Wedding Planning 101 – How to Choose a Reception Site for Your Wedding

July 8, 2014 | christine

Selecting the best location for your reception is one of the biggest decisions, and most pivotal, you’ll make when planning your wedding. A stylish venue can set the tone for your entire wedding day, and with the most popular sites often booking far in advance, it’s important to secure your venue early in your planning process. Whether you’re envisioning a traditional ballroom wedding, a uniquely modern celebration, or a destination wedding and honeymoon, consider these tips to ensure the venue you choose is the place that feels just right for you.

castle wedding at Victoria, British, wedding photo by Ophelia Photography | via
Photo of Hatley Castle in Victoria, BC by Ophelia Photography

Choosing Your Reception Venue

When choosing your reception site, you’ll want to love the look and feel of the space itself, and you’ll want to be sure that the venue is the perfect size to accommodate your guests gracefully as your wedding day unfolds. To get started, choose several top venues you’re interested in or have your wedding planner help you create a list of your best options. Call and make appointments with their on-site coordinator or catering manager and bring this list of questions with you on your visits.

romantic Italian villa inspired wedding in Florida, photo by Kristen Weaver Photography | via
Photo of Bella Collina in Montverde, Florida by Kristen Weaver Photography

Top Questions to Ask Your Reception Venue

  1. What services does the venue provide as part of your package? Many reception sites provide complete packages: catering, cake, staff, tableware and linens, which can be helpful if you love what they offer. Other sites charge a simple rental fee for their space, and leave the rest of the details up to you. To find the option that works best for your wedding, ask yourself how much you would like to personalize your celebration and what that will entail, or decide on a more all-inclusive approach. You’ll also want to ask about what is not included, but may be available.
  2. Does the venue have a preferred vendor list? Many venues have a list of exemplary caterers and professionals that they choose to work with, and they may charge an additional fee for a wedding professional who is not on that list. Some venues require that you work with their exclusive list, and still others will allow you to choose any professionals you desire. If you’re set on hiring a particular caterer or florist be sure that your venue will welcome your choice.
  3. How does the venue work as your day unfolds? To answer this, ask for a tour of the site as if it was your wedding day. In addition to your ceremony and reception site ask to see getting ready rooms, parking areas, restrooms and all areas your guests will access. If you are using any areas for more than one purpose, have your guide explain how those transitions will unfold and how much time it will take for break down and set-up.
  4. How many hours will the space be available? It’s typical for venues to rent out the space for a certain time block of time. You’ll want to have ample time for your ceremony and reception, so be sure you secure all the time you desire.
  5. What is your beverage and food minimum? If the venue itself is providing your food and drinks, they will likely have a minimum amount you are required to spend. Keep in mind this is a minimum and you should think about your guest count for a better idea of overall cost.
  6. Will there be a day-of coordinator on site? Many locations will have staff on hand to help turn rooms as needed and assist you or your planner with the last-minute arrangements. They are there to ensure that everything that the venue has been contracted to provide is delivered smoothly and that you have all your questions answered as they arise. Keep in mind that they work for the venue, so it is usually helpful if not critical to have your own planner and/or designer on board to take care of your priorities.

destination wedding at the Hacienda Uayamon in Campeche, Mexico, photo by Aaron Morris of Chrisman Studios | via
Photo of the Hacienda Uayamon in Campeche, Mexico by Aaron Morris of Chrisman Studios

Matching Your Venue To Your Wedding Style

Whether you choose a world-class destination resort, a charming garden, private estate, or rustic barn – the possibilities are seemingly endless. Read on and get inspired to find perfect spot that reflects your personality.

modern Persian wedding in San Jose, California, photo by Jinda Photography | via
Photo of the Silver Creek Valley Country Club in San Jose, California by Jinda Photography

Classic Wedding Style

  • If your guest list is long and you want the feel of classic elegance, a grand hotel ballroom may be your ideal choice. Most have plenty of space, and some can be incredibly ornate in their style and decor, making it easy for you to create an impressive backdrop for your guests.
  • For a unique wedding site that still give off a sophisticated vibe, think mansions, historical buildings or castles. Many of these venues are privately owned, and many have an intimate and personal feel.
  • For an exclusive setting and picturesque backdrop, private clubs and golf courses are typically immaculately maintained and well-staffed. Choosing one can give your guests entrance to a location they wouldn’t be able to visit otherwise, while offering stunning backdrops options for your photographer.

romantic pastoral wedding on a Tennessee farm with photos by Erich McVey | via
Photo of Bloomsbury Farm in Tennessee by Erich McVey

Relaxed Wedding Style

  • A beautiful garden or park can offer an abundance of natural decor for your ceremony. If you can visit the location at the time of year when you will be getting married to get an idea of the colors and flowers in bloom at that time.
  • For a comfortable event with a bit of a cowboy vibe, choose a ranch or country farm. Rustic, elegant barn settings have been all the rage for years and many couples and designers have found super creative ways to make barns look beautiful.
  • Private estates are available for rent all over the world, and no matter your style you can find one that’s ideal for your wedding. If you own, or have access to a large house with entertainment spaces getting married at your own home, or that of a close friend of family member, can help make your wedding memorable and especially sentimental.

Photo of Kimber Modern in Austin, Texas by Studio Uma

Modern Wedding Style

  • If your style is modern and you prefer an urban setting, try a local art museum or gallery, a hip restaurant, or an industrial loft space.
  • If you live near the water, check out large tour boats and cruise ships available for rent. Choose a beautiful boat with plenty of cabin space in case it rains, so your guests can revel in the view regardless of the weather.
  • Do you two share a love of wine and wide-open scenery? Then consider getting married at a winery. There are lots of fabulous wineries who specialize in weddings, and many are well-known for their world-class food and wine.

stylish and scenic destination wedding in St. Lucia, photo by C&I Studios | via
Photo of Jade Mountain in St. Lucia by Justin Mein of C&I Studios

Destination Weddings

  • If you aren’t completely familiar with your far-away wedding location, hire a planner who is based in that area or who specializes in it. You’ll save on stress and confusion if you have a connection to your chosen locale.
  • A private beach wedding can be utterly romantic and picturesque – when choosing the best possible spot, utilize the natural landmarks like rock formations or overlooks to frame your ceremony and be sure your decor is built to handle ocean breezes.
  • Traveling to a far-away wedding is exciting but also calls for plenty of prep time. Send your guests save-the-dates at least six months in advance and provide them with detailed travel info around the same time you send out your final invitations.

intimate romantic wedding and surprise dance party reception, photo by davina + daniel | via
Photo by davina + daniel

Whatever your wedding style, be sure to visit our World’s Best Wedding Venues Hotlist which showcases both local and destination venues around the world. We have hidden gems and luxury resorts, sparkling city ballrooms and elegant country estates; all chosen for the high level of service and the quality experiences they provide!

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  1. That first photo is stunning!

  2. We did an outdoor wnedidg and an indoor reception in May. We knew it was going to be a toss-up for a May wnedidg to be a clear day, but everything worked out! We wanted the wnedidg to be outdoors because we love being outside and going on adventures together. Plus, spring is such a beautiful time of year, with flowers blooming and the weather still being mild. It was a gorgeous day too! We loved everything about our outdoors wnedidg. We had the reception indoors to have a back-up in case of rain and it was lots easier to plan/set-up for. +2Was this answer helpful?

  3. These are very great tips for brides that are just starting to plan their big day.

  4. While it would be nice to go all out on the fanciest place for a wedding reception, I think the most important thing it to make sure the venue matches your wedding style. My wife and I love being outside hiking and climbing. So we decided that our reception should reflect this and held the reception in a garden. Though thinking back on it, I kind of wish we had done it somewhere with a rope course :). But really, as long as the venue reflects your style you can’t go wrong.

  5. These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to make a list of a few of your best venue options before visiting each of them. My fiance and I are getting married next spring, so we’re going to start planning the wedding day. The venue is an important decision to make, as it provides a framework for the rest of the celebration, so we’ll definitely start looking at our options and visiting a few so we can choose the right one for us. Thanks for the great post!

  6. My fiance and I are looking at having a beach wedding this summer. We want to find a good wedding location that will accommodate our guests and create our perfect wedding vision. These are some great questions you suggested. I hadn’t thought of asking about a day-of coordinator. Thanks for sharing!

  7. It seems smart to want to match the wedding venue to the style of wedding you want. My sister is planning her wedding and matching the style with the venue has been pretty hard for her. Because of this, I found your mentions of how you can have a relaxed wedding in a park or garden really helpful, she’ll have to look into that.

  8. In the article you advised deciding on the style of your wedding, and then basing your venue choice on that. My old roommate is getting married and she asked me if I knew of any great venues. If she could choose a style for her wedding, we could start narrowing down options, and then also consider things like amount of people and weather.

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