If you’re looking in Auckland and surrounding areas specifically, see the Auckland Wedding Venue guide.
Choosing your wedding venue follows shortly after getting engaged (see the Initial Wedding Planning Guide!). This can also be a slightly tricky part of wedding planning, because you’ve got to do a little prep work first, and this decision affects so many other aspects of the wedding, so you’ve got to be thoughtful. Frustratingly, venues don’t all offer the same amount of information online, if at all. However, once you’ve ticked this off, wedding planning becomes so much easier, and you should be able to have fun when choosing a venue.
New Zealand is spoiled for choice when it comes to wedding venues, so we didn’t take long to come up with ideas. We both had Waiheke Island in mind (just thirty minutes’ ferry from Auckland), but upon choosing our Waiheke venue (Lavender Hill) we found out it was for sale, and wasn’t taking bookings. Mudbrick Vineyard was penciled in but it still just wasn’t quite what we were after…
How to choose your Wedding Venue?
Hopefully by now you’ve thought about your guest list a budget, because the size of your wedding, how much you’re willing to spend, and when it’s going to be are crucial elements to help determine where to tie the knot:
- Guests: Firstly, you shouldn’t choose a wedding venue until you’ve decided on approximately how many guests you’re inviting. There’s no sense securing a venue which seats 100 and then making a guest list which spreads to 120.
- Wedding budget: will indicate whether it’s a lavish party or a small family affair, and you can’t sign any wedding venue contract before knowing exactly how it’s going to effect the rest of your budget.
- Day/date may also play a part – if you’re planning a wedding in a short space of time, you’re less likely to secure an in-demand wedding venue on the popular Friday and Saturdays.
What are your Wedding Venue priorities?
Next, think about your wedding venue priorities, such as style, theme, time of year, and whether you’ll have your your ceremony and reception at different locations, or if you want an all-in-one wedding venue. Consider what’s important to you – you may not be able to have everything you want, so set your priorities.
Ours were to get out of Auckland city (and therefore we needed plenty of accommodation on-site or nearby); to find a venue that could host both the wedding ceremony and the reception dinner; and, of course, we wanted to showcase a beautiful spot of New Zealand to our international guests that would look stunning in photos.
What else could you be looking for? If it’s a religious ceremony, you’ll obviously need to choose your church or other religious building. If transport is important to you (perhaps a helicopter entry or arrival by limousine), then you’ll want to ensure the venue suits that requirement. Talk to your partner about what’s crucial to both of you and prioritise.
On the one hand, you may save on alcohol by taking the BYO approach, but on the other hand you’ll have to hire all the chairs, tables, crockery, glasses, cutlery, stereo-system, etc. You’re creating the wedding venue from scratch, which means complete flexibility in terms of how to design the day. It’s all your choice, but it’s all at your expense!
We decided that the expense was worth it, because the venue satisfied all other requirements and even had some accommodation on-site.
We did a lot of maths first though, and the venues that work out the cheapest are those that offer everything that a wedding needs, such as a chef, staff, and catering. Examples of such venues include vineyards (Mudbrick on Waiheke Island), garden venues (Lily Gardens, Tauranga), or restaurants (Cibo in Parnell, Auckland).
Ensure that when hiring an all-inclusive wedding venue, that you really do know everything it includes (even down to the chair covers, or the services of a wedding planner). The wedding planning pack covers all this – it’s sold individually or in the bundle.
If you go for a ‘Dry or DIY hire’ wedding venue (like us), you have the opportunity and responsibility of doing everything yourself, preparing the room, organising the catering, alcohol, bar tenders, and servers. It can be a big job for one person – I’m not saying you need a wedding planner, but you might want to enlist the help of a friend or parent, and definitely stay on track with a wedding organiser and diary.
Once you’ve worked out your guest list, budget and other priorities, start making a list of wedding locations. If you’re after an Auckland wedding venue (or surrounds) have a look at this article on how to find an Auckland wedding venue. I also recommend The Wedding Map as an excellent tool for use in New Zealand to find wedding venues.
Make time to visit a few venues, ask friends and family recommendations, and talk to representatives at wedding shows. You’ll get a much better feel for them by talking to people, than by just reading the website and looking at photos.
When you visit each venue, keep in mind:
Ensure the capacity of the venue fits your address, and not just according to how many tables and chairs there are, but whether there’s enough room for everyone to dance, space for older people to sit down, and ample space for everything else you want to have. Buffet tables take up lots of space, bands take up more room than a DJ, and if you’re asking for presents to be brought to the reception, you’ll need space for a present table too.
Consider the capacity and layout of each of the spaces you’d be using.
- If you’re having a small wedding, a large venue may be unsuitable and completely change the ambience.
- If you’re doing ceremony, cocktails, and reception all in one venue, does it have three separate spaces for all of those events?
- Does it require a space that is weather dependent (such as an outdoor space)? This is where you can recognise potential hidden costs and hidden issues.
- Think about the flow of the ceremony if you’re having it at the same venue.
Style & Theme
Does the venue have the right feel and ambience, in accordance with the style, theme and environment you want to create? If you’re planning a casual wedding, don’t pick a venue with a fussy, fancy feel, as you’ll have to spend time and money changing it to suit your theme, when you could choose a venue that’s more suitable to start with. What is the existing decor, will it match your wedding colours, or will you have to spend a lot of money on other decorations and flowers to make it suit?
Many venues restrict catering to in-house only, or specify which caterers to use. This may be of importance of you for many reasons, including personal or religious, so ensure you consider the options and limitations for caterers. The same applies with BYO – understand whether there is an option to bring any of your own wine (and if a corkage fee applies).
If you have a lot of elderly guests attending, or friends and family in wheelchairs, ensure that the wedding venue is not just accessible, but also enjoyable for those. Consider bathroom facilities with the same thoughts in mind – you don’t want guests to have difficulty taking themselves to the bathroom, having stairs to climb or having to go up and down hills if it will make them uncomfortable.
The same goes for parking – is the venue accessible for guests to park and walk to; safe to leave their vehicles overnight; is there public transport available for intoxicated guests to get home, or are you okay with needing to provide transportation for guests from a hotel to your remote venue? Transportation can be a fairly big line item on your budget if you’re bussing or shuttling people to and fro
These are just some of the questions I prompt you to ask with the wedding planning pack, as well as others such as:
- How many guests can you cater for?
- What are the noise restrictions?
- Can you bring in whatever outside vendors you want?
- Are the kitchen facilities available for those vendors?
- Is there tableware included?
- How many tables fit into the room?
- What sound equipment is provided?
- Is there room in the wedding venue for a band and/or dancing?
- Is it a licensed venue?
- Is there enough lighting provided?
- Are you allowed to light candles?
- Are there any limitations on decorations?
- Are candles or other open flames allowed?
- Are there any hidden costs?
- What are the overtime charges?
- Note this is a non-inclusive list, look to the wedding planning pack for all.
Once you’ve answered all of these questions, and more, go over any contract with a fine-toothed comb (or a lawyer/parent/friend) and consider:
- Can we afford this venue? Not just can we afford to pay the venue fee, but will this cost fit within our budget and still allow us to have the other things we hope for?
- Does the availability/date suit us and our guests? You may wish to double-check with your most important guests (bridal party, close family, etc).
- Does this wedding venue really fit my estimated guest list. Sometimes venues stretch what’s possible in order to make themselves more attractive to all couples (just because you can fit 200 people into a room, doesn’t mean you should.
- Does the venue fit your vibe? You should be able to suss this out fairly quickly, and get a good gut reaction, but if you don’t LOVE the vibe, and aren’t sure you LOVE the space, keep looking.