You can’t start the party till the venue’s sorted – but how do you do it? Holly Jones asks the experts
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(Click on the image above to cycle through venues – See bottom of page for web links)
Choosing the perfect venue for your wedding is one of the toughest decisions you’ll have to make, so it’s worth listening to some tips from the experts. We asked four people in the business.
Roddy Jamieson, general manager at Bunchrew House Hotel (bunchrew-inverness.co.uk); Jennifer Brown, wedding and events manager of Rosslea Hall Hotel (rossleahallhotel.co.uk); Janette Mitchell of SimpsInns (simpsinns.com) who run The Gailes Hotel and Old Loans Inn; and Aynsley Baxter, wedding planner at Cameron House (cameronhouse.co.uk) – for some guidance on how to pick that all-important location.
Once the dust has settled after the excitement of your engagement, it is time to get out your Pukka Pad and start planning your dream day – and choosing a venue should be right at the top of the list. As Roddy Jamieson assures us, “Booking in plenty of time means you won’t have to compromise on what you want” – and a bride should never have to compromise!
According to Jennifer Brown, “You should start looking for a venue as soon as you can.” The earlier the better seems to be the general advice – even 18 to 24 months before the wedding date is not too early. Whatever you do, it’s definitely best to get the venue sorted before you start considering themes and favours!
So where do you start? According to Aynsley Baxter, location is key: “This narrows down your search considerably and makes organising viewings much easier.” Heart set on a Highland wedding? Great – that means you can cross off the whole of the bottom half of the country.
Getting advice from friends is good, she adds, but your own taste comes first: “Bear in mind that one person’s dream venue is another person’s nightmare.”
It may sound obvious, but discuss with your partner what you both want from your day and iron out any differences before the big decisions have to be made. Once you both have a clear vision of what you want, it’ll be a lot easier to focus. “Have a clear idea in your head of what you want,” recommends Roddy. “Do you want a wild, rural Highland fling, a simple beachside ceremony or a slick city wedding?”
When choosing a location it helps to think about scenery and themes. If you’re tempted by boho chic, a teepee in the countryside might be what you’re after. If you’d prefer a highly polished, glamorous affair, a five-star resort with a backdrop of manicured lawns would suit you more.
The last thing you want to do is find the perfect venue and then discover it’s frighteningly beyond your budget, so before you go any further it’s crucial to think about money. Romantic it’s not, but keeping finances at the forefront of your mind is the only way to protect your purse-strings.
Venues will do all they can to help with your plans, but your finances need to be established before you set your heart on the country’s most lusted-after locations. Use the recession to your advantage and start negotiating. “Just ask!” says Aynsley. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get!”
Janette Mitchell agrees: “Tell your chosen venue what your budget is” – there’s always a chance they’ll be able to accommodate both your wishes and your finances.
Roddy quite rightly points out that “your booking will be viewed as essential business” so it’s always worth trying to sort out a deal.
When it comes to negotiation, Jennifer advises keeping things simple: “Just be honest and direct,” and then see what happens – you might be pleasantly surprised.
Once you have finalised a budget and know how much you can spend, it’s time to draft a rough guest list. It would be lovely to invite everyone in your address book but all venues have a maximum capacity, so if you have a huge extended family and loads of close friends, there’s no point in considering venues that can only hold 30 guests. (Bear in mind that this is just a rough draft to help you narrow down your choice of venue, so don’t fret too much about crossing off your Great-Aunt Sue at this point – there might be room for her later.)
Lots of elderly relatives on the guest list means you’ll need a place with good disabled access; lots of little ones going might point to a venue with accommodation on site so your guests can put the kids to bed and carry on the party downstairs. It is your day, of course, but making life easier for your guests will make everything run more smoothly.
What should you be looking for at a viewing, and what questions should you be asking? “You’ll be able to tell a lot about the place just by how you’re treated during your enquiry,” says Roddy – if the staff are natural and courteous you may well be on to a winner.
“Ask about the team and who will be looking after you in the build-up to the wedding and on the day itself,” says Janette. “It’s the attention to detail that matters.” If the staff understand your needs and you can build a rapport with them, it’ll make your big day stress-free and even more special. Quite rightly, says Janette, this should be “the start of a relationship between the bride and groom and the wedding venue all the way up to and beyond your wedding day”.
As George Bernard Shaw once said, “There is no sincerer love than the love of food,” and a number of your party might be inclined to agree, so think about menus when you’re on a viewing. A thorough discussion of your dining requirements is essential – this could be a deal-breaker even if everything else about the venue is perfect. If the kitchen won’t cater for your lactose-intolerant bridesmaid or your vegetarian sister, or if it refuses to offer the canapés you have your heart set on, it’s simply not the right venue. A taster session beforehand should set your mind at rest, and if you can meet the chef who’ll be cooking up a storm on your big day, even better.
So what would our top tip be for picking a venue? Well, like most things, it’s best to follow your heart and go by gut instinct: “I always think that finding your venue is a bit like finding your gown,” say Jennifer. “As soon as you try it on you know it’s for you.” It’s true: if it feels right, it is right.
Image credits : Main image – www.duisdale.com. Please see thumbnails for individual credits.