Newly engaged folks: have you started your wedding venue search yet? Are you ready to pull your hair out yet? Either you're in a town with few offbeat options or you're in a big city with WAY too many options and no way to narrow it all down or find the perfect weird and wonderful venue for you between all the banquet halls. My first tip is to check out real weddings on blogs and especially on local photographer and event coordinator blogs to see what venues you'll find on weddings they've featured.
But to really get some good advice, I decided to reach out to some of our favorite wedding planners to see what sage venue search wisdom they could impart on us to make the arduous search easier.
Oh, AND: when you're ready to start listing out options, hit up our extra special Planning Spreadsheets (there's a whole tab for venue comparisons with a handy dandy chart and everything.
Merida Alexander of Events by Merida
Cross reference: if you're going purely by what's online, go to multiple websites and check their reviews. Oftentimes the reviews will be the same, which shouldn't be cause for alarm. What you want to do is check their reviews for hiccups — something another bride might not think is a big deal (“oh, the venue coordinator was hard to find, but the food/booze/circus act was fabulous!”) that might be a deal breaker for you.
Go in person: if you're after a certain aesthetic, there's no getting around this part. “Steampunk wedding venue” will turn up everything from a refurbished warehouse to a dungeon. Literally. A dungeon. I don't know how someone's private sex club ended up on a wedding venue search, but hey, to each their own, right?
Optimize your search: What majorly sucks about search engines is that the people that are at the top, are usually there because they pay SEO teams to be there. It drowns out a lot of the little guys that might be perfect for you. This is especially true with venues, because offbeat venues are usually less popular than country clubs or farms. What I suggest is to sit down and figure out exactly what you're going for, and get as specific as you can.
Ask your friends: this is one of the most (ish) reliable methods. Putting a call out on Facebook for funky/cool wedding venues will end with you having a huge list of what someone else thinks is funky and cool. It will, however, dig up places that you might not know about, and won't turn up in searches. For example, did you know that there are hidden speakeasies around Philadelphia? I didn't, until a friend told me! Also, this is a great way to vet a place if you're not sure about its reviews. Your friendly hive mind will certainly have someone's second-cousin-once-removed that had their wedding there.
Social media: this is another one that you'll want to use carefully. If you're looking for an industrial space, make sure you put your city into the hashtag search. #PhillyIndustrialWeddingVenue will give you different results than #IndustrialWeddingVenue. Once you're in there, take your time to scroll through. Also remember, wedding photographers are paid to make everything look fan-effing-tastic. Just because a venue looks like a dream in the photo, doesn't mean that that's what it'll look like in person. Just like with our personal lives, Insta feeds for business can be misleading, too.
Go with your gut: if you think a venue coordinator isn't getting you, run. If your every enthusiastic idea is being greeted with a pause and a, “we can totally make that happen!,” accompanied by the Deer In Headlights™ look, that's not going to be right for you. Unless you're dead set on the venue itself (and have some outside design help from a friend/family member/planner), you're going to end up frustrated.
Call a planner: this will completely come off as self-serving, but hear me out. Most of us coordinators offer free consultations. Give one a buzz and ask them about some of the venues you're considering. Even if they can't (or won't) go through your choices, they will for SURE tell you if you shouldn't go with certain venue. I know that if someone called me up and asked my opinion, I'd be willing to help out.
Cindy Savage of Aisle Less Traveled
Before you go crazy searching for a venue, figure out what kind of wedding you want to have. Are you a traditional type? Probably not, if you're hanging out on Offbeat Bride. Okay, so what does your wedding look like when you picture it inside your head? Indoors/outdoors? Modern and urban? Soft and rustic? Vibrant and colorful? What kind of place do you imagine? What activities and stuff do you anticipate being present?
Whatever words best describe the atmosphere you want are what you're going to use to search. Hop on over to your trusty pal Google and pop in “words you just picked” + “wedding” + “location where you want to do this thing” and see what comes up!
Some ideas for non-traditional search terms to use: restaurant, park, community center, bookstore, bowling alley, VFW hall, block party, brewery, lawn games, food trucks, bounce house, Star Wars, Dr. Who, Buffy, Game of Thrones, your other favorite nerdy business.
You've probably been confronted with a whole bunch of wedding inspo to surf through, so pick your favorites and click away. Try not to get too sidetracked by the specific wedding details, but poke around until you find out where that fabulous shindig happened. Now you've got a venue to investigate. Back to your search page to hunt down a website, phone number, email address, and if you hit the magical wedding jackpot: pricing that's actually published for public viewing.
As far as search sites go, what's out there is going to primarily be listing more traditional wedding venues. Major cities are likely to have more interesting spots in addition to the usual hotels and banquet halls (for example, Chicago has a glass-blowing shop, a historic firehouse, and not one but two salvage warehouses that host events) so they're worth at least a quick scroll before you plunge into the depths of the internet trying to find something non-boring. Pretty much any major wedding website with a directory, including Offbeat Bride, will get you a list to start with.
What's next? What to ask those venues!