Early Decisions

BYO Wedding Venues

If you choose a venue that provides few in-house services, it can mean a lot of extra work on your end. On the other hand, it will give you much more choice over the specific details of your wedding, and can allow you to set a more concrete budget. Consider the pros and cons carefully before making your decisions.


  •  Options: A BYO venue allows the couple to choose most or all of their wedding details from any source. This allows for endless customization and can free the couple to bring their friends and family in to help in some areas. Every detail, from the wedding favors to the type of wine served, can be turned into an opportunity to express something personal and unique about the couple. Moreover, by taking charge of the details, a couple can visit vendors on their own and make decisions about the best cake, the best flowers, and other items without having to simply use whatever the venue has on hand.
  • Bargain Shopping: One of the joys of self-planned weddings is the opportunity to hunt down great deals. Looking for wholesale centerpieces online, or bartering with a photographer friend for reduced-cost wedding pictures is a great way to save serious money in the budget.
  • Price: Since a BYO venue provides fewer services, it is generally less expensive than a full-service location. While this means that the couple is responsible for hiring vendors and buying supplies, it can still lower the bottom line of the budget considerably. Since couples are not locked into a package deal, it also frees you to leave out any package items deemed unnecessary for your wedding. So if you don’t want toasting flutes or a gift card birdcage, you aren’t forced to pay for them as part of the package.


  • Stress: Okay, the downside to a BYO venue is that it throws a whole bunch of decisions on the couple. You become responsible for finding vendors, hiring them, and coordinating with them. It may mean many more meetings, tastings, and emails. Ask yourselves very seriously if this is the type of thing you find fun or stressful. While some couples may truly enjoy making these decisions on their own, others may find it endlessly tedious and source of numerous arguments. Know yourselves well enough to determine if you’re up to the extra commitments of a DIY wedding before deciding to go in this direction. For the couple that loves to plan, on the other hand, a BYO vendor may be the only way to go to make sure that everything is just as you want it, with no limitations.

Full Service Wedding Venues

Full service venues provide all or most of the details needed for a full wedding. This can include a ceremony site, reception site, all catering, entertainment, and décor options. The downside is that it can limit your choices about individual vendors, and may increase the costs in some areas. Here are a few pros and cons to help decide if a full service venue is the right choice for your wedding.


  • For the stress-free wedding, a full-service venue can be a godsend. Since these locations have all of the supplies necessary, the couple can simply pick the menu, tablecloths, and every other detail from a single list. If you don’t want to deal with details, or are planning from a long-distance location, this may be a great option.
  • In addition to reducing the number of decisions you have to make, a full-service venue also eliminates worries over coordination problems. When working with individual, off-site vendors, it may be difficult to get everything to arrive on time and manage payments on schedule. Full-service locations often work as a well-oiled machine, with all operations centralized to the venue.
  • Many full-service venues have set packages that outline all included items and the cost per head. If planning a wedding with individual vendors, it can be very difficult to figure out the exact cost of everything and come up with a clear idea of a budget. By simply choosing a package, you will know exactly what you are getting and paying for.
  •  Some venues may allow some flexibility with certain vendor services. While many insist on using approved caterers and entertainers, florist services, officiants, and other minor details may be negotiable. This can be a good way to personalize some of the details, while still leaving the bulk of the work in the hands of a single company.


  •  The major downside to a full-service venue is the lack of customization options. While the venue may offer 30 different tablecloth choices, they may not have the exact shade or the right material to match your style and plans. Whereas the self-service venue allows the couple to choose nearly every detail from any source they desire, a full-service location does lock you into the available choices. For those who look forward to the little details, this may not be the best choice.
  • There is no guarantee that a full-service venue can provide excellent quality across all areas. If the company is primarily a catering company, the food may be great, but the florist services may suffer. Asking a single company to multitask on this large of a scale may be asking too much in some cases.
  •  Package pricing, while it may be easy to understand, can prevent you from searching for bargains on some items. While it makes it easier to understand the budget, it may increase the cost of the wedding if you aren’t careful.

Choosing A Wedding Venue

More than any other element, your venue will truly set the atmosphere for your wedding. Since this is one of the first major decisions most couples make in their planning process, it’s important to clearly determine what you need from your venue.

Think of versatility:

You want your guests to be comfortable and relaxed at your wedding, so consider a venue that gives you a strong element of versatility. For instance, a venue with indoor and outdoor spaces can allow guests to move easily from one space to the other, stepping out for air or coming inside if it turns chilly. Similarly, a venue that offers lots of nooks and spots for sitting or gathering will make it easier for guests to go with the flow and enjoy conversations. Versatility helps keep the party going by giving guests lots of options to explore.

Your Style and the Venue:

If you’ve chosen a style for your wedding, for instance, “rustic,” then look for a venue that allows that style to flourish. Discuss décor, lighting, and audio options with your venue manager to get a clear understanding of how much you are allowed to dress up the place. If you haven’t chosen a theme or style yet, but fall in love with a venue, then simply work backwards and let the details of the venue help inspire your theme. If you find a beautiful vineyard with Spanish influences, for instance, consider how you could work some Mediterranean décor, color, and thematic elements into the rest of your wedding.

Study the Package:

Before signing a rental agreement, be sure to read through the fine print carefully. Ask about fees that may not be disclosed, such as corkage or cake-cutting fees. Discuss potential vendors with the venue operators, and find out whether you must use approved vendors or are free to bring your own. Don’t forget to ask about the total amount of hours, including set-up and take-down, that are included in the venue rental- many places will charge hefty overtime fees if the party runs long.

 Full-Service or BYO:

Venues typically fall into two categories: those that provide catering and other services, and those that allow the couple to bring in any vendors they prefer. For more information, see our pages on choosing a Full-Service or BYO Venue for your happy event.

Choosing A Season For Your Wedding

Choosing the date starts on a wider scale of choosing your wedding season. Many of the details of a wedding are dependent on the season, including the appropriate fashion, and the availability of seasonal foods and flowers. Consider the character and possibilities of each season before making this important big decision.



A spring wedding can take advantage of the bright, new colors of the year. Possibly the most cheerful season, spring celebrates new beginnings and the returning warmth of the sun. This is a good season for those who want fresh, simple catering options, since many fruits and vegetables are ripe and ready for celebration at this time of the year. On the downside, spring is notorious for variable weather in many regions, so having options for rain cover and even heating may be a wise idea.


The sunny season is often desirable for weddings simply because the weather is generally consistent. With the high likelihood of good weather, summer becomes a blank canvas upon which nearly any style of wedding can be painted. A shore-side wedding breakfast, elegant high tea reception, or even a fireworks and fireflies nighttime soiree can be planned easily and stress-free in summer. Since summer is high season for weddings, availability may become an issue, and some vendors and venues may charge higher prices during this peak time. A summer wedding may be easiest to plan if you have at least six months of prep time.



A season of harvest and high drama, autumn makes a glorious backdrop for a wedding. While warm temperatures linger, it’s possible to take advantage of magnificent outdoor settings, touched by natural glory. One of the stress-free bonuses for autumn weddings is that the color palette is quite exquisitely set by nature: gold, chocolate, moss, orange, and crimson are the colors of the season, and can make choosing all color details simple and painless. The biggest pitfall to consider with an autumn wedding is the chance of variable weather; savvy couples may want to ensure that their venue provides rain cover in case of a storm.



Elegant, warm, and somewhat unusual, winter weddings can provide a beautiful alternative to more traditional seasonal holidays. Since winter is often a sparse season for weddings, couples can take advantage of more vendor availability, which can be a great stress relief. Winter weddings can go in nearly any stylistic direction, from sophisticated and formal to cozy and familial. One downside to consider is that the sheer amount of nearby holidays may make it difficult to pin down guests or arrange for travel. Try to avoid dates that fall just before or after any holiday weekend, a these may conflict with guest commitments.


Choosing A Wedding Location

One of the keys to a stress-free wedding is making decisions in an efficient order. By choosing the geographic location (not necessarily the venue) first, couples can take a big first step toward streamlining the planning process. By starting with the wedding location, the venue, catering, entertainment, and many other decisions are narrowed down to the locally available choices. Picking the wedding location can help turn a forty page list of vendor options into a four page list, fast.

Where do you live?

If you live in an area they enjoy, it can often be easiest to simply stay put. Getting married in the local area makes it simpler to meet with vendors, find friends-of-friends for vendors, and check out location options in person.

Where do your guests live?

Since many people have networks of friends and families that span the globe, choosing a convenient location for the majority of guests may be a good move. For instance, my family and most of my and my husband’s friends live in San Francisco and Los Angeles, while his family lives in Pennsylvania. We chose to get married in Monterey, a small resort town approximately equidistant to LA and SF, yet close enough to major airports that the PA relatives could get there easily. This allowed everyone to have a mini-destination trip, while not requiring taxing travel and high trip expenses for most of our guests.


Are there any significant places to you?

Nearly every couple has some place that is important to the relationship- a hometown, the site of a first trip together- that can be a viable option for a wedding. Choosing a location that has a romantic significance can help personalize the wedding, making it unique to your life together.

How’s the weather?

This question goes hand-in-hand with our next section on choosing the wedding date. If a bride or groom is dead set on marrying in a particular season, take a look at the historic weather patterns for the regions under consideration. An outdoor wedding in November might be totally feasible in San Diego, but highly risky in Seattle.


Formality – How Formal Should Your Wedding Be?

One of the first major decisions you will make for your wedding is how formal you want your wedding to be. There is no wrong choice here- some want their weddings to be ultimately laid-back, others want all the pomp and circumstance.. Though no wedding may fit into the four categories below exactly, try to find out roughly what type of wedding you want by thinking about the following options on the formality scale.

Level 1-Laid Back:

A casual wedding focuses on a highly relaxed atmosphere, eschewing many more formal traditions. The bride and groom may wear nice, everyday clothes, and may or may not have friends stand up with them at the ceremony. If there is a reception, it may be a meal at a restaurant or a casual brunch, lunch, or dinner at a private home. There may be a simple cake, but typical vendor services such as entertainment, formal photography, and florist services may not be included. This type of wedding is best for couples that wish to mark the occasion of their marriage without going to a lot of fuss.

Level 2- Casual:

Casual weddings can take place at a private home or simple public location, such as a public beach or state park. The couple may wear casual wedding clothes- a knee-length dress for the bride and a nice pair of khakis and button-down shirt for the groom, perhaps. If there is a wedding party, clothes might include matching, casual clothes or simply nice personal clothes. The reception may or may not be catered, and might take place at a public venue, private home, or small gathering hall. The couple may follow some wedding traditions, such as having a cake or doing a first dance, but the atmosphere is focused on simple enjoyment and a relaxed party instead of formal concerns.

Level 3- Semi-Formal:

A semi-formal wedding will typically incorporate more of the traditional elements common to weddings. Brides may wear long, traditional gowns, grooms are typically in suits. Guests tend to choose cocktail wear, such as dresses, skirts, or nice suits, for this type of event. The ceremony may take place in a church or at a wedding venue, with a catered reception following. At a semi-formal wedding, vendors such as photographers and florists may be more common. Couples may follow popular wedding traditions, such as cutting the cake, having toasts, and dancing a first dance. Because of the dress code, semi-formal weddings generally take place in the afternoon or evening.

Level 4-Formal:

A formal wedding involves a heavy emphasis on tradition and the importance of the event. Clothes for the wedding party and the guests might include long, formal gowns and tuxedos. Formal events are typically held at elaborate wedding venues, such as a vineyard, historic home, or private estate. At the reception, the meal is often plated and served by staff, as opposed to less-formal options like buffet service. Entertainment may be provided by live musicians, and a professional photographer and videographer may be used. Cultural and popular wedding traditions are generally strictly observed.

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