Wedding Experts: Finding the Perfect Venue

Venue expert Kristen Stimpert shows how to have some flexibility with your vision so that you can allow your vendors to really showcase the region and the experience it can create for you and your guests.

Photo by Suzanne Karp.

Advice from wedding venue expert, Kristen Stimpert.

Photo by Jessamyn Harris.
Photo by Jessamyn Harris.

Kristen Stimpert is the founder and events director of K Venues, an event venue management company with locations in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties. The firm represents and manages venues in these areas that are able to host a range of events, including weddings and corporate and social gatherings.

These venues are often unique and off the beaten path, and they include wineries, vineyards, ranches, barns, farms, and estates. With a background in building and marketing with some of the top event venue programs in the area, K Venues offers consulting services and venue location services as well. K Venues partners with many of the top event-planning professionals in the industry to help them find the perfect venue for their clients.

What’s the best advice about venues for a bride-to-be?

When you first start, it’s important to have an idea of the general
logistics of your wedding and what your non-negotiables are. It’s really
important to know right away a ballpark of your guest count, what time of year you are considering, what your vision is for the wedding, and what your budget is. If you don’t know these things, you’ll waste your time looking at properties that are not going to work for you. It’s also really important to make a list of “like to haves” and “need to haves.” If your need-to-have list includes 250 people, going until midnight, and serving hard alcohol, all on a Saturday in September, you’re going to knock out about 90 percent of the options in this area. Decide early on where you’re willing to budge, which will afford you more options for your venue search.

How can venue scout services help?

There are so many incredible venues out there, and with the technology available today it can be really overwhelming when starting the search. Finding your venue is usually the first step of the process, and for a lot of people it can be the most stressful and challenging. We offer an incredibly personalized experience that can help you cut out 90 percent of the work and hone in on the perfect property right from the beginning. Hiring a professional venue consultant or a wedding planner will make the venue search process stress-free and fun. It’s really important to be very clear on what your vision is and what you’re looking for, so that we can offer you the right options. Or, if you’re just not sure what you want, we can help you figure it out.

What are the key things to consider when weighing different venue options?

The worst thing that can happen when booking a venue is that you book
somewhere that your budget doesn’t ultimately allow for. Therefore, it’s important to educate yourself from the beginning on the general costs of weddings in the area. It helps to focus on what venues offer or don’t offer based on your needs and how that is going to affect your budget.

For example, two venues can offer the same site fee of $10,000, but the overall budget to have a wedding at these two venues can differ by thousands of dollars or more. A lot of things can affect the cost of getting married at a venue, but some of the biggest factors include:

Catering. Do they have an inhouse caterer with a set price, do they have a list, or can you bring in your own? (Catering is usually one of the biggest costs.)
Facilities. Do they have onsite facilities and event logistics? Restrooms, kitchen, lighting, power, changing room, and parking? Don’t get turned off or scared if they don’t (which is very common)—just be prepared for the associated costs.
Alcohol. What is their alcohol policy?

What are the most common challenges when picking a venue?

The number one challenge that we see when people look at venues is that everyone sells their venue differently and offers different things. It’s usually
not an “apples to apples” comparison. In the beginning, it’s really important to focus on your budget as a whole and not get caught up in breaking out all the tiny little items. It’s important to look at the big items that will affect your budget, however—look at the big picture, and if you know the venue will
work within your budget, that’s what you need to focus on.

All of your vendors and costs for the wedding will fall into place as you move through the process. Some will come in higher than anticipated, and some will come in lower. Always give yourself a little bit of a cushion for the unexpected. Last but most important is to be realistic about what your budget allows you to have at your wedding. You may be able to splurge in certain areas, but this probably means cutting back in others.

What about Sonoma’s wedding venues makes them so special, and how can a couple make the most of those qualities?

This area is a world-renowned destination for weddings and events, and it’s obvious why. Stunning landscapes and views everywhere you look, world-class wines, an unbelievable culinary scene . . . it’s an incredibly special place for gathering and connecting. The events in this area often call on the talents of some of the most qualified and experienced event professionals in the nation.

Combine all of these factors, and you have a recipe for beautiful, unique, and memorable experiences. One of the most special things about where we are located is that people have the ability to really embrace and support
the local purveyors here, while keeping their event footprint to a minimum. It’s
common practice to work with chefs, florists, winemakers, and planners who can source everything for your wedding locally, sustainably, and seasonally. Have some flexibility with your vision so that you can allow your vendors to really showcase this region and the experience it can create for you and your guests.