Choosing a wedding reception venue

Rachel Burge

The average British couple spend £20,000 on their big day - and a sizeable amount of that goes on the wedding venue. Fortunately, there are plenty of options when it comes to choosing a venue and lots of alternatives on offer – as well as ways to save money.

Couple at wedding reception venue
Couple at wedding reception venue

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Before you start your search
It pays to work out your overall budget and decide how much you will spend on each aspect before you start searching for venues.

First, think carefully about how many guests you can reasonably afford to invite. You don't want to splash out on a huge, expensive venue, only to then find you have to restrict the number of guests.

When choosing a venue, always keep in mind how many guests it can comfortably accommodate – you don't want to be crammed into a small space, but equally, a large space with a small number of guests can feel empty and lacking in atmosphere.

Once you've worked out your budget, make a shortlist of venues in your chosen area. When you call to check availability, ask them about any discounts they may be running. If you haven't set the date yet, you may find it's cheaper to get married in winter or during the week.

While you're on the phone, ask them about catering arrangements. How much do they charge for catering and do they allow or expect external catering? How much would you save by having a buffet rather than a sit down meal? What corkage do they charge? Finally, don't forget entertainment. Does the venue have enough space for a DJ, band, dance floor or whatever you have planned?

If you have several venues in mind, it pays to write up a checklist and make notes next to each. That way it will be easier to compare them and decide which offers the best value overall, while meeting most of your needs.

Type of venue
If you're lucky enough to have the budget, a historic venue, such as a castle or country house can provide a wonderfully romantic backdrop to your big day. If it's a large site, make sure you know what access your wedding party will have to the house and grounds, and what parts you'll be sharing with the public. You might find that some sites, such as those run by English Heritage, offer much cheaper rates if you're willing to share some access with the public.

If your guests are travelling a long distance, then a hotel reception with accommodation can prove a good option. Don't necessarily be put off by a boring hotel room – you can always hire a decorating company who specialise in turning a standard room into a magical space. With the right lighting and accessories, you'll be amazed what can be achieved. As ever, it's worth asking if the venue has photos of previous weddings held there – so you can get a feel for how yours might look.

If you're booking hotel rooms or using their catering, make sure you ask what discount they can offer. If you don't ask – you won't get!

If you're getting married in the summer months, a marquee can be a way of accommodating more guests (but shop around as they can be surprisingly expensive to hire). Some country pubs with large gardens are happy to host a wedding reception, particularly if you use their catering, so ask around. For a cheaper option, approach sports and social clubs that hire out rooms. Some budget hotel chains also offer packages for the whole day which work out to be very reasonable, so check what's available in your area.

Also consider where your wedding ceremony will be held in relation to the reception venue. Some historic houses have ceremony licenses, which can be a good option for those who want more romance than a registry office but don't want to get married in church. Generally it's a good idea to have them close by. If you have elderly relatives or guests with access problems, you may want to restrict your search to venues that are licensed for the ceremony too.

Finally, be aware that many companies add on a hefty surcharge for weddings. If you're having a small do and looking to rent out a function room, consider describing it as a 'family reunion' instead.

A quick venue checklist:
- What is their minimum fee - do they offer any special discounts/packages?
- What's included in the price - bar staff, tables and chairs, linen, waiters?
- Do they include insurance (if you don't have it already)?
- How much is the deposit - what conditions are there/is any of it refundable?
- What facilities are there - parking, toilets, disabled access?
- Is it licensed for the wedding ceremony itself?
- Does it have rooms/are there rooms nearby for guests staying the night?

Do you have any tips for saving on wedding receptions - perhaps you had yours abroad? Share your experiences and advice in the comments box below...