How the venue search helped me grow as a person

Guest post by Ocelot

Remember when Ocelot struggled with being “bridal enough” when it came to her wedding gown? She's back with another eye-opening (and all too common) struggle — the venue search.

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Here's a shot of the ceremony space. There's a good chance the leaves will be orange like this on my day. Like it's on FIRE!

The venue search has been one of the biggest learning experiences about myself. It took me a while to get over my grand dreams of an elaborate fancy black-tie affair in a posh museum. I had a lot to learn about how inflated my expectations were, even though I previously considered myself immune to the hypnotic bridal magazine photos of “real” weddings that had been staged to the micron. I also learned I am very frugal and this shit just ain't cheap!

I feel like I've overcome a big obstruction — my own over-inflated need for perfection.

I shed a lot of tears in the process. Between a money drought, moving several times and bad luck like a freakin' curse, I was not set up for easy success in the first place. However, the largest hurdle was overcoming these inflated notions I had of what the “average” couple was capable of achieving from various wedding pushers, like magazines and TV shows. Much of what I expected to achieve was not affordable for us. Many venues I liked best were just too far outside our price limit. There were unexpected costs like chair rental and sneaky “wedding taxes” too. I couldn't believe 20,000 dollars was a small sum in the eyes of a wedding planner.

I was frustrated constantly and angry a lot. I am normally a high strung, high emotion person and this was totally draining me. I just thought that if I kept on searching and searching the most perfect, affordable, and available venue would surface and announce its presence like a beautiful wedding whale. That would never happen, and I knew it, I just couldn't stop myself. I didn't want to just pick something out of desperation, but time was running out, people were getting annoyed and, I needed to do something quickly before I went completely nutter-butters.

Finally, after lots of emotions, we concluded that a previously-shot-down modest and affordable venue would have to do. The Mister practically dragged me back there to consider it a second time. It's not fancy, it's small, it has a bunch of restrictions, and it's far from perfect. It's miles from what I thought I wanted, but as my expectations started to deflate, I started to come around. It has four sides, a roof, a floor and a little garden on the side. Add a few posies, a bunch of friends and maybe that would be good enough. Miraculously, they still had my preferred date available.

So, I wrote the biggest number I had ever done on a check — a deposit for the site and the caterer and a signed contract. It was the first thing I purchased for the wedding and there will be plenty more and higher numbers to come. It has become real. I'm getting married for reals.


I feel at peace. I've learned a lot. I feel I've grown a lot as a person. I feel like I've overcome a big obstruction — my own over-inflated need for perfection. There will be more stress and more strange new problems to overcome by the time this wedding day rolls around, for sure. For now, however, a large chunk of it is completed.

Anyone else wrestle with their perfection demons and came out with something not-so-perfect-but-still-good?

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Comments on How the venue search helped me grow as a person

  1. Thank you for posting this!
    I am looking for a venue at present, and I am so overwhelmed. I feel like whatever I pick is going to catastrophically ruin our wedding! It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone, and that “real weddings” are not real weddings.

  2. I was in a similar situation. Looking, looking, looking, not finding what I wanted. Then it hit me: the place will be great because the people who will be there are great. The “perfect” place is where you, your friends, and family can have your brand of a fantastic time. The rest is just filler.

  3. Went through the same thing! I started with the idea of a super sexy rooftop ceremony overlooking downtown LA – then I foun out how much that would actually cost. There were plenty of tears as each venue responded w/ a more ridiculous quote than the last. We finally stumbled across a photograper’s blog and saw photos of a wedding at a nearby college – we got our venue and I stopped acting like a crazy person.

  4. I suffer with the endless, horrendous ‘but what if there’s somewhere better out there’ thinking when it comes to, well, all aspects of my wedding. I play music at the very odd wedding (not professionally or anything) and every time I do I am struck with ‘here – oh here’s nice’, ‘ooh what about here – they serve Pimms to everyone coming in’, ‘I like that chandelier’ and ‘I WANT TO GET MARRIED IN A BIG CASTLE’ (this was the most recent after I played at a wedding in a glorious castle and everyone wanted to kill me to shut me up).

    In reality, I booked my venue without having seen it. On the basis of friends’ recommendations, photos and reviews. At the end of the day, we just want somewhere not totally hideous to have some nice food and play a few tunes and kiss and hold hands and say some nice things about each other and then get on with the business of our lives.

    I honestly think that there is huge, unbelieveable pressure on women to be perfect, to host the perfect party, to be the perfect wife, to look perfect, to say perfect things (this expands into our everyday life too – perfect wife, mother, worker, looker, housekeeper, friend, daughter, sister). Just because we can do it all, doesn’t mean like, we have to or anything. Sometimes we can’t afford it or we just don’t feel like it. Authenticity trumps some made-y up-y standard of perfection anyday of the week.

    Congratulations on finding your wedding venue – I know that it will be beautiful and special and just right for your wedding.

  5. From the picture I would never have guessed that you “settled”. It looks beautiful! And once you dress it up with your personal touches I bet you can have something simply awesome.

    Thank you for writing this, though. It really hits home with me as I’m going through the same thing in the venue search. I want a place I can fall in love with that won’t destroy the rest of my wedding budget. It’s definitely been tough but I’ve still got hope 🙂

  6. We have where our ceremony will be held, but the trouble right now is finding a venue for our reception. Neither one of us are even sure where to start since most of the places we’ve found online are WAY out of our budget. Either that or they are closed by October 1.

    Still, even if we can’t find a formal venue, I’m still okay with a tent in my parents’ back yard. Plenty of parking, directions friendly, and someplace we love to be.

    • We had our reception in my in-laws’ backyard. It was lovely and it gave the in-laws something to be in charge of, which they really wanted to do. Win-win 🙂

  7. ADVICE: The first thing you do is ask for a quote for the whole event based on your approximate guest count.

    We got so confused seeing a high rental fee, but low plate prices, then the other way around. Once we got formal quotes that included all FEES & TAXES it was much easier to compare the places within our price range based on how we felt about look’s and offerings. It also turns out that many more places are priced the same … like almost all of them in a similar area. If you are serious about a place make them serious and give you a full quote!!! It is the best advice I can give

  8. I knew where I wanted to get married, I’d seen this great lodge at a local state park and fell in love with it. The problem was we wanted to get married during Spring Break while my finace was off work. He teaches at the UofA. The State Park doesn’t open the lodge until April! We looked around a little bit and finally decided to go ahead and move the wedding date to April so we could get the place we wanted. The best part? This amazing lodge costs $150 dollars a day to rent. It has two big stone fireplaces, two big rooms, bathrooms, a kitchen area and is great. At that price we went ahead and reserved it for the Friday before the wedding so we have it all day to decorate and finish projects. I’m thrilled and so glad I gave up my original date to get the place we love. Only 22 days now till the big day!!

  9. I totally understand this. The main issue I had was finding the perfect place and venue. It’s funny because we initially thought of Port Townsend and having the ceremony Chetzemoka Park (where we were engaged)but I was worried so much about it being too far away for guests or the fact that it was a park. Looked at tons and tons of venues closer to home and became so frazzled my fiance put his foot down and said again “Why not Port Townsend?” Thanks for this post! By the way your wedding venue looks absolutely gorgeous!

  10. I had a really hard time with feeling like I’d chosen the wrong reception venue, even though my partner and I really loved the space. Our caterer had a sudden scheduling conflict and couldn’t do our desired date (no contracts signed at that point). So after that I really began to second-guess our decision on the venue. I thought I (not we) had made a dumb decision and that this whole wedding would be doomed–DOOMED, I SAY! However, after weeks of agonizing and trying to find a new caterer, we decided to put switching our date out on the table. We met with the caterer who actually gave us one of the greatest ideas yet-just have the ceremony right there at the reception venue! Done, done, and done. We booked them, switched the venue date, and moved on. I learned that I’m a much happier person when I’m willing to be flexible and make choices based on the important things.

  11. I know where that is! It is most definitely affordable, especially for this area, and if you have a place to sit and a place to get married and happy people around you, who the heck cares?

    It’s funny: For our search we started at affordable (the above was the second venue we visited), and worked our way up to “Are we deliberately denying ourselves something better because we feel we’re not worth it?” That’s how we ended up at Gorgeous Fancypants Winery on the Hill for an afternoon of fantasizing.

    …after which we did the math and decided that we had better things to do with an extra $9000. We’ve ended up somewhere that my fiance initially did not find “inspiring” but I think is going to work out great.

    Anyway, different process, same conclusion: if good people are around you, everything will work out fine.

  12. Yeah, the venue thing was hard. Personally, I’m kind of bored by the whole “wedding in the church, reception in the hall downstairs”…but when the church was only going to charge us $100 (and let us start bringing stuff over a week ahead of time) the decision was made, boring or not.

  13. It was good to read your article. I didn’t have trouble with finding a venue, because we chose the place for it’s wheelchair accessibility. I have been having similar troubles with everything else though. Dress, food, invitations, etc etc.. I’m glad I’m not the only one that is terrible at making a final decision.

  14. Word to this. Our problem was we could afford these fancy shindigs(it would be a stretch, but doable), but they all turned us down. I understand, fancypants venues want 150 people minimum. We weren’t willing to pay the difference or ask people off the street to fill our minimums, so that dream ended pretty quickly. Throughout the entire process, I kept saying “No golf course. I mean it, anything but a GOLF COURSE. I HATE THEM.” while foaming at the mouth while doing so. Well, guess what? Hello, venue.
    It’s not so bad, they have a banquet room with wall to wall windows and a gazebo outside. Is it my pretty-princess fantasy? Hell no, I want to burn their hideous 1970s carpet and chairs, but it’s the only place to welcome our business and the food’s incredible. We’ll make the best of it and use chair covers, and ask if we can put down funky carpet tiles if their insurance allows it. Everything will work out, for all of us. 🙂

    Wow, looking at this a second time, I realized how much more we’ve compromised. #1 Wanted to elope; mom cried. Next. #2 Wanted a rave wedding if we had to have one and people were horrified. Next. #3 Dress to a different dress because of the change of time of day. #4 Wanted waffles if we had to have a day wedding. No waffles…:( *Openly mourns the loss of no tasty waffle bar*
    but I’m still excited and none of that really matters.

  15. I feel like I could have written this. Thank you for actually writing this! “The amount of money expected to be spent on a single day is RIDICULOUSLY stupid” vs. “But I want this to be pretty and special and HOW much does that cost?!” has been a regular battle in my mind. Luckily, like you, I think I finally found the right balance between reducing my expectations, while not feeling like I was giving up or settling. It sounds like you’re either there, or are almost there, and I hope that the rest of your wedding planning goes towards that peaceful balance!

  16. I’m afraid I suffer from the same syndrome you were affected with. The places that are reasonably priced always seem to be sub par. I notice the most BS stuff too, like the ceiling.

  17. Ohhhhhhhh my gosh ~ I *just* put my deposit down on a location this past Monday after 3 months of dead ends, shock pricing and “what, no bathrooms?!” I have had sleepless nights this entire week, beating myself up for compromising because I didn’t really like the venue. It’s not us at all. I, too, kept searching desperately for the perfect location, in remote areas where I just hadn’t thought of looking. On top of that, as much as I hate to admit this, I have a cousin getting married a month after me, and the competitive aspect of two weddings back-to-back is creeping into my thoughts. Every time I get into this mode, though, I take a step back and realize that none of that should matter. I think of all the reasons it’s the right venue (bring your own alcohol? DONE!) because in the end, it’s your friends, family and partner that will make all of that endless hard work transform into pure joy the day of your wedding. And, of course, lots of booze & dancing. Holla!!

  18. I am scared to ask . . . What is a “Wedding Tax”? I freak out at every step when I see the price tag. The only thing I have done so far is book the wedding site and pick DIY invitations. We are about to dive headlong into the alligator infested swap that is reception venue shopping. I feel like my head might explode.

    • I think Ocelot is referring to the fact that sometimes things cost more just because they are for a wedding, like vendors charging more because the event is a wedding and not, say, a family reunion. If you click on the “bridal enough” link at the top of this post, you’ll see another post Ocelot wrote where she describes the experience of finding 2 identical dresses but the white one cost almost double because it was “bridal”.

  19. I was determined to NOT pay a rental fee, no matter what! So we picked a restaurant that has a banquet hall attached. There is no rental fee and the only cost up front was a deposit that later goes towards our final cost of the dinner. We will only pay for how much food is eaten and we’re providing wine and beer. The greatest thing about this option is not having to worry about organizing catering, set-up, or take down. Since it’s a restaurant they’re already equipped with everything and we can pick whatever meals we want off the menu. They are even agreeing to provide a vegan option with early notice! Picking this venue was a lifesaver, we also decided to roll with the wood paneling decor and make the whole wedding vintage themed.
    I am so grateful we found this place and we never would have if more “traditional” venues hadn’t denied us.

  20. God, I know we’re not supposed to just rant about our own experiences in comments; but THANK YOU for this! I’ve been going through the same issue, where EVERY venue choice has the most odd or obscure requirements or limitations (one outdoor venue literally told me, “But it might rain on your day!” which I told them I well knew and had our reception space as a back up, and they responded, “Well, we don’t recommend it!”) have really crushed my own ” vision of perfection.” However, I’ve come FAR off my original pedestal and now feel more comfortable in the process; but boy, do I sympathize with the frustration of venue vendors! Now, as strong atheist/agnostics, we’re (while not getting married in a church) planning on going to a beautiful, well reviewed orthodox cultural center… that lets us bring in our own alcohol! So, while their may be crosses on the outside, we’re hoping the reason why we’re there will distract us 😉
    P.S. YOUR venue would be my ideal!! It looks BEAUTIFUL!

  21. Your site looks lovely!
    Thank you for writing this, I could definitely relate. The venue search was really rough and caused a lot if stress for me and my partner. I felt like I had to keep searching, see as many places as possible in order to make an informed decision. I really loved the first venue we saw, but when taking into account the catering cost and chair rentals, it became a lot more difficult to fit in our budget. We looked at another spot that was more affordable, but I just couldn’t get excited about it, plus our site visit was hijacked by this lame pushy couple, and the employee showing us the place actually poopooed my statement that we would have only about 80 ppl at our wedding, as if I didn’t know what I was talking about and there was no way we could keep it that “small”!
    Part of my issue is my desire to be really fun and epic and worry that my guests won’t have a good time. There were a few days when i cried, “we just shouldn’t even HAVE a wedding!!” I ended up looking again at a location we’d talked about at first, but based on their not replying to my email and the prices on their website, I’d given up. I’m so glad that I called them, because we now have an awesome venue with an offseason discount.

  22. Ugh this sounds way too familiar. I am in the middle of my venue search and every day ends with me nearly in tears, pissed off, swearing we’re going to elope (not actually possible, his family is huge and Greek). I think we’re going to have to settle as well, but we don’t have any options that aren’t crazy expensive. I really had no idea coming into this how stressful this part of the process would be.

  23. I am both comforted and terrified by the comments here. We agreed to start planning sometime in the past couple months (we’ve been engaged for a year), and oh MAN I don’t even want to get out the door on the venue stuff. Agh. It’s nice to have some backup that other people get it, though!

  24. I too have had to come to terms with expectations and reality, and have had multiple hits to the budget. I at first thought we could do it for around 10K, and then it was down to 6, and now if we can scrape up 4K we can still pull off SOME semblance of a wedding. It has been so so hard for me to deal with this. I wanted so badly to have a nice wedding (nicer than my first), and to think that we can’t is hard. We at first were going to do the reception at a park (yay!!!) which was free, available, and had bathrooms and a HUGE playground for kids to run amok. (Brides who don’t want kids at the wedding – have it a kid friendly place! Problem solved!) BUT we had to do the ceremony about a half hour away and they wanted to charge like 500 bucks to use it. So, scratch that. Then my fiance got offered the use of the conference room at the hotel where he works to use. They also have a pretty courtyard in the back for the ceremony. 100 bucks for the whole thing. SCORE! OH! But it’s been 2 or 3 years since they’ve done a wedding, so no one has any idea what they can do, and they don’t have a lot of the equipment there so we’d need to rent. We’ve nixed the caterer in favor of a potluck. We’re trying to find someone to do a cheap cake or cupcakes, and I’m going to do my flowers wholesale online for cheap. One thing I don’t want to bend on is the photographer. But I’m afraid we can’t get the 2K together to pay him. It’s a good deal – 2K for the ENTIRE day of shooting with the photographer. Formals, candids, engagement session, a lot of prints, plus not 1 but 2 high resolution DVD’s with images on them and a copyright release to print our own. I want so badly to have beautiful pictures of my day (my 2nd day). And now it looks like my parents may not make it due to my dad’s recent hospitalization for Guillain Barre. It seems like so many things are going wrong, I hope we can still salvage it. It’s stressful. I’ve had to let go of a lot of things, and a lot of images I had in my mind of what I wanted to happen.

  25. Venue stress was something that ate at me for weeks. It caused family fights and had me wanting to give up before I started. The hard part for us was finding a place that allowed secular weddings. They’re so few and far between in our area that a lot of places were booked nearly 2 years in advanced! I finally was able to regain some sanity when I turned my phone off and purely went with that I wanted an not what grandma and auntie and all these other people expected. Then before I announced it I grabbed my closest loved ones to back me up. I would advice in ALL wedding planning you have someone who has your back and supports you.
    Now I have a ceremony and reception location I love. It’s nothing like what I thought my wedding day would look like, or his ideas either, but it’s going to be great.

  26. Me too – am I allowed to say that? What I wanted was an all in one place venue that didn’t look like an office/conference room and wasn’t v.expensive. And after looking though half the UK I hadn’t found it.

    What we found was not what I set out to look for but ticked most of the boxes – nice, not too pricey, accessible and decoratable – well for the reception anyway and not too far away.

    Yes I lowered my expectations but maybe my expectations weren’t what we really wanted.

  27. FH and I booked our venue this morning. It was our second choice, now promoted. Our original first choice, in reality, was horrible. And we both agree that this one suits us more, and is more beautiful than our first idea! Going to see a third, to make sure we are 100%, but it just shows that if you’re flexible, you might have an even better day than you thought possible!

    All the best!

  28. An excellent post on what to do when you can’t afford what you want! It should be required reading not just for brides but everyone.

    I have a trick I play with myself when I’m faced with a similar situation. I tell myself this: “Ok you can’t have X right now. But you can have it later, if it’s really important to you.” Then I write it down in a list I keep on my computer called ‘Things To Get When I Have Money’.

    So in this situation I would say to myself “You can’t have your wedding reception here right now. But in 10,20,30 years you can have your vow renewal here.”

    The best part is that when I review the list years later I find that I don’t want those things anymore! And then I’m so so grateful I didn’t get them.

  29. This was the perfect post for the perfect moment. I’m so glad I stumbled upon it. We went looking for the first time last weekend and I was shocked at the numbers were proposed to us – the prices were much, much higher than I was expecting. I thought I was crazy to be stressed out – everyone kept asking me if I was “so excited.” Uh no, I’m stressed, thanks.

    I feel crazed to find a venue that reflects “us”…and I don’t even know what that really means.

    A friend made a good point – she totally had the “moment” with their venue when they got married, but didn’t have it with the dress. She said maybe I’d have it with the dress, but we’d just pick the venue on practicalities. This helped me a lot.

    But to all the commenters – so glad to find some solidarity!

  30. You took the words right out of my mouth. Almost four months of searching, and I was just happy to find a place that still had availability. The venue is not the most important part of the day, and not even one of our top 3 priorities. So happy to have finally signed a contract and moved onto the next thing.

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