Were you recently just engaged and beginning to figure out how to choose a wedding venue? Below is the first blog in our series of following Central Florida engaged couple Becky & Richy from their epic proposal through the wedding planning process, step by step!
They just finished the wedding venue search and the tours and are sharing below their guidance and inside thoughts from a real couple!
What we did before the search started.
Before we even began searching for a wedding venue we had some specifics we needed to narrow down, the first of these being our guest list. After adding all of our family and friends we thought we wanted to be there on our special day we were at about 88 guests.
Then we started discussing the time of year we wanted to have the wedding. We decided there wasn’t really any specific date we had our hearts set on, we did know that we wanted a day in the two cooler months in Florida, January, and February of 2022.
Bella Collina Wedding Team Advice: What are a few helpful pieces of information for the venue to know before a couple comes for a tour and why do they matter?
“It is very important for us to know the expected wedding date, anticipated guest count, and what the couple is envisioning for their event as a whole!”
The most stressful and important discussions we had before starting our search and during the search process was about our entire budget. When we started we decided we wanted to spend no more than $18,000 on the entire wedding day and the honeymoon combined, the goal for the wedding total being around $15,000.
We had actually started saving for the wedding before getting engaged and had been saving since January. After we determined the final budget amount, we subtracted the amount we already had in the savings account and divided that remainder by the number of months left before 2022.
This allowed us to know exactly how much we needed to put into the savings account each month to have enough for our entire budget. To get to this amount we both started picking up different side-hustles and extra shifts to be able to put that monthly amount and extra as we started to realize the costs that came with all of the wedding things. Without the help of my boss Shannon Tarrant, our owner of WeddingVenueMap.com, and my other boss Christy, the owner of Anna Christine Events; we probably would have realized the true cost of venues and vendors much later than we did.
Where did we look for wedding venues?
When we began looking for venues, I already had some knowledge of the venues in Central Florida after working for Wedding Venue Map for a little over 10 months. Naturally, we turned to the Wedding Venue Map and its online venue search first.
Starting out there wasn’t really a specific style of wedding venue that we had our eye on, except for one wedding venue we knew, even before we were engaged, we had to see in person together. That venue was Bella Collina, even though we knew it might be a little bit of a stretch with our budget the pictures we had seen were too beautiful to not at least give it a chance.
Using the venue search we selected the search criteria that fit our needs/wants:
Estimated # of Guests: 75 and 100
Price Range: we went back and forth with selecting this when looking through the list and decided on just looking at all of them that fit the rest of the criteria.
Venue Style: we skipped this criterion
I’m looking for a venue for my: Ceremony and Reception
Ceremony Setting: Outdoor
Reception Setting: Indoor
The rest of these criteria we left blank, they weren’t anything that had a lot of significance for us:
Catering Options, Bar Options, Parking Options, Do I have to keep it down?, Amenities, Vendors, I also need a venue for and Virtual Tours
This brought us to a pretty decent sized list that we went through one by one looking at images on the listings as well as their websites.
How did we narrow them down?
To narrow down all of the ones we found based on our starting criteria we started keeping track of the ones we liked the look of and wanted to find more information about on a spreadsheet.
The spreadsheet included venue name, city, price during the week, price on each day of the weekend, hours allotted, bride/groom suite, if there was a required caterer, anything else we felt was important to us, and finally the link to their website or, if we had it, the link to their pricing packages.
Creating this sheet helped us see all of the ones we really felt fit what we were looking for and then started to color code them based upon what fits our budget, what could maybe fit the budget, and what was absolutely not in the budget. Download the template of our venue comparison spreadsheet here! ***
However, while we were doing this some that didn’t fit the budget got removed from the list, and others that we were really interested in staying on even if they didn’t quite fit our budget.
Bella Collina Wedding Team Advice: Do you have any tips for couples who are trying to compare a few different venues?
“It is important to read reviews and compare vital aspects of each venue such as communication, aesthetics and exclusivity. As this is one of the most important days of your life, confidence in your decision is key.”
How did we choose a wedding venue to tour?
We knew there was no way to pick a venue without setting up venue tours so we started scheduling them at the beginning of November, a month after we got engaged. In total, we toured seven wedding venues: Bella Cosa Lakeside, Cypress Grove Estate House, Luxmore Grande Estate, The Highland Manor, Bella Collina, Tavares Pavilion on the Lake, and The Howey Mansion.
Originally we had only picked five of those seven wedding venues to tour from our research, but two were added as we kept looking at Instagram and through all the listings.
Scheduling the tours became one of the biggest challenges, with both of us having different work schedules and especially with some of the venues not offering a lot of evening or weekend appointments. The easiest tours for us to set an appointment for were the ones where when we reached out they sent us a calendar link in response to schedule it ourselves based on what was available.
Bella Collina Wedding Team Advice: Who and how many people should come on the tour?
“We love to meet the couple and their most important members of their wedding when meeting for a site tour. As the tour is in depth and typically budget, preliminary menu and logistics are discussed, it is important to have the couple along with the decision makers at the tour.”
At first, Richy felt like I was moving too quickly scheduling all of the tours in the first two months we were engaged and he just wanted to enjoy being engaged for a little. However, once the middle of December hit, he realized it was just barely over a year from when we planned to have the wedding and we still had so many other vendors to book that we couldn’t until the venue and date were secured.
What were the best parts of each tour?
Going to each tour was almost like a date for us, we got the entire car ride there to talk about different parts of the wedding and then on the way back had time to talk through everything we thought about that each venue. Afterward, we would often get dinner or spend some time together doing other things not related to the wedding to make sure all of our time together wasn’t always about the wedding.
Bella Collina Wedding Team Advice: How much time should couples plan to spend on a venue tour?
“We estimate about an hour to an hour and a half for our site visits.”
Seeing each of the spaces in person lets you have a much clearer idea of the flow of events for your day, pictures can give you a great idea of what you’ll see and how your wedding pictures may look. There’s no picture that will give you the same feeling of the venue in person, or they might even have spaces you fall in love with that aren’t often featured on social media for a reason.
Ending our tours sitting down in one of the spaces with the venue coordinator to see photo albums along with packages and pricing information helped to really give us the time to take in all of our options and think about any more questions we may have.
Bella Collina Wedding Team Advice: What is the difference between the venue rental cost and the food and beverage package?
“The site fee covers the rental of the event space whereas the food and beverage minimum is an amount that must be spent on food and beverage items.”
Can you explain what a food and beverage minimum is? (a lot of venues don’t have them but couples don’t always understand it)
“This is the minimum amount that must be spent on food and beverage. The minimum may be met by choosing from menu packages as well as enhancing the bar, cocktail hour, after party and dessert options.”
The follow-up emails that some of the venues sent us after a tour was very helpful, especially the ones that gave us a quote for our wedding day vision. It made us feel like they really listened to us during the tour and put together a package that was personalized to us, even if we could put one together based on their packages ourselves, it was nice to see the pricing and inclusions all together.
What were some things that could have gone better?
Scheduling tours was very difficult when the venues were an hour or more away from us and they only offered tours earlier in the day when we both worked, it made things a lot harder to see them sooner to decide and book the venue earlier.
On the tours, we really enjoyed it when the person we met with painted us a full picture of the entire day, and each event in multiple ways throughout the property. However, some didn’t do the best job and left it up to us to envision the day which for us felt like a bit of a letdown.
Some smaller things we wish had been better would be some of the venue coordinators we met with addressing both of us as opposed to just one, both in person and through email.
What questions did we ask?
During the tours, we knew it was important for us to know a few specific things that could help our budget or just the overall wedding vision we had.
Here are some of the questions we tried to ask at every venue visit if they didn’t already give us that information throughout the tour:
- What’s included in the venue rental?
- How many hours are included in the rental and what time does it start and end?
- Do you have any vendors that we’re required to use?
- Is the price of the venue rental more affordable on a weekday?
- Do you allow real candles?
- When is the deadline for the venue to make the rain back-up call?
Bella Collina Wedding Team Advice: What are some questions that couples forget to ask and why is that important?
“1. Do I need a wedding coordinator? 2. Is there availability for a rehearsal and/or rehearsal brunch, lunch or dinner on the property? 3. Do you have onsite accommodations? 4. Do you have recommendations for transportation for guests? 5. Is parking included? 6. What is required of any vendors that we book?”
While those were most of the questions we asked at the venues every time we asked so many other different questions too, some were the most random thoughts that came up during the tour. It was important for us to ask everything that we could to really get an understanding of how it would fit our overall vision.
Even things as small as asking “Can we take a picture there?”, especially at historic venues these kinds of questions are good to ask before the wedding day. I saw a really nice balcony at a wedding venue and thought it would make such a good spot for pictures but our venue coordinator let us know we couldn’t simply because it was so old they couldn’t ensure the integrity of its structure anymore.
Advice for other couples venue searching.
In the Central Florida area, there are SO many venues to sort through and look at, we would definitely recommend reaching out to the venue experts like, Shannon Tarrant at Wedding Venue Map, or local wedding planners that really know the industry and can also help you better understand what your budget will actually get you.
Bella Collina Wedding Team Advice: Anything else that is important for couples trying to find a venue?
“Research prior to scheduling a tour and make sure you have all pricing information in order to make an informed decision once you have toured the property. Be prepared to place a deposit once you fall in love with the venue as dates are prime and typically first come first served.”
Finding the perfect venue might take longer than you think when scheduling tours that fit two different schedules or even looking at more if you don’t like the first ones that you visit. Start searching and touring early.
There’s no right or wrong way for figuring out how to choose a wedding venue, but there are definitely things that can be done to make the process a lot less stressful. Venue shopping may be a series of tough decisions, a fair amount of drive time, and a bit of stress but when you tour that one venue that every day after, you dream about getting married to the love of your life there, it will have all been worth it.
Keep an eye out for our next post in the blog series, Becky & Richy Get Married, when we reveal our wedding venue!