You’re getting married and need to find the perfect wedding venue. You did a few Google searches for “how to book a wedding venue” and have some ideas, but you’re still confused about where to start and what to expect.
If this sounds like you, then this guide is what you’re looking for. In fact, it’s the only wedding venue resource you’ll need. Let’s get right into it!
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Table of contents
- Set your budget
- Pick your wedding theme
- Choose your location
- Pick the type of your wedding venue
- Figure out the guest count
- Pick the dates
- Understand your service options
- Define what’s important to you
- Search for venues online
- Read online review sites
- Reach out to venues
- Visit the select few
- Negotiate with the venue
- Sign the wedding venue contract
Before you get started looking for that ideal location for your wedding day, you have to take into consideration some planning. Without a good plan, your efforts will be way more painful and your venue will end up costing you more.
A good plan should include your wedding day vision and the process in which you will select where you will host your ceremony and dinner / dance. Take the time to create a vision that will guide you when assessing your venue options. Once you get your vision together, this blog gives you a step-by-step guide to picking the perfect setting for your special day.
1. Set your budget
Budget is arguably the most important subject when is comes to choosing a wedding venue. That’s why you need to define your budget limitations first.
Venues have a set fee for the space rental, which can range from $500 to $6,000 depending on what the venue includes.
Remember that a venue is only one part of your bigger wedding budget. Based on our experience, a venue space will be about 10% of your total wedding budget.
Download our worksheet to define the wedding venue budget you’re comfortable with.Download the Checklist
2. Pick your wedding theme
Wedding themes can range from a simple setting to a grand style. Choosing your theme means selecting the colors, decorations and centerpieces for the venue.
Some other considerations can include your heritage or something that is special to you and your significant other such as a common hobby or shared interest.
The best way to determine your theme is to close your eyes and picture your dream wedding. You can also describe your wedding vision to a friend or family member, or you can go to sites such as Pinterest to get some great theme ideas.
If the venue allows your own decorations, you can save on the décor by purchasing decorations and setting up the room on your own (with a little help from family and friends).
3. Choose your location
There are at least three major types of wedding locations: destination, downtown and country side. The key distinction here is in how you and your guests will get to and from your wedding.
A destination wedding is defined as a wedding that takes place in a remote destination, usually overseas. Destination weddings are a common practice these days. Some U.S. based couples choose Banff as their a location for their destination wedding. Read our recent article on having a destination wedding in Banff.
Downtown weddings are defined as weddings that take place within the city limits, but not necessarily within an industrial district. The best thing about a central, downtown location is logistics. It’s relatively easy to get to and from the venue for you and your guests.
Keep in mind that it can be a double edge sword, especially during rush hour and when trying to find parking. Some venues will have parking available, while others will only have parking for a few cars. This means that you may need to pitch in to pay for your guests’ parking or hire a valet service.
The advantage of having a valet service is that guests can drop their car off at the door so the valet can park their car further away and retrieve it for them when they leave. Skyline for example, is considered a downtown wedding venue that’s located close to major traffic routes into Calgary’s Kensington neighborhood. It also has street parking and large parking lots for valet service within a couple of blocks from it.
A country side wedding is trendy these days. Ample parking and beautiful landscapes make it a great location option. On the flip side, you would need to get your guests there somehow. Also, some couples find country side weddings too isolated.
If you want to look into this type of weddings, here is a great resource: Where to Have a Country Wedding Close to Calgary.
Once you know the general type of venue location, you can start looking in that area for what’s available. Narrowing things down will help you focus your search.
4. Pick the type of wedding venue
There are a variety of venues for weddings to choose from including Hotels, Banquet Halls, Community Centers, Golf Clubs, Refurbished Barns, Historical Sites or Museums, Theatres, Restaurants, Public Gardens and Parks, etc. Make sure you check our larger list of wedding venues in Calgary.
Choosing the type of wedding venue will be easier once you have chosen your location in the previous step. However here are a few pointers about popular types of venues.
Hotels are great if you have out-of-town guests. This way they can both attend your wedding and stay at the hotel without worrying about transportation. Another benefit is that hotel venues are usually all-inclusive and you won’t have to coordinate a caterer, decorator, planner, florist, etc. The downside of it all is cost. Hotel weddings tend to be more expensive.
Community centres, on the other hand, are usually chosen by price-conscious couples. These venues usually offer the absolute basics on premises: a bare room with four walls. The advantage is the lower cost and that you’ll be able to add your creativity to it. Another benefit is that most community centres have parking included.
Restaurants are another popular wedding venue. It’s closest to the food 🙂 and they will generally have a few wedding vendors ready to help you out (at a cost). Sometimes you have to buy out the restaurant depending on the size of your party, so restaurant weddings can tend to be costly.
Check out a list of Restaurant Wedding Venues in Calgary.
If you want something unique, consider a venue that is not normally used for weddings. Parks, barns, post-secondary schools or libraries are all unusual locations. Research options like these for a comparison of costs.
Good to know: Don’t forget, if you’re having an outdoor wedding in warmer months, you might want to consider having a Plan B in case it rains.
5. Figure out your guest count
Booking the right venue will depend on how many guests you plan on inviting. One of the best ways to adjust your venue cost is to downsize your guest count. So, here are a few rules to manage your guest list:
Lay the ground rules: get both families together and decide on the count that’s appropriate.
Useful tip from TheKnot: Traditionally the couple gets half the guest list, and each set of parents gets a quarter of the guest list. So if you’re planning to invite 200 people, you’d get 100 guests, your parents would get 50 and your fiancé’s parents would also get 50. The most drama-free approach is to split the list evenly three ways.
Once you figure out the shares of people you’re going to invite, make the list cutting rules.
Build your best-case-scenario list: start with who you’d like to see if you had all the money in the world.
Start the trimming.
6. Pick the dates / season
The timing of your wedding is an important consideration. Many popular venues will book up 1 to 2 years in advance. In general, you should book your venue at least 9 to 12 months in advance, especially if you are planning a summer wedding. Check this 12 months planner at TheKnot.
Summer is the most popular season for weddings. If you’re looking at fall or winters months, you can get lucky by leaving it to just 6 months in advance. In any case, booking the venue should be the very first task on your list. In some cases, the time of year can affect the cost of renting a venue, in others, pricing can fluctuate depending on the day of the week.
Weekends are also most popular for weddings. It’s about supply and demand so do some initial research to find out what venues are available on the day you want to get married. If you want to save on venue costs, consider an off-season or a weekday booking.
Cost-effective tip: Don’t have your wedding on a Saturday. This is the most popular day of the week for weddings and usually the highest price point for renting a venue.
7. Understand your service options
There are three generic wedding styles: DIY, all-inclusive venues or the middle ground. Most brides fall somewhere in the middle though. That’s why in this guide we’re price conscious and want to show you ways to work with the most cost effective options to suit your budget.
Each venue will have its own list of services that it provides. Ask the venue host for this information so you know what the options include.
What’s included beyond the venue rental?
Some venues only charge for the venue rental, leaving you on your own to source a caterer and wedding planner (among other services). This type of venue rental fee can include set up / tear down, tables, chairs, linens and napkins (although there can be a charge for upgrading the linens and napkins to match your theme).
Can I bring my own vendors?
You will need to ask the venue what they include before signing so you’re not surprised when you have to source vendors and factor in their costs. If you’re thinking of getting your own vendors as a way to cut costs, keep in mind you will need to spend extra time sourcing them, negotiating their contracts and payment schedule.
Other venues are all inclusive with in-house services, or have agreements with exclusive vendors. In this case vendors for services such as catering, bar, décor, entertainment, A/V, wedding planning, photographer, videographer, florals and rentals are included as a part of the whole cost to rent the venue.
Can I have reception and the dinner at the same venue?
Some all-inclusive venues can even provide the space for the wedding ceremony along with the dinner / dance or reception afterwards. The advantage here is that your wedding is stress free knowing that all the details are taken care of for you ahead of time.
Catering service is a major cost at any wedding. To reduce catering costs, consider different options for the food service such as having a brunch buffet, luncheon or cocktail reception instead of a sit-down or buffet dinner.
Are these any extra services the venue offers?
Don’t forget to ask if there are any extra services that may or may not be noted in the initial quote for your venue. You don’t want to be surprised by any additional fees such as insurance for event liability (for bodily injury or property damage), or the Socan fee for hiring entertainment, or a built in gratuity.
There are some extras that can be included but are over and above the venue costs such as: valet parking, cake design, wedding favors, wedding officiant and gratuities.
Keep in mind: If you are thinking about doing your own décor to express a theme, remember to book your venue 3 hours before guests arrive to be sure there is enough time to get everything put up. You will also have to arrange for time at the end of the evening to take down all your décor.
Save on catering: Have a wedding brunch or luncheon to reduce catering costs. People tend to eat lighter meals earlier in the day.
Save on catering: Ask for different menu options to get one that fits into your budget. Sometimes, you might initally get a higher priced menu based on what you asked for but caterers can adjust the menu to come within your budget if you ask.
8. Define what’s important to you
This is the most important step of all. There are many options involved in choosing a wedding venue and unless you narrow things down it will be impossible to make all of the right decisions. That’s what the first seven steps above are about: determining your options. Now it’s time to figure out how to book the right venue.
Start with preparing a list of items with your fiance that itemizes your venue “wish list.” You can easily end up with a list of 50 or even 100 items between the two of you. Don’t worry if you can’t think of everything at this point. While we recommend allocating 5-10 minutes for this task, you will likely add to this list as you go along.
Great! You’ve got the list. Let’s prioritize it now. Take your list and mark the “must-haves,” “nice-to-haves” and the “absolutely necessary.”
9. Search for venues online
Now that you have a clearer idea of what you need, you can start compiling a list of venues you like and taking notes on them. You can use Pinterest or Miro boards to collect your findings and organize them visually. You can always start with a pen and paper or a note taking app on your phone. Anything goes! The aim is to keep notes so you can compare each venue’s offering.
Use a search engine
To research venues online go to any search engine like Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Start by using keywords in your search such as: “Calgary wedding venues”, “Affordable wedding venues in Calgary”, or “new wedding venue near me”. These keywords should provide you with a list of options to choose from so you can narrow down the search.
Wedding venue directories are websites that aggregate venues in a particular location or according to a certain characteristic. A short list of wedding venue directories for Calgary includes WeddingWire, Eventective and theKnot.
There are plenty of local bloggers that talk about their weddings or their friends’ weddings. Many of those blog posts mention a wedding venue. Here are a few popular blogs: Venue Concierge, Love in the Rockies, Notable Life.
Wedding photographers are awesome visual bloggers too. Look for photographers in your area and find their blogs. Quite often they showcase their work in a blog post. Have a quick read and review some of the images. If you like a certain image, send the author a quick email to ask about the name of the wedding venue. Here’s a few great ones: Sarah Vaughan, Corrina Walker, K+J Photography and TKSHOTZ Photography.
Make sure you check the top wedding websites that cover all things weddings including “wedding venues.” There’s currently no major wedding focused website about Calgary weddings (that we know of), but here are a few good ones that may have Calgary, Alberta content. A few examples include StyleMePretty, OffBeatBride, WeddingBells.
Wedding trade shows
There are a few wedding fairs / expos that are held annually in Calgary. They provide a range of vendors for all types of wedding services, including venues. The major wedding shows in Calgary include: TheWeddingFair, BridalExpo and BridalFantasy.
Ask your friends and family
One of the best ways to find out about venues is to ask your friends or family members who might have attended weddings or special events in the past. Social media offers insight to various venues too! Try posting an ISO (In Search Of) note for a wedding venue on any platform to get ideas from your friends and followers. Facebook in particular has a number of groups dedicated to brides who discuss their plans and wedding venues. Check them out to post your questions and get feedback from others.
10. Read reviews online
Now that you collected a list of a few venues, it’s time to vet them. There’s a few tactics you can use to decide which one is right for you.
Search for the name
First, search for the venue by its name (i.e. Skyline venue Calgary). This will usually result in a Google side panel showing business details of the venue including customer reviews. Have a look at some reviews, but don’t put all of your trust in these reviews. If you see 100% 5-star reviews that either are missing the text, have weird names on the review and no images, then it’s an indication of fake reviews.
Look for reviews
Second, try searching [venue name + reviews|complaints], which will likely result in sites like BBB, Yelp and TrustPilot. Websites like these will vet business reviews and give top ratings to companies that are dedicated to providing a high level of customer service.
Check testimonials on vendor sites
Finally, you can read customer testimonials page on venue websites. Keep in mind that venues only put positive reviews on those pages. However, these reviews, especially if they’re detailed, can serve you as a piece of information that will help you in your search. For example, a testimonial may uncover an additional service that you haven’t thought about.
11. Reach out to venues
After conducting your research, you should narrow down your search to your top five to 10 choices. Here are some points to assist you in evaluating the alternatives:
- What is most important for you and your guests (i.e. location, setting, size)
- Is the date of your wedding?
- What services are included?
- Does it meet your budget?
Once you consider these factors, weigh out the pros and cons to settle on your best choice. If you haven’t visited the wedding venue, you will want to do so before you make your final decision.
Don’t automatically rule out a venue if it seems like they initially can’t accommodate your needs. Once you meet with the venue personnel, there could be an opportunity to negotiate to get the best option.
After you’ve made your selection there are a few questions you will want to ask the venue.
List of questions for wedding venues
- Is the date and time available?
- Do venue fees vary depending on the day of the week?
- What is included in wedding venue rental?
- What is the venue capacity for your reception?
- What is included in the venue cost?
- Can you bring in your own vendors (for flowers, décor, entertainment, catering, etc.)?
- Do they offer wedding planning (for either advance planning or day of the wedding)?
- Is there another event scheduled in part of the venue on the same day?
- What does the layout of the venue look like; can it be configured in different ways?
- What is your responsibility for set up and take down?
- Do they have preferred vendors?
- When can vendors start their set up? How long after the event can they tear down?
- Does the venue provide catering options?
- Is there an opportunity for food tasting prior to settling on a catering menu?
- Can they provide a wedding cake?
- Is there a cake cutting fee?
- Can you bring in your own alcohol? Is there a corkage fee?
- What is the payment schedule? Do they offer payment options?
- Is a gratuity included in the venue fee?
- Can the ceremony take place at the venue?
- Where can guests park?
After getting all your questions answered, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Some factors that can be adjusted include the size of your wedding (it could be less costly for smaller groups) and the additional extras that are automatically included (for example, chair covers or different chair styles).
Keep in mind, most venues have a minimum that they must charge for rental of the space, but there might be some room to negotiate if you have your heart set on a specific venue. Let them know your budget and offer to discuss options to meet your bottom line.
12. Visit the select few in person
Now that you narrowed it down to your top three to five choices, it’s time to book some visits. By now you will have detailed contact info for a venue, so feel free to reach out to setup a viewing. Make the call and say that you’re planning a wedding in <number of> months, and would like to look at the venue to ask a few questions.
At the meeting, make sure you prepare a list of questions for the vendor.
After the meeting, if you liked the venue, follow up to thank them for their time. The reason we say that is that even if you’re not going to pick them as your first choice, you might need a Plan B option if your number 1 choice doesn’t work out. When it comes to weddings, things can easily go wrong. And it makes good sense to keep in touch with alternative vendors.
13. Negotiate with the venues
Remember that venues are in the business of making money as they have their own costs to consider. Keeping that in mind, there are things you can ask for politely. Let’s look at a few negotiation tactics.
Offer Contra or “Sweeten the deal by offering something to the venue” as EventBrite calls it.
Book multiple events. Always keep in mind that venues are in business of selling their space. The more demand they see the happier, generally speaking, they are. If the venue offers space for corporate events and you have the ins with admin person at work, then it might be a good idea to work out a deal to rent the venue for more than one event.
Bring in your own staff. If the venue doesn’t have to pay their staff, the price will likely change. However, good venues will want to maintain a quality of service with their own staff and will not allow for outside servers or decorators.
Choose when you sign the deal. According to EventBrite…
Venue managers, like any sales staff, have targets to meet. As such, they will be keener to do deals at certain times. For example, they’ll be less likely to discount at the beginning the the month or quarter when they have a number of potential leads in the queue.
Be as flexible as possible about date and time. This tip goes in contrast to what we suggested earlier (setting the date before you start searching for venues). However, if you can be flexible, it might serve as a leverage for when you negotiate your wedding venue.
Emphasize the fit between your wedding style and the venue. It may not work all the time, but in some cases the venue manager will be more forthcoming if you prove that your wedding and their venue are meant to be together.
Tell the venue your budget.
It might feel counter-intuitive to put your cards on the table at the beginning of the game, but starting negotiations by stating what you have (or want) to spend can actually prove beneficial. Ordinarily, a venue would respond to an inquiry by providing their full price so you will need to negotiate down from there. But if you are up front about your expectations and they want your business – it’s up to them to meet your budget.
Ask to pay in full in exchange for a discount on the venue. Some venues will offer this type of discount to ensure costs are paid for up front.
Ask about a layway plan. Some venues might be able to provide you with a simple pre-pay plan to help you average out the costs over a period of time prior to your wedding date.
Check these select forum posts on tips from real brides’ wedding venue negotiation tactics:
14. Sign the wedding venue contract
Disclaimer: This is NOT a legal advice.
When securing a venue, be sure to get your agreement in writing, pay attention to details and have someone look it over with a fresh set of eyes.
Have everything in writing
Now that you identified what you need, found the wedding venue that matches your vision, it’s time to put things in writing. If you followed steps before, then it will be relatively easy to do it. By now you know what you want by heart.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, start by using a contract template and add your details to it. Even if you won’t end up using this exact contact (the venue may have their own, lawyers will change it, etc.) it’s a good starting point to have all formalities related to your wedding venue in one document.
These are the two sample contracts we found.
Take a look at a few resources we found to help you:
- A list of things to have on your wedding venue contact.
- Things to look for when signing a wedding venue contact.
- Venue contract checklist.
- Clauses to add to your wedding venue contract.
Review the details
Pay attention to details. Consider adding details in point form in your own language. Things can be updated later. Your goal here is to ensure you’re not missing anything.
Ask a friend to review
You have things to think about and it helps to have a second set of eyes on your contract. Share your contract with a friend or a relative to have them look it over. They might add something that you’ve missed.
Make sure you check this wedding venue contract guide from A Practical Wedding. The article has some good insights but the comment section makes it so much more valuable.
Now you’re ready to have the wedding of your dreams! If you liked this blog, be sure to check out our frequently updated list of Calgary Wedding Venues blog.