When you think of wedding planning, what’s the first thing that comes to mind on your to-do list? Sending out save-the-dates? Choosing Your Wedding Colors? Most of the time, if you’re opting for a larger wedding rather than eloping, the first thing you’ll want to knock out of the way will be finding your venue!
But how do you choose?? Out of ALL the venues out there you have to choose just one?? It can get very overwhelming very fast, but if you have a good game plan and a good way to narrow down your choices (and a little bit of emotional support) you’ll be able to find your dream venue in no time!
So to help answer some questions and advice for finding your dream venue, I’ve asked the help of Tina Johnson, co-owner and co-founder of Leeric Lodge & Resort on Center Hill Lake, a local venue here in Tennessee I’ve had the privilege of shooting at over the past year!
So first things first, Tina - why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about you, why did you start Leeric Lodge, have you always been in the wedding industry, what’s your story?
I have always been in the wedding industry! Since I was a young adult I'd always wanted to be a wedding planner, and I guess life just went on and it didn't happen in that chapter in my life. But after I got married myself, everyone in my family wanted me to plan their weddings for them. So I've been able to plan weddings in 8 days, 10 days - I've never planned one that took me a whole year to plan because I could do them so quickly so my thinking was always "why wait?"
The reason my husband and I started Leeric Lodge was actually not our plan but rather God's plan, and people sometimes chuckle at that but it's true. I never imagined myself owning a wedding venue, but my husband and I have always loved to take old things and make them new. We purchased a church with the intention of tearing it down and make it into a haven for us to relax with our RV's - but the church was just too beautiful to tear it down. We then started brainstorming about what we could do with the church like fundraisers, dinners, concerts, weddings, etc. because it has good bones and nothing other than cosmetics needed to be changed.
So while looking for a new place to put our RV's (along with having some land to hunt on) this property came up in our search, and at the height of inflation in the housing industry, we never in our wildest dreams thought we'd be able to get a house to fit our needs. We talked things over, and asked our realtor if we could take a peek at it, and (like all projects we love) it needed a lot of work, and this was the biggest project we'd ever taken on. But we got to work right away and brought it from the 90's into a modern day retreat (with the help from extra loved ones who love interior design.)
So from July of 2021 to now, we've gotten to be a part of so many couples' happiest days of their lives, and we love being present during their weddings, and always feel very privileged to be a part of their day.
Moving on to some helpful tips - how soon after they’re engaged should couples start looking for their wedding venue?
Immediately, after you get engaged you should determine when you want to get married, how much you want to spend on your wedding day, how you're going to pay for it, (whether that be yourselves, with the help of family and friends, or with the help of a loan) and then research your venue because you want to make sure your venue fits within the budget you've created and venues book out very far in advance.
What would you say are some deciding factors as far as the location of the venues couples are looking at?
So when it comes to location, some things couples may be looking at are:
Close Proximity to Town: we're about 60 miles outside of Nashville, so some couples want to be close to the city so they can take their party there for the day because it's a pretty cool place. That's why we decided to move out here. However, for me, a city wedding is very loud. But each couple has their own idea of their dream venue and that may be a city venue for you!
Airport and Transportation: we're also 60 miles from the Nashville airport, and if you're having a destination wedding with friends and family flying in this is also an important point when it comes to the location of your venue.
The General Vibe: Do you want somewhere where it's quiet with mountains and lakes, or do you want the city where you can party after your reception. Do you want a farm, a barn, a forest - wherever you want to get married should be an extension of the vibe you want to portray. So while I think that our venue is pretty amazing, our venue is not for everyone and that's completely fine. This is your one day, so you should go with a venue that you just know that it's the one for you!
What are questions that couples should definitely be asking before they book their venue?
I think, like any venue, the question should be "what do you provide?" and "what can you offer that we won't find anywhere else?"
For example: We're a full service wedding venue, so we provide from the time your guests arrive at the gate and escort them to the parking area, from there we drive your guests via golf cart down to the ceremony area so they're not having to walk. We set up your tables and chairs for you so you don't have to worry about them, we try to be as stress-free as possible, our motto here is "there is no stress on your wedding day." We set up your ceremony space for you as well - so these are all things that different venues may not offer that we do here at Leeric Lodge. Your family members are able to be completely present with you on your day instead of having to set those things up for you. All you'll be doing during that time is sitting out on your balcony overlooking the water and sipping on your drink of choice. We have tons of equipment that you can use that saves you from having to rent that from other vendors. These are included in most of our packages, such as our decor store, champagne wall, a boxwood photo wall that you can hang a neon sign over, a rehearsal dinner space and time - all. included. We also have preferred vendors here, so instead of having to do all your research on Facebook, extensively searching for a photographer, a videographer, a florist, a DJ, etc. You don't have to do that here. We have our preferred list, and most of our couples end up choosing our vendors off of our preferred vendors list because they're that good! And if you want something extra on your day like a cellist as you walk down the isle or a horse and carriage for your exit, we will help you find that and make it happen for you! That's why we have our wedding coordinators here on staff, so (again) you're not having to do all that searching yourself and you can just simply enjoy engaged life and the happier aspects of your planning like picking out your dress, your suit, your colors, etc.
How can couples correctly budget for their whole wedding and still get their dream venue?
I'd say first and foremost, to be realistic for your budget. I would definitely find a venue that offers all-inclusive packages that have taxes included. Personally, I would budget your dress separately from your "wedding day" budget, the same as your bachelor/bachelorette parties.
Think of your guest count. How many people do you want to be a part of your day? If you're inviting 250 people, the budget for catering and cake is going to be drastically different than if you were to invite 50. If you're on a budget, consider narrowing down your guest count a little bit.
The main thing I would suggest is picking your "Top 3" or at most your "Top 5" most important things on your wedding day. For most couples that's their photographer, their venue, catering, florals, and decorations. Budget for those and find out which things you may not necessarily need on your big day. Prioritize your most important things, and budget for the others. Try to be thrifty or try to DIY the other things. For example, you can make your own wedding invitations on Vistaprint or Canva! Simple things like this can really cut down on costs!
What should couples consider before they come on a tour with a venue?
Before even scheduling a tour with a venue you should know your date and your budget. These are the two most important things to know, otherwise you're only wasting your time because most venues cannot help you if you don't know these two things. We have many packages that fit a variety of budgets and needs, but if you personally don't know your budget, we can't help you figure out which package is the best fit for you. The same goes for your date - you can tour the venue and fall in love with it, but if we don't have the date that you really want, that's only going to lead to disappointment.
Do you have any final advice for couples when it comes to planning their wedding as someone who's worked as many weddings as you have?
Make decisions as a couple. Most of the time the planning is done by just one of you, I would encourage you to make these decisions together. Put together an inspo board (like on Pinterest) for the vibe you'd like to convey on your big day. And most importantly, don't let anyone interfere with your dreams. Boundaries are very important as you start to build your life with your fiancé, and allowing family, friends, whoever to interfere with your day will only lead to stress, and remember - there is no stress on your wedding day! And when your day finally does come, remember to be present in the moment.
Planning Your Own Wedding?
I really hoped this gave you some great insight for finding a great venue! But, if you're still on the lookout for your dream photographer and think we may be a good fit, you can fill out my contact form and we can hop on a call and go over your vision for your day! We can start the planning process together so we can create a day that's everything you hope for and more!