How to pick a wedding venue

Searching for a wedding venue can be time-consuming and stressful. Before you begin your search you’ll need to ask yourself questions to narrow down the best possible options before requesting information on a million different venues!

Below you’ll find a list of questions to help guide your search and determine if you should consider a more traditional or untraditional wedding venue.

Is the end time of your party important to you?

E & B Photography

E & B Photography

For a lot of people, the end time of your wedding reception can make or break your venue decision. If your answer to this question is “no,” you’re opening up yourself to a ton of different venue options. From traditional venues to private estates, you can virtually select any event location.

If your answer is “yes,” your playing field is narrowed down significantly. Private estates are (for the most part) located in residential zones which abide by city-wide noise ordinances. This is often 10pm. Anyone hosting an outdoor reception will need to have music off by 10pm in order to keep local residents happy and to prevent the police coming by to shut down your reception. Instead of an estate, you will want to look into commercial (or commercially zoned) venues that don’t need to worry about disturbing nearby residents. This might include hotels, warehouses, restaurants, clubs, and other specialty event spaces, etc.

There is also a secret third option here. Don't forget you can always have an after party! Host your wedding and reception at one venue and then guests can decide to either leave when the reception ends or continue on to the after party location.

Do you want an indoor reception?

Taglyan Complex Grand Ballroom LA

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If you’ve answered “yes,” then you should look into more traditional venues: hotel ballrooms, warehouses, barns, museums, clubs, etc. There are many benefits to hosting an indoor reception. For one, you don’t have to worry about the weather. This is great for those of you considering a wedding during the winter or rainy seasons. Another benefit is that you don’t have to worry about the temperature either. You won't have to rent heaters when it is cold, and you don’t have to worry about your masterpiece of a wedding cake melting in the sun during a heatwave. Mother Nature would have to work really hard to put a wrench in your plans.

If you don’t want an indoor reception, then great! You’ve got plenty of options. From public parks and gardens to private estates, and really anything with a lawn! The benefits to an outdoor reception are also plentiful. This includes flexibility (in a lot of different ways).

For one, you don’t have to worry about packing everyone into one room. Instead, you can spread everything out throughout the space. For example, if you are getting married at a private estate, you can utilize the whole estate for your event. Every venue layout is different of course, but your ceremony can be on the side lawn, the cocktail hour by the pool, and the reception in the backyard. Using different spaces means that you don't have to transition the space from your ceremony set up to your reception area during cocktail hour. Flexibility can also mean that you can choose which space you want for your ceremony and reception. At a private estate you can choose to have your ceremony where other people may have their reception and vice versa. You don’t have to worry about following in everyone else’s footsteps.

outdoor estate wedding reception

Photo by True Photography

The flexibility of an outdoor venue can also mean that walls aren't holding you back from having a bigger and more customized reception. In fact, you can truly make the space your own with your choice of lighting, table layout designs, rental furniture, etc.

Another advantage to an outdoor wedding is that you'll have less need for decor! Chances are you’re getting married outdoors for a good reason, like that incredible ocean view! Let your natural surroundings speak for themselves. No need to clutter your space with too many decorations.

Outdoor receptions can have their downsides, though. As we mentioned above, weather can be uncooperative. Whether that be rain, wind, cold or hot temperatures, you may have to make last-minute adjustments to keep everyone comfortable. If you don’t have an indoor backup plan, a tent may be necessary. Tent rentals can be pricey, so always leave room in your budget for a rental emergency. In cold weather, you’ll need to rent plenty of heaters to keep everyone warm and toasty.

Do you have a strict budget?

If you do have budget restrictions, an outdoor wedding may not be for you. Many outdoor venues will not provide the rental items you need for your wedding reception. You’ll need to account for all tables, chairs, belly bars, linens, china/flatware, glassware, dance floor, bars, lighting, generators, and more. If your venue does not provide a tent, you may need to rent one yourself if the weather isn’t looking promising. You will also need to provide other amenities for your guests, like heaters or umbrellas, to keep guests comfortable. If your caterer is cooking onsite and your outdoor venue doesn’t have a kitchen, they will have to build their own. A field kitchen can be costly because you'll also need to rent ovens and stoves, for example. If your venue has few or no bathrooms for guests, you’ll need to rent portable toilets. These can range in price significantly depending on if you rent the plastic porta-potties or if you go upscale with a restroom trailer (and may we highly suggest the latter for your amazing guests). If the sky is the limit with your budget, you really have nothing to worry about.

luxury event estates in San Diego

If you do have a strict budget, you may want to find a venue that includes all your tables, chairs, linens, etc. They may also have other rental items available to you at a cheaper cost then you can find elsewhere. Don't forget, their preferred list is there for a reason. They refer these vendors because they are reliable and they trust them with their venue. Often there will be a lower budget option for catering, bar, floral services and your wedding cake too. Working with the venue's vendors can not only save you money in the end, they will save you the huge headache of hiring and managing all your vendors on your own. A traditional venue can also save you money if you consider a weekday wedding. Often, these venues will have an open ballroom on a weekday going unused, so they can offer it at a discounted weekday rate.

Is there a chance that your guest list may expand?

When searching for your perfect venue, be sure to discuss the maximum guest capacity with the venue manager. The maximum capacity may be how many guests can be accommodated for standing reception or how many can be seated at round tables of 8-10.  If you're planning a seated reception and you really have your eye on those farm tables, remember that you will not be able to accommodate as many guests as you would at a traditional round table. Indoor event locations like hotels, ballrooms, warehouses, penthouses, lofts, museums and restaurants will have fixed capacities. You’ll need to be very strict with your guest list at one of these venues, because you can’t expand the walls to add another table, unfortunately.

La Bella Vida Wedding

If you opt for a location that will allow an outdoor wedding and reception, you can often get creative with seating arrangements so you can accommodate a larger group. If your guest list blows up from 100 to 200 guests, an outdoor or non-traditional location is highly recommended. Parks, private estates, lawns, gardens, fields, forests...these are all great for flexibility with your guest size. Be sure to discuss this with your venue manager so they can guide you on what areas can accommodate your party. Sometimes lawns slope, so even though you technically have a lot of lawn space, it might not be ideal for some guests seated in that area. Tennis courts on private estates can be great for accommodating groups of 300 (or more). Just remember that you’ll need to account for not only tables for your guests, but also a dance floor, and vendor tables for your catering services, bar, DJ, cake, gifts, etc. The more guests you invite may also mean you need to rent additional restrooms, so be sure to ask about how many restrooms are provided with the venue. We recommend you have 1 restroom for about 50 guests ideally.

Are overnight accommodations at or close to the venue important to you?

If they are, a boutique hotel, resort, or private estate may be worth considering. Hotels will be the most ideal because you can accommodate a large amount of guests onsite. Your guests won't have to do much more than walk a few steps to their room. How fantastic is that? Estates can be wonderful for close friends and family to stay, however just remember that vendors will be packing up after the event so they may be there late into the night or early morning cleaning up. If you're looking for complete privacy, we recommend stay at another vacation rental property or staying at a hotel so that vendors aren't in the way.

Hewitt Hill Farm Vermont Luxury Event Venue

If accommodations aren’t a top priority, that’s fine too. You’ll open up your options to more unique and “off the beaten path” destinations. There may be a fantastic ranch or farm in the middle of nowhere, but the scenery simply can't be beaten! It might be worth the trek. If there are no accommodations nearby (or even if there are) I would highly encourage you to provide transportation services between guest hotels and the venue. Not only is this convenient for your guests, it also prevents drinking and driving. Safety first!

Is your wedding date flexible?

If you have a set date in mind, and it happens to be a popular time of year when the weather is the most comfortable, you’ll want to book that outdoor wedding venue ASAP! Same goes if you’re wanting a winter wedding and you want an indoor location. Venues with indoor options will book much more quickly for winter dates. Hotels and traditional venues will book up quickly in general because they have been around forever and are easier to find. If you think out of the box and book a private house, gallery, farm, etc. they may have more date options available because they book events less frequently than a hotel, for example.

Is it important that you work with your own vendors?

If you have a specific caterer, florist, or another vendor you must work with, you may want to opt for a non-traditional wedding venue. Venues that do not have a on site catering kitchen will likely allow you to provide your own, but sometimes this requires a fee. Ask your venue about their catering and outside vendor rules to see if it will allow you to work with the vendors you have in mind. You could be surprised to see your favorite caterer already on their preferred list. If you are able to provide your own vendors, they will need to provide insurance and will likely need to sign an agreement stating that they will abide by the venue rules.

Wedding Venue Estancia Del Sol Rancho Santa Fe

Photo by Cavin Elizabeth Photography

If hiring your own vendors isn't important to you, then you'll be able to relax a bit more with a more traditional venue. They will either have an in-house caterer or will provide a list of choices for you to select from. This network of preferred vendors are trusted to do a consistently great job otherwise they wouldn’t be on their list in the first place. Hotels will require you to use their catering services which may be wonderful, but will likely have a food and beverage minimum that must be met. Non-traditional venues may charge a fee to bring in your own option, but there won't be any massive food and beverage minimums to worry about.

Your Turn…

What other aspects of your wedding are important to you?

If you're looking for an out of the box wedding venue, consider browsing by venue type right here at!

Here are a few guides for you to read if you’re considering an outdoor wedding: