The Reception Venue
After you secure a ceremony date and location, find a reception site. During peak wedding months (April–October) competition for sites is heavy; if you're marrying in this time frame, start looking at least a year in advance. During your search, keep in mind a couple of key factors:
Proximity. The proximity of the ceremony and reception venues to each other is important. The two locations should be no more than a thirty-minute drive apart. You don't want your guests spending more time driving than enjoying your wedding celebration.
Accessibility. The accessibility of the site is also a key factor. There are many amazing places for a wedding, but you have to consider the guests' needs and their ability to arrive safely at the destination. For example, would you be crushed if your ninety-year-old grandmother couldn't make it down the rocky beachfront staircase to see you exchange vows? If so, pick another location.
Reception Options When it comes to finding the perfect reception venue, the big question is “What are you looking for?” You need a site that fits into your budget, can hold all your guests, and still presents an appearance and atmosphere that you like. With any site you visit, notice the architectural details, color schemes, overall care and maintenance of the property, and photography sites. Does the setting suit the mood you want to evoke? How well would this site fit into your dream wedding?
If you'd like to get away from the traditional banquet hall reception, consider these alternatives:
Castle, estate, or historic mansion
College or university
Museum or gallery
Private or state park or garden
Yacht, ship, boat
Questions to Ask
During your meeting, make sure you receive satisfactory answers to the following questions. Often the information can be found in the site's brochure or literature, but the location manager should be able to provide any answers you need.
Is the site conveniently located?
What size party can the site accommodate?
What rooms are available?
How long is the site available? Is there a minimum amount of time? Are there overtime charges if the reception runs late?
Is there a dance floor? (What size?)
Does the site have a catering service? Can you bring in your own caterer if you wish?
Does the site provide tables, chairs, dinnerware, and linens?
What about decorations?
Can the facility accommodate live music? Does it have the proper layout, wiring, and equipment?
Does the site coordinator have any recommendations for setup and decorations? Can he or she recommend any florists, bands, disc jockeys, or caterers?
Are there any restrictions regarding decorations, music, or photography?
May you see photos of previous receptions?
What services come with the site (i.e., waiters, waitresses, bartenders, parking valets)?
What is the standard server-to-guest ratio?
What kind of reservation deposit is required?
Will there be any other weddings at the site on the same day as yours?
Is there a package plan? Is so, what does it include?
Are gratuities included in the price you quoted?
Is there any rental fee for table linens, plants, decorations?
Does the price vary with the time of day?
If it is an outdoor site, what alternate plans are there in case of inclement weather?
Will the deposit be returned if you have to cancel?
Does the site have a liquor license? Liability insurance? Are you required to show proof of liability insurance?
What is the policy on open bars? If you do have an open bar, are you responsible for providing the liquor?
Is there a corkage fee? (If you're supplying your own liquor, some sites will charge a corkage fee to cover the costs of the staff opening bottles and pouring drinks.)
What are the drink prices at a cash bar versus a hosted bar?
What types of beverages are available?
Is there an added price for garnishes for the bar?
What is the layout of the tables? How many people does each table seat?
Is there enough parking? Is it free? If there is valet parking, what is the policy on rates and gratuities?
Is there a coat-check room? Will there be coatroom and restroom attendants? A doorman? What are the charges?
Are there changing rooms for the bride and groom?
Who pays for any police or security that may be required?
May you see their references?
Once you have solid answers to these questions, and after you've evaluated your needs and wants and have the facts and figures, you need to determine which site meets your needs and your budget. A deposit (usually a significant nonrefundable amount) will reserve the site you want. Be sure to get a written contract stipulating every term of your agreement (specific costs, details, inclusions, exclusions, special requests) before giving your deposit. Signing a contract will also protect you from becoming a victim of escalating fees, which come into play when you reserve a site well in advance of the wedding date. Perhaps you've reserved the site in August for a wedding the following August. If you don't sign a contract specifying this year's prices, the site may try to charge you new, higher rates.
Reception Site Tracker
Use this handy checklist to keep track of the information on your reception site options: