Saving Big on Reception Costs

Bridal Bargains: Step Three

--Adapted from Bridal Bargains

The choice of reception site can make or break any wedding budget, so this week we're talking about ways to save money and still have a party in a great location.

When you're starting out, you have many things to consider: what your money will be paying for, what your priorities are and what time frame you're dealing with.

  • What's included? Generally, the reception site rental rate is either a flat fee or an hourly charge that entitles you to exclusive use of the facility for a certain amount of time. You may also be required to pay a deposit (sometimes several hundred dollars) or even a second deposit (to cover the cost of spills, damage and so on). The rental fee may also include the option of in-house catering (often a package deal). If not, you may be permitted to bring in an outside caterer.
  • Be ready for the big trade-off. Of course you'd like to have both great food and amazing ambiance for your reception, but the reality of wedding budgets usually means compromise. A restaurant may offer a stunning view while offering only mediocre food choices. On the other hand, catering halls may have a sterile ''wedding factory'' feel, but they've got receptions down to a science. The perfect option might be choosing a beautiful site and bringing in your own caterer, but those situations are hard to find. Deciding your priorities ahead of time is crucial.
  • Timing is everything. Don't delay searching for your reception site. As soon as you have booked your ceremony site, start looking for a place for your reception. Most cities have a shortage of reception sites, and they go quickly, especially in the summer. For many spring and summer dates, booking a reception site nine months to a year in advance may be necessary.

    Now that we've covered the basics, we can move on the heart of the matter: top money-saving secrets.

    Look at city sites. Fortunately, most sites run by municipal governments aren't trying to make a killing on weddings. Hence, city sites are the most affordable reception sites you can find. For example, in one town we researched, a nice city-owned clubhouse in a park that offered stunning skyline views was available to rent for just $125 for five hours. That's right -- $125 and you bring in your own caterer. Another similar-sized facility run by a private company in the same town cost $750 for four hours. Obviously, the ambiance of these city sites (clubhouses, recreation centers, parks, gardens) is different from a downtown hotel or catering hall, but, hey, they are great bargains.

    Choose a site where you can bring in a caterer. In every city we've researched, there are always a handful of sites where you can rent the facility and then bring in an ''off-site'' caterer. Often, this is where the big savings are found.

    Consider an off-peak time. Everyone wants to get married on a Saturday night in June. If you pick a time with less competition, you can often negotiate better rental rates. Many sites have stated discounts for Friday or Sunday weddings. In other cases, you may be able to negotiate a lower rental rate for less-popular months of the year.

    Have a reception lunch or brunch instead of dinner. The biggest expense of most receptions is catering, and the most expensive meal to serve is dinner. Wedding lunches or brunches often are much more affordable. What's the cheapest time of day to tie the knot? Two o'clock -- guests will already have eaten lunch and are not expecting dinner. Hence, a reception with cake, punch and light hors d'oeuvres is all that's needed ... and 40 to 60 percent less expensive than a full dinner.

    Consider your ceremony site. Many houses of worship have attached reception halls. In fact, almost one-fourth of all receptions occur at churches or temples. Perhaps that is because rental rates are particularly affordable.

    Have it at your house. Hey, at least the facility is free. Be aware that you may have to rent chairs, tables and other equipment, which will add to the tab. If you plan to pitch a tent in the back yard, the expense can go even higher. Of course, the savings of bringing in a caterer (instead of holding the reception at a pricey hotel) may put you ahead overall. Between 10 and 20 percent of all receptions are held in private homes.

    Try a restaurant reception. Many restaurants have banquet rooms, some that can hold large crowds. Those may be a great alternative to pricey hotels or catering halls. A bride in Chicago provided us with some cost comparisons: She priced a reception at a gourmet French restaurant called Cafe Le Cave (in Des Plaines) at $55 a person. That's for a chicken or filet mignon dinner. Compare that with fancy Chicago downtown hotels, where a similar reception starts at $75 and can go up to $200 per guest. Another bonus: Most restaurants don't charge ''room fees'' or other bogus charges that other facilities do. And the food may be higher quality than in a hotel or catering hall.

    Join the Navy. Just kidding. But do you have any relatives or friends who are active-duty or retired military? If so, you may have access to a wide range of possible reception sites at military bases. One bride in Cape May, N.J., found that she could rent the officer's club of the local Coast Guard base since her father was a retired naval officer. The cost? A mere $25 an hour.

    Check nearby small towns. A bride in Lexington, Ky., emailed us this tip. She found a reception site in nearby Paris (a 15-minute drive) that was 40 percent cheaper than in-town options. ''The historic building offered the outdoor intimate garden we were looking for,'' she said. Another tip for historic sites: barter. If you have any skills, offer the caretaker of these sites a trade. One groom offered to fix some broken doors and shutters on a historic site and received a reduced rental rate.

    Go to college. Got a university or college in town? If so, that's a great place to look for a reception site. Many have alumni halls, faculty clubs and other facilities that are available to the general public at affordable rates. And you don't always have to be a student or alumnus to book a site.

    Consider a business hotel. If you like the convenience of a hotel reception but not the costs, check out hotels that cater to business travelers. Why? Most are dead on the weekends and may be willing to cut a deal for a wedding reception. A bride in Los Angeles found dramatic savings. She priced a 250-guest reception (four-course, sit-down dinner, cocktail hour with open bar and appetizers, beer, wine and a champagne toast) for $7,500 at a Wyndham hotel. ''That's pretty amazing considering that this is Los Angeles,'' she said. ''I don't feel like we are giving up on the quality either. The food is excellent.'' An additional bonus: she got a special weekend hotel room rate of $75 for out of town guests, which is a steal in LA.

    On to the next step, Find Your Wedding Dress for Less >>

    Back to Bridal Bargains: The Secrets of Saving Big main page

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