Thursday 20 September 2012

Our Wedding - Finding the Venue

During the initial phase of excitement we skipped and flitted over all of the minutae and details that makes up a wedding. It soon became clear that until we had a venue there was little that could be done in earnest.

The idea for starting this blog came after months of frustrated searching, with the decision looking like it would be led by necessity.
The morning that we set this up we were feeling low, and rather pessimistic, about the single viewing that we had for the day. We'd seen some dreadful places the day before and thought that sharing some of our experience might elicit useful advice from people, or at least assist others in similar future searches.

That one viewing changed everything.


Golf-clubs and Barns

We live in Hertfordshire, on the border of North London, close to where I grew up. Our guests, however, live as far afield as the Alsace; and Frances grew up in Derbyshire. We toyed with the idea of getting married in the beautiful surroundings of Derbyshire or a location that suited where people would be travelling from - but quickly realised that to be able to organise the wedding that we wanted around our work commitments meant we needed somewhere close at hand.

This certainly helped narrow down the search (Try typing "Wedding Venues" into a mapping search engine of your choice and see if you can spot land underneath all of the resulting tags!). I dislike too much choice - it constantly leaves you feeling that you are missing out on something just around the corner.

We compiled a long-list of venues that caught our eye (My father was exceptionally useful at sending through additions to the list and seemed to do little else for a couple of days with e-mails arriving every few minutes - I swear he made a few of them up ...) and then spent time filling in a spreadsheet of all the costs. Every venue has its own methods of obfuscating the real costs involved and go out of their way to make sure that the headline figures are incomparable with other venues. It took hours of detailed investigation to get to a position to be able to compare apples with apples, but it was worth it as the results were often counter-intuitive.

We made appointments in priority order - so you can see why we were getting dispondent when we found ourselves getting to the end of the list without anywhere that had stood out.

All the venues were lovely, and any one of them would have been more than adequate - but somehow none of them really felt right.

We suspect that the venues around us cater for North Londoners wanting to get married in the countryside, rather than the suburbs, which explains the extraordinary prices that some places wanted to charge. We also found that the majority of venues were based in golf-clubs, spas and barns. The previous top venue in our list was a stunningly beautiful golf club set within acres of land, with picturesque landscaped water features. It was by far the best that we had seen, although the most expensive, so neither of us wanted to mention what we later both admitted to being concerned about - the fact that the wedding would take place with golf club members playing around us and ill-defined parts of the ground that our guests would be prevented from exploring. It didn't represent us - we don't play golf for a start!

Definite No

There were certainly some that we walked away from with an instant no. We arranged proper viewings with the majority of venues, but for a few we either went along during a wedding fayre or just popped in for afternoon tea.

(The wedding fayre idea was a mistake. While we thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to see the venue's sales pitch it ended up being the opposite. The focus was on the suppliers and it made it impossible to actually see the venue underneath.)

During one of the afternoon tea visits we found out that that particular venue was ordinarily used as a spa. Every guest but us was wearing little other than a white cotton bathrobe ... It takes a lot to put me off my scones but that came close!

We also found a disappointing number that advertised gorgeously picturesque buildings - only to turn up to find that these were available for a 30 min photo shoot only, and that the actual wedding would take place in a small conference centre at the other end of the grounds.


Gut feeling for the rationalist

The real struggle was just understanding what it was that we actually wanted. It was proving frustratingly difficult to articulate. Decision making should be such a straight-forward process. Gather requirements, look at options, choose best outcome - so why is it so hard? When we questioned recently married friends and family about how they chose their venues, the general response was "we just knew it when we saw it"!

We'd recently noticed that the weather was also affecting our decision - probably coincidentally, but every venue that we had liked had been seen on a sunny day - and every definite no had been in the gloom or rain.

So when we travelled to one of the last venues on our list and the rain came pouring down, we expected the worst. Imagine our joy at finding that, despite the rain we still found it beautiful. Every question that we asked the lady showing us around got the right answer, and every flaw that previous venues had had was absent. There was just something about it that matched what we had both been so unable to articulate that we wanted.

As soon as we left we both looked at each other and said 'I think this is the one'. We spent the drive home saying that we should sleep on it, look again at the spreadsheets and discuss in more detail - but by the time we had arrived home we had decided that it couldn't hurt to ask them what dates they had available, and by the time we picked up the phone we had already set our hearts on it.

So when we found that they only had two dates left we had a tense few minutes shaking ourselves to make sure we really knew what we were doing before spending an agonising lifetime on the phone trying to get back through!

What made this the right venue? How did we work out that this was the one for us?

We just knew it when we saw it ...