1. Picture How Your Party Will Flow
There should be logical places within the venue where guests can eat, drink, talk and dance. When you’re standing in the space, try to envision where each activity would happen. If a room is too small to separate into sections, you’ll probably feel cramped. If it’s shaped like an “S” or some other oddball figure, that could compromise your party’s flow. And be aware of any built-in features that might restrict how you want to arrange your party. “If the stage is already in place, it limits your freedom. It’ll be harder to have the dance floor and musicians somewhere else when the venue is already set up,” says Maureen Riebel of Elegant Events by Maureen in San Antonio. Also, note the locations of columns or other obstructions in the room -- will they block views of the dance floor or of the table where the best man will give his toast?
2. Count the Power Outlets
This is one detail a lot of couples tend to overlook, but it’s a pretty important one. Be sure to thoroughly cruise around the room to see if it has lots of places to plug things in -- especially if you’re scoping out a venue that’s not a regular spot for hosting weddings. “A lot of older, historic venues might need extra power,” says Haley Hughes of En Vogue Events in Houston. Your entertainment crew will require the most electricity, so take note of where the outlets are; they should be close to where you’d like the band or DJ to set up and play. You may also need outlets during the cocktail hour (or dinner if you’re having a buffet) to plug in any warming trays or cooking equipment. Also keep in mind that a lack of outlets could add to your budget. “If there aren’t enough outlets, you may have to pay for extra power [a generator] and a technician,” Riebel says.
3. Focus on Focal Points
What will your guests see when they walk into the room? Whether it’s your city’s skyline, a stunning vista of rolling mountains or the crashing sea on the sand behind you, exceptional views are always a plus. If there’s no view per se, look to the décor 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 can all give your reception site something extra.
4. Watch For Clashing Colors
If you’re considering a certain theme and palette for your reception -- say, a modern lounge-style cocktail party in crisp white -- or even if there are certain colors you just can’t stand, watch for built-in décor that would conflict with the look you’re going for. “The overall theme of the venue should fit the style of your wedding so you don’t have to go through the extra expense of piping and draping it,” Riebel says. Those gold-cord swag curtains at the local club might not jibe with the contemporary ghost chairs and pink uplighting you envisioned, and a minimal loft with exposed brick might look odd filled with colorful vintage décor. The site doesn’t have to be done in the same exact colors as your planned decorations, but the walls, carpets, chairs and curtains should at least complement -- not distract from -- your palette and theme. If you want a spring wedding brunch, look for a space with soft colors or florals. For classic elegance, consider a room done in neutrals or black and white. Or go with a blank slate. “I really encourage brides to choose a venue with a neutral color and use uplighting to bring in the colors they want,” Hughes says.
5. Ask About Privacy
The degree of privacy varies widely from place to place. If you’re having a daytime event in a public spot, such as a park or botanic garden, be prepared for strangers to walk past your party (or even smile and take photos). If that idea bothers you, opt for a venue that hosts one wedding at a time, such as a private estate, restaurant or gallery that will allow you to “buy it out” (as in, only your guests are allowed). Be sure to ask about available security at your site to keep wedding crashers at bay. And just because you’re having an indoor wedding, it doesn’t mean you’re safe from uninvited guests. Banquet halls and hotels often hold more than one affair at a time. “If there’s more than one ballroom, you don’t want to compete with sound and music from next-door events,” Riebel says. If there will be other parties going on simultaneously in rooms close to yours, make sure you won’t be able to hear the music or noise from them. What if a venue you love has multiple event spaces? “Make sure the hotel staggers the event start times, so you never have two groups of weddings walking through at the same time,” she says.
5. Listen For Good Acousiticslisten for good acoustics
If the place echoes too much, it could give some weird reverb to your 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 before you book it; then tailor your music to the acoustic conditions -- for instance, a jazz combo will sound better in an intimate art gallery than a 14-piece orchestra would (and it’ll take up less space).
6. Check Out the Lighting
The right lighting is a key element. If you’re getting married during the day, check if your venue has plenty of windows to take advantage of the natural light. If it’s an evening affair, make sure the room’s not too dim and that any built-in lighting can be controlled for the big entrance, dinner and dancing. “Ask if chandeliers and other overhead lighting are on dimmer switches so you can create different moods,” says Hughes. To get the best idea of what you’ll be working with, 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 could also miss a chance to see how sunlight streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows completely transforms the room if you only check it out in the evening.
7. Don't Forget About the Parking
Make sure the site is near a good parking lot, garage or empty (but safe) streets where it’s legal to park. If parking is a problem around a venue you like, look for other ways to get everyone to the party. Can a shuttle bus or vans take guests from the ceremony to the reception? (Feel free to have fun with this detail and book a unique ride like a yellow school bus.) Can you hire a valet service to park guests’ cars? Inadequate parking isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it may mean spending more time and money to figure out a viable alternative. “Parking is something to be aware of from the very beginning, so you can plan for any extra expenses,” Riebel says.
-- Vi-An Nguyen
See More: Wedding Receptions