We recently had a post in a vendor group where a photographer found out she was getting married on a date just 5 months out. She realized she had shot at lots of venues but was now faced with choosing the venue for her own wedding and was asking for advice.
Well, we’re going to give her the exact same advice every bride should have and a methodology to venue selection. So, with this in mind, let’s get started.
We recommend that first you step back and look at the ‘big picture’. By this we mean, are there any vendors you absolutely love? The reason we ask is because there are some venues, that no matter how perfect, may not be a smart choice if you intend to use that vendor. For example, if you’re considering a hotel or other venues with on-site catering, they often require you to use their caterer, simply denying any outside caterer access to the venue. Some venues put unreasonable restrictions on vendors, sometimes demanding a percentage of the contract just for them to play on property (Seaside). Sometimes they simply have a sole source contract with a talent agency which prevents any other band, DJ, or entertainer from even coming on site (Water Color).
It’s these types of restrictions, that if imposed in a manner which prevents you from putting your wedding ‘dream team’ together, that can make what might be a perfect venue, a very poor choice.
So, start with the big picture in mind and review the limitations for the venues you are considering before signing a contract.
Now, take a look around. Will this venue make for a great backdrop for the photos and video that will capture your wedding day? If you need a great indoor and outdoor space, but the venue doesn’t really offer an indoor reception space (Lee House), then no matter how much they might otherwise be one of your favorite venues – it puts a major drawback on the plans.
If the venue is overly ‘plain’ (East Hill Community Center, Garden Center, others) – that’s ok, as long as you’re willing to invest in pipe and drape or other decor elements to create the venue and backdrop you dream of.
And ask about hard stop times as well as limitations on time overall. Some venues have a hard stop time of 10pm because of previous noise complaints or a noise ordinance that might be in place. Some have a strict, everyone off property by 11pm (Eden Gardens State Park) or midnight (Sanders Beach Community Center) that might be problematic if you have a lot of lighting or decor in place. Some places have a strict limit of 4 hours from start to finish. And some venues might have an overly aggressive person in charge that decides it’s time to end, despite what you were told about the end time. So make sure you get the ‘end time’ in writing.
Also remember, to check on logistic concerns. For example, one venue is actually quite nice (Garden Center), but the only real lighting at the venue is the fluorescent overhead fixtures which can prove to be problematic. A venue like this REALLY needs uplighting or other adjustable lighting to get the most out of the space.
Look around as well, will there be a problem with parking? Some venues, like the beach houses (particularly on Ariola Drive on Pensacola Beach) and the former venue My Spayce, have MAJOR issues when it comes to parking which may require valet parking service for your guests or for them to walk across a busy street to access the venue.
So, at the end of the day, it’s a fine balance between the restrictions the venue puts on you and your vendors and the beauty of the venue and general area. And sometimes a restriction isn’t important and sometimes it is.
With this in mind… what are some of our favorite venues?
(Note: Some of the restrictions below are subject to change but are meant to give you an example of the types of things to be aware of and these were the restrictions we dealt with in the past).
511 Palafox. No restrictions on vendors, great staff, lovely indoor and outdoor space, and some incredible aesthetics – like the ‘wood’ floor, brick feature wall, garden courtyard and generally being a delightful venue with easy access for all the vendors. They do have a midnight stop time, but that shouldn’t be an issue for most weddings, but they have a 1am out time.
Lee House – This really is a great venue, but lacks a proper indoor reception space. While we’ve seen them do an entire reception in the living room there, it’s a tight fit and the logistics are, well, interesting if that’s the case. The staff there are delightful and we love working with them.
Sanders Beach Community Center – Ever since the rebuild, this has been a VERY hot venue. 3 walls of windows with incredible views of the bay make for incredible photos. But the hard stop time and other limits on alcohol and the like due to problems they’ve had make for some tough restrictions. If you can work through them, the views here are incredible and one of the largest venues the area. So if you’re doing a big wedding, this venue’s is pretty much perfect.
Bentley’s on the Bay – We did a wedding at this venue and we can only say – WOW. GREAT indoor and outdoor space with beautiful cafe style lighting in the outdoor space. Great venue with wonderful staff. They have a hard stop time of 10pm because of issues in the past, but otherwise, this is one of our top spots and recommendations.
Airport Boulevard Hilton Garden Inn – Randy and the staff there are wonderful to work with and the load in and out for vendors is quite easy. The food is top notch and they generally work to go above and beyond to create a great reception for their clients. Definitely one of our favorite hotel venues in the area.
Margarittaville – Well, it’s hard to talk about this venue and NOT find great things to say. Jessie there is a delight to work with, the food is incredible, and they offer both indoor and outdoor spaces, including a space by the pool. Some of the areas aren’t ‘private’ (for example the pool space), but all in all, this is a minor issue when you take everything else into account.
There are so many other venues in the area we simply can’t list them all. But we mentioned the ones that we have, simply to highlight some of the available options and the give and take you face with most every venue option.
We wish you great success in finding just the right venue for your wedding and we hope this has been helpful. While the venues listed are in Pensacola, Florida and the surrounding areas, you will find similar restrictions and requirements from other vendors throughout the country.
So remember…. step back, try to take at the big picture, and then review your options and the restrictions for each venue as you prepare to make your choice. But know that no matter what the choice, you are sure to have a great wedding and that you will be surrounded by people who love and care for you and support you in your taking this next step in your life with the person you dearly love.
If you have questions or comments on the restrictions you’ve faced, or simply want to talk about your options, feel free to leave us a comment below. We are, and will always be, your bridal advocate.