Choosing a wedding reception location

He gave you the diamond...
You said yes...
Now you need to consider the when, where, and how of your wedding. A black-tie affair? What about a clambake? Or an afternoon gathering with your closest friends and family where champagne and cake is on the menu?

Choosing the site where you exchange your vows and celebrate with your guests can be one of the most time-consuming and overwhelming tasks in the entire wedding planning process. Here are some tips and suggestions for making an informed site search decision!

Strength in Numbers

First of all, consider your guest list. If one or both of you have a large family and many friends, keep your budget not just in the front of your mind—make sure it's right on your forehead. One way to think of it is that you are taking all of these people out to eat, and it's on your tab. According to many sources, the average nationwide cost for a wedding today is approximately $25,000 for a guest list of 150 people. A lot of cash for one night, so try your best to make sure that your wedding defies statistics and comes in well under published averages. Also, make sure that your chosen facility can comfortably accommodate the number of people you are inviting. The setup of the room, type of food service you choose (i.e., seated vs. cocktails vs. stations!), and even the size of the dance floor can alter the number of people that can fit within a given room. On the flip side, smaller weddings (less than 100 guests) need to ask whether there is a minimum number of guests required, particularly during peak seasons. If you approach a facility for a June wedding on a Saturday night with 60 people, do not be surprised if the site tells you that there is a 100, 125, or even 175 people minimum for that time frame.

A REFLECTION OF YOU

Are you looking for something a little different than the last bunch of weddings you've been to? Although hotel ballrooms are a preferable option for many couples, sometimes you just want something a little unique. There are wineries, historical homes and mansions, museums, chartered yachts, bed and breakfasts, country clubs, ski lodge and beach resorts, membership organizations such as Elks Lodges (some can be pretty nice!), and let's not forget your good old' backyard. Although all of these options may not fit every budget, there are other choices that are available. Rental fees for many museums, mansions, and some historical homes can occasionally elicit words of shock from unprepared "site shoppers", but keep in mind that the upkeep of these locations is not inexpensive. Needless to say, the wear and tear from having throngs of celebrating people at these sites can easily justify the need for costly maintenance and cleaning later. However, as rental fees can vary significantly from locale to locale, your best bet is to check the ones in your general area and see for yourself whether these are possible avenues to be explored. Keep in mind, a wedding overall should be a reflection of you and your fiancé. If both of you are true city slickers and think country villas are for the birds, it may look odd to you and your guests to see the two of you at a quaint bed and breakfast. If you are not comfortable with a certain setting and feel that it doesn't quite fit your personality, there's a hint right there that you may want to keep looking!

HOW TO FIND THESE PLACES

So where do you find all of these wonderful places? First of all, check out WedNet's fine compilation of wedding reception locations. You should also check your Yellow Pages under banquet facilities and function facilities. Area wedding consultants are always an option, as they may have knowledge of locations that are not necessarily advertised, as well as ones you may have overlooked. If you are getting married in an area which you may or may not be familiar with or not even living in, this may be something to consider. To find a consultant to help you find your site, you can reference local issues of bridal magazines, (another option for finding reception sites), Yellow Page listings, other local wedding vendors, and even membership organizations such as June Wedding, Inc. Another resource to check with would be the local Convention and Visitors Bureau of the area you are considering. Event-related vendors of all types, including function facilities and caterers, are members of these organizations. You just need to give the Bureau staff your information and what specifically you are looking for. They will contact their members, who should in turn provide you with the details on their sites and services.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

Distance and ease of accessibility are also very important. Where are the majority of your guests coming from? Will they have a long and complicated drive to the site, opening the possibility for getting lost in unfamiliar areas? How about out-of-state or long-distance guests, are there overnight rooms available in the area? For elderly or handicapped guests, make sure that the facility can accommodate them properly. A stately mansion set on a hill looks spectacular, but if multilevel staircases or narrow hallways would hinder a special guest or two, make sure there are alternate arrangements for them. Remember, those majestic homes built in 1854 didn't have Disability Acts to consider when building!

A very important and often overlooked factor is the staff. Are they attentive to you? How is their responsiveness to your questions and requests? Do they seem like they would truly spend the time needed with you to make sure that your day at their site is smooth? Although we all have our "off days", it is important to consider how you are treated in the initial planning stages by any of your vendors. For example, if you have indicated that you would like to look into choosing your own florist, band, and photographer, be wary if the Sales Manager actively promotes their "all inclusive" package even after you have made a statement such as that. Many places will offer a package plan for sake of convenience and in many cases, value, but you should ask if you have the option to provide your own service providers as well.

Some sites have a "recommended", "preferred", or "suggested" vendor list. Especially with off-premise catering sites (ones which do not provide in-house catering and need an "outside" caterer to provide food), these facilities may have worked with many of the area caterers before, vendors who are familiar with the limitations and restrictions of the facility itself. Although there may be some sites that have exclusive contracts with certain vendors, particularly caterers, you should still ask if your site will allow a vendor not on their list to work on your day. The worst they can say is no, and if you really had your heart set on your long-time special occasion caterer, then this is not the site for you.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Another point to ponder is the time you can have the facility from and until. Consider the length of your ceremony, plus post-ceremony time for pictures and well wishers, as well as travel time to your reception site from the ceremony. If your ceremony is at 11 a.m. and your facility is expecting you to eat at high noon, there may be a bit of a problem. Are you the only wedding that they will be hosting that day, or are you under time restrictions? If you are having a day reception and the facility has evening bookings, you most likely need to be out by early evening in order for the staff to break down your event and set up the next. This is something to think about especially in the cases of day weddings; maybe you want to continue your celebration well into the evening, but you may need to move the party elsewhere if time slots are being assigned. Ask about overtime rates. If your facility quotes you a fee for say, four hours, but you really want to have it a bit longer, see if they will accommodate you if you cut them a check for a couple more hours of party time.

When you hear of tips like "time of day", "off-peak discounts", and "repeat function discounts", these are things to consider. Specifically, you can have an entrée that is on the luncheon menu and the same item on the dinner menu…chances are that the same entrée can be up to $5 per plate lower for lunch. With 150 guests, that right there is a savings of $750. Saturday nights in many regions of the country are typically the most popular times for weddings, so the basic theory of Supply and Demand can be applied here as to why a meal may cost more in the evening hours. If you are lucky enough to have a facility that only hosts one wedding per day, you may have a bit more flexibility with pricing; check with the Catering Manager for their different menus.

Off-peak means different things to different parts of the country. In New England, for example, an off peak discount usually applies anywhere from November to March, although this can vary by location. Primarily, the off peak season starts in January, since December can often be occupied with corporate and private holiday parties. However, January and February may be height of the season for warmer climes, so assume nothing and be sure to ask when planning a reception out of your area! Friday nights and Sundays are considered off-peak at many sites as well, so ask if there are any discounts on events held on these days. However, if the Sunday you choose happens to be the day before a Monday holiday, the same Sunday discount that applied the weekend before may not hold true on that particular Sunday. Ask ahead of time so there are no surprises.

If you are hosting a reception at a facility that also accommodates smaller functions such as showers or rehearsal dinners, ask your Sales Manager if there are any discounts available on those events. Sometimes facilities will recognize that you are bringing them more business by having multiple events at their site and not at the restaurant down the street, therefore possibly providing you with some type of discount structure. It never hurts to ask!

Once you have considered all of these items, as well as the myriad of others that go with planning a wedding, you will be sure that you have made an educated decision regarding your reception site. Happy hunting!