Picking a Location
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If there's a negative about hotel weddings, it's that they can tend to feel impersonal, particularly if the ballrooms are nondescript and the property puts an emphasis on meetings. The good news is that any room can be transformed. But, again, there is a correlation between the drama of the transformation and the size of the budget required to pull it off.
Best suited to weddings of 125 or fewer guests, restaurants are often chosen for superb food, a distinctive setting, or a special ambience. Some restaurants may have a patio, courtyard, or other space that lends itself to a ceremony, but most commonly, the ceremony is held elsewhere and the reception follows at the restaurant. One downside: Your guests might be spread over multiple rooms, and space limitations usually preclude a large dance floor. On the plus side, a restaurant can deliver distinctive food and decorative features like French doors, sculptural chandeliers, or dark wood floors; odds are you'll be buying into an existing concept you adore, which is always a money-saver, rather than trying to create it from scratch.
If you're planning to take over the entire restaurant, the owner will typically expect you to match the revenues he would bring in on a regular business day. And don't be surprised if you still need to rent equipment or extras: A restaurant usually doesn't deliver 100 servings of soup at any one time, for instance, so you might have to supply some bowls.
An Off-Site Wedding
An event is considered off-site if it doesn't have a commercial kitchen or stock items like tables, linens, china, and flatware. The setting could be a beach, park, cultural center, or private home. Off-site weddings can be gorgeous but come at a high price, because you'll have to bring in everything you need. Often you must construct one or more tents, which entails floors, lighting, and generators. You may need to obtain a municipal permit, monitor tide times, and deal with bug control. Inquire about restrictions at the site and ask if the rental fee covers insurance.
The Great Outdoors
An outdoor wedding can be magical. For some, there's no space more sacred than nature. Cardinal rule: Have a backup strategy. Rain, winds, extreme heat or cold, and bugs may foil your plans.
If you're planning a year or more ahead, try to visit the site during the same month and at the same time of day that you're envisioning your wedding. This will give you a taste of the weather, the light, the foliage, the flowers, and the insect situation. (You may discover that your dream site in New Hampshire is under siege by blackflies in June.) Research the average temperature and rainfall for that time and check out what allergens are typically in the air.
Though rental costs can add up quickly, outdoor weddings have a playful quality you just can't re-create indoors. Before committing, consider your personality: Can you handle the uncertainty that comes with an unpredictable location? If you must have every detail under your control or you can't laugh off frizzy hair, you may be happier with a more controlled environment.