After you have ceremoniously wed your new spouse, it’s time to celebrate with family and friends. I can’t stress enough how important the choice of reception site is. The perfect venue for you has to feel right; it should be a place that reflects the character, in terms of formality, of you and your future spouse. For example, the Ritz-Carlton and the Missouri Botanical Garden have a very different ambience from each other, and one of them is going to be more ‘you’ than the other.
The site of your reception party will be something you remember the rest of your life. Choose carefully, and the only way to do that is to do your homework. Research fees and restrictions, online or via phone, then visit every place you’re considering. There is no substitute for laying eyes on a venue yourself. You will know the minute you walk in whether it’s right for you.
But don’t panic about this decision. There are some simple guidelines that can help match you with your dream venue. It also helps to remember that while a particular place may feel like ‘the one,’ there are probably several that will give you the special day you want.
• Start early, some popular venues book far in advance. If you have a space in mind, call and schedule an appointment to see it. Some locations will allow you to reserve a site for a short time without a deposit and even give you ‘first right of refusal.’
• Look for locations that best represent you and your fiancé. Traditional, contemporary, over the top, outdoorsy or ‘nothing fancy’ are some of the options. Ask to see the venue’s albums from other weddings. You might be inspired by what other couples have done.
• Size does matter. Create your guest list early, using each family’s ‘must-invite’ and ‘would-like-to-invite’ lists, in addition to your budget. There is no way to fudge on space; either the place will fit your guests, or it won’t. There is always the option of adding a tent to expand seating, but that goes only so far. And remember there is such a thing as a venue that is too large. Large spaces for small groups can appear cold and cavernous, not the ambience you want at all.
• Read the fine print before letting your heart get set on a place. Different venues include different things in their ‘wedding packages’: valet parking, dance floors, linens, votive candles, china and silverware, chair wraps, cake, etc. If you anticipate a large number of out-of-town guests, using a hotel ballroom for the reception can also get you reduced rates for a block of rooms. Hospitality suites, a wedding night stay and parents’ rooms can really sweeten the deal, too.
• Consider outdoor wedding receptions with your eyes wide open. You have Mother Nature to contend with, and she can be fickle. If you have to rent a tent, be ready for some serious costs. You will also need a ‘rain plan,’ and you should ask yourself how you’ll feel if it comes down to actually having your wedding at that backup locale. May, early June, September and early October seem to be the best months here for outdoor parties.
• Check outside the usual venues. I’ve found that local high-end caterers have connections to spaces I’ve never even heard of. Inviting ‘your crowd’ to a place they’ve never been could end up being really neat, just by virtue of its originality!
• Don’t forget the keep-it-simple option: at-home receptions. But there are logistical issues involved: permits, rest room accessibility, parking, neighbors. Also, you have to factor in your stress level; there is something to be said about ‘walking away from the mess.’
• Keep an open mind. I’ve often discovered that places I was prepared to dislike ended up being wonderful! Church halls (like St. Raymond’s) and municipal spaces can even have on-site items you expected to rent. Or the food might be much better than you thought.
• The bottom line is: To thine own self be true. Wherever you choose, you just want it to be someplace where you and the people closest to you can enjoy the full meaning of the day, because that’s what it’s all about.