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The Top 11 Factors in Choosing a Perfect Wedding Reception Venue

Now that you’ve resolved the “who” portion of the wedding—congrats, by the way!—the next big question is “where.” A Great Adventure Weddings and Events talks us through the essential steps in choosing a dreamy reception venue.

By: Lisa Shames

Location, location, location… Never have those three little words seemed more important—and equally daunting—as when choosing where to host your wedding reception.

“There is so much that goes into venue searches for couples, and it can also be one of the hardest parts of the wedding planning process as it's often the first large decision that needs to be made,” says A Great Adventure Weddings and Events Owner Monika Heppe, whose 15-year career in the event industry has included everything from catering and event space management to floral and décor. “Additionally, your date, food, design and many other parts of your wedding are dictated by the venue.”

While there are so many great options from which to choose—Intimate restaurant! Rustic-chic barn! Glamorous hotel rooftop!—asking a few key questions before starting the venue-viewing process and, just as important, digging deep when it comes to the answers, can make your dream wedding a reality.


The first step of planning should be to think about what items in the day are the most important to you. “If it's food, you will want to find a location that has a stellar menu or allows you to bring in one of the many amazing high-end caterers in Chicago,” says Heppe. If the great outdoors is what gets you and your husband-to-be’s hearts racing (well, besides each other, of course), then she recommends looking for off-premise spaces or even country clubs. And if décor tops the must-have list then it’s important to find a venue that allows flexible load-in schedules with ample time for install of all the over-the-top design elements you’ll inevitably want to include.


Now that you’ve figured what you want the focus of your wedding day to be, the next big step is getting a concise idea on your guest list. “Write down your list, talk to friends and family, check it a couple times and make sure you have a good estimate so that you don’t book a space that is too small or too big,” recommends Heppe.


Equally important is knowing how you want your wedding to feel—from the design and food service to music and overall experience. “If you want a rustic, comfortable, family-oriented, outdoor barn feel, that automatically rules out hotel ballrooms and banquet spaces,” says Heppe. Conversely, if you want guests to experience extraordinary elegance and feel like they are entering a castle, head to one of the beautiful historical locations around the city. “Know what you want the general feeling to be and search for a venue that will make the perfect backdrop for your day,” she says.


While the world we are living in today is nothing if not all about change, some things have stayed more or less the same. So while it’s possible to plan a wedding in under 3 months in Chicago, if you’re set on getting married on a specific Saturday with certain vendors, Heppe recommends choosing a venue a year to a year-and-a-half ahead of time.


“With Covid-19 and all the uncertainty of rescheduling, negotiating contracts and dealing with ever-changing regulations, now is not the time couples should be trying to plan on their own,” says Heppe, who recommends working with a professional wedding planner.


Choosing a wedding venue can be stressful. Make it less so by doing your homework before visiting. “It’s more stressful falling in love with that one venue that is out of your price range and doesn’t have any dates available,” says Heppe. She also suggests limiting the ones you do decide to see in person to five to six venues. But she says, “If you both get a gut feeling that venue number 2 is it, go with it and skip the rest of the site visits.”


While the couple’s personal styles are often reflected in the venue-choosing process, it doesn’t stop there. “Sometimes family history or tradition takes over, and we end up in a completely different space that I wouldn’t have imagined them selecting based on our first meeting,” says Heppe, who urges clients to find spaces that will make themselves, and more importantly their guests, comfortable.


Finally decided on a venue? Don’t let your excitement stop you from fully reading the contract. “Make sure the details in the contract are exactly what you talked about,” says Heppe. She also recommends having your wedding planner or lawyer read through them as well.


While back-up plans are never what couples dream of, they are invariably a big part of the event planning conundrum. Any vendor that has back-up plans is your best friend, says Heppe. “In the current state of affairs, venues and vendors who are flexible and willing to work with you when you are thrown your millionth curve ball will make the entire process so much easier.”


Venue packages are the perfect option for couples who are not into the idea of planning a million details from start to finish. But it’s important to note that they’re not usually customizable and not always the cheaper option.


Choose a place that makes both you and your fiancé feel happy, says Heppe. “You should walk into the space and feel comfortable, excited and be able to envision yourself there with all of your friends and family. Make sure that the space speaks to you.”


Still wavering on you wedding location? Let Chicago Loft Venues help you figure out how to pick the wedding venue for your big day. With two historical loft venues for you to choose from—The Zephyr on Motor Row and The Stockhouse in Pilsen (and a third coming later this year!)—there’s sure to be a space to make your I Do dreams a reality. Take a virtual tour today at chicagoloftvenues.com! Memories start here.

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