How To: Choosing Your Reception Venue

Both your ceremony and reception location are absolutely integral to your overall wedding.

If your ceremony is where the magic happens, your reception is where you celebrate that magic. Both locations not only serve as the backdrop to your festivities and photos, but the varied facilities available could have a substantial impact on the event itself. There are lots of ways to start your hunt for the very best in reception venues, and doing your research here will absolutely pay off in the long- run.


How Does It Fit?

Before you get down to the nitty- gritty, you need to consider your wedding theme or vision. This of course can be as general or specific as you decide- it could be something as simple as a particular colour scheme or as detailed as ‘a 1920s bohemian wedding set in Weimar Germany’. It’s important to consider here as the location will have a pretty substantial impact on the feel of the overall wedding. Depending on your vision and personality, your reception location will either fit in to a broader vision of your wedding (like or treating it as a single puzzle piece to complete the ‘wedding puzzle’), or it will help further narrow down your wedding theme- for example, finding an incredible hidden garden could inspire a garden wedding.

Take a Hint from Homebuyers with “Location, Location, Location.”

•    One of the most important factors in choosing your location should be pragmatism. Consider: Where is your ceremony being held, and how close would you like your reception?  Are your guests able to drive to the ceremony, park, then drive to another venue, and park there easily and affordable?  Would you prefer your ceremony and reception to be within walking distance of each other?

•    How close are the guests’ hotels to this venue?  There’s a good chance that at least some of your guests will be travelling from afar, and convenience for these guests will provide a smoother, happier reception.  If you plan on having alcohol, how accessible is the venue to local cab companies?

Decide on What You Want From Your Venue

Before heading out to gorgeous venues that you might be distracted by, come up with a list of priorities based on what you’ll need/ plain old desire from your reception venue. Create a spreadsheet or checklist to keep yourself on track. Some essential questions to ask include:

  • What is the deposit to reserve a reception date?
  • How many guests can the venue hold?
  • How does the pricing structure work (is it based on price per head, room hire, or are there package deals)?
  • Can you hold both your ceremony and reception at the location?
  • Are the rooms multifunctional?
  • Is there onsite accommodation for guests who may want to stay there?
  • Is there in-house catering, or an approved list of caterers the venues consistently uses?
  • Is there a sample menu, or perhaps a choice of menus?
  •  Is outside catering permitted and what are the fees associated with hiring another food provider?
  • How do their menu tasting sessions work?
  • What are your bar options? Can you see a bar price list?
  • What tables and chairs do they have available? If you don’t like the furniture, is your venue open to you hiring furniture from elsewhere and bringing it in?
  • What crockery and cutlery do they have available? Again, is your venue open to you hiring from elsewhere for your wedding day?
  • What is the situation regarding the light? Is there a lot of natural light, or will you need to hire extra lighting to make the most of your photographer’s skills? 
  •  What services are included in the rental fee?
  • When can you and your venues access the venue to set up for the wedding?
  •  What décor options are available?
  • Are there any particular decoration restrictions, for example, on pollen, open flames or confetti?
  • When is “off-season” and what are the prices for different days of the week?
  • How many staff members will be working on the day?
  • What is your alcohol policy? Can you supply your own, and if so, will you have to pay a corkage fee?
  • What bar options are available?
  • How accessible is the facility for guests with special needs?
  • Are there adequate restrooms?
  • Are there any decorating restrictions?
  •  What is the policy on cancellations or date changes?
  • Can you provide different meal options for guests with allergies?
  • Is there a room available for dancing and a DJ or live band?
  • What DJs or bands would they recommend?
  • How much parking will be available for guests, and are there any fees?
  • How easily accessible is the venue by public transport?
  • Do they provide discount tent rental for outdoor receptions?
  • Will you have exclusive access to the venue on your wedding day? If not, what time frames will be imposed on your wedding?


If you’ve spent valuable time planning out your colour scheme, your wedding attire, and custom invitation, then just as much thought should be put into your reception décor.

•    The number one tip on décor is, don’t simply go by the photos on the website!  Each banquet hall and each lawn and garden has been manicured appropriately for website photos much like houses are staged when put up for sale.  Try to visit venues when they are “stripped” of all the trimmings, and then try to sneak in again when the location is “set up” for someone else’s reception.  This will give you an idea of what the venue can do, and in what areas you may use your imagination to make the location your own.

•    Tables, seating, and linens are all topics that should be discussed with the venue.  The difference between 10 tables seating 8 guests each and 8 tables seating 10 guests each will impact the appearance of the venue, and the comfort of your guests.  Usually, linens are provided at locations that cater for the receptions themselves, but extra fees may be added for outside caterers, non-traditional colours, or added décor like satin sashes over seat covers.

•    Venues that cater specifically to weddings may be less inclined to let your imagination roam free in their space.  These venues often have a set theme in place, are sought out for that theme, and stick to a pre-determined list of options.  If you are a creative couple looking to really alter the venue for your reception, a lesser known location or an area that is not typically where receptions are held are your best choices for complete control.


Time of Day

As to be expected, the time at which you are having your reception will influence the pricing, food and drink consumption, and ultimately, the atmosphere of your reception. Here are some basic examples of reception times and their respective menu expectations:

•    Breakfast or Brunch: A simple buffet for the sunrise ceremony type couple, traditional dishes include quiche, bacon and eggs, biscuits or muffins, fruit salad, or made-to-order omelettes.  Beverages include coffee and juices, and specialty drinks like toasting Mimosas, Bloody Mary’s and Bellinis.  To heighten the extravagance, consider adding caviar, shrimp cocktail, or smoked salmon.

•    Lunch: Less expensive than dinner, but a little more palatable for travelling guests, lunch receptions can be tailored for the quirky and fun or the elegant and demure.  Guests will consume less alcohol, and the option for same-day honeymoon travel is still practical.

•    Afternoon Tea:  Similar to lunch, but with an old-fashioned and fancy flair.  Menu items include a variety of hors-d’oeuvres, finger sandwiches, and mini desserts like petit fours, éclairs, and other “snackable” delicacies.  A cake is to be expected, as are hot and iced teas, but at mid-afternoon, guests will not be anticipating a full meal.  Be aware that the connotation with tea parties is feminine, so the comfort and participation of male guests should be taken into account.

•    Champagne and Cake:  Exactly as it sounds and usually the least expensive of all receptions, this gathering takes place on the ceremony grounds and does not include any “meal” items.  The champagne toasts and cake cutting (and eating) may occur too quickly for some couples and their guests who want to spend time mingling but may be just the right “venue” for the budget-conscious and overwhelmed-in-crowds types of couples.

•    Cocktail Reception:  A cocktail reception is like the easy-going child of afternoon tea and dinner.  Allowing more guests than a traditional sit-down dinner, this option seems to be one of the most expensive.  This reception’s food options are similar to the hors-d’oeuvres at tea time, may include a quick cake cutting, and it allows for, of course, a wide variety of cocktails.

•    Dinner: This most expensive reception option is also the most classic and formal.  This is where daughters and sons dance with their parents, bouquets and garters are tossed, and cake cutting is a ceremony in itself.  Formal dinners start with a cocktail hour, a sit-down dinner, and then dancing, cake, and usually more dancing!

Food and Drink

Stemming from the list above,  there is, unfortunately, no real ground level estimate for food and drink selections at receptions.  The time and type of reception will give you some idea of the costs, but with the number of factors a reception brings, it’s tough to nail down a base price.

•    What time of day and what type of “meal” will you be having?  Breakfast reigns as the least expensive, and dinner as the most expensive, but why not have breakfast for dinner?

•    Headcount.  The number of guests you have attending determines the largest reception fees.  Food costs are usually determined “per plate,” which is another way of saying “per eating guest.”  A quick drop in cost may be found in the serving station or buffet-style meal, as opposed to a pre-determined, served dish.

•    Alcohol.  This is one of the easiest ways to make or break your budget.  Again, different times of day allot for different types and amounts of alcohol.  Certain venues may have an alcohol budget as a requirement in the rental contract.  Make sure to ask whether the bar tab is calculated in advance (by number of guests/hours of operation/bottles pre-bought), or if it is calculated at a discounted rate per drink.  For backyard weddings, be sure to check on liquor licensing regulations in your area.

Bar options include

  •     All-night open bar
  •     Open bar for cocktail hour only
  •    Open bar for signature drinks only
  •    Open bar for beer/wine only
  •    Open bar until budget is matched
  •    Cash bar only
  •    Bring Your Own Beverages (with corking fee)s
  •     Taste!  The difference between on-site and off-site catering is often dependent on cost and taste.  Ask venues and caterers if they offer tasting appointments, like bakeries offer cake tastings.  On-site may be cheaper, but utilizing an off-site caterer may provide that extra style and flavor you’re looking for.

Go Out of Bounds

The best part of choosing your reception venue is you can go wherever parties can be hosted!  Consider something out of the box like an aquarium, a theatre or art gallery, a museum or the beach.

When in doubt, ask!  Traditional reception venues and banquet halls will have seen a ton of couples prior to your reception date, so if you have some unique ideas to create your perfectly personalised party, put those ideas forward, and enjoy!