Picking a Location
Find the perfect site with The Wedding Book by Mindy Weiss
Choosing a wedding venue can be one of the most agonizing steps in the planning process. Will it be on his turf or yours? Indoors or out? Before you throw your hands up and make your choice via a roll of the dice, examine what the possibilities entail. Think about weddings you've attended and how much the setting influenced the feel. A wedding at an art gallery has a different ambience than a beach wedding. Many spaces can be transformed—a formal ballroom can be turned into a lounge or an indoor garden—but it is always more economical to work with the location rather than against it.
And there's so much more to the decision than the ambience. You'll need to evaluate the number of people a particular site can hold and the total cost of having your event take place there, taking into account not just the rental fee, but all the auxiliary costs as well. You should also consider your guests' travel expenses and investigate weather conditions and overall convenience.
A House of Worship
If you are considering a ceremony in a house of worship, you will most likely need to book a separate location for your reception. Another thing to know is that since churches book up early (more so than synagogues) and times are often nonnegotiable, you may wind up with a wedding at 3 p.m. If your reception is planned for 6 p.m., you've got an awkward gap.
The most gracious solution is to fill that gap with some sort of hospitality or entertainment. If the reception is at a hotel where many guests are staying, a room where they can gather doesn't have to cost much, especially if you're allowed to stock it yourself. You can fill some time by stretching the cocktail hour at your reception site to an hour and a half, but the extra drinks and appetizers you'll be serving will add to your costs.
Speaking of timing, churches can be strict about starting on time. If you're perpetually late, you'd be better off with a ceremony site where the start time is more relaxed. I've done Catholic weddings where a late bride meant that the couple didn't get their full Mass!
The hotel wedding wins my vote for Most Likely to Run Smoothly. Nearly everything you need is already there, from the dessert plates to the staff. Aside from the catering and bar, you can usually bring in your own vendors, but make sure to ask, as some hotels require you to use their florist or lighting staff. When comparing the cost of a hotel wedding to an off-site wedding, compare the total price tag, not simply the cost per meal. A catered meal should cost substantially less than a hotel's, but the price doesn't include china, tables, linens, or labor, all of which are included in the hotel fee. Another plus: A good hotel catering manager can fill the role of a wedding planner. Find out who your contact person is and how involved he'll be on the wedding day.