A year in the life of wedding planning: finding your ‘perfect’ venue, by Jenna Hewitt
If you missed Claire’s lovely introduction last month, I’m Jenna Hewitt from Weddings by Jenna Hewitt. I’m a creative wedding planner who loves to work with couples looking for style and a sense of laid back luxury where the focus is all about the atmosphere, the food, the drink and having an amazing party!
Over the next 12 months I’m really excited to be covering a year in the life of planning a wedding and each month I’ll be sharing the inside, honest track of what it takes to plan your perfect day as well as what to expect and watch out for along the way. In fact I’ll be writing about the planning journey of real life couple and lovely clients of mine, Hannah and Ben. Today I’m starting with the venue search!
No such thing as the perfect venue?
My first tip for the venue hunt is to steer well clear of the word ‘perfect’. It is almost impossible to find the perfect venue in every sense and you could end up quickly frustrated. The trick to making the venue search an enjoyable one is to narrow down your must haves as well as what you are willing to be flexible on.
In Hannah and Ben’s case they were super clear. Ben’s family will have to travel from North America and with that distance involved it made sense to make it more than a one-day thing. On top of this they wanted a location within a couple of hours from Heathrow that would be exclusively theirs, with a civil license to marry on site and accommodation for them and their guests included (or at least within walking distance).
They had a venue earmarked but they had a niggle (I told you not to seek perfection)… their almost perfect venue has a civil licence for 100 guests and a (seated) reception capacity of 80. Their extended guest list exceeded these numbers. With this in mind I cast the net in search of a venue that could tick all their big boxes and host the numbers. Guess what? We couldn’t find one. Whichever way you looked at it there would be some compromise and Hannah and Ben had to make a decision on the compromise – in their case the guest list – and we landed on the fabulous venue, Cowley Manor, in the Cotswolds.
Things to consider
It’s all very well me telling you to list your priorities but if you really haven’t a clue where to begin I’d advise starting with the main 3: location, numbers and budget. If you can be clear here you’ll save yourself heaps of wasted time and effort.
Even if you haven’t a specific location in mind, most couples have some thoughts of where they would like to marry. This may be as general as you know that you want to marry in the UK but you aren’t bothered exactly where or, perhaps, you know you want to marry abroad. Having an idea of location, even if only broadly speaking, will help you whittle down your search.
Other things to think about are things like whether it’s important to you that everything happens on one site (marriage and celebration) or whether you are willing to travel between the two.
I wouldn’t advise even beginning planning a wedding without working out your maximum budget and wouldn’t start venue searching until you have. As a rough guide, expect your venue and catering costs to take up to 40-50% of your entire wedding budget. This should give you an idea of the price range you’ll be looking at.
With Hannah and Ben’s experience in mind I probably don’t need to stress this one but all venues will have a maximum capacity and you’ll want to decide how many people you are planning to invite.
And now to the fun bit! How do you want your wedding to look and feel, and what vibe are you going after? Most couples have a pretty good idea on this from the start. Whether it be city chic, laid back luxury or classic elegance, you’ll probably find deciding this the easiest part! Different venue types will suit different kinds of wedding style and this is worth thinking about. Much more to come on this in future posts but the styling was definitely an area that Hannah and Ben were wiling to compromise/trust me on so that we hit on something to suit the venue.
The venue visit nitty gritty
Once you’ve got a handle on all of the above you’ll (hopefully) find it straightforward to start narrowing down the choices and booking in to visit your shortlist. At this point come the details. These are the smaller things that you are (likely) willing to compromise on but definitely things you’ll want to ask each venue.
As I merrily tripped off to visit the team at Cowley Manor on a very wet Thursday in June, I went armed with my checklist! Think details like: last order times at the bar and cut off times for amplified music; venue restrictions on what you can and cannot do with the decor; degree of flexibility on things like preferred suppliers and corkage rules; wet weather contingency; facilities for children or less able guests; whether you will have to hire in extra furniture and/or seating; the turnaround plan if, for example, your ceremony and wedding breakfast are happening in the same room; what level of help/support (if any) you’ll get from the venue on the day of the wedding and leading up to it and from who (and whether or not this is always the same person).
The list is pretty extensive so take time to write it all down. The team at Cowley were more than amazing at covering off every aspect for me.
A great place to start
Personally I am a massive fan of Coco Wedding Venues, a beautifully curated online wedding venue directory. If you are at the start of the search and feeling slightly overwhelmed, grab a cuppa (or, even better, a glass of wine) and take a look. It’s easy to navigate, the venues have all been hand picked and they are even categorised by wedding style.
So there you have it, a guide to finding your venue. A huge thank you to Cowley Manor for hosting me and to Helen Warner for accompanying me on the visit and capturing these beautiful images. Next month we’ll be talking guest list and how to tackle the question of little ones at weddings.