Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Picking the Right Venue for Your Wedding

Over at Peonies and Polaroids, there's an awfully sad quote from the newly wed:

"Not that I didn't have a wonderful time and the wedding wasn't utterly wonderful. I did, and it was. It's just that the venue let us down so spectacularly, behaved in such a shitty way to us, our friends and our families that when I think of the wedding those wonderful memories that include moments where I was happier than I could ever have imagined I would be are competing with memories that make me really, really fucking angry."

I'm obsessed with backwards-planning. When anyone sits down to plan an event, for example, they should think, "What do I want to think and feel when the event is over?" After you have the end vision in mind, then you backwards-plan all the smaller details that align with the end vision.
No one wants to say that their venue let them down "so spectacularly" and "behaved in such a shitty way."

So how do you prevent this? What choices can you make during the wedding planning process to create a different outcome?

It's hard to say. I guess we'll have to see what caused the problem before we can pinpoint a definitive answer.

Venues are tricky business. It's difficult because you typically have to secure the venue at the beginning of the process, before you've had a whole lot of time to think about what kind of wedding you want to have.

On top of that, the venue you choose is like the first domino that starts a chain reaction. For example, your venue may dictate that you can't have an outside caterer or that you can't bring in outside alcohol. In a way, you start to get locked into making other choices because of the initial choice.

Matt and I had a very difficult time selecting our wedding venue. The mountains of Colorado are a hugely popular wedding destination (especially in the summer), which drives up costs everywhere. Our budget kept us out of the more traditional wedding venues in the area, as well as our design to avoid the "wedding factory" feel. We didn't want to be "just another wedding on the wedding docket."

We had additional difficulties because Matt's family had a different vision of what would make a good venue. Even though we were paying for the whole thing ourselves, we still wanted to invite them to participate in the process. We wanted to avoid any tension, while simultaneously planning a wedding that represented our tastes and preferences, not our families' tastes and preferences.

We also knew that we wanted to be able to rent out an entire place because we wanted all of our friends and family to stay together. Even if they went off in their own directions during the day (e.g., golfing, white-water rafting, hammock-laying, hiking, etc.), we wanted everyone to come together for breakfasts and the Welcome Picnic and reception in the evenings.

By the time we started planning our wedding in late December, there weren't a lot of weekends left that had full availability of the entire site. Argh!

Then there was the beauty piece. We wanted a placed that was aesthetically pleasing. And we wanted our guests to be comfortable. And we wanted it to be affordable for them (since they were already paying for plane tickets and rental cars).

In the end, it came down to two choices (which, ironically, had opposite names: Sunshine Mountain Lodge and Shadow Mountain Ranch). Shadow was more beautiful. The cabins were cuter and the property seem more situated in the mountains. But, the owner wasn't as great as the Cathy and Cory, the owners at Sunshine Mountain Lodge.

Cathy and Cory were so kind, welcoming, and helpful. We decided that it was better to go with the less aesthetically-pleasing place because relationships matter more to us than photographs or guests' first impressions.

Originally, we wanted our ceremony and reception at the same site because it's more environmentally-friendly. But we couldn't figure out how to make it work at Sunshine. Then we came up with the idea of having the ceremony at a B&B up the road (which we could also use for overflow guests). We managed to find a lovely lake with picnic tables already there. No need to rent chairs! All of the dominoes started to fall in exactly the right way because the initial domino was the right one.

One of the smartest things we did during the wedding planning process was make decisions based on relationships. Cathy and Cory went out of their way to help us create the exact wedding we wanted. Every time we asked them for something, they delivered. They let us use their white Christmas lights, composting bins, dog rope, packing tape, iron and ironing board, tablecloths, tables, flowers, chairs (and I think they went out of their way to borrow chairs from another B&B), cake server, cooking pots and pans, and cumin. They dressed up for the wedding reception, gave us a wedding present, and Cathy even joined us on the dance floor.

Not only were they the best wedding vendors ever; they are now our friends.

We did our best to cultivate a relationship with them during our planning process. We helped them in their garden, and they took us out to lunch. We tried to clearly communicate our desires and plans to them and asked for their feedback and suggestions. We occasionally sent them postcards (and they responded with pictures of their Halloween costumed-selves).

By the time the wedding rolled around and we pulled up to the Sunshine Mountain Lodge to unload our stuff for the wedding weekend, it felt like we were coming home. Seriously.

And we just got an e-mail from them two days ago asking how it's going.

I'm so glad we went for the less beautiful, more rustic, seemingly less desirable option in favor of a solid relationship with the innkeepers. In the end, it made all the difference.

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Mrs. Andi said...

I think there are probably two things that need to be done up front, when the planning begins. The first is to realize that whatever happens, you are moving forward in your life together, no matter what. I've always felt that everything is an adventure & you can learn to roll with anything that happens. As you've written before in here, if you get so caught up in the perfection details, you can't really enjoy what you're experiencing & you also can't be as flexible to roll with the punches.

Second (sorry to babble!), I think it really helps to have somebody great in your corner who can help walk you through the pains & issues you may deal with. Just like buying a house, it's good to have a realtor who knows the ins & outs of the complex process. You guys seem to have a great team to help, with the couple at the B&B, you could trust them & they helped solve a lot of possible problems.

Anonymous said...

I found my way to your blog via the article in the Denver Post. Even though it's been 7 (wonderful) years since our wedding, I'm still in love with weddings and have delighted in living vicariously through your planning and reflecting process.

When we got married July 21, 2001, we set out with one primary goal -- to throw a great party. I guess we were successful because people still tell us it was one of the best weddings they've ever been to. We didn't set a firm budget but did make conscious decisions to keep costs down...And I think we came in around $5000 total. Not as good as you, but way better than "average." We got married in the flower garden of Denver's City Park and partied afterwards in the Pavilion (we served fajitas too!).

But back to lodging, which is why I started this long ramble...my extended family is close and gets along well. They were all coming from out of state. We were able to rent out this entire place: http://www.capitolhillmansion.com/index.php for them. It was lovely and the innkeepers were so accomodating. They let us do a bridal breakfast that morning, my sis and I shared the bridal suite the night before and then my groom and I had that room after the wedding. Being in close quarters like that made it as much a family reunion as a wedding.

Thanks for letting me share...and thanks for sharing your tale. I'll keep reading....
Karyn in Denver

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