I will point out now that this post is talking about either a full day venue or a reception venue as we decided from the very beginning that we didn't want to get married in a church.
1. Have a general idea of where you'd like to get married
For us it was Devon because my Mr ruled out the idea of a wedding abroad. Devon has always been our home and we recently purchased a house here so we started scouting the web and wedding shows/fairs for wedding venues of all kinds in our chosen area.
2. Price up as many venues as possible that you kinda like
It helps to get a bit of an average costing in your mind for your estimated numbers so that you know what you get for your money. We found that some diy locations were far more expensive to rent than others and in some cases you absolutely did not get what you paid for.
3. Decide on 5-10 venues you'd like to visit
You need to visit more than one place to get a feel for what you want as well as the value for money that each location offers. We visited a number of different venues from barns to georgian houses and some were fully managed hotels whereas others were complete diy weddings where you simply rented a house. Chatting with the owners/events co-ordinators about past weddings really helped us decide on what we did/didn't want.
4. Try and book tours close to one another
It sounds silly but you're taking in so much information and beauty that you could forget what the first one you saw was like. When we were in a position to book the wedding we spread our viewings over two weekends and while we ended up booking the first venue we saw, it was not the one I expected us to book!
5. It's okay to decide within minutes (seconds even) of entering a venue that it's not for you.
6. It's also okay to tell the person showing you around that you don't think it's for you, cutting the tour short.
You're wasting your time as well as theirs so most people will appreciate the honesty rather than continuing to show you the venue and discuss hypothetical-nonsense that will never come to be.
7. Discuss what you want from your venue
You may have already had a good idea of what you want, how you want things to run and certain details throughout the day so now that you've been to visit a handful of venues and talked with many people about your day it's time to make some decisions. Discuss everything realistically making suyre you cover guest numbers, costs, decor and a rough itinerary.
8. Visit your chosen venue again
You may have two venues that you're torn between which means that you'll go and see them again in order to decide. But if you 'just know' then you should still go for a second visit to really picture what you could do with the space and discuss how the wedding co-ordinator (or similar) will run things for you. This is the 'further details' discussion where you really start to picture yourselves getting ready in that room, coming down those stairs and partying on that dance floor.
9. Final bits
Once you've booked your favourite pop the details into a spreadsheet with the costs and if you haven't already, start making a big list of everything you need to do/buy. It's easiest to do this while everything is fresh in your mind from discussions you've recently had. Then recycle/give away/burn all of the brochures you've collected. You'll need the space for other wedding prep!