There are many steps that go into planning a wedding, but for the most part, you cannot get started on any of them until you book your venue. Not only does your venue often dictate your wedding date, but it also sets the overall tone for your wedding depending on the location and the style of the space. So how do you go about deciding on something so important? Follow these steps to guide you through the process.

1. Determine Your Budget.

Before you start browsing venues, it is important to know your ballpark budget. As a general rule of thumb, your venue and catering will account for approximately 40 percent of your overall budget. This can change slightly depending on what’s most important to you, but it’s a good place to start when you embark on your venue search.

2. Finalize Your Guest List.

You will also need to have a good idea of the size of your guest list. Otherwise, you may waste time visiting spaces that could never fit all of your guests or miss out on unique options that only work for small groups. Of course, you won’t know your exact guest count until much closer to the wedding date, but it’s generally safe to estimate that approximately 80 percent of the people you invite will attend, so use that number when checking out capacities at venues.

3. Decide on a Ceremony Location.

Your ceremony and reception may seem like two completely separate things to plan, but it’s a good idea to know where your ceremony will take place when booking your reception venue. For example, if you are getting married in your hometown church in the suburbs, that will affect your decision on whether or not to hold your reception in the city. Keep transportation in mind for you and your guests. If you want to hold your ceremony and reception in one venue, you will need to know that going into your search so you can properly review your options and availabilities.

4. Consider Your “Vibe.”

There are countless wedding venues in the Chicagoland area, it can be extremely overwhelming when beginning your search without having some idea as to what you are looking for. Take time to consider your personal style and the overall vibe that you are hoping to achieve. Browse through wedding magazines and websites to give you an idea of the various aesthetics that are available. From there, seek out venues that specifically meet your look – like industrial chic, modern and elegant, or soft and romantic.

5. Gather Information.

Before you hit the streets for venue visits, gather as much information as you can. Check our Ceremony and Reception Guide for helpful information on the location, capacity, and inclusions. Consider creating a spreadsheet to keep track of details for each venue. Then, you can easily compare and narrow down the list to those you would like to visit in person. If you have a specific date (or a limited number of dates) in mind, ask about availability on that date ahead of time. There’s no use visiting, and potentially falling in love with, a venue if it’s not available when you want to get married.

6. Visit Your Top Choices.

Once you have narrowed down your list, schedule visits so you can see the potential venues in person. When you’re there, take time to look around at all the spaces you would potentially be using, including bathrooms. Check out available areas for you and your wedding party to get ready and relax in. Be sure to snap pictures throughout your tour. Even if you think you’ll remember everything, after seeing so many venues, they can start to blur together! But don’t only think about the space, pay attention to the person you will be working with, and get to know them a bit more. That person will play a large role in ensuring your vision is carried out and that everything goes as planned. It’s very important that you trust and can openly communicate with that person throughout the planning process.

7. Ask the Hard Questions.

Choosing a venue is more than falling in love with a pretty space. Before you sign on the dotted line, ask detailed questions to ensure there are no surprises. How many hours you will have the venue? Is there a charge for additional time? How much privacy will you have (particularly in a hotel or restaurant that might be open during your wedding)? Are there any restrictions on music? What are your meal options? Do you have to stick to an exclusive vendor list for things like catering, flowers, and lighting? Will you be responsible for set-up and cleanup? When do you have to vacate the space? Do you need liability insurance (many venues carry their own, while others require the couple and/or the vendors to do so)?

8. Put a Hold on Your Desired Date.

You don’t necessarily have to wait until you’re 100 percent certain about your choice to hold a date. Many venues allow you to hold a date, with the understanding that if another couple also requests the same date, you will have to decide quickly and put down a deposit payment. If you have narrowed your choices down to two favorites and just need to do a bit more research, put a hold on each one just in case. Wedding venues book up fast in Chicago!

9. Make Sure the Venue Works with Other Aspects of Your Wedding.

Before you finalize everything, make sure you consider the venue within the bigger picture of your wedding, particularly the budget and timeline. Now that you know how much the venue will cost, do you need to reevaluate how much to allocate to other aspects of the wedding? Are you okay with that? Ensure that you won’t have any issues with logistics, such as getting from the ceremony to the reception, getting your guests where they need to be, and having enough time for photos. It’s a good idea to double check on the aspects that are most important to you before signing the venue contract.

10. Book it!

All that’s left now is to put down your deposit payment and secure your date. It may be a bit scary to finalize that decision, but you can rest easy knowing you have done your research, asked the hard questions, and thought very carefully about this choice. Once the venue and date are confirmed, you’ll be able to move on to other fun aspects of wedding planning. But don’t feel like you have to move immediately into the next phase. Give yourself a moment to relax and relish in marking this big item off of your wedding checklist.