Scouting and securing a wedding venue comes with a world of potential pitfalls, from hidden fees to parking headaches.
Those things, along with most other aspects of a traditional wedding, go a long way in explaining why Melanie Fontana and her fiancé, Michel Schulz, are getting hitched at a scenic overlook along famed Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles.
“The whole idea of a wedding, booking a typical wedding venue and all that, it just all seemed really boring,” the 30-year-old Fontana said. “We just drove around and found this really great spot. We’re going to do it at sunset.”
With their free venue picked out for their August nuptials, the two L.A.-based songwriters used a relatively new website, PoptheKnot, to make other details come alive.
The pop-up wedding planning business, which limits guests to 25, will provide an officiant, a photographer (pictures will be posted online for download or printing), a bouquet and a boutonnière for $1,600, along with two coordinators on the big day at an extra cost of $300.
In Brooklyn, Blathnaid Conroy, 29, and her fiancé got engaged in January and will marry in May. They, too, were looking for an unconventional venue, and “we were moving really fast,” she said.
After numerous searches online, the advertising agency art director found another website that worked for her, Splacer. Similar to Airbnb, the site showcases venue rentals, from bargain to luxury. A couple of other sites – Venue Report and Peerspace – do the same.
Conroy picked a vintage brick two-story warehouse space in Williamsburg and had no trouble working directly with the building manager to lock down the rental. The manager even offered extra hours for them to set up and decorate.
“We were on such a tight timeline. I think we were both pretty worried we wouldn’t find a place,” Conroy said. “When we walked into this particular venue, it was totally our vibe. It wasn’t all done up or too fancy. It looked like somewhere we would go to a party in Brooklyn on any weekend. That’s what we were trying to achieve.”
The wedding site The Knot estimates the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. reached an all-time high of $35,329 last year, excluding the honeymoon, as couples spent more to personalize the day for themselves and to entertain their guests. Couples using smartphones for wedding planning more than doubled from 2014 to 90 percent, with 43 percent using online planning tools, according to The Knot, which surveyed nearly 13,000 brides and grooms who married in 2016.
When it comes to weddings, location, location, location has been elevated in the planning process, according to The Knot, with unexpected places to wed, including barns, public gardens, wineries and museums, on the rise. Nearly half of The Knot’s respondents in its 10th annual Real Weddings Study said having a scenic reception venue was the top priority. Having both an indoor and an outdoor space was most important for 30 percent of couples.
Shying away from traditional locations, such as hotels and restaurants, can make things tricky, especially for couples plowing through without a wedding coordinator. Some coordinators recommend a good first step before venue shopping is nailing down the number of guests and sticking to it. A good rule of thumb: About 85 percent will show up, some planners said.
“A planner knows the venues that best fit the wedding size, along with what is included with the venue’s price,” said planner Amos Gott in Nashville, Tennessee. “Most importantly, a planner knows what venues are ethical and which ones have hidden fees and try to take advantage of the couple.”
Read contracts closely for what is included and what is your responsibility, suggested Gott, of Amos Events. “Basic rentals, parking, bar, the caterer are just a few things that may or may not be included.”
For the budget conscious, venues that allow couples to bring in their own alcohol, for instance, can amount to a huge cost savings, he said.
Other wedding planners said it’s also important to pay a deposit as quickly as possible to secure the space; to determine if other events are planned in the same location at the same time, which can lead to delays in service and other problems; and to confirm whether outside vendors will be allowed.
As for unusual spaces, planner Brandi Hamerstone in Ohio said spaces not typically used for events require paying for, renting and providing everything yourself. All costs – chairs, linens, permits, lighting – should be priced out before heading “outside the box,” said Hamerstone, in suburban Cleveland.
Annmarie Borosic, a Toronto-based wedding and event planner, recommended getting every detail related to a venue in writing. She recalled a friend who fell in love with the chandeliers at one location, only to learn after she put down a deposit that the lighting had been brought in for a previous event. To include it would have been extremely expensive, so they canceled.
“They fought to get their deposit back,” Borosic said. “Needless to say, they didn’t.”