How to Safely (and Efficiently) Set Up Your Wedding Venue

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The idea of setting up your own wedding venue may sound intimidating. However, it’s a very real (and often thrifty) option for the DIY or money-conscious couple. Whether you are decorating a rented location for the big day or assembling your own venue from the ground up at the family farm, there will undoubtedly be a handful of universal to-do’s that require a dedicated amount of proactive planning.

This article will outline requirements for setting up and decorating a wedding venue. Both indoor and outdoor venues will be addressed. This will include acquiring and setting up items like chairs, tables, centerpieces, as well as food and drink displays. Additionally, this piece will discuss more specific components such as the ceremony site, the reception area, lighting, setting up a dance floor and speakers, hanging various materials, and guest amenities.

Choosing the Wedding Venue

One of the most difficult wedding decisions a couple will make is where to get married. As factors of cost and guest list size are considered, it is likely that venue options will be narrowed.

The main two categories of wedding venues to choose from will be a traditional event space (which you’ll need to book) or a backyard or family/friend owned property. There are pros and cons to each type of space that will dictate whether they are right for your ceremony.

Traditional Venues

Traditional event spaces are what typically comes to mind when couples think of where to get married. This category includes churches, vineyards, hotel, restaurants, beachside retreats, and properties designated as event spaces.

There’s a reason many couples choose this route when picking a location. Because these places are accustomed to hosting weddings, there are often mechanisms in place that will help make planning your ceremony more streamlined. Such features may include dedicated food/alcohol vendors, reception space set-up, entertainment options, and even a day-of event coordinator. These venues also tend to have visually stunning elements that fit the desired style of the wedding, i.e. lush grounds or an ocean view.

A drawback to consider with such venues may be restraints on personalization. Some venues require you to use their selected vendors. These options have the potential to be less financially-friendly than booking your own vendors or bringing your own food and beverages in.

Booking a location almost always requires putting down a deposit. These deposits (depending on the location) can run upwards of thousands of dollars. If you are forced to cancel or postpone your wedding date, it is unlikely that you will be able to get that money back; this sentiment is the same with other vendors you may pay deposits to as well. For this reason, make sure you are committed to a venue prior to booking.

Backyard/Family-Owned Property

Depending on your vision, a backyard or other friend or family-owned space has the potential to be perfect for your ceremony and reception. Locations within this type are diverse, including places ranging from a simple home yard to a farm setting or a vacation home.

Choosing a venue that is owned by someone you know presents significant benefits. It is much more unlikely that you will need to put down a deposit. It is highly recommended to give your host a donation or a thoughtful gift for letting you have your wedding on their property, but this will still run you thousands of dollars less than a typical venue.

Another pro to consider is the amount of personalization you can put into a backyard or farm wedding. As the property will be free of vendor agreements, you will be able to pick and choose your own vendors or even provide services yourself. One of the most expensive aspects of any wedding is alcohol, and bringing your own will cut your spending significantly.

Depending on the flexibility of the owners of the property, you may also be able to change aspects of the event space if they are open to the idea. Of course, if the wedding space is your OWN backyard, you will have free reign on all decisions (within the constraints of local party and noise ordinances, of course).

Weddings on personal properties have their restrictions. Depending on the size of the space, you may need to keep the guest list small. Nothing kills a reception like not having adequate space to eat and dance.

Another important thing to remember is that unless you bring in some event planning help, you will likely need to do most of the planning legwork yourself. Be prepared to coordinate with vendors that a traditional venue would likely take care of on your behalf.

Consider Seasonality/Day of Week

For both types of venue, it is extremely important to factor in exactly when you’ll be having your wedding. Make sure that your location will be suitable for the time of year that you choose to host your wedding.

It is probably best to stay away from outdoor locations in sweltering heat or times of year that are prone to snow or rain. Conversely, take advantage of outdoor locations during dates you know are likely to have more mild weather. Within limits, weather conditions can be mitigated. If you think conditions will be chilly but still want an outdoor atmosphere, consider utilizing heaters and tents.

You can also lower your spend if you book an event space outside of the weekend. Weekdays or Fridays can be much cheaper than booking a Saturday or Sunday for a wedding. Make sure to ask the venue about this option prior to choosing your date.

Choose Your Wedding Theme

Wedding Ceremony Chair Arrangement

Not all ceremony spaces need to be over the top. These simple white chairs with blue forals create an aesthetically-pleasing visual

The next big decision you’ll have to make is what the theme, style and color scheme of your wedding will be. While this might seem simple at first, there are definitely components that you should keep in mind.

A big factor in deciding on the design of your nuptials will be the wedding venue. Not all themes work with certain wedding locations. An over-the-top art deco event might be ill-fitting for a barn wedding, while rustic-chic decorations would be out of place in a hotel ballroom.

Another aspect of picking a theme is how much planning and preparation will be needed to enact your vision. Complexity, as well as time or budget constraints, may prevent certain designs from being right for your wedding. Make sure that you have the resources necessary to carry your ideas out fully to avoid a half-baked event space.

Still not sure what theme is right for you? Popular wedding trends in recent years have included:

Plan Your Wedding Properly

Once you complete the two biggest decisions about your wedding date, it will be time for planning to begin. Correct preparation will save you time and money down the line, so it is extremely important to plan your wedding thoroughly.

Setting a Timeline

To start with, figure out how long of a timeline you’ll realistically need. In order to prevent over-filling your schedule, a timeline of a year or more is highly recommended.

Many traditional wedding venue spaces will require a booking to be reserved a set amount of time before the date. More popular venues might also be booked out a year or more in advance. A backyard wedding can obviously avoid this requirement, but other parts of weddings need sufficient time to plan and book as well.

Create an Agenda and Calendar

A common mistake that can trip up wedding planning is not being organized. A lack of organization opens you up to forgetting to plan crucial parts of your big day. By making a planning calendar and an agenda for the day of, you’ll have a guide to follow. While creating a calendar sounds straightforward, there are a few tips for making it as successful as possible:

  1. Schedule things according to how long they need to be planned ahead of the big day
  2. Don’t book or attempt to do too many things at one time. It’ll create an impossible to follow timeline and cause unneeded stress
  3. Stick to your plan and don’t push things off until the last minute. You’ll end up struggling and end up having to compromise on important details

It is also very helpful to set milestones along your planning timeline. These will ensure that you stay on-track during the planning process. Milestones can be whatever you decide, but important one might include booking the venue, booking vendors, purchasing the wedding dress, and scheduling the honeymoon.

Schedule Appointments and Place Orders

Once you have a cohesive plan, it’ll be time to take some action. According to your calendar, you will need to start booking important aspects of your wedding day, as well as ordering the materials you’ll need. Common services you’ll need to book ahead of time include the following:

  • Equipment Rentals: Scissor lifts or boom lifts can be used for camera work if you want a more aerial view. Aerial lifts can also be used for installing lighting and high decorations
  • Site Services: Renting site services for outdoor spaces or for backyard weddings that have limited facilities can help the event run more smoothly
  • Floral Arrangements: If you have specific flowers in mind, make sure that they will be in season for your wedding date
  • A Tent and Dance Floor: If you plan to have your reception outdoors, a tent will ensure that your guests are kept comfortable regardless of weather conditions. A dance floor will protect surfaces like grass from possible damage as well as allow guests in heels to move about safely
  • Chairs and Tables: If your venue does not provide them, it is imperative to rent chairs and tables. Make sure you have chairs for both the ceremony and reception areas
  • DJ/Band or Speakers: Popular DJs and bands are often booked out months in advance, especially during peak wedding season. Make sure to allow enough time to secure the entertainment that you prefer
  • Catering and Wedding Cake: You’ll need to make sure there is adequate time to schedule and attend all tastings for the food menu and the wedding cake. If you’re preparing food yourself, you’ll want to put in bulk orders for all materials you’ll need
  • Clothing Orders and Fittings: A wedding dress often will need to be specially ordered and altered before the big day (unless you’re lucky enough to buy straight off the rack!). Make sure there’s enough time for these appointments to take place. Six months before the wedding is usually sufficient. Do not forget to have the groom and all groomsmen buy or rent their suits
  • Photographer and Videographer: As with entertainment, talented photographers and videographers are in high demand. Since pictures and videos will be your physical memories of your wedding, do your homework and book vendors that you truly love
  • Valet: If you believe that parking may be tricky for your guests and if it is not a service provided by your venue, a valet service can be invaluable in making sure your guests arrive at your ceremony with minimal hassle

Begin Wedding Preparations

Once you have all planning taken care of, it’ll be time to get creative. Make sure to follow your calendar to stay on track. Another great tip is to make a list of MVP projects that are a must for your wedding day. Only take up other crafts and creative tasks if and only if you complete these projects to prevent from over-burdening yourself. MVP projects might include your wedding favors, centerpieces, and signs. There are a few other ideas you might want to consider including in your preparations.

Crafts and Homemade Decorations

Part of planning your own wedding that can be really rewarding is heavily personalizing it through crafts that fit the style of you and your fiancé. If you choose to make your own decorations, make sure that they fit the theme of your wedding. Once completed, make sure to place projects in locations that are easy to access. Nothing is worse than working hard on decorations and forgetting to bring them the day of.

If you have an outdoor space at your wedding venue, you can also construct outdoor games that are simple to make. Popular ideas include corn hole, horseshoes, and ladder toss.

Venue Customizations

If the wedding venue space is in a backyard or space you can customize, begin landscaping or other customizations in a timely manner with a time cushion prior to your date. If landscaping doesn’t turn out quite how you plan, this will allow you to remove or modify what you don’t like.

Also make sure to take measurements you’ll need, as well as get a feel for the space. This assessment will allow you to be prepared and make a strategy for setting up and breaking down your ceremony and event spaces.

Food and Drink Displays and Format

Food is often a central part of a wedding, so spending a significant amount of time on it when putting your reception together is a must. A good place to start is drafting out the seating arrangement for your guests. Make sure to also designate an area for a buffet if your wedding will have one.

If you will have food displays like a donut wall, dessert table, or candy bar, put those together as much as possible prior to your wedding day. Set aside space in your reception area for these features and your wedding cake.

The Bar

Wedding Reception Bar Arrangement

This rustic setup for a bar is stunning and easy to recreate on almost any budget

Place your bar somewhere that is visible and easy for all guests to access. If you are providing your own alcohol, it is recommended you bring it in early the day of your ceremony so your bar staff has adequate time to conduct their own prep.

Another fun idea for a wedding bar (if the bride and groom are craft beer fans) is to have competing kegs. Both will choose their favorite beer and order a keg of each for the big day. As beer is much cheaper than liquor, this is also a great idea for budget-conscious couples.

Child-Friendly Space

If children are invited, make sure they have a designated space and activities to keep them occupied during the reception. It might be a good idea to book a babysitter to provide them with safe supervision that will allow their parents to enjoy the festivities. If the food served during the reception is not exactly kid-friendly, ordering pizza or other childhood favorites are recommended.

The Day Of (Set Up)

The day’s here—you’re getting married! It’s going to be an exciting day and you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared in order to fully enjoy the experience. There are a few big jobs you’ll want to allocate prior to getting to the fun parts of the day.

Vendors

Communicate with your vendors and make sure that they coordinate with one another. This will prevent confusion and prevent potentially disastrous mistakes. Pay your vendors (including tips) at the beginning of the day in order to prevent forgetting once the party gets underway.

Renting

If you’re renting materials and equipment for your wedding, make sure to choose a contact person that will be readily available. If you are renting heavier equipment for reception set up like forklifts or telehandlers, make sure your certified operator is standing by and ready to receive the equipment.

Setting Up

Be realistic and allow enough time for the set up of your ceremony and reception areas. Designate a reliable team of family and friends or hire help to ensure that the job will be completed smoothly. Areas that will need to be set up include:

  • Ceremony area, including chairs and floral arrangements
  • Banquets and tables in reception area
  • Lighting
  • Favor and guest signing spaces (donut bar, guest book or painting)
  • Photo booths
  • Dance Floor and DJ
  • Food and Bar Areas
  • Any other features you’ve decided on

Even though parts of the set up may be going on while you get ready for your ceremony, try not to stress or worry. The number one thing you’ll want to remember is to allow yourself to experience your wedding.

The Day of (Breakdown)

Now that your wedding day is winding down, you’ll need to break things down and clean up.
A good place to start is to choose a (responsible) team that will stay after the festivities and get everything taken down within the allotted time.

Return Rentals

Also make sure all rented items are returned to vendors. Terminate all heavy equipment rentals in order to avoid unnecessary extension or dry fun fees. Make sure your venue knows and agrees upon the fact it may take up to 3 days for equipment rentals to be picked up.

Do a Once-Over

Lastly, have a person or two who will have the job of doing a final review of the wedding venue. Make sure no keepsakes or materials are left behind.

Even though your wedding day has concluded, the fun is just beginning. Enjoy your honeymoon and have a wonderful married life!


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