Things to Consider When Selecting a Wedding Venue

Let’s face it. Planning one of the biggest days of your life can be stressful, time consuming and full of decisions. Your wedding venue is one of the most crucial (and expensive) decisions you’ll make, but you can make it easier by doing a little homework first.

Remember that the “best” wedding venue for one couple may be entirely different for another. A classic church wedding might be ideal for one couple, but an intimate outdoor lakeside setting might be perfect for another. It’s likely that you probably already have an idea of your perfect wedding venue, so why not make it easier on yourself by making some decisions before you start looking all over the Madison area for your wedding venue.

Here are some helpful tips to kickstart your venue search.

Start ASAP.

The best wedding venues book fast, sometimes over a year in advance. Get started now with the decisions that need to be made, so you can choose your ideal wedding location. It’s also important to remain flexible as you can with your dates, especially if your ideal wedding venue is a popular one. Your guests will appreciate as much advance notice as possible too, if travel to Madison is necessary.

If you get started now, you’ll have a better chance of getting the venue you want on the date you want. Then, you can check “Find a Venue” off your list, and take the wedding stress level down a notch.

What’s Your Budget?

How much of your budget should you allocate to the venue? According to, the average cost of a wedding in 2020 was about $20,000 and over half the average budget went to the venue. Then you have to allocate the rest of your budget to other “buckets” – food and beverages, tables/chairs/dancefloor, dress/clothing, photographer, florist, entertainment, wedding cake, decorations… the list goes on.

However, it’s important to remember that each bucket can impact the other. If the venue is all-inclusive and provides many of the other buckets, then you can remove that line item off your list, shift your budget elsewhere, and treat your guests to a nicer menu, top-shelf beverages and a live band.

The bottom line is that the wedding venue can impact on your budget more than any other line item, especially if you need two venues (one for the ceremony and another for the reception). So, decide what’s most important to you, and then find the “best” venue to fulfill your specific needs.

What’s Your Style?

Your wedding is all about you and your spouse-to-be. You want it to say something about who you are, and the wedding venue will set the tone to reflect your style. Some local wedding venues offer rustic, outdoor settings. Others are more classic and elegant. Some of the most joyful weddings take place in someone’s backyard. Discuss with your significant other what’s important to you and what you want your guests to take away from your special day. Your choice of style can also help inspire wedding gift ideas for your guests.

And Speaking of Guests…

Your venue will have to accommodate your guests in more ways than just the number. You have to consider accessibility, parking, food/beverages and even noise. If you want one venue for both the ceremony and the reception, which is the case for most weddings, the venue should have the capacity to handle all your guests for both. The average number of wedding guests in 2019 was 131, according to and 167 according to Brides American Wedding Study.

A common mistake couples make is choosing a venue that’s just too big, and they end up spending too much for space they don’t need. Get your guest list together, and it will help guide your decision on a venue.

All-Inclusive or A La Carte

Wedding venues vary greatly in what they offer. Some are focused exclusively on weddings and wedding packages and provide everything you need, including food/beverages, background music, decor, technology (PA system, lighting, etc), parking, and even someone to marry you, if needed.

Other venues provide the space, but it’s up to you and your vendors to do the heavy lifting. Typically, venues of this type will have tables, chairs, and maybe a dance floor, but you’re on the hook for everything else. When you’re comparing venues, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Again, with the venue taking up half your budget or more, make sure you know what you’re getting.

And, something not to overlook if you have your heart set on an outdoor wedding – an indoor option. A lovely outdoor wedding is amazing, but you want it to be memorable for the right reasons. Make sure you plan an indoor option, just in case Mother Nature decides to literally rain on your parade. Madison weather can be unpredictable thanks to all our beautiful lakes, so be prepared!

Wedding Planner or DIY?

We recommend consulting with a wedding planner if your budget can accommodate one. It’s their job to know the city and the variety of venues that it has to offer. They can help you find the best wedding venue in Madison to fit your style, your budget and to make your special day memorable for you and your guests.

If you’re doing it yourself, make sure you do your research and cover all the bases. For venues, you might consider Wedding Spot (available on both iOS and Android), which allows you to compare wedding venues by price, amenities and more. is one of the most popular websites for venue research, but it will pay off to do your homework. Some of the best wedding locations fly “under the radar” but are worth the effort.

Monona Terrace – Madison’s Premier Wedding Venue

If you’re looking for a full-service wedding venue, please consider Monona Terrace. Our downtown location is convenient, accommodating and ideal for weddings large or small, with all the amenities you’ll need. We have both indoor and outdoor options, with spectacular views of Lake Monona from our rooftop garden. The elegant Frank Lloyd Wright architecture of Monona Terrace is the perfect backdrop for your special day.

We look forward to hearing from you!  Learn more about Monona Terrace.

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Martha Stewart