Where to say your ‘I Do’s’

With the landmark May 20 court ruling legalizing marriage equality in Pennsylvania, we’ve seen same-sex couples marrying in courthouses, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at the iconic Love Park statue.

But, if you’re planning a larger event, finding the right venue to host either a ceremony, reception or both can be one of the toughest, and quite likely the costliest, decisions of your wedding-planning process.

As with other big decisions in the planning process, the venue you select should be one that fits your goals for the format, size and budget of the wedding, as well as one aligned with your own personal style.

Types of venues

Once you have obtained a marriage license, you can pretty much marry anywhere (public-permit issues aside), as long as you have a certified officiant witness and sign the license.

For couples looking to save some money or have a more intimate affair, in-home or backyard weddings are a great fit, allowing for a low-key, laidback atmosphere. On the other end, there are a number of historic mansions, and even castles, in the area that rent their space out for weddings. (Note: many of these venues do not provide food or alcohol, so a separate caterer needs to be contracted.) A sea of area hotels offers wedding space, as do off-the-beaten-path venues like museums.

My partner and I went with the country-club option (see “Spring Mill Manor”); many country club venues offer all-inclusive wedding packages and can accommodate large guest lists, two of our top priorities.

Narrowing your options

Compiling a list of potential venues is a harrowing task, but a quick way to identify your favorites is to toss out the ones that may not be terribly LGBT-friendly.

In addition to jotting down a list of venues we liked solely because of their location, we scoured LGBT wedding websites for lists of friendly vendors, and even googled for photos and accounts of local same-sex weddings to find where other couples had been married. Once we had a good list of possibilities, we emailed our prospects to set up in-person tours and mentioned that we were a same-sex couple, gauging their reactions. Some raved about the same-sex weddings they had previously hosted, others said they’d welcome same-sex couples and others didn’t even respond. They were out.

We ended up visiting six venues before deciding on our favorite, and made sure to tour venues of different styles (country club, rustic, waterfront historic house). During one visit, after our contact had assured us he was excited to host our same-sex union, he began asking about our grooms — off the list!

Some venues may purport to be LGBT-friendly but that commitment may not be wholly genuine; the comfort level of yourself, your fiancé and your family and friends shouldn’t be something you have to worry about on your big day, so trust your gut on the sincerity of all of your potential wedding vendors.

Things to consider

Once you’ve narrowed your search, making a number of smaller decisions can help illuminate some of the questions you need to ask your potential venue.

If you’re having a ceremony and reception, do you want them both at the same place? A big pro is that travel time and cost is cut out, but depending on your religious affiliation, you may need to host a church ceremony and find a venue just for the reception.

If you’re having both at the same locale, do you want an indoor or outdoor ceremony? If the latter, find out what the venue’s policies are on inclement weather: What does their inside setup look like? How many would an indoor space fit compared to outdoor? Who makes the rain call?

What day of the week do you want the event? Saturday evenings are traditionally the most expensive, with venues often offering discounts for Friday evening or daytime weekend events. Depending on the day you choose, you can ask the venue how their monthly rates vary; for instance, there may be a big difference from the last weekend in April to the first week in May, the month when wedding season ramps up.

Determining if you want an all-inclusive venue or one where you provide some of the food and other services is also an important decision. The all-inclusive option certainly alleviates some of the stress on you, but you have to give up some of the control to the venue; on the other hand, a non-inclusive venue can allow you to select your own caterer or even prepare your own food, but then you need to explore alcohol policies and do more price comparing.

If you do select an all-inclusive venue, as we did, get a full list up front of what services are included and what are not. You don’t want any surprises the day of the wedding.

Many all-inclusives offer a number of packages, with differing food and alcohol options; most venues let you pick up to three dishes, of varying prices, for your guests to choose from, and you can select open or cash bar and occasionally the quality of the liquor, if you serve it. Don’t be afraid to negotiate to save some dollars; request one less appetizer station at cocktail hour or that the open bar be shut down a half-hour prior to the reception’s end.

It’s also important to find out a venue’s policies — on everything from bringing in outside decorations to vendor insurance to payment plans to room capacities.

The best way to be prepared for the sea of variables that sets each venue apart is to know ahead of time the format, size and budget of your wedding; once you have your vision set, it’s easier to spot the best venue to fit into that image.

Spring Mill Manor

My partner and I selected Spring Mill Manor in Ivyland to host our ceremony and reception next spring.

The Bucks County venue is home to four ballrooms — two large and two small — as well as a country club and golf course adjacent to the property, which can also be utilized for weddings.

We happened upon Spring Mill during a simple online search for LGBT-friendly venues in the area, stumbling upon a Facebook post from the venue talking excitedly about their participation in an LGBT wedding expo in the area. When we came in for a tour, we saw that the commitment to equality was genuine; when you meet with venue reps in person, you can quickly tell who’s sincere and who’s not.

Apart from LGBT-friendliness, we were also immediately taken by the venue itself. The sprawling property is not far from the city but its lush landscape suggests otherwise. On the Manor side, there is an expansive outdoor area used for weddings, where couples wed before a gazebo, bordered by ponds and fountains. The outdoor space connects to a patio that can be used for a cocktail hour in the larger ballroom.

Apart from the tastefully decorated ballrooms that can be customized to fit your wedding, the Manor holds a grand sweeping staircase that serves as the perfect backdrop for wedding photos. The country club also offers its own expansive ballroom and outdoor gazebo area.

One of the things that hooked us was the plethora of options; the several different banquet halls, each with its own feel and each designed to fit parties of different sizes (from 50-400), as well as the two separate properties, allowed us to find the space that was best for our event.

Also appealing was the variety of packages. Weddings at Spring Mill are all-inclusive, meaning that, with the rental of the venue for your wedding comes the food, alcohol, decorations, cake and other aspects. Packages can be customized to fit your needs and budget. The staff works with each couple to get to know their vision and build a package that fits it.

Perhaps the biggest selling point was a staff that was easy and pleasant to work with, eager to bring our ideas to fruition and treated all couples equally.

For more information, visit www.springmillmanor.com or www.springmillcountryclub.com.