Tips on Finding the Perfect Wedding Venue in SWVA

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I get asked this question every so often as a wedding filmmaker and I wanted to share it with you and provide my own insights on it. Wedding Venues. People sometimes ask me what they should look for in a wedding venue here in the region. Well, today I want to share with you some information about just that, choosing the right venue for you and your soon to be spouse, how to get the best pricing on it and also my take on what you should look for.

Now before we begin, let’s learn a little bit more about local wedding venues in the region. Over the course of the last 10 years or so, I’ve been collecting data on many things in South Western Virginia and that includes the number of wedding venues in the area.

One thing that is apparent in more recent years, I’m finding that just about anyone with a piece of land is setting up a wedding venue. Back in 2008 we had roughly 77-78 wedding venues in the local marketplace, today we have about 116, that’s about a 34% increase in just 10 years.

Why is that?

Well, it’s partly a numbers game. Many people think they can just throw up a tent or convert a barn and make a wedding venue. Little to they realize that owning a wedding venue and operating one are two completely different things and many do not last long.

Some venues overlook things such as nice bathrooms, separate rooms for the bride and groom to get ready, power for lighting and sound systems, a kitchen prep area and even little things, like handicap ramps and the like too.

While wedding venue’s have been popping up in recent years, they all have a few things in common.

The Box

First, most wedding venues are considered a “Big Box” wedding venue, meaning they all have a central location where you get married, inside or outside. These Big Boxes are usually great places to have a wedding, but they also operate under other conditions. Here’s what I mean.

Wedding venues typically have 3-4 sections to them, a place to get ready, a place or two that provides the ceremony, a place for dinner and a place for dancing. The wedding that you have at that facility is pretty cookie cutter, so the wedding the week before and the wedding the week or two after will have the same elements and be very similar other than colors, décor and flowers.

Now, there isn’t anything wrong with that, but what that does is lock you in on being creative. You’re renting a sandbox if you will, but you have to conform to their rules.

Some locations in the area offer the wedding venues at little to no cost only to use their catering services which is where they make the money, sometimes charging $100-$130 a head for food and beverages and that’s something to be aware of when looking for a venue.

It’s more of a gimmick really, they charge you say $1,500 for the venue instead of $4,500, but they get you for having 100 wedding guests at $100 a pop, that’s $10k on top of the $1,500 (total for the venue and food is $11,500). It’s far cheaper to get the venue for $4,500 for the day and then hire catering at $25 a head. (total for that venue is $7,000). Seven Thousand vs Eleven Thousand is a BIG difference.

Venue and Food Costs

Hidden Trick to Spend More at a Venue

The issue with these box venues is that they limit what you can control and what you can do for the wedding, in fact, I only know of a handful of venues that allow you to have the wedding the way you want to on their property here in our region.

Another issue is that they might not be real wedding venues first. For example, you can get married at a hotel here in Roanoke, but it’s a hotel first, a venue second. The same might apply for a local winery for example, while it might be pretty, they’re setup for being a winery first, then the venue.

Many of the newer “country rustic” venues are also the same, they’re an old farm or piece of property first, with slapping up some things to make it a cheap wedding venue. Here’s the point, make sure they have everything to fit your needs for the wedding before you book it. While many venues double as a winery, corporate venue for business and hotels, having a dedicated venue, even at a slightly higher cost is a smarter play in my opinion.

Cost

I recently did an article on the wedding costs so instead of retelling you that information, I’ll just provide the link here.

Amenities to Look for When Searching

Here are some things I highly suggest you scope out before booking the wedding venue here in the Roanoke Valley or SWVA.

First, make sure there are at least two location’s to get ready for the wedding that are not close to each other. You’ll want one location for the bride, the other for the groom and groomsmen. These areas need to have some basics like more than one outlet for hair dryers, curling irons and the like too.

For the bride and bridesmaids, having various mirrors in the room, 3-4+ power outlets, an attached bathroom (trust me it helps when getting ready and needing one nearby) as well as some chairs to do makeup and the like too.

The men on the other hand, they don’t need as much although I recommend a couple mirrors and chairs to hangout.

Some of the better venues will have TV’s and radios, fridges stocked with beverages, couches, beds and even some generic things for the ladies, ironing boards and irons, hair dryers and the like too.

Another thing to look out for is the restrooms.

Not only do you want them, but your wedding guests will too, so make sure there is a permanent bathroom for both sexes on the venue property. I’ve been to a few wedding venues with port-a-johns and let me tell you, nothing screams cheap like a blue porta-potty. (Not to mention the smell or having to use it while wearing a wedding dress too)

If the venue is a country rustic style for example, they’ll want to have a clean indoor facility with fans or A/C to keep guests cool during the hot day and if a barn setting, you’ll want either a wooden or concrete floor. Having a tent style wedding, make sure the venue also has the same style of flooring as grass floors tent to become muddy in the rain and grass also gets stomped becomes muddy even when dry.

I’ve been to a few tent style weddings where wedding guests have slipped on the grass because is was slick with high heels and I’ve done a few where it’s rained, and the grass has still gotten wet under the tent so it’s something to think about when booking a venue.

Beyond looking at things like that, you’ll want to seek out where parking is located, do they have dedicated parking spaces for the venue or do they offer valet parking? Just a handful of wedding venues here offer valet parking and most venues I’ve been too either have gravel parking lots or a grassy field for people to park during the day. If you’re in downtown Roanoke, I’d plan on telling most of the wedding guests that street parking or public garage parking is the way to go as almost all the ones downtown do not have dedicated parking (with a couple of exceptions).

Venue Staffing

The biggest issue by far within the local wedding circuit are venues that do not have staffing on location for the big day. Now, that might now sound important to you but let me give you a little insight.

If filmed a wedding at a very popular venue in the foothills of Roanoke. It was a great day and the venue was well underway with the reception. Now, there was staff for the day but not for the venue, they couple hired a DJ, photographer, catering, florist, etc but there wasn’t anyone there to manage the venue.

Well, needless to say about an hour into the reception, the lady’s bathroom has an issue, let’s just say things got backed up and the commodes started to overflow and made a mess on the floor, not to mention the smell and water everywhere too. Since the venue didn’t have anyone to clean it up, the wedding planner had to close off the lady’s room and wait until the venue owner could arrive, which happened to be 2 hour later, and they still didn’t do anything.

Everyone tried to make the best of a bad situation, but the venue just wasn’t equipped to handle any issues during the wedding.

My advice, make sure that whatever venue you choose, there will be someone there on the property to help when something goes wrong as it sometimes does. I highly recommend that you fine a location that has staffing to some degree.

The Venue Struggle

One of the common things that I’ve also seen with newer venues is that many are not really equipped to handle well, weddings. While many get into the business thinking they’ll make a quick buck by offering weddings on their property, quickly find out how much work is involved, marketing, cleaning and resetting and the overall cost to invest in a property designed to meet a couples needs. Much like the wedding video business, there is usually a burnout period after 3-5 years for many that get into it.

Here’s my advice, book a wedding venue that is at least 3 years old or more.

Why would I say that? Because after the 3-year mark, they’ve most likely worked out all the ‘bugs’ at the venue with everything from parking to electricity issues, getting the rooms where you get ready at right and just having things in order. You can always take a risk at booking a newer venue but as with any business, there will be issues along the way, so I’d make sure that when you invest your money, you do it with a place that has been established and knows what they’re doing.

The great thing about having more and more wedding venues pop up here in SWVA is that you have more to choose from, usually being cheaper in cost, saving you a few bucks. The downfall is that the cheaper venues aren’t truly setup for weddings and everything that could happen, so there is a trade-off.

My Advice on Finding the Right Venue

To sum up, I’d find a venue that has been in business at least 3 or more years, one that offers many different amenities and one that has staffing onsite. Some of the best wedding venues in the area that I’ve been too have people working them no matter what style venue it is and honestly, that makes a HUGE difference.

Back to the cost thing, from what I’ve seen, venues in the $4-5,000 price range tend to give you more value, more amenities and provide much more peace-of-mind than say a $1,000 venue. They are usually dedicated wedding venues that have much more to offer and can provide a much better experience. Anything beyond that $5,000 price range, you’re kind of tossing money out the window in my opinion.