Welcome to the first post in a summer long series about finding the right wedding venue in the Washington DC area. I’m super excited to share this series with you because I know that venue selection is something that many of you need help with in your planning process. From restaurants, vineyards, hotels (and more hotels!), historic houses, museums, barns and so much more in the Washington DC area, there are lots of venues to choose from and it can be really overwhelming. But, once you start taking into account your budget, your guest list and eventually your wedding style, you’ll find that your list of possible wedding venues in the Washington DC area will become much more manageable. I promise!
You know that I couldn’t do this venue hunt series on my own! I went to a few of the top wedding planners in the DC area and asked them their opinions. What are their favorite venues, where do they like to work, what is their advice for venue shopping? After all, they are at all of the venues each weekend! First up in the series, are the planner’s best wedding venue search tips. These are the little – but really important – things that you don’t know about selecting a wedding venue in the DC area.
“One of biggest pitfalls to avoid is sinking all of your money into the venue. The venue is generally the first decision the couple makes in the planning process and it is easy to feel pressure to settle on something quickly just to lock in the date. Catering and venue combined should not cost more than 50-60% of the overall budget. Couples should think closely about their budgets, do comparisons between each location they are researching, get catering quotes - whatever it takes to get an accurate assessment of the cost implications for booking at a particular venue. You never want to get caught in the end having to sacrifice other critical elements of the wedding because the money is already tied up in the venue – no matter how perfect it may seem.” – Teresa, owner of Rex & Regina Events
“Compare, compare, compare! Have a complete list of everything you want included in your wedding outlined in a budget. When searching for a venue, besides decor, the food is very important so make sure that the food is wonderful. A wedding venue with a great view, but has horrible food, is not a great combination.” – Tara, owner of Perfect Planning
“Don’t become ‘venue poor.’ If you know realistically that are you going to max out your budget just to rent a space, then keep looking for a different wedding venue. With this many amazing venues in one area it is not worth having to cut other significant areas just to have a specific venue. Keep in mind factors such as parking, valet, insurance, and room decor when looking at making your final venue decision too. These budget items can sneak up and add on extra costs that should be taken into consideration on your final venue rental total.” – Tabitha, owner of Roberts & Co. Events
“Don’t spend more money on your wedding venue than your total budget allows! Some couples make the worst mistake of spending too much on a venue they can’t afford and are forced to sacrifice everything else in their wedding because of it.” – Katie, owner of Elegance & Simplicity
“Make sure your venue space fits your wedding vision! If you want mason jars and rustic design, don’t choose a Washington DC hotel.” – Amanda, from Engaging Affairs
“Don’t spend all of your money on the wedding venue itself. The cost of additional vendors that will be needed, besides the venue itself, should be a consideration and should be looked at together before pulling the trigger on booking the wedding date. If you can’t afford to hire a professional caterer that truly knows what they are doing, a florist that knows the space, etc. then you’ve basically just bought air. Many venues have preferred vendor lists for a reason and that’s because its not easy to work there. Lastly, its all about your wedding guest headcount and just because a venue says it can fit 200 people, doesn’t mean that 200 people works for the space the way that you envision it. That’s why hiring a wedding planner who knows flow and your overall budget and vision is important when choosing the right venue for you.” – Laura, from Events in the City
“While wedding venues list their maximum capacity, ask them what is the most comfortable guest count for your style of dinner service. The last thing you want to do is to max out the space and have your dinner tables too close together, making it difficult for your guests and the service staff to move about during your reception.” – Vicky, owner of Event Accomplished
“Be flexible and open-minded. Consider hotels even if you think you hate them, because Washington, DC has some beautiful and unique historic hotels. If you’re on a budget, consider wedding venues outside the city limits to save on the 10% DC tax.” – Laura, owner of Engaging Affairs
“Your wedding venue impacts everything else on your wedding day – from budget to design to guest experience. You need to love it, but also keep the decision into perspective with your whole event.” – Elizabeth, owner of Elizabeth Duncan Events
“Keep your options open. You will be surprised how much better venues are in person compared to their online presence. There are many wedding venues in the Washington DC area whose website photos are awful, but are almost always booked by clients of mine after they see the venue in person.” – Courtney, owner of A Sweet Soiree
“Expand, expand, expand! If you love Washington, DC, look at Arlington, Virginia or Prince George’s County in Maryland! If you like wineries, look at farms! If a wedding venue that you love is booked, or is too expensive on a Saturday night, look at a Sunday afternoon brunch.” – Rebecca, from Blue Canary Events
“Hire a wedding planner to help examine the different hidden costs at the various venues. For example one venue’s standard chairs might work with your look and with another venue you would need to bring in rental chairs. One hotel might charge for the power that your lighting company uses on the wedding day, and another venue might charge a delivery fee for welcome bags. Looking at the complete picture of a wedding budget for various venues before signing a contract is very important. Some items like your wedding dress or invitations do not change from venue to venue, but other items may vary drastically and you may be able to off-set a higher rental fee or menu price in your venue selection.” – Cindy, from A. Dominick Events
“There are so many fabulous wedding venues around the Washington DC area that you really need to take an ordered approach to finding the one that’s right for you. Identify your must-haves and your budget early on and know how many guests you’ll need to accommodate. Then only view venues that meet your criteria. Once you’ve found the venue that’s right for you, trust your decision: Book it and move on to the rest of your planning.” – Stephanie, owner of Pretty Entertaining
“Consider everything! Historic homes, museums, hotel ballrooms, rooftops, parks and restaurants abound in the Washington DC area. Each can be the perfect venue for a wedding, so it’s worth considering all of your favorite places when looking for a wedding venue.” – Sara, owner of Bella Notte
“Looking for a wedding venue is a lot like house hunting. You will start off with a long wish list, but you will come up against the realities of what the Washington DC area’s venue inventory actually offers within your budget. After you tour a few places, your wish list will slowly separate into (1) things you must have and (2) things that would be nice to have. You will probably have to compromise in the end, and that is OK! Make the best decision you can while keeping your budget and your guests’ comfort level in mind.” – Janice, owner of Bellwether Events
“Know your guest list before you start to look, otherwise you may fall in love with a venue too small or too large for what you really need. Have a good sense of your total wedding budget, and what you can put towards a venue.” – Margo, owner of Bright Occasions
“Do not let a factor of an onsite wedding coordinator at the venue play a role in your venue selection. I have met with several couples who ended up not hiring me in order to save themselves money by relying on the onsite coordinator at the venue as their wedding planner. After their wedding, they have sent their engaged friends to me, because they realized what a mistake it was to rely on the onsite coordinator as a wedding planner.” - Diana, owner of eventi planning & design
“A wedding planner can help you weigh the pros and cons of each wedding venue. They can also walk you through the flow of your event and help you imagine what your special day would look like prior to the night of your event. This can help you to understand better what you are interested in and what your overall goals are in the venue and planning period.” – Jeannette, from EVOKE
Who is ready to venue shop!? Thank you so much to all of the awesome wedding planners who helped out with their valuable tips and advice. And, be sure to stay with me all summer long for our DC area wedding venue search series. In the meantime, you can browse our comprehensive list of all of the wedding venues in the Washington DC area.