Lifestyle

A step-by-step guide to finding the perfect wedding venue in Greater Boston

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So you just got engaged. Congrats!

Now that the proposal, ring selfies, and champagne toasts are out of the way, you might have stopped and had a minor heart attack as you wonder: Where are we actually going to do this thing?

If you’re planning to tie the knot in Boston, take a deep breath. The hunt for the perfect venue might be one of the more time-consuming tasks on your plate, but it can also be the most fun.

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If you’re feeling completely lost, here’s a step-by-step guide that should help you decide on the perfect site in the Boston area to say your “I dos.”

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First, sketch out a guest list, and ask your family for input on must-haves. Having a rough guest count is crucial for choosing venues because you can immediately rule out any place that might be too small or too big. You and your fiancé might be planning on a small gathering of 80, but once your families submit their “must invite” lists, the guest count could grow — and rapidly. This isn’t to say you have to decide right away who definitely is or isn’t on the list, but you should have an estimated range, likely within 10 or 20 people, to provide to venues as you search.

Talk about your budget early on. This is the uncomfortable, but necessary, first step before booking anything before your big day. How much do you and your spouse-to-be feel comfortable spending? Are your families planning to contribute, and if so, how much? Do those contributions also cover events like the bridal shower, the rehearsal dinner, or the morning-after brunch? Also budget out expenses for event must-haves — the dress, tux rentals, flowers, music, wedding rings — and see how much that leaves you for the venue. A tip: Most wedding planners say to expect to spend a little less than half of your budget on the venue.

Think about the weather. It sounds a bit obvious, but this is something with far-reaching impacts on where you host your big day. New England is notoriously fickle for its on-again, off-again weather, so take a moment to think about how that fits in with your overall vision. If you’re dreaming of a Boston winter wedding, are you prepared for a potential snowstorm to stop up flights and slick the roads? If your dream ceremony is outside on a warm spring day, are you OK with having a rain shower break up your event — or would you rather be in a climate-controlled environment start to finish? If you want to rule out having any part of your day outside, that could surprisingly cut your venue options by a good deal.

Create a list of things you won’t compromise on. Would you be willing to have an off-day wedding to save money or be able to afford your dream venue? Or would you rule that out immediately? An off-day wedding opens you up to the potential of guests not being able to come or arriving late. On the flip side, if you don’t want to get married on anything but a Saturday, your budget might not allow you to afford the Four Seasons. Also take the time to think about what’s the most important to you and your guests: Would you prefer a large dance floor? A to-die-for dinner? A hotel ballroom where guests won’t have to drive home, or a quaint New England landmark oozing charm? Writing down your absolute must-haves could help not only narrow your search, but with your overall event planning.

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It’s OK to reach out to a lot of venues. One frustrating part about wedding planning is trying to figure out how much venues cost — very few places list this information on their website, so the only way to get quotes is to call or e-mail and simply ask. If you’re committed to finding the perfect spot and want to exhaust your every option, we won’t judge if you reach out to two dozen venues to get quotes. How else will you know if you can actually afford getting married along Boston Harbor or in the middle of the city?

Don’t be afraid to haggle. This isn’t something often publicized in the wedding planning world, but if a venue is slightly out of price range or offers a package that doesn’t work for what you envision, be upfront about it with the spots that make your final cut. If your budget for a venue is $17,000 and the organization quotes you $23,000, tell them that — you’ll be surprised how far most coordinators will go to meet you halfway. Most businesses don’t want to lose out on a sale that would net them tens of thousands of dollars, and are willing to customize your package or negotiate on the food and beverage minimum in order to close the deal.

Don’t be afraid to look in the suburbs. If the numbers in the above section scared you, it might be wise to reevaluate location. Space is a commodity in Boston proper, and impressive ones that can accommodate guest lists of 100-plus people will be priced accordingly. Looking at that beautiful rustic barn in Western Massachusetts or that New Hampshire winery’s spacious, modern room could save you thousands. Plus, consider your guests: If a good chunk are coming in from out of town and aren’t the metropolitan-loving type, they might appreciate not having to pay sky-high Boston hotel prices. (This, of course, can go both ways — if you have a guest list of partiers who would love spending a weekend exploring Boston and would treat a city event as a mini-vacation, then that’s something to consider).

When it comes to finances, compare apples to apples. Wedding venues are wildly different in how they quote your price, from administrative and site fees to how many appetizers are served to entree pricing to bar options. If possible, ask to get these items priced out separately. Start an Excel spreadsheet to keep you keep organized, breaking down food, site fees, alcohol, and other expenses. It might not be a perfect comparison, but it can help if you have a few favorite sites and need to narrow down the list based on cost.

Have you gotten married recently in the Boston area? What was your experience hunting for a venue like? What tips do you have for those just starting out on their journey? Share your thoughts in the comments below.