These are the steps we would recommend you take when making a venue decision:
1. Location - Determine your wedding ceremony and reception location and concentrate the search here, using a simple web search. Avoid third party websites as paid placement sites skew your search results. Ex: Nashville wedding venue
2. Type - Type of venue refers to how the venue is commonly described. It can be an independent venue, hotel, country club, museum, civic property, farm, manor home or historic property, etc. Usually, one or two categories will emerge as your preferred choice.
A general type of venue may be considered an "all-inclusive" venue (there is really no such thing and we discuss that in a blog post). Hotels and country clubs, for instance will usually provide tables and chairs, food and beverage. The restrictive choices, prices and rules should be considered at one end of the venue spectrum. At the other would be bare-bone facilities which often grant tremendous freedom, but are often more difficult to plan given the larger number of vendors involved.
3. Size - Once the type of venue in your preferred location is determined, make sure that your guest count can be accommodated at the venue. We offer three notes of caution. First, venues often have a stated capacity far higher than we would recommend going at the venue. Second, your seating arrangement (fully seated versus mix and mingle) will vastly change your space requirements with fully seated events often requiring twice the size. Third, if you intend to have a ceremony and reception at the same venue, there must be enough guaranteed usable space to enable any needed room flip.
4. Design - With the list of venues shrinking, apply a subjective visual test to those that remain. Certainly not every hotel on the list is your style. Since venue photographs are often more attractive than you will find in person, discard from consideration any venue that isn't appealing visually.
5. Miscellaneous Features - Couples always have requirements of their venue that are objective and can be evaluated in advance of a tour. This could be a requirement for outdoor space, a certain number of dressing rooms, a parking lot, or even the ability to bring in your dog. Venues should publish answers to all of these questions online. If not, well that's another matter and perhaps they just want people to come visit them!
6. Cost - We all have a budget, and that may be a good thing. Know it and look at venues that are generally 20-40% of your overall budget (depending upon what is included).
7. Culture - No, we're not new age-y, but you'll know what we're talking about after you read a venue's website and visit with them.
This list should get a couple to no more than 5 venues to visit.