How to Pick Your Wedding Venue • Desi Zavala


There is this an unstated pressure to pick your wedding venue immediately after getting engaged. You may have experienced the pressure yourself. Often, when you see friends or family for the first time since getting engaged you get the excited “OMG!!! Can I see the ring?!” Then, in almost the same breath you get “Have you picked a date?....Venues book up fast.” It’s not intentional pressure. I believe that your friends and family really have your best interest at heart, regardless, it leaves you feeling behind on the planning process already. 

Picking your wedding venue takes time, research, and a lot of thought. It is recommended that roughly 45% of your total wedding budget is allotted to venue, food, and beverage. Regardless of your total budget, it’s a lot of money. So, taking the right steps before booking your venue will set the tone for the entire wedding planning process and leave you confident that you made the best choice for you and your partner. 

For the modern couple planning their wedding in NY, NJ + PA. Real weddings, engagements, inspiration + more!
Photo of Brooklyn Winery by deborahann photography


Sorry, friends, but you cannot book a wedding venue till you have all of those awkward money conversations. Knowing how much you have to spend on the entire wedding is important, but take this a step further and create a working budget which will give you a solid understanding of the role other categories (flowers, photography, videography, music, attire, stationery, tips and thank you gifts to name a few) play in the big picture. This work will give you the details you need to make informed decisions. Let’s say the foodie in you falls in love with a venue that is slightly over the recommended 45% of your wedding budget. Before you send in that deposit, you can sit down with your partner to decide how you will make up for the over spend. Will you forgo the photo booth, or have a DJ rather than the band, or give up your daily Starbucks to get it all? This working budget will be your guide in making good choices throughout the entire planning process, starting with picking the best venue for you.


Now that you have a budget in mind, you need to understand how many people you will be inviting. Involve any family members that will have a say in the guest list and account for a handful of invites that didn’t make it to the first pass of the list. 


Envision the type of wedding that you want. Aesthetically, what do you want your wedding to look like? If you want modern, look for restaurants or other unique venues like museum. Classic and elegant, look at some ballrooms or estates. Rustic? Look at some vineyards, barns and even estates. Take this one step further and go beyond just aesthetics- What do you want your guests to feel- Romance? Whimsy? The party of the decade? There are no limits to this! I’ve worked with couples who wanted their wedding to feel “cozy.” Selecting a venue that meets your visual and emotional style will save you money in the long run. 

For the modern couple planning their wedding in NY, NJ + PA. Real weddings, engagements, inspiration + more!
Photo of Full Moon Resort by Smile, Peace, Love


Brace yourself. This part takes a lot of work. Shopping for wedding venues is a lot like shopping for insurance. Each venue offers different services and the name of these services often vary. 

Start by creating yourself a spreadsheet that has the following categories (add to it as you see fit throughout your research)
•    Room rental cost
•    Food cost (per guest)
•    Beverage cost (per guest)
•    Tax
•    Service Fee
•    Tip Included (Y/N) 
•    Guest capacity
•    Rental length
•    Ceremony on-location fee
•    Only wedding on property that day (Y/N)
•    Cake included (Y/N)
•    Getting ready space (Y/N) + what time you can access

Next, find yourself an excellent source, like Red Oak Weddings’ Venue Guide, to start with! By using a venue guide like this you start with a curated list of venues that you know are reputable. This eliminates pages of Google searching and gets you started on the right path. 

As you continue with your research, hide or remove venues that you know are way out of your budget. Removing it takes away the temptation and keeps you focused and realistic. 

Don’t hesitate to contact venues to ask a few questions or get rates if you can’t get them directly from their websites. You do not want to work off of blog posts or forums for pricing. Rates can change every year, and even by season for venues. Make sure you are getting the right information up front. 

If a venue does not include food, beverage or rentals it is imperative that you do the extra research before visiting. Ask for a list of recommended vendors from the venue. Contact the caterers and rental companies on that list and ask them what an average contract for a guest list of your size at that wedding venue is. It is crucial you have a full picture of what it would cost to have the basics before moving forward with the empty warehouse you love.

For the modern couple planning their wedding in NY, NJ + PA. Real weddings, engagements, inspiration + more!
Photo of The River Cafe by Amy Rizzuto Photography


Congrats! You have made it through the research process. Give yourself a, much earned, pat on the back. Now that you have whittled down your online research to the venues that fit your budget, can accommodate your guests, and match the style and vibe you are going for, it’s time to make appointments to visit each location in person. Make a weekend (or two) out of it and enjoy! The days may be long, but they are important. Pro tip: take the information you put together for the spreadsheet and make little “Venue Summaries” on each venue to bring with you. Include on there any questions that weren’t answered from your research. This will act as an easy to use cheat sheet and help you keep notes throughout the visits. Also, take photos while you are there and try to get a feel for staff! You will be working with them closely.


The key to negotiation is respect. These folks are professionals and know what they can offer you in order to still make a profit for their company. Also, keep in mind not all venues negotiate. Typically, venues that include food service have more of flexibility- want a larger cocktail hour? Consider offering removing a course, or an entrée option to add another station. Kindly explain something that was offered at another venue, say an earlier arrival time, in order to see if your top two or three favorites can more closely align. I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay professional and respectful throughout this process, it will take you much further than playing hardball! 

7 | BOOK

You’re ready to make your choice, congratulations! Booking typically requires a deposit and dates are not secured till the deposit is received. At this time, take note and put reminders in your calendar or phone about when the other payments are due. 

Photo of Brant Beach Yacht Club by  Bryan Sargent Photography
Photo of Brant Beach Yacht Club by Bryan Sargent Photography

This is a lot of work and can be overwhelming, but the hard work will really pay off in the end. You will know you made the right choice for you and your partner’s big day! 

If you’re feelings stressed out, don’t skip the work; hire a professional! A planner’s insights will be immeasurable throughout the entire wedding planning process, particularly while setting up your working budget and finding the best venue. Hiring a planner doesn’t mean you are passing over the reins to your wedding and will have no say. Rather, you are working with somebody with unique knowledge of the industry that will help you maximize your budget.