Engaged? Congratulations! Your wedding venue will be  one of the first (and if it includes catering, most expensive) decisions  you’ll make while planning your big day. Here’s what to consider before you pick the place where you’ll celebrate.

Determining where it all goes down is the decision on which all other wedding choices hinge. Once you’ve secured a location for the date you’ve chosen, you can send out save-the-date cards, order invitations, think about food, music, flowers—and start that guest list.

The place you choose for your celebration is “about ambiance, size, food and quality of service,” according to Beth Bobek, founder of Events by Beth in Stamford, CT. “These are all very important aspects that cannot be changed and will always be remembered by your guests,” she says.

Knowing the type of wedding you’re after is an essential part of the process—whether it’s a small beach wedding or a more traditional dinner dance. “It starts with the way you want to get married and then the ‘where,’ the place that can be accommodated both cost-wise and size-wise,” says wedding photographer Bruce Plotkin of Weston, CT.

In other words, it needs to feel personal. “The most important thing is that the venue speaks to the bride. Be really excited about the space,” says Jim Kirsch, president and CEO of Abigail Kirsch Catering and Event Management in New York, NY. “It’s a special day—you should never feel like it’s not exactly what you want.”

Wedding venue ideas
Gown: Romona Keveza, Tuxedo: Valentino Tailors

How do you find the perfect venue? Ask lots of questions, and take pictures and notes. According to Bobek, your checklist should include, but not be limited to:

  • The number of guests the space can accommodate, whether the floor plan works for what you’re envisioning—and most importantly, what’s included.
  • The cost per person including tax, service charges and gratuity (keep in mind those charges can add up).
  • Start times, end times and any overage charges (if guests stay past a certain time).
  • The food. Once a venue’s on your shortlist, schedule a tasting!
  • How many servers there will be, and if you’re serving alcohol, how many bartenders (no one likes waiting for drinks).
  • The lowdown on exclusivity: Find out if they work only with certain vendors.
  • If there will be another wedding (or event) going on at the same time as your reception—and what that means in terms of shared spaces and facilities.

Also, consider the logistics for guests. Says Kirsch: “Make sure friends and family can get there in a way that makes sense, and that there are hotels relatively nearby.” Think of the things that make a party easy and fun. “It’s a great venue when it meets your needs but your guests are also comfortable,” he adds.

What if the space you love is booked for the day you have in mind? No need to panic. See if any other open dates will work, says Bobek. How about a Friday night instead of a typical Saturday wedding? What if you moved the date out to another season and gave yourself more time to plan? There are always options, but if your date isn’t flexible, then your choice of location will have to be.

For some couples, the perfect venue may be closer than you think. What if you’re convinced the best place to celebrate your wedding is in your own backyard?

“I love the idea of someone being able to get married at home,” says Bobek. “However, I always caution my clients that this will most likely not be a cost-saving alternative. Typically, it will cost just as much, if not more, than going to a venue, because everything needs to be brought in, from spoons to flooring to restrooms.”

Remember too, that at the end of the night, you can’t just leave and go home; the aftermath of the wedding is there with you. Still, says Bobek, “with the help of a wedding planner and great staff, it can be done—and done very well.”

At the end of the day, the best venue for you is the one that meets all of your criteria—and includes a point person you can count on. “Make sure you work with someone you love and trust,” says Bobek. “You’ll be spending a lot of time with them.”

Loading Dock Stamford CT Weddings
The Loading Dock in Stamford, CT. Photo by Anthony Vazquez

All-Star Local Spaces to Consider

Fairfield County, CT

Waveny House
New Canaan
Up to 160 guests.
203-594-3600, newcanaan.info

The Inn at Longshore
Westport
Up to 280 guests.
203-226-3316, innatlongshore.com

The Loading Dock
Stamford
Up to 400 guests for dinner.
203-357-7400, loadingdockevents.com

Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
Ridgefield
Up to 150 guests.
203-438-4519, aldrichart.org

The Artisan Restaurant at The Delamar
Southport
Up to 200 guests.
203-307-4220, delamarsouthport.com

The Glass House
New Canaan
Up to 50 guests.
203-594-9884, theglasshouse.org

Westchester County, NY

Bedford Post Inn
Bedford
Up to 150 guests.
bedfordpostinn.com

the Inn at Pound Ridge
by Jean-Georges
Pound Ridge
Up to 100 guests.
914-764-1400, theinnatpoundridge.com

The Ritz-Carlton Westchester
White Plains
Up to 320 guests.
914-467-5814, ritzcarlton.com

Castle Hotel & Spa
Tarrytown
Up to 150 guests.
914-524-6366, castlehotelandspa.com

Wainwright House
Rye
Up to 100 guests or 250 (tented).
914-967-6080, wainwright.org

Photographed by Justin & Mary Marantz, Styled by Beth Chapman Styling,
Beauty by DD Nickel

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