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Planning well in advance will minimize a lot of the pressure when selecting a location for your wedding ceremony and/or reception.  Depending upon where you live there may be a shortage of ceremony and reception facilities which means that you should start looking early and try to book your selected wedding ceremony and reception locations not less than 1 year in advance to make sure you have a location for your wedding ceremony and wedding reception.

In major metropolitan areas, Saturday availability at some popular wedding venues is booked over a year in advance and some dates are reserved even up to 2 years in advance.  If you are planning for a wedding date less than a year away, it may be easier to find a ceremony or reception facility available for Friday evening or Sunday afternoon rather than Saturday evening.  Some wedding reception venues also offer discounts for Friday's and Sunday's to fill the space.  You may also be able to find discounts available from wedding suppliers since those days are in lower demand.

There are numerous resources to be found in the local yellow pages, on the Internet and in local publications as well as during discussions with potential suppliers.  Start making a list of wedding reception facilities that are in the vicinity of where you would like your wedding reception to be held.

Assuming you have selected an approximate wedding date, call the reception facilities to determine the availability for your selected date(s).  Inquire about seating capacities, parking, catering policies, entertainment policies and facility rental pricing as well as other factors that may ultimately affect your decision.  Also, ask that a brochure or information packet along with a floor plan be sent to you.  You can also make an appointment to tour the wedding reception facility if that location interests you.

Try to schedule your tour of the wedding reception venue at approximately the same time of day and on the same day of the week as your planned wedding.  Even better, try to tour the facility when it is decorated for a wedding as well so you can see how it is set up and decorated.  Bring a notepad, a pen, a tape measure, and a list of questions. Although you may not be able to take photos if another wedding reception is being held at the time, bring a camera along as well.  Be prepared to make notes so you can refer to the information later.

When you arrive at the reception facility the first thing to notice is the parking situation and the entrance to the facility.

  • Is the building/entrance to the parking area readily distinguishable or will guest pass it by?

  • Will parking be adequate for the number of wedding guests you intend to invite?  If not, is there overflow parking close by?

  • Is parking free or is there a parking fee? 

  • If you are having an evening wedding, does it appear to be well lit in the evening for the safety of you and your guests?

  • Are there local businesses that use the parking lot for overflow parking?  Will this be a problem on the date/time of your wedding?

  • Does the entrance appear to be well lit?

Once you have answered these questions it is time to take a general tour of the inside of the wedding reception venue. Once inside, look at the general condition of the facility.

  • Is it clean and well lit?  Check the floor in the entrance and main room and also inspect the bathrooms to get a feel for how detailed the facility is about cleaning.  While you are at it, note the color of the floor or carpeting and the general color scheme of the facility.

  • Is there sufficient space for tables and chairs for your guests as well as a wedding cake table, buffet table (if needed), bar area, dance floor plus the band or d.j. without being crowded?

  • Can the lights in the dining area/dance area/bar area be controlled or is it simply an on/off option throughout the entire area?

  • Is there air conditioning and/or heat available?   More importantly, can it be controlled during the wedding reception?  (Older heating systems are not always that easy to adjust.)

  • Are there a number of steps either up or down to any area that elderly guests may have difficulty with?  If so, are there ramps or elevators?

  • Where is the band or dj usually located?

  • Can the lights in the dining area/dance area/bar area be controlled or is it simply an on/off option throughout the entire area?

Your meeting with the wedding reception facility coordinator can create a wealth of information for you when it comes to finding the better suppliers and caterers. Simply ask the coordinator which companies have serviced weddings at that location and jot down their names for later reference. The coordinator may also have planning tools like floor plans, seating charts, etc. to make the job of coordinating your wedding reception much easier.

Assuming the literature you have read about the wedding reception venue has not answered the following questions, here are a few other questions that should probably be asked...  

What is your catering policy? Some wedding reception venues will allow any caterer to service events at the facility while others have a "preferred" or "approved" catering list.  If the reception facility has a catering resource list, ask for a copy. If the facility has an "approved" list and you have a specific caterer in mind that you would like to service your wedding reception who is not on the "list" make sure that your caterer is able to provide service at that facility.  Tip:  Some venues would rather allow a caterer who is not on the list to serve the event than to lose a booking.  See our section on Wedding Caterers.

What is your alcoholic beverage policy? (If you plan to have alcoholic beverages available.)
Some wedding reception facilities are licensed to provide alcoholic beverage service while others who are not licensed will allow you to arrange for the service through your caterer, beverage service company or other source. Be sure to read our section on Wedding Beverages and Beverage Service.

What is your smoking policy?  Some facilities have a no smoking policy while others have specific areas designated for smoking.

How have you seen the reception facility set up for a group of this size?   This will give you some insight and probably a few new ideas about how to set up the area to make it work well for your size of group.  The coordinator can assist you with the proper placement of the food service, bar, and dance areas as well as determine the best table arrangement to accommodate your size of wedding reception.

What is the rental cost and exactly what is provided in the rental cost?  This is an area where you don't want to be taking anything for granted.

  • Some reception venues require that you rent everything, either from them or someone else, including the basic items like tables and chairs.

  • Some require that you "hire" security while others provide it as part of the rental charge. 

  • Some charge for the set-up of tables as well as teardown of tables and clean up of the facility at the end of the event while others include it as part of the rental charge.

  • Some provide a dance floor while others require that you rent one.

  • Some require additional insurance coverage to be paid by the client while others do not.

  • Some (believe it or not) wedding reception facilities who offer in house catering charge gratuity based on the food and beverage PLUS the facility and equipment rental while (fortunately) others do not. 

Hey, it is not stupid to ask questions. Since just about every wedding reception venue does things differently it is VERY stupid not to ask questions. You wouldn't buy a car or a house without asking a lot of questions, so why should this major investment be any different.  You simply want to learn everything there is to know about that facility so you can make an informed decision.  If they don't want to answer your questions, look for the door you came in.

What are the hours of rental?  The price you are quoted is usually for a specific period of time.  Some wedding reception facilities will allow early set up the evening prior to the day of a wedding reception while others may allow as little as an hour prior for set up (which is not a good thing).  You will need to know when you can have access to the facility so you can advise your suppliers and you will also need to know when everything has to be out of the facility so you don't get charged for extra rental time.

Do you charge the caterers a "catering fee" to service this reception venue?  This can be a VERY important question to ask if you are trying to get the best value since some wedding reception locations charge caterers a "catering fee" which can end up being passed along to the client in the form of higher catering costs.

TIP: In just one instance (and this is not an uncommon instance) we found that catering costs from caterers on the "Approved Caterer List" at several facilities were 15% to 25% higher than at other facilities because those facilities with "Approved Lists" charged the caterers a 15% - 25% of sale "Catering Fee" to be on the "Approved Caterer List".  And you thought you were only paying for the reception facility once?  Think again!

Is there a noise curfew?
Some wedding reception locations require that the music volume be reduced or totally eliminated at a specific time due to local residential housing.

Will a facility contact person be on site at all times from the beginning of set up to the end of breakdown?
You would be surprised how many little unexpected "things" can pop up during the set up and during the wedding reception.  Bands and caterers can blow fuses or trip electrical circuit breakers and black out the entire room, doors can become accidentally locked, a sink in a restroom may become clogged and overflow, the dining room may be too hot or too cold or too bright or too dark, etc. all of which will require someone who is familiar with the wedding reception facility to remedy the problem.

Who handles the breakdown and clean up at the end of the event?
Thought you could just leave at the end of the wedding reception and begin enjoying married life?  Be sure that you are not responsible for putting the tables and chairs away at the end of the reception.

Is there refrigerated storage on site for leftovers?
This comes in really handy especially after a buffet style dinner service.  Check to make sure the temperature is at 40 degrees F or below for safe food storage conditions.  Food left out at room temperature and nibbled on later can leave you and your guests with not so pleasant memories of your wedding.

Ask the facility coordinator for a floor plan of the facility so you can take it with you to diagram the layout.  If they don't have a floor plan, use your notepad and tape measure to diagram the area so you can make sure everything will fit.

If tables and chairs are provided as part of the rental, look at them.  Some venues provide only rectangular banquet tables while others provide round tables. The sizes and shapes of the tables are a major consideration when diagramming the area, determining seating requirements, ordering linens, etc.  If china, silverware and other table items are supplied , look at those as well.  Also, ask for a copy of the rental agreement so you can take it with you and so you have time to fully read it before you make any decisions.

Once you have decided that you want to book a specific wedding reception facility, it is time to reserve the date with a contract (and most likely a deposit as well).  Try to read the entire agreement very carefully before you go into the venue to sign on the dotted line.  Be sure that all of the important details you previously discussed with the facility coordinator are memorialized in the agreement, especially a date guarantee (since some facilities have been known to drop smaller weddings for larger corporate events).  Everything from access times - to an itemization of what the facility is providing - to deposit refunds should be covered even if a 2nd page needs to be attached to the agreement.  If owners or personnel at the venue should change prior to your wedding date a detailed document will help to make sure there is no confusion about the details of your wedding reception.

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