With the exception of finding a partner whose life seamlessly blends into yours, the hardest part of the wedding planning process is finding the perfect venue that fits your vision. Not only can the location set the groundwork for your big day’s logistics—the date, budget, and number of guests, to name a few—but it will also inform the overall vibe of your celebration. (Bohemian by the beach? Rustic farmhouse? Luxe garden party? The choice is yours—and, of course, your venue.)
But, before you get swept up in a space’s potential and photogenic moments, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for potential red flags: factors that aren’t initially a dealbreaker, but might cause more problems down the road. “The devil is in the details, so you have to be mindful of venue red flags—even if it's a minor one,” explains AJ Williams, founder and creative director of AJ Events. “A [small] flag can turn into a logistical nightmare and a disappointed [couple] very quickly!”
So, what red flags should you look out for? And, more important, what do you do if you spot one at your dream venue? Below, four wedding planners share how to navigate the venue search with ease.
Meet the Expert
Imagine: you’re scrolling through wedding inspiration when you spot a gorgeous venue that ticks off all of your boxes. Though it’s love at first sight, you reach out to learn more about the dreamy location and ultimately schedule a tour. But, then? Crickets.
While you might be willing to overlook a short delay in response, little-to-no communication might be indicative of a larger issue. “If the venue event manager is quick to reply, there is a better chance that he or she will solve problems as they arise,” says Melanie Levin, owner and principal planner of a Los Angeles-based firm called LuckEleven Events. “Those that are slow to respond either do not prioritize their customers and may be an issue if there are last-minute concerns.”
Of course, less-than-perfect communication doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. If you’re noticing a slow response time—but love the venue—schedule a call with the on-site coordinator to manage expectations.
A couple’s wedding should be the most special day of their lives, surrounded by family, friends, and, yes, vendors who work hard to make that day pure magic. So, it's a complete bummer when any newlyweds are less-than-happy about their venue choice. Though one negative review might be an anomaly, a handful of disappointed customers should paint the picture of a big red flag.
“Sales venue reps will make it sound like a dream, that’s their job,” says Ashley Czaplicki, founder and owner of Aced Events. “Do your research; hear from honest couples.” That said, reviews can only be taken with a grain of salt, so it’s important to suss out the experience for yourself.
“If [a venue’s team is] rude, unpleasant, or disagreeable, make sure you take note of that,” adds Los Angeles-based planner Hovik Harutyunyan. “You can't always trust online reviews, especially if your direct experience is contrary to how they act or treat you. During tours and booking is when they should be the nicest, so the experience will only get worse if it starts off on a bad note.”
Limited Setup Time
From laying down the dance floor to hanging up signage to getting that floral arch just right, setting up a venue takes time. When you’re selecting a venue, be sure to ask the coordinator how much prep time your vendors will have. After all, nobody wants to scramble to create a dreamy backdrop.
“If it’s a two-hour window, run,” Czaplicki says. “You want a venue that gives your vendors ample time to set up. There is nothing worse for your vendor team, execution and design-wise, if they are rushed. It reflects poorly on the entire team and that’s when mistakes happen!”
According to Levin, it’s also important to consider when the wedding party can access the property. “One red flag to look out for is what time the [bridal] suite is available,” she adds. “Hair and makeup for the whole bridal party often takes hours and begins early in the morning. The last thing brides will want to do is gather everyone halfway through the hair and makeup process and move to a new location.”
If the ongoing pandemic has taught us anything—wedding-wise, of course—it’s that forces outside of a couple’s control can throw a major wrench into their special day. In fact, a recent study we conducted with Investopedia found that 41 percent of couples had to change their wedding date. Since no one knows what the future holds, it’s in your best interest to ask your prospective venue about their COVID-19 protocol.
“With Covid-19 still prevalent in the events industry, venues that do not address rescheduling or canceling due to uncontrollable circumstances (also known as force majeure) is a huge red flag,” says Levin. In addition to understanding their flexibility—and any potential fees that would come with postponing—you’ll want to get a sense of the safety protocols your venue will enforce the day of. Will your venue require proof of vaccination or offer precautionary measures for sanitization? Not only will a venue’s policies give you and your guests some peace of mind, but it’ll also show that its team is equipped to pivot in order to make your day as safe and seamless as possible.
No Backup Plan
The COVID-19 pandemic might be top-of-mind, but it’s not the only thing that can cramp your nuptials. Case in the point: the weather. Rain on a wedding day might be considered a good omen for a long, happy marriage; however, it’s a logistical nightmare at the moment. If you’re browsing primarily outdoor venues, ask the venue about alternative setups.
“Venues without a backup plan are definitely red flags,” Levin shares. “Whether it is inclement weather, a natural disaster, or a global pandemic, venues need to have a backup plan in place better than ‘you're on your own.” Instead, she says that tent partners, secondary reception spaces, and refund clauses in the contract are all signs of a great venue.
How to Handle a Red Flag
It’s no secret that spotting a red flag during a venue tour is frustrating—especially when the location is otherwise perfect. However, Williams says that a red flag doesn’t necessarily have to be a dealbreaker. In fact, it can actually offer some room for negotiation.
“Your dealbreaker can give you the power to negotiate with your venue for things like a free room night, a room upgrade, or more comp valet parking, for example,” she says. “Many venues will be willing to work with you if you communicate early!”
If you’re trying to tell the difference between a red flag and dealbreaker, think about your non-negotiables. For example, Williams says that a venue with minimal parking may be a red flag for some, but not a dealbreaker for couples who will be providing transportation. But, if a venue’s policy will throw a wrench in your vision and timeline, you might want to consider.
“I [recently] had to move the location of a couple's reception as the venue did not allow for ample time for set up,” Williams shares. “We could have made it work, but after our site visit, we came up with a better plan that the couple loved even more.”
To keep that from happening, Williams encourages couples to discuss their event plans in detail and upfront with the venue so all parties are on the same page—and you can focus on planning a truly special day.