What should you look for in your wedding site, aside from that sense of rightness you know you'll have the moment you see the perfect spot? You should be looking for the same sorts of things -- charm, personality, depth, more than just a pretty face (although looks do count!). Take along this list of what to look for -- in your head or on paper -- when you're ready to go scouting.
First, make sure the hall is large enough to accommodate the number of people on your guest list. The space may look enormous when it's empty, but wedding essentials -- tables, chairs, a buffet, a bar, the band or DJ setup, the dance floor -- can take up a lot of space. Not to mention your guests, who'll need some elbow room. Even if you choose an outdoor site, you'll need ample room on the lawn or poolside. The best way to assess the size of a site? Ask to check out the place when another wedding is being set up. Of course, if you decide you must have your wedding at your favorite bar (the one with one bathroom, two booths, and three feet of floor space), you can always work backward and tailor your guest list to match.
Eating, Drinking & Partying Areas
There should be logical places within the space where guests can eat, drink, talk, and dance. See if you can envision where each activity would happen (especially if your ceremony will be there, too). If a room is too small to separate into sections accordingly, you may feel cramped. If it's shaped like an S or some other oddball figure, that could compromise your party's flow, as well.
Privacy varies widely from place to place, as does the importance couples place on it. If you're having a daytime event in a public spot, such as a park or botanical garden, be prepared for strangers to trek past your party. They may even smile, wave, and come by to offer their good wishes. If this is okay with you (the more the merrier!), go for the park. If not, opt for a lovely lawn on a private estate. Or hold the reception at a restaurant or gallery that will post a CLOSED FOR PRIVATE PARTY sign. Be sure to inquire about available security at your site to keep gate-crashers at bay.
In addition, don't think that just because you're indoors, you're safe from uninvited guests. Banquet halls and hotels often hold more than one affair at a time. If there'll be other events going on simultaneously in rooms close to yours, you may hear karaoke-loving guests singing their hearts out to the sounds of Madonna through the walls or meet them over the hot-air dryers in the bathroom. If this bothers you, try to schedule your wedding when there won't be another one next door. If this is impossible, visit the site on a dual-party night and see how the sound carries and whether there really are any major people problems -- before you make a decision.
Seeing the Light
Light can make -- or break -- the mood. If you're marrying during the day, make sure your hall has plenty of windows. Who wants to spend six hours in a dark room when the sun is shining? If it's an evening affair, make sure the room's not too dim -- or that the lighting can be controlled for the big entrance, dinner, and dancing. If you're marrying outdoors, say, at dusk, will you be able to set up candles if necessary?
Try to visit the site at the same time of day that you've chosen for your wedding. Even if the space looks swell by candlelight, you may be surprised by the sight of that 20-year-old carpet during the day. You'll also miss a chance to see how sunlight streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows completely transforms the room, if you check it out only in the evening.
A Great View
What will your guests look at (when they're not gazing at you or smiling for the videographer)? Whether it's your city skyline, a stunning vista of rolling mountains beyond the windows, or the crashing sea on the sand behind you, exceptional locations are always a feast for the eyes. If there's no view per se, look to a place's decor or architectural details: Picasso prints on the walls, fine Persian rugs on the floors, period furniture in the corners, or an amazing crystal chandelier as the room's centrepiece all give your wedding site that something extra.
The Right Colour
If you're considering a certain theme and colour palette for your party -- say, a Victorian tea done in pink, green, and gold -- that brown shag carpet is really going to wreck the effect. The site doesn't have to be done in the exact colours as your planned decorations, but the walls, carpets, chairs, and curtains shouldn't clash or conflict with your party's mood or theme. If you want a spring or fall wedding brunch, look for a space that's done in light (perhaps pastel) colours or florals; black walls and red leather booths just don't say "spring." But they'll look great if you're going medieval (or 1980s, for that matter). For classic elegance, consider a room done in neutrals or black and white.
Be sure to take a thorough cruise around the room to see if it has lots of places to plug things in -- especially if you're partying in a place that's not a regular spot for hosting weddings. Your main user of outlets will be the entertainment crew. Take note of where the outlets are; if their location will force your DJ to spin records in the bathroom, make sure she or he has plenty of extension cords.
If the place is too echoey, it could give some weird reverberation to the band, not to mention make it difficult for guests to hear one another talking. A tile or wood floor, for example, will amplify sounds, while a thick carpet will tend to muffle them. Check out the room's sound quality during an event. And tailor your music to the acoustic conditions. A jazz combo will sound better at an intimate art gallery than a 14-piece orchestra would (not to mention the fact that it takes up less floor space).
A Place to Park
Make sure the site is near a good parking lot, garage, or big, empty (safe) street where it's legal to park. If parking is a problem, look for other ways to get everyone to the party. Can a shuttle bus or vans take guests from point A to point B? Inadequate parking isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but it may mean spending more time and money to figure out a viable vehicular alternative.