (perhaps pastel) colors or florals. For classic elegance, consider a room done in neutrals or black and white.
Ample Outlets Be sure to take a thorough cruise around the room to see if it has lots of places to plug things in -- especially if you're partying in a place that's not a regular spot for hosting weddings. Your main user of outlets will be the entertainment crew. Take note of where the outlets are; if their location will force your DJ to spin records in the bathroom (kidding, but you get the point), make sure she or he has plenty of extension cords.
Good Acoustics If the place is too echoey, it could give some weird reverb to the band, not to mention make it difficult for guests to hear one another talking. A tile or wood floor, for example, will amplify sounds, while a thick carpet will tend to muffle them. Check out the room's sound quality during an event. And tailor your music to the acoustic conditions. A jazz combo will sound better at an intimate art gallery than a 14-piece orchestra would (not to mention the fact that it takes up less floor space).
Plenty of Parking Make sure the site is near a good parking lot, garage, or big, empty (safe) street where it's legal to park. If parking is a problem, look for other ways to get everyone to the party. Can a shuttle bus or vans take guests from the ceremony to the reception? Inadequate parking isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but it may mean spending more time and money to figure out a viable vehicular alternative.