Lock down your wedding venue, and everything else seems to fall into place. The only problem? Finding a location that’s just right for the two of you can be a daunting task. Luckily, we’ve got the experts on our side. Lisa Lee, principal wedding planner for Vancouver’s Shing Weddings, and Aly Armstrong, principal event planner for Aly Armstrong Event Planning and Design, share their tips on finding the perfect space for your perfect day. 

Develop your theme
Obviously, your venue should be a reflection of your taste, personality and style. “You can eliminate so many options just by asking, ‘Does this complement my overall vision?’” says Armstong. Lee agrees: “Don’t book the Rosewood Hotel if you want a shabby-chic wedding,” for example. Starting a Pinterest board can help you visualize your dream vibe and make sure that you, your partner and your planner all share the same vision. “It really helps to share what you love visually, as opposed to speaking or thinking about it,” Armstrong adds. “Some things can get lost in translation. And once a planner knows your style, they can recommend venues accordingly.”

What’s on your wish list?
Before you start looking, make a list of the elements you can’t live without. Whether you need a water view or a locale within driving distance for grandma, narrowing in on your non-negotiables will help you weed out the venues that don’t fit. 

Add ’em up
Your estimated guest count is another factor that can affect your venue options. “I 100 per cent recommend a couple has an estimated guest count in mind before they start looking,” says Armstrong. “ You won’t look at the convention centre if you want an intimate affair, and vice versa.”

Beware of hidden costs
The cost of a venue usually doesn’t end with the rental fee. “You’ve got to come up with a budget, and then read the contract carefully before you commit,” advises Lee. Many venues have minimum food or beverage spends that can come as a shock to a couple after they’ve booked. There may also be elements like automatic gratuities, a minimum number of servers per table, cake-cutting fees or even a dance-floor rental charge. That being said, many venues offer lower minimum charges on Fridays or Sundays, so if you’re up for a non-Saturday wedding, you may just save. 

What can I bring?
Even if you plan a DIY wedding, many venues have stipulations about what outside elements are allowed on site. “Some people just assume you can bring your own booze, and then find out otherwise, so that can be a costly surprise,” Lee notes. “And venues can be very particular about vendors, too. You may want your uncle to DJ, but some venues won’t accommodate anyone outside their own list.” Suddenly, you’re spending money on music that you didn’t intend. You’ll also want to check with the venue about things that you don’t need to bring. Sometimes rentals may include tables and chairs, or in-house sound system with wireless mics and podiums, so you can take them out of your budget.

Lay it all out
“Some couples have a certain configuration in mind, like a head table or sweetheart table,” says Armstrong. “So, when you look at a venue, think about whether it can accommodate your ideal floor plan and layout.” Check with the venue coordinator on site – they know the space and what’s worked there in the past, and they may be able to send over floor plans. Don’t forget to look out for poles or structural columns that may obscure the view for your guests.

Time it right
Read the contract carefully to see when you can set up and tear down. “You want to make sure there’s ample time to complete the vision without affecting the time you get to spend with your guests,” says Armstrong. A good window of time for setup will also help avoid making your vendors feel rushed. 

Light it up
“If you want beautiful event photos, make sure the lighting is superb,” Armstrong recommends. Visit the space during the time of day you’ll be having the reception to check on how well it’s lit. If you want candlelight, you’ll need to check with your venue. “It’s important to a lot of my brides to have romantic candlelight, but in some venues, you can’t burn candles – for good reasons,” laughs Armstrong.  

Get flexible
Flex spaces can be invaluable in helping your big day run smoothly, so ask if your venue option has room outside of the main ceremony area that you can use. “You might want an area for the bride and groom to change in, or somewhere for vendors to store something, or a place to drop things off the night before,” notes Lee.  

Deposit danger
The best-laid plans can change, so make sure you’re committed to your venue before you pony up your deposit. “I had one bride and groom promise me they’d have 150 people, and it crept up to 250, so we had to cancel the small venue that had been booked,” says Lee. That change cost them $800. The lesson: Don’t rush in. Be sure about what you want and need from a space before you go all in – just the way you’re sure about the person you’re marrying.