Finding the perfect(ish) wedding venue part 2: what to ask before you sign the contract

Reading Art Works in Reading PA - photo by Lauren Fair Photography This post is part 2 in a series on finding the perfect(ish) wedding venue - particularly less conventional venues, budget-friendly venues, and DIY-friendly venues. In part 1, I provided some tips for finding venue options.  But what do you do when you have found some options worth checking out?  What questions should you ask before you sign the contract?

To answer these questions, I turned to wedding coordinator extraordinaire, Danielle Pasternak. Danielle was my wedding coordinator, and always had the best she has worked with a lot of DIY brides with all kinds of budgets and venues. In typical Danielle fashion, I asked if she could contribute to this blog post and 12 hours later she got back to me with this.....

When it comes to venue hunting, it can be an incredibly overwhelming process. In fact, most couples compare it to house hunting. Your venue is going to set the tone and environment for your wedding and that is a huge factor.

As an experienced wedding coordinator, my first bit of advice when it comes to choosing your venue is to listen to what your gut/heart is telling you. Similar to when you are looking for that perfect house, dress, recipe, whatever - you’ll just know when you’ve found one that just feels right.

But listening to your gut isn’t always black and white, so it helps to have some solid information to make a good decision for you and your spouse-to-be. Especially before you sign on the dotted line.

no. 01: Guest list. Before searching for any venue, you’ll need to know your approximate guest list count. Asking your venue how many humans it can comfortably hold (note: comfortably, not packed in like sardines) will help determine a good fit. If your guest list is sitting at 200, but the venue only holds 150 max, then either remove some people from your A-List or look for another venue. Now, if your guest list is flexible based on the space, then you can search for your venue first and plan your guest list around it’s capacity.

no. 02: Timing restrictions. One of the things most couples forget is timing. Typically, when you reserve a venue, you are limited to the amount of time your party can be happening. The standard time is 5 hours including cocktail hour. But if you’re looking to also do your ceremony at the venue, that changes things. Ask about how many hours are included, if you can add more and how much it will be to do so.

no. 03: Set-up and teardown. Along with the timeframe of your party, chances are your creative team will be doing some decorating and setting up prior to the guests’ arrival. While some venues allow you to do this in the week leading up to your event, others will only allow a few hours. The same goes for “teardown” or the removal of all of your belongings at the end of the night.

no. 04: Outside vendors. It’s important to ask your venue about using vendors that are not necessarily on their “list” (if they have a recommended vendor list). Some have no problem with it, others will require the vendor show proof of insurance, and others will not allow it. It’s their house and, therefore, their call. This is incredibly important if you have your heart set on a specific caterer, photographer, baker, etc. and they are not included on their list.

no. 05: Noise restrictions. Depending on location and county rulings, your venue may have a time at which all music (loud noise) must cease. If you want your band to play until 1am but there is a noise restriction after 11pm, then that isn’t your best option.

no. 06: Events per weekend/day. To go off of no. 3 with your set-up restrictions, it’s important to ask a venue how many events they typically take on per day or per weekend. If a venue is running multiple events in one day, you may have the feeling of being rushed in and out in order to move to the next event. This is NOT always the case, but it is important to ask ahead of time so you aren’t blindsided when they tell you your vendors can’t set-up until 4pm because of a bridal shower at 12pm.

no. 07: What’s included in the site fee. This seems fairly self-explanatory, but always ask exactly what is and isn’t included in the site fee. This includes tables, chairs, linens, food, alcohol, parking, staff/wait service, coat check, etc. This also includes the ever-important taxes, service fees and gratuities.

no. 08: Alcohol. If you are planning on purchasing and supplying your own alcohol (this does save you money), ask if this is possible and will they have someone serve it. If not, what are you alcohol options? Do you pay for each drink, per person, a flat rate - or is it included in everything?

no. 09: Parking. Depending on your potential venue location, parking may be a good question to ask about. If there is not a parking lot, is there garage parking, street parking, valet parking?

no. 10: Decor. While some venues are a blank canvas, they may have rules when it comes to what you can and can’t do in their space. Most venues won’t mind most decor as long as it’s easily removable. When it comes to hanging items from the ceilings or walls, that is a different story and they typically have some guidelines.

no. 11: Handicap accessibility. If you have any guest who is not good with stairs, be sure to find out if they have other options to make things comfortable for them. The same goes for bathrooms.

no. 12: Getting ready area. If you are having your ceremony on-site as well, ask about private areas where your bridal parties and yourselves can get ready. This can include hair and make-up, getting dressed and/or just hanging out prior to the start of the festivities.

no. 13: Other requests. Prior to your search, sit down with your fiancé and discuss what’s really important to you in a venue. Just because you must have beautiful chandeliers, doesn’t mean your partner feels the same. Know what’s important and what is preferable, but not exactly a deal breaker. Then you can go into a venue knowing confidently what questions to ask and what to expect.

I always say that “it never hurts to ask” and it truly doesn’t. And please, please, please read those contracts before signing them. If there is anything that isn’t clear or different than what you’ve discussed, talk about it. Never rely 100% on any written promise.

So good luck in your venue hunt - and above all else, have fun!

Danielle has a blog that is full of more amazing advice, as well as great ideas and inspiration for weddings.  If you are close to booking a venue, I suggest reading her blog post on signing contracts and advice on negotiating prices with vendors.

If you are looking for a wedding coordinator and live in PA/NJ/DE, you can email her at

PS- if you have any advice about finding a wedding venue, or something you wish you had known or asked before you booked your venue please leave a comment!!!!