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The three types of wedding venues and how to compare them

posted Oct 18, 2015, 2:21 PM by Molly S   [ updated Jul 27, 2016, 7:06 AM by Molly Sherwood ]
I remember when on the venue hunt for my own wedding, I was drowning in different numbers, and the worst part of it all was that no one venue quotes their services in the same way. The only way to know what you can really afford is to adjust each venue's quote to ensure you're comparing apples to apples. I'm no mathematician, but I love to strategize, so here's how I began to think about it. I use this technique now with my brides and it significantly lowers their blood pressures (as much as it could, anyway, when they've got a mother-in-law breathing down their necks). 

First of all, if you are doing the venue hunt on your own, you have to suck it up and contact each venue manager in-person. It is rare to find pricing online, and they're used to sending out info pamphlets and not hearing back if you realize right away that they're out of budget or can't accommodate your guest list. So, go ahead and ask them, "I'm interested in the following wedding dates. Please send your availability and pricing packet at your earliest convenience." Short and sweet. Not too painful, right? 

Blast your favorite 10-20 venues (or 30, if you're me), and wait. 

Now the pricing packages are coming in. Right away you'll notice there are three types of venues: 
  1. A full-service venue: these guys often require you use their own catering and alcohol, and often include a day-of coordinator, linens, tables and chairs, and an AV hookup. This is all worth something, so do the math accordingly. For example, I've learned that linens for a wedding of 150 run around $175 in my area. 
  2. A partial-service venue: often provides tables and chairs, and has a recommended list of caterers, but doesn't require you use one. The tables and chairs are worth something too.
  3. A bare-bones venue: these are growing with the rustic wedding trend, and I can't blame brides for falling in love with them (and their prices!), but we have to take their base prices and consider some additional costs - do you need to rent heaters, fans, restrooms, tables, chairs for reception and ceremony, a ceremony arch, and linens? 
We have to factor in all the same costs to compare venues appropriately. I have a document I created for a bride with four of her favorite venues - one was bare-bones, two were partial-service, and one was full-service, but rather than an event fee, they charged a total fee per guest which included catering, cake, day-of coordination, set-up and clean-up, tables, chairs, and linens. 

The key to populating the unknowns is to know what each element typically rents for. Find a local events rental site near you and use their pricing to figure out what you're really saving by having a venue that provides ceremony chairs or doesn't. 

When all was said and done, the four venues ended up very similar in cost, to my bride's surprise. The fun in doing this process is that many brides realize a venue they thought they couldn't afford is actually within their budget. 

Happy hunting, and as always, shoot me an e-mail if you get stumped at 


Photo courtesy of Dapper Design and Photography, Culpeper, VA