How We Chose Our…Venues!

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Having been engaged for just over a year now, it’s crazy to look back at the way so many pieces of our wedding puzzle have fallen into place. It’s especially crazy to think that Shaun and I had the majority of our vendors and venues chosen within a month or two of being engaged. What can I say? We like to get things done early!

But I realized in going back and re-reading a lot of the blog that I never really took you readers through the journey of how we arrived at those decisions. That’s what this week is going to be for. I’ll introduce you to all of the wonderful people who we’re trusting enough to take care of the big pieces of our wedding day, and give you an insight into the process of how we made those decisions. Secret number one: most of those decisions were made from Madison…150 miles away.

Today’s post is going to take a look at the venues that will host each part of our wedding: the ceremony, the cocktail hour and the reception.

The Ceremony: SSCM Faith Community Chapel

Source: SSCM Faith Community Chapel

Early on in our engagement, finding the perfect spot for our summer wedding was an important task for Shaun and I. As I’ve previously mentioned, I was raised in the Catholic church, while Shaun has been Lutheran since he was about 5. As trivial as these differences may seem for practical worship purposes (both are Christian denominations, and fairly similar ones at that), it seems that weddings can really divide families sometimes. It can sometimes become the ultimate symbol of “whose side” the couple chooses. Fortunately, this has not happened with our families – who are happy to support whatever spiritual journey Shaun and I decide to take together. Even so, we decided that a non-denominational Christian ceremony would be a good way to incorporate all of our views without “choosing” one side. With that in mind, we set out to find a venue for our ceremony.

After deciding that we wanted to have an outside ceremony, weather permitting, there were many ceremony venues that we considered before settling on the SSCM Chapel. Most of these places quickly were cut from our short list of options because they cost too much. Although places like the Heritage Hill gazebo and the Green Bay Botanical Gardens were lovely, we just couldn’t afford the steep price tag. Plus, getting a back-up venue in case of rain was going to cost us even more.

Next we looked at a bunch of local parks, but again we ran into the problem of not having a “plan-b” in case of rain. At least not one that was in our budget. We also were starting to run into the problem of a long driving distance between the potential ceremony cites and the reception hall, which we had already chosen. Although it’s not uncommon for wedding guests to drive 15 or 20 minutes between the ceremony and reception here, we preferred to keep things a little bit closer and minimize travel between venues…especially for the sake of our out-of-town guests.

At this point, we felt like we were out of options. I felt strongly about wanting an outdoor ceremony, but it just seemed that there was no place that could accommodate our guests with a rain plan…within our budget. That’s when my godmother stepped in to save the day! She had heard of wedding ceremonies being held at the Chapel, and directed us to her friend who’s in charge of renting the grounds for weddings. After a few phone conversations, we learned that the chapel was way within our budget and is located a mere 5 miles from our reception venue. This is very close in rural Wisconsin terms. Even better, with our rental fee, we reserve access to the entire grounds for our wedding time – that includes both the gazebo and the chapel, so our rain plan was covered. We were sold! And we officially booked the SSCM Faith Community chapel for our wedding ceremony.

Here’s a few more pictures of the grounds, which I think are just lovely and will be perfect for our wedding day:

The chapel from the outside

The gazebo (it looks even better in person)

And the chapel from the inside. Our “plan-b” isn’t too shabby, either!

Source: SSCM Faith Community Chapel

The Cocktail Hour: Eaton Town Hall

Once we chose the chapel, the cocktail hour venue was a cinch. The Eaton Town Hall is right next door, and will be perfect for our guests to much on some appetizers and have a few drinks between our afternoon ceremony and dinner in the evening. Plus, it’s a way to keep all of our guests occupied while we’re busy taking bridal party photos. I’m not sure if we’ll get to attend much of the cocktail hour, but I’m glad that our guests will have a nice place to relax between the ceremony and the reception and won’t have to entertain themselves.

The only difficulty we had in choosing the cocktail hour venue was whether to have a cocktail hour venue at all. In the end, our decision came down to cost versus convenience: did we want to have cocktail hour at the reception venue, but have to pay much more for the open bar and appetizers? Or did we want to save a lot of money, but have the extra trouble of preparing the food and providing the drinks ourselves at a separate venue? Ultimately, we decided that it was worth it to save money in this area and rely on the help of our family and friends to make the cocktail hour run smoothly when we’re not there. Thankfully, they’re happy to help!

The Reception: Beverly Gardens Banquet Hall

Source: Beverly Gardens

I’ll be honest – Beverly Gardens is everything that I thought I did not want in a reception venue. For starters, I worked there in high school. Every weekend, my sister and I would waitress at weddings and sometimes work at brunch on Sundays or the Friday fish fry…but mostly we worked at the weddings. And while it’s really a lovely place, the fact of the matter is that it’s your typical small town banquet hall. The one that a lot of local people use for special occasions.

What it took me a little while to realize is that there’s a reason that a venue becomes a local staple. After reexamining the purpose of the day and what we wanted our party to be, I realized that being different was less important than making sure that our guests had a good time. That means good food, good service and a good price. Beverly Gardens had all of those things. While there were other venues that were more unique, they had reputations for less than stellar food or were way out of our price range. When we went back to looking at the venues we could afford, all of them seemed pretty much the same as Beverly Gardens, but the food would be a gamble. After an honest conversation, we decided that quality food and a good price were enough to make a good party. And that’s all we really want our reception to be! So our venue may fail for “originality,” but it’s still a winner in our book – enough that we officially made it our wedding reception venue back in February 2011.

Just to give you an idea, here are a few images of the banquet hall. As you can see, it’s pretty much a typical banquet hall. But it provides a decent blank canvas to work with:

The dance hall. Also where the cake table, gift table and guest book(s) will be.

The dining hall – big enough to seat 500. And I thought 300 guests was a lot!

The bar.

Source: Beverly Gardens

The good thing about a blank canvas is that it gives you a lot of room to work with decorations and really make the space special and unique. Here are just a few examples that I’ve found of how brides and grooms dressed up the dining area, particularly with centerpieces:

Source: Beverly Gardens

Although we went back-and-forth a lot of times when deciding on our venues for the wedding, I’m really happy with each of the places that we chose. At the end of the day, I feel that they’ll perfectly represent the small town that Shaun and I grew up in and will be a great place to celebrate our love and new marriage with family and friends. And that’s what counts more than anything else!

Did you learn to love a venue that you didn’t like initially? What motivated you to change your mind?

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2 responses »

  1. Man, I have loved reading a few of your blog posts here and there. Teresa and I are getting married in June of this year, and will have been engaged for a little over 7 months. It’s been helpful reading what you’ve had to do so we can get it done fast! Good luck with law school!

    Jon Alfuth

    • Thanks so much, Brüwer! I’m glad that you’re finding some of the posts helpful and congrats to you and Teresa! I’m sure you’ll have a beautiful wedding, and 7 months will go by quick, but it’s totally doable. 🙂

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