Blind bride to be – choosing our venue

This is the next part in my blind bride-to-be series following on from my we got engaged and wedding fairs posts.

I’m not going to talk about my venue here. There will be posts about our actual big day after the day. Most of my guests don’t know where it’s going to be yet, and I don’t want my blog readers to know more than the guests! These first posts in the series are more about the planning process in general, and the extra things that you may want to think about or do differently if you have a visual impairment.

Every wedding is different. Every couple is different. I don’t want my visual impairment to be centre stage on the big day because I don’t find it particularly interesting or relevant in terms of defining me as a person or our relationship as a couple. So really it’s more about the planning process for me – getting help when I can’t see pictures of things – getting help to visualise the things that I can’t see, and deciding a colour scheme when I have never seen colours and can’t express my preferences in that respect.

So this post is going to focus on choosing the venue.

Some people have it all sorted – they know exactly where they want to get married. Others have to do a bit of research.

At first we considered various options, but the early ones all had some element of movement in common, and it is a lot easier when everything happens in the same place. You have a base. Your guests don’t need to worry about how they’re going to get from A to B – especially good if they don’t drive. I nearly got stranded once because the people I knew at the wedding had got stuck in traffic and missed the service. Fortunately I found a colleague whom I hadn’t seen for ages, but it could have been interesting working out how I get with my guide dog from a little church in the middle of nowhere to the actual ceremony!

Also, if you want some kind of evening event and are going to hire a venue, that venue probably offers whole-day packages that may end up cheaper or more convenient than other things that you’d been planning.

Making a shortlist

There are loads of wedding venues, so you have to start the narrowing down process somewhere. There were a couple of places that we’d already visited – either as wedding guests at other weddings, at business events, or even wedding fairs.

Going to the wedding fair, particularly the regional one that wasn’t hosted by a particular venue, also gave us some ideas about places that offered what we were after, but that we hadn’t heard of before.

The wedding fair generated a lot of shiny leaflets that I couldn’t read, so I needed someone to work with me on sifting through all the information. I know some brides like stacks of glossy magazines, but I did find myself wishing for something a bit more sustainable like an online exhibitors’ list with website links. I was heartened by some of the exhibitors who took my details and then emailed me information afterwards – meaning I could access details of the venue myself. This didn’t get round the issue of pictures though and many venues let their images speak for themselves, rather than giving any kind of useful descriptions of their function rooms.

Fortunately S is very much involved in the planning and we talked about the pictures and venues before putting our shortlist together. We ended up with 5 on the list – some places we’d been before, others new ones. The length of your shortlist will depend on how long you have to go round looking at venues. I think if we hadn’t found anything we liked, we would have looked at some more, but five was a manageable number to start with.

Setting up initial meetings

We’d both booked a week off and the plan was to set up the meetings during that week. I called the wedding co-ordinators to set them up. We had a couple on one day, but I didn’t put them too close together so that we had time to drive to the venues without feeling rushed, and it also meant we could have lunch at one of them if we felt like checking out the restaurant.

One of the venues deselected itself by being particularly inflexible. Some venues will give you a minimum spend budget and let you allocate it as you want to. Others will try to be really prescriptive about numbers for each part of the day, and this didn’t work for us. Then there were four!

I know some couples tell the venue if someone is visually impaired. This can be useful if you want them to describe the venue, but I chose not to mention it. They’d find out soon enough when I got there and I didn’t want to make a big deal of it. All they really needed to know was that they were meeting with a potential customer, and the other information that most of them took about desired dates, party numbers etc.

What’s important to you?

Before we went to any of the meetings, we came up with a list of criteria to think about for each venue. This could be things like:

  • Cost – because only the super-rich don’t factor this in! It matters – both in terms of getting value for money and making sure you’re not going to be spending the next 20 years paying off the wedding!
  • Distance – how far do you want to travel? Is public transport important? (I’ve trekked all over the country for weddings before, so this wasn’t high on the agenda, and we’d fixed the basic area before doing the shortlist. But if one potential venue is a lot closer than one of the others, it might play a role.
  • Venue – what rooms are available and do you like them?
  • Wedding co-ordinator – how interested are they in you as a couple? How willing are they to work in things that are important to you? You can’t base your choice purely on the wedding co-ordinator because people move on and don’t always stay in the same role, but you’re naturally going to click with some people more than others. Can you imagine yourself working with this person?
  • How important is the date to you? Even over a year in advance, not all of the venues could offer our first choice as it had already been snapped up.
  • Do you have any special requests? Due to my sensory needs, a breakout room in the evening was important to us and we needed to find out if the venues could accommodate that. Can alternative arrangements be made for the toast if one of you can’t drink alcohol? Do you have preferences about the roomsreserved for the wedding party or the wedding suite? Are there things that you want to customise to make them reflect you as a couple?
  • Are there any restrictions on suppliers? Do you care?
  • If there are wedding packages, how well do they fit with how you imagine the day?
  • What options are there for food and how well will any dietary requirements be accommodated?

We didn’t fill out the table in the end, but having it helped us to focus on what things were important to us – where there was room for negotiation, and which criteria were deal breakers if they could not be met.

Going to the meetings

All of the meetings followed the same general format – we had a chat over coffee about what we were looking for and what the venue could offer. After that, we walked around the venue, looking at the areas where the wedding ceremony, wedding breakfast, and evening event could take place, and also having a look at the bridal suite.

I tended to do more of the talking – mainly because although I’ve never organised a wedding before, I have organised conferences and other large events at work. I know my way of doing things surprised a couple of people – I was focussing on facts, figures, details – and less carried away with the emotional side of it all. That’s just how my brain is wired! I guess some of those meetings go a bit differently. For me it just felt like being prepared.

I built a better rapport with people who answered me directly when I asked questions. I don’t care if you don’t do eye contact – I don’t either – but looking at my partner the whole time when it was my question is really quite rude and it doesn’t usually result in people getting our business.

I think the main difference was that people described the rooms more – both S and the wedding co-ordinators. I think it’s important to take someone with you if you can’t see the rooms yourself, because people are likely to portray their own venue in the best possible way whereas someone you take can be more objective and make comparisons with the other venues that you have visited. It was also good for me to walk around the spaces and get a feel for how big they were, where the chairs would go, how the rooms could be set up in the evening etc. Walking around a space – well being guided around a space – helps me to visualise it better and think whether this might be the place where I wanted to have our ceremony.

Many of the wedding venues that also do fairs suggest that you come back to see the rooms when they’re decorated, but for me, not having the rooms cluttered up with people made it easier for me to imagine what they looked like and how we would move around between the different areas throughout the day.

Making our choice

This was not as easy as I thought it would be. I had my heart set on one venue most of the way through the week, but we changed our mind at the end. It felt pretty easy to discount two of the four, but the decision between the final two venues was harder. Both would have been great – but it came down to looking at what each venue had going for it and then making the choice. Fortunately we both felt the same!

I do think it really helped that we went to the venues, talked to someone there, and physically walked around them. I get a lot of information online, but it’s good to get a better idea of how the venue is when you get there – because even if you can see them, pictures don’t always tell the full story!

The whole wedding planning process is something that we are doing together. Ok, I’m doing a lot of the spreadsheets and there will be things that S won’t be as involved in – bride-related things – but whether it’s the groom or someone else you trust, I think it’s really important to have people who will give you honest feedback about how things look, because you don’t always get this in the sales materials, and the sales materials aren’t always accessible.

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