You’ve said “I do,” he’s kissed the bride, and now it’s time to party! Kick off those heels and mix, mingle, dine, and dance the night away with family and friends. But finding the perfect reception spot is no easy feat – Luckily, we’re here to help!
Consider your style, head count, and budget.
Before deciding where to host your reception, there are a few things to consider. To start: What’s your wedding’s style? A casual summer wedding requires completely different accommodations from a formal winter wedding, so first nail down your preferred style and season. Next: How many made the guest list? If you haven’t made one yet, hop to it – you’ll need a head count so you can find a reception site to suit your needs. Finally: How big is your budget? This goes hand-in-hand with your guest list – sometimes, your budget will determine the number of guests you can afford to have, not to mention the caliber of venue. Once you’ve made these critical decisions, start the search.
Search for sites that suit your needs.
Local bridal publications and websites, wedding shows, married friends, and Google are all great sources of potential reception sites. Typical venues include hotels, banquet halls, restaurants, community centers, and country clubs. Other options might be country inns, historic homes or estates, city parks, college or university facilities, museums, galleries, and boats.
Each of these potential venues will be one of two things: on-site or off-site. Most on-site locations offer the majority of services needed to host a reception: catering of food and drink, chairs, tables, tableware and linens, and a serving staff. With all these necessities already covered and calculated into the cost of the venue, on-site is an appealing, potentially less-stressful way to go. Off-site locations usually provide only the facility for a flat fee – you’re responsible for the rest. The nice thing about off-site? You have the freedom to do everything your own way and control costs of individual services.
Narrow down your search by focusing on sites that meet all of your needs, including your style, season, budget, and estimated number of guests. Once you have your sights set on a few choice venues, take a day trip to check them out.
Evaluate your options.
Every venue offers advantages and disadvantages. Your job is to sift through the features of each and find what works best for you. Here are some things to consider:
Location. To avoid inconveniencing your guests, the reception site should be no more than a 30-minute drive from the ceremony – ideally less. But if there’s no avoiding it and the site is located in a remote area or poses parking and traffic challenges, you should consider providing shuttles for your guests.
Size and layout. Is the venue in question just one large room, or will cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing each take place in separate, smaller rooms? Make sure the cocktail area is large enough for guests to mix and mingle and that the dinner area will comfortably hold the number of tables you’ll need. Make doubly sure that the dance floor is big enough for everyone to bust a move! Beyond spatial comfort, also consider temperature. Throwing a summer wedding? Don’t skimp on air conditioning.
Privacy. If the reception site caters to multiple events simultaneously, find out if there are any other bookings on the date you have in mind. If there are, work with your site contact person to ensure that you will have adequate privacy for your celebration.
Parking. Make sure there is convenient, well-lit, ample parking for your guests. If such conveniences aren’t an option, find out if the site offers valet or shuttle services.
Technical details. Whether you go for a DJ, band, or iPod playlist, inquire after any music restrictions the venue might have. Is there sufficient power for speakers, mixers, and amplifiers? Are the acoustics suited to live music? Some sites have built-in public-address systems that can be used to introduce the wedding party and to toast the bride and groom. If your venue doesn’t provide this equipment, find out if your DJ or musicians can. Or, look into microphone and speaker rentals yourself – your contact person should be able to walk you through the wiring hook-ups prior to your wedding day.
Décor. Most reception-ready sites offer a neutral background to work with, but see that the flooring, ceiling, and wall coverings work well with the style and season of your wedding. So that nothing clashes, some brides even wait to decide on their color scheme until after they’ve procured a venue. In terms of decorative details, find out what you’re allowed to bring in as far as tangible décor and lighting. If the reception location is spacious, decorating can be overwhelming. In this case, try concentrating on one element, such as tablescapes. Or, if funds allow, hire a wedding coordinator to assist with site beautification.
Services offered. With each venue you visit, find out in clear terms exactly what services are included. There’s a lot to consider: catering, bar tenders, wait staff, cake cutting – get these details up front.
Personal touches. When looking at sites and imagining your celebration, ask yourself (and your contact person) if you can have fun with this space. Is there a spot for showing a photo and video montage during cocktail hour? Is the layout conducive to a choreographed entrance by the wedding party? Is there room for a photobooth?
A note about outdoor receptions
Given Wisconsin’s unpredictable weather, it’s critical to have a backup plan for any outdoor reception. It’s highly recommended that you employ an experienced wedding coordinator if you have your sights set on an outdoor reception. A coordinator will ease the workload and stress-factor in the days leading up to a “60% chance of rain” wedding day – and will help to make any last-minute changes run smoothly.
As with any wedding vendor, make sure all the details are outlined in writing. Take into account things like service charges, cleaning fees, insurance waivers, and penalties for not fulfilling the food and beverage minimum. Use a credit card whenever possible to make payments so that you have more protection in the unlikely event of a problem.
For more information about receptions in your local area, go to our Local Resources page and select the area that is closest to you.