Even prior to the pandemic that upended the wedding plans of hundreds of thousands of eager and excited engaged couples, the act of booking a wedding venue always had a particular place on the timeline recommended by most planners. But now, with so many unknowns surrounding when, or if ever, these weddings will be able to take place and in what type of capacity, timelines are shifting dramatically, with many couples even jumping on the venue-booking bandwagon even before getting down on one knee.
“With so many wedding date changes, postponements, and some cancellations, booking a wedding venue has become more complicated compared to pre-COVID days,” notes Marie Danielle Vil-Young, founder and creative director at À Votre Service Events in New York City. “Many of the companies we have worked with have been very generous in honoring changes without penalties, however, this is not always the case.”
With so many wedding date changes, postponements, and some cancellations, booking a wedding venue has become more complicated.
Vil-Young has had her share of experiences where the process of booking a wedding date was anything but easy or standard for her clients. “There were many situations where couples were being offered weekday options only as a result of the excess in bookings brought on by the delays caused by the pandemic,” she says. Ivy Summer, wedding planner and owner of Voulez Events in San Francisco, has even had one of her client’s venues file for bankruptcy as a result of the pandemic.
In response to these worse-case scenarios, wedding venues are changing how they are going about bookings for these very-uncertain weddings. “Some venues are even including clauses in their contracts so that couples know what to expect if lockdown restrictions tighten, the maximum guest capacity has to change, or if the venue can no longer stay in business,” Summer says. “Couples who are getting married within the next year now have to be assured that the venue will accommodate their needs under the best and worst circumstances, and they've got to be in alignment with any of the venues' requirements regarding masks, vaccination status, sanitation, physical distancing protocols, and capacity.”
Couples who are getting married within the next year now have to be assured that the venue will accommodate their needs under the best and worst circumstances.
Generally speaking, the average recommendation for booking a venue is around 12 months prior to the actual wedding date—usually, after the budget has been established and the wedding planner has been hired (if you're having one). But now, there’s an anything-goes mentality that’s permeating the industry as planners attempt to go above and beyond to secure some semblance of the fairy-tale wedding their clients had hoped for.
Why Book A Venue Before You’re Engaged?
It’s understandable that many couples might be eager to lock in their wedding venue, especially considering how many venues are being booked up as a result of so many postponements from weddings that were supposed to take place in 2020 and early 2021. However, when it comes to booking your venue, experts still suggest holding out until you’re officially engaged.
“Committing to a venue before you have developed a big picture plan is more likely to create additional challenges and added costs rather than benefit you and your partner,” says Rosemary Hattenbach, wedding planner and founder of Rosemary Events in San Francisco and Los Angeles. “Doing your research before it’s official is one thing, but I wouldn’t make deposits or sign contracts until you make it official.”
Jamésa Alexander, wedding planner and owner of Jayne Heir Weddings & Events in Washington, D.C., agrees that booking a specific wedding venue prior to being engaged is risky business. “There are so many things to consider as it relates to the guidelines being administered by your local mayor or state representatives in regard to the pandemic,” she says. “Several venues have been forced to close due to the pandemic and you do not want to find yourself in a position where you booked a venue prematurely and they are no longer in business as a result of the pandemic.”
For Summer, she believes that whether or not to book a venue prior to engagement is truly a personal decision and based on the urgency of the couple. “If a couple is concerned that Grandma Dolores might not be around very much longer, then booking a venue sooner than later might be the wisest choice,” she says. “If a couple wants a longer engagement and to invite as many people as possible in-person, then they might be pigeonholed into a scenario that isn't in their best interest if they book a venue before they get engaged.”
The Final Word: Is It Worth the Risk?
All in all, the experts that we spoke to agree that the negatives of booking a venue before you are engaged outweigh the positives. If you are in a particular situation where this makes sense to you, Hattenbach recommends making sure that you understand the limitations involved. “What are maximum capacities, curfews, food and beverage limitations, potential costs?” she asks. “Dig deep into the full details about hosting an event at your venue before you make any binding commitments and also check with friends and VIP guests to be sure there are no date conflicts that you need to consider before booking.”
Finally, she urges couples to check availability with any critical vendors that they intend on hiring, as well as the availability of nearby hotels for their guests, to be sure that they will have the supporting services they need on your chosen date.