First we recommend decided on the style of wedding you'd like to have. Is it outdoors in a garden, or in a tent? Have you dreamed of a decked out ballroom? Maybe a unique museum, art gallery or theater setting is more your style? Once you answer this question, it will help narrow down the facilities and sites you'll want to visit.
Be flexible on your date. Are you open to a Friday evening wedding or a Sunday afternoon affair. These can and have the potential to be just as fabulous as the traditional Saturday night event. This can also be an opportunity to save a nice chunk of your budget.
Now you've got to consider your budget. Important things to consider include is there a food & beverage minimum? How much decor is needed to bring the room to life? Are there any permits required by local government to use the space? If you are bringing in an outside caterer, what will the rental cost be for the tables, chairs, china, flatware, etc?
After answering these questions - Is this venue a realistic option for your budget. Are you able to bring in your own alcohol. This is normally the case in the more Do It Yourself venues. Let's not confuse DIY with being cheap or inexpensive. A DIY facility can cost just as much if not more than the big, beautiful downtown ballroom, just in a different way. The DIY venue is generally one that does not have an in-house caterer, you supply your own alcohol, or maybe it is just a more raw space that can be transformed into what ever you dream up.
Once you've selected the venue that fits your style, budget and date that works for you. Now it's time to request the contract to secure your date. Be sure you get everything in writing that was discussed during your site visit(s) and reflects everything that you and the sales manager agreed upon. If you've hired a wedding planner, definitely use her/him to work through this process. If they are experienced, navigating the contracts are easy for them to do. Mark your calendar with all of the payment dates. Usually with the bigger facilities, you'll be required to keep a credit card on file for future payments. A deposit will be required, with a partial payment of your estimated balance 30-60 days prior to the event and the final bill will be billed the day before the wedding. Any outstanding balances will usually be charged to the credit card on file. The outstanding balances can range from extending your party and additional hour or adding extra meals at the very last minute.
Now that you've got your facility all taken care of, it's time to start hiring the rest of your vendor team. Check with your facility to see if they recommend anyone. Just be warned that not all facilities recommend vendors because they like them. Some vendors pay to be placed on the preferred vendor list. Don't be afraid to ask if this is the case. I personally wouldn't want to use a vendor that was recommended to me because they paid for someone to say that. You want a vendor that is going to do a good job and earn the referral without paying for it.
Photos courtesy of - in order of apprearance - (1) C Studios, (2) Erlina Kim, and (3) Aion Arts