There are so many amazing wedding venues in Northwest Arkansas. It’s no wonder that many couples all over Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas come here just to get married. But how do you know which venue would be right for your wedding and where do you even begin to look?
I know it can be time consuming looking for wedding venues so, I’m going to take you through some key places to look and questions to ask once you find them, making your search faster, less stressful and maybe even saving you some money.
Oh, Where For Art Thou Wedding Venue?
Northwest Arkansas is the home of the self-proclaimed Wedding Capitol of the South. We have beautiful wedding chapels like Hunts Chapel and Whitney Mountain Chapel to name a few, and hundreds of lovely churches to choose from. Are you dreaming of getting married amongst the finest art on the planet? Try Crystal Bridges Museum. Or, maybe you want to be surrounded by stunning gardens at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. For a unique wedding with a little bit of Americana, beautiful landscaping and classic cars, you can have your dream wedding at Simple Pleasures. Let’s just say, you have some options here.
Unless you pass these places on your way to work or the grocery store (you would have to hit every store in NWA by the way), where do you begin to find them?
When looking for a wedding venue, one of the best ways to find “hidden gems” is to ask around for referrals. Talk to people at work, at the gym and heck, even ask people in the checkout line at Walmart. By getting referrals from former clients, you might also get added recommendations of places they do not recommend, and probably a few wedding tips to add to that. When doing this, keep in mind that everyone has a different measurement for determining what is “great” and what was “the most terrible experience of my life”.
When going with this approach, ask probing questions to determine exactly what was terrible or amazing about their experience. In some cases, you will find what was terrible to them, was not the venue at all but maybe it was the klutzy waitstaff or, the fact that the day was hot. The bugs were out and the kids were acting like wild animals….you get the picture. Take each comment with a “grain of salt”, as my mom would say, and try to determine if their opinion would be yours, too.
I love Google and other similar search engines. Conducting research this is a great way to get loads of information. You can save favorite links and quickly move through the options that you have no interest in.
When using this method, something important to note about Google and other search engines: they put ads first, locations and links with great SEO scores next and then list others in an order based on an algorithm that changes like the wind. Basically, what I am saying is that you might scroll through three pages of Google searches and only find a handful of locations based on the way Google sorts the information. There are many more amazing locations, you just might have to look through10-20 pages (or more) to find them.
Google Maps is another good option to use, however, if the location has not registered in the Google system as a wedding venue, it will not pull them up.
Who doesn’t love a good bridal fair? Grab your girls, get your nails done, check out the newest and hotest in bridal fashion. Go eat some cake while you look at wedding venues and other service providers. There are typically two bridal fairs a year that showcase Northwest Arkansas wedding venues. One is in January and one in the fall. The next fair is the Event Nation Wedding Show, August 28, 2016. Look for the Simple Pleasures booth as well as other great Northwest Arkansas wedding venues.
Taking the bridal party out to these events will typically cost $5-25 dollars per person. The up-side is, you get a days worth of entertainment, goodies and can sign up for freebies.The downside to these bridal fairs are that they are expensive for venues to participate and there are limited number of vendors that can attend so, you won’t get to se all the wedding venues, however, you will get a chance to interact with a few of them.
This place is “THE ONE”
Now that we have covered where to look for these great places, let’s start digging into how you know which one is “THE ONE”.
I have found in my time as a wedding venue coordinator that there are 7 key factors that go into how couples pick their “perfect” location. You might want to add a few more to your list but, using these helpful hints as you start searching, will more quickly sort out the yes’s from the no’s and possibly get a couple safety options too.
A Place That Means so Much to Me
Sor some of you, walking down the aisle is a culmination of the memories you have created together as a couple or, is a longstanding tradition you are keeping. Finding a location that brings this history together and is sentimental to you, is a great way to start your relationship together with your family and friends. Here are some examples:
- The church you attend or that your parents married at
- The location of a first date, like a fair or movie theater
- A place you frequent together like a park or a local concert hall
- A cute chapel where you attended your first wedding as a couple
For some couples, finding a location that is sentimental or relevant to their history together is incredibly important. For others, finding a location they can fill with items that represent their history like pictures and gifts is a great option too. Decide what is important for you.
A Perfect Date for Love
The date has been set…or has it? Many couples have an obvious special date for their nuptials. It could be the date they met, their first date or maybe it is the exact date that falls in the middle of their birthdays. Either way, no matter what day of the week, it’s going to be a great date.
In most cases though, setting a date is something many couples struggle to do and it takes lots of family coordination. Unless you are looking more than a year out, know that once you select your date it can limit your available locations. Some wedding venues in Northwest Arkansas book up 1-2 years in advance so just be aware of this before you send your Save the Dates cards out.
If your date has been set and you don’t want to be flexible, make that your first question to a venue. The answer you receive will let you know if you can move on to the next location or ask more questions. But before you say good-bye, if this is a place that you think you just might be in love with, and they are already booked, ask about their cancellation policy. Let them know you are interested if a cancellation comes up and you would like to be notified. If you do this: Do NOT stop searching for a location you can confirm. You can not depend on a cancellation to secure your location. Also, hoping and praying that something happens to a couple to cancel a reservation is terrible karma for all (just don’t do it).
If you don’t have a set date, come up with a handful of options that work and run through all of them with each of the venues you call, keeping track of which dates each venue is available. It might take a while to decide which wedding venue you want so, you will want to know how many of of your available dates they have available to help you determine how long you have until those dates book up. Once you walk away from a venue as a maybe, there are no guarantees when you come back that they will be available.
Want to know some of the worst wedding dates of the coming years? Check out this blog on knot.com Wedding Dates to Avoid in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Can it hold all the Family?
The next factor to look at is the size of your wedding. Are you going for something like Prince William and Kate or a more intimate affair, like Keira Knightley and James Righton? While you might be a bit more limited in options if you wedding needs the “royal” treatment, we are fortunate in our Northwest Arkansas wedding venue options that we can accommodate weddings of all sizes.
For example, our location, Simple Pleasures, has indoor space to accommodate 200 seated and more standing. The Falling Waters pavilion can accommodate up to 75 but, hundreds of additional people in the lawn area. It also has space for a few hundred in front of the chapel. Booking with Simple Pleasures can be flexible and can adjust for most wedding sizes, however, many amazing spaces do not have this flexibility so, you need to ask detailed questions about each option at a venue when you call.
For example, the stunningly beautiful Mildred B. Cooper chapel designed by famous architect E. Fay Jones and Maurice Jennings is an extraordinary location that books up quickly. While it might have flexibility in some areas, the maximum people it can accommodate is 120 people and it has no courtyards or adjacent buildings to hold a reception or accommodate additional people. The same is true for the beautiful St. Catherines at Bell Gable English inspired chapel. Their chapel holds only 40 people however, their lawn and barn areas hold much more. If you are interested in the overall location but can forgo shrinking your guest numbers, that might be a great secondary option for you.
How big is your family and friends list? Are you wanting to invite only your closest family and friends where an intimate location will work? Or, is your invitation going to your Facebook friends lists and you need to have a flexible location to accomodate a larger party? Whatever you decide, pull your list together and get an estimated number of people that you know that you want there. This will help you sort through your prospects.
Can I do Everything I Want to Do There?
You just decided the size of your wedding, now what activities are important for you and your guests to do? Deciding your activities will help determine your venue options.
Some of the most common activities are:
- Cake and punch reception
- A stage for a DJ or band
- Dancing on a dance floor
- A full dinner reception
- A birdseed or sparkler sendoff
Do you want your guests’ key comments from your wedding is that they had fun? If so, look for a venue that has additional activities or areas for your guests. For example, at Simple Pleasures, we have lawn games like croquet and cornhole and we also have a fire pit for making smores. They can roam around our grounds and buildings looks at the Americana art and checking out the classic cars. Discuss your activity options with the wedding venue coordinator as they can help you determine if they can accommodate all of your guests in your chosen activities.
If you do have a band or DJ, make sure to check for noise ordinance rules or any other restrictions that might impact your wedding fun. This is especially important for locations in town or near residential areas. If your party goes late, you don’t want to get into trouble so also ask them when your party has to end.
How Flexible are They?
Most brides have an idea what they want their wedding to be like. They know the basic number of guests, if they want an inside or outside wedding and know if they want dinner or just cake and punch. Sometimes, though,through Pintrest searches,budget reviews and the fact that your mom told your second cousins and their families that they were invited to the wedding >gulp<…things change.
Whether you know every detail by heart or you are making it up as you go, ask the wedding venue coordinators about their timelines and due dates for key decisions related to your event. Do they have flexibility is in areas you are most concerned will change, like guest numbers, hours for set-up and cleanup? If it starts raining, can you move your wedding into the reception areas and how would that work from a scheduling and budgeting standpoint?
You also want to check into their flexibility holding a date, moving or canceling. As you are looking around, you may find a great option but aren’t sure it’s the right one. Ask about their options for holding your special date. Do they need a nonrefundable deposit or can you hold for a week with no money up-front? Keep this in mind when looking at locations for near-term wedding dates, as they can easily be gone the next day if you don’t have a hold on it.
Does it fit my Theme?
Picking a wedding theme might be one of the most fun parts of the wedding planning process and it should also be taken into account when picking a venue. Do you want formal and black tie elegance? What about casual and rustic? Maybe your theme is more vintage shabby chic? Or maybe it’s a colorful celebration?
Some venues have a very specific theme to them, like the elegance of the previously mentioned St. Catherine’s of Bell Gable or the iconic Americana art inside of Simple Pleasures. Some venues can easily be adjusted to fit your theme, style and coordinate with your color palette and some simply can not. Decide if you need a venue that can be shaped as you select your theme or, if you know exactly what you are looking for, does it fit well with your plans.
So, how much will it cost me?
Budget is the last one to cover but is probably the factor brides worry about most. Arkansas brides on average spent $3,333 on a venue last year according to arkansasbride.com. That price did not include food or chairs, tables and linen rentals which averaged $1,597 on top of that.
When shopping venues, ask questions to determine what is included in their rental pricing or if they have packages available. Many packages, like the ones at Simple Pleasures, save couples money and hassle by including main wedding elements into the overall cost and services. Many times these packages include preferred vendors that know the venue well, have high-quality services and that offer discounted pricing to this venue. Packages usually offer a better value than ordering “a la carte” and in many cases, can be cheaper than you can source separately. you do not want a package or if their packages contain something you don’t want, ask if they are able to take items off to reduce the rate or substitute for something you do want.
What if you do not want to use their chosen vendor or, their packages contain something you don’t want? Ask if they will customize a package for you, remove an item to reduce the rate or substitute for something you do want.
In your conversation with the venue coordinator, make sure that you understand what spaces you and your guests can access, when you can “move into” them, for how long and what else is included in the price. Your contract with them should also state these details clearly. Do not sign it if something is not listed that you discussed.
Lastly, having a good budget plan in place is important, especially if you find “the one”. You need to quickly decide if you have the funds budgeted and if not, decide how you are going to get the additional funds or if you need to go to option #2. Do you want to give up some other wedding elements to fund the difference or, is it worth finding other ways to increase your budget like getting a part time job. You decide how important it is for your special day.
So, you know some places to look and questions to ask. The last thing I want to remind you to do is to have fun looking for a venue but don’t wait too long to confirm your location. These locations move fast so your search must too! Start early and plan ahead so you can find “the ONE” where you can say “I DO”