Hooray, you’re engaged! So let’s talk about the very first thing you need to do to kickstart your wedding planning journey: finding the venue
Words by Natasha Radmehr
There is a meme of the character Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia that is so embedded in internet culture, you’ll be familiar with it even if you haven’t seen the show. In it, he’s standing in front of a wall plastered with print-outs containing different strands of a theory, his eyes crazed as he tries to explain how they’re all connected.
It’s how I imagine some couples must feel when the engagement celebrations are simmering down and they’re ready to get to work on planning their wedding. Maybe you’ve had a secret Pinterest board since before the proposal (hey: this is a judgement-free zone) and you’re now trying to figure out how to choose between 50 styles of gown, 19 wedding themes and which colour of alpaca would best tie in with your bridesmaid dresses.
But before you get carried away trying to join those dots, there’s one major supplier decision you need to make that will help all the others fall into place: your venue, duh.
Find your style
One of the best things about getting married in Scotland is the variety of venue options available. We have pink-tinted castles, sprawling country piles, bougie hotels and Pinterest-worthy converted barns. We can hold our ceremonies in grand cathedrals, peaceful forest clearings or on the banks of a loch. So the first thing you need to do when whittling those options down is to figure out which type appeals to you most.
“I would advise couples to take some time to think about what style and feel they want to go for,” says Janet Gracey, manager at Eden Leisure Village not far from Glasgow. “Do you like country? Do you like the outdoors? Do you want a relaxed feel? All couples are unique and should have a day that represents them.”
If it’s not something you’ve given much thought to before, get some inspiration by reading real wedding stories and scrolling through blogs and Instagram. You’ll quickly get an idea of what you like and dislike.
Location is obviously another important consideration. Perhaps you and your other half are from opposite ends of the country and want to get married in the middle, or you’ve both built life and friendship circles somewhere separate to your hometowns and feel that’s the right place for you. On the flip side, if your friends and family are scattered here, there and everywhere, you might be considering options all over the country, and guest accommodation could be a higher priority.
Speaking of guests: it can be helpful to make a rough draft of your likely invites before you start looking, so you have an idea of numbers. “It’s good to know what size of wedding venue you’re looking for and whether or not they can cater to your numbers,” says Janette Mitchell from SimpsInns, which counts the Waterside Hotel, Gailes Hotel and Si! among its venues. “Remember that some places have minimum numbers as well as maximum numbers, so ask about this if it isn’t stated in the brochure.”
Figure out your budget
Ugh, now for the boring bit: money. In a dream world it wouldn’t be a factor, but for most of us it’s a crucial consideration. Try to nail down a realistic budget for your wedding from the get-go and keep it at the forefront of your mind when researching venues. Most will publish their prices online (either on their website or in a downloadable brochure), allowing you to quickly tot up costs.
Arming yourself with this knowledge will save you from falling head over heels for a venue that’s out of reach. “I would advise couples to focus on venues that are within their budget, so get details of the costs initially before you go to view them,” agrees Janet at Eden Leisure Village.
There are often ways to trim costs; lots of places will offer a discounted rate on weddings taking place midweek or during the off-season months between November and March (see our fabulous winter wedding feature on page 130 for ideas), so it’s always worth checking this out if you’re open-minded about the date.
At the same time, you have to be mindful of hidden costs. I know a bride who was delighted to score her rustic venue for what seemed like a bargain – until she discovered just how rustic it was. Once she’d factored in furniture hire, decor costs, lighting and external caterers (oh, and fridge hire, believe it or not), it wasn’t quite as purse-friendly as it had first seemed. The DIY option may offer greater flexibility, but it isn’t always necessarily more cost-effective.
Time to visit
You wouldn’t marry someone based on their Tinder profile alone, and the same logic applies to venues: pictures aren’t enough to base your decision on, and you definitely don’t want to be catfished by flattering angles. The next step is to visit your shortlisted venues in person – not only to see if they meet your expectations visually, but to find out what the staff are like.
“If you have confidence in the person showing you round, it gives you an idea of what the rest of the venue is going to be like on the journey towards your big day,” explains Janette Mitchell from SimpsInns.
“Ideally, you want a co-ordinator who understands your vision. You’ll want to be able to visualise your day at that venue too, so consider coming to visit it on the morning of a wedding so you can see the set-up, or come on an open day. That way you’re not just basing your decision on a big empty room.”
This is the time to ask as many questions as you can, so don’t be shy. The venue will be one of your biggest expenditures, so you need to be confident that it ticks all (or most) of your boxes. “Ask things like what is included in their package, what else you might need to book to make it special, whether or not you can use your own suppliers, and if there are any restrictions,” advises Tracey Horton, managing director of Culdees Castle Estate near Crieff in Perthshire. It’s not unheard of, for example, for historic venues to restrict the use of candles to safeguard their precious antiques and artefacts. Scroll on for other questions that are always worth asking.
Lock it down
Once you’ve chosen your dream setting, you’ll have some paperwork to attend to. Most venue contracts will stipulate the services agreed upon, the payment terms, the cancellation policy and the insurance information. These are things that in pre-Covid times many people glossed over, but it pays to read them closely and ask for clarification on anything you’re unsure of before you sign.
You’ll be asked to pay a deposit, too, the amount of which can vary. Some venues will ask for 10% upfront; others may want as much as half the total hire cost. You’ll usually be able to pay the remainder in instalments in the months leading up to your wedding.
“Our couples pay 12.5% of the total cost on booking, then 25% nine months before, six months before and three months before,” says Janet at Eden Leisure Village. “The final 12.5% is paid one month before the wedding with any extras added to it. We don’t have a lot of extras, but we do have things like flower walls and fire pits.”
Throughout the planning process, your venue’s co-ordinator will stay in touch with you and it’s advisable to keep them in the loop about anything you’re hiring from external suppliers that may require extra clearance, such as food trucks. And don’t forget to tap into their wealth of knowledge if you’re unsure who to book – they’ll have worked with hundreds of different companies and creatives over the years and will be able to point you in the direction of the ones they rate.
Hiring suppliers who are familiar with the venue can make your day run more smoothly, whether it’s the florist who knows from experience which arrangements will elevate the reception suite, or the photographer who has already sussed out all the best spots for couple and group shots.
These are all the suppliers you can look forward to adding to your wedding dream team once you’ve got your venue booked – so what are you waiting for? Go and find that special place, and enjoy every minute of making it your own.
Questions to ask your venue
- Can we hire the venue exclusively?
- Do you have guest accommodation (and if so, is it included in the hire price)?
- What time do we get access to the venue, and what time would we need to leave?
- What decor is included in the hire?
- How flexible are your menu choices?
- Is there a charge for the menu tasting?
- Is there a suitable location for an outdoor ceremony?
- Is your venue wheelchair-accessible?
- Are there any noise restrictions?
- When do we need to pay in full for our booking?
- What is your cancellation policy?