Choosing a venue may be one of the most stressful decisions you’ll have to make during your wedding. The venue can make a big difference to how much you and your guests enjoy your wedding.

A venue snag also has the potential to derail your entire wedding, which means you’ll need to be extra careful.

Start with your budget

If you’re not careful your venue can eat most of your wedding budget. Yet it doesn’t have to. There are many public venues that are free or nearly free. You can look into public parks, the zoo, botanical gardens, and many other beautiful areas right in your own home town.

If you do choose to pay for a venue, set your budget before you start looking. It would be a shame to fall in love with a place only to find out that it’s well out of your price range. Less public, more expensive venues can cost anywhere from $2000 to $15,000, so be firm.

Move on to the size of your guest list

If you want to reduce the cost of your wedding then pruning your guest list is a great place to start. Once you know the exact size of your guest list you can start shopping for venues that meet your requirements.

You don’t want one that’s too small for obvious reasons, but you don’t want one that’s too large, either. This can have the effect of making the venue seem cavernous and lonely.

Go for “just right for the guest list size,” cross reference that with venues that fit your budget, and then start shortlisting.

Decide between indoor and outdoor venues

Outdoor weddings are popular and are less expensive, but a lot can go wrong. Indoor weddings may make your wedding a little less stress free. You don’t have to contend with rain, wind, or the heat. You won’t have to rent generators to power lights, the DJ, or the catering station.

You might also get some mileage out of choosing an indoor/outdoor venue. If you do go outdoors, budget in a big tent. This can save your wedding if the weather just doesn’t want to cooperate.

Review the venue’s policies

Do they provide tables and chairs or will you have to rent your own? How much time will you have for set up and tear down? What are the cancellation policies? Will you be allowed to bring in your own caterer or will you have to use theirs?

There’s nothing wrong with a full-service venue if you like everything they have to offer: it can make life easier. You just need to know, and know what you’re signing on for. Assuming there will be chairs only to find out the venue won’t provide them can create a minor disaster.

Read them, then read them again. Shortlist venues with policies that work best for you.

Visit the venue

This should go without saying, but it’s still a good idea to say it. Visiting the venue in person will tell you what it really looks like and feels like, whether the ventilation is poor, and whether you trust the staff and like working with them.

If traveling to venues would be an issue then you’ll definitely want to consider searching for venues as close to home as possible.

Set a date after you’ve researched venue availability

While conventional wisdom tells you to set the date first the truth is that the date isn’t entirely in your control. If you set and announce the date before you choose the venue then you run the risk that you won’t be able to find anything in your price range, or anything that you like.

Venue shop before you date set, and then reserve the venue to lock in your date. Every other aspect of your wedding planning will flow from there.