Close your eyes and imagine your dream wedding venue.
Is it a romantic garden, or rustic barn? A luxurious hotel, or a cool, industrial loft? Or, perhaps you prefer a mix—a romantic garden ceremony followed by a luxurious hotel reception. These days, you can choose from an endless list of venues for your wedding day. But like so many elements of a wedding, the price tag for your dream venue can be sky-high… unless you know where to look.
Biggest Factors in Wedding Venue Cost
You’ll likely get “sticker shock” several times when wedding planning, especially when researching venues. But keep in mind there are several factors that can impact the cost. Once you know them and are willing to make compromises, you can book that dream venue that fits within your wedding budget.
Average wedding costs vary dramatically by location—and in the US costs vary by state and city. For example, according to USA Today and data by The Wedding Report, the typical wedding cost in Mississippi in 2017 was $15,581 whereas in New York it was $35,477, more than twice as much. It makes sense. In locations where the cost of living is higher so will the cost of all things related to a wedding: dress, photographer, videographer, officiant, band/DJ, florist, cake, venue.
Depending on the location of your guests, choosing to celebrate in a neighboring city or state might make sense. Just be sure to research marriage license regulations before going that route.
Because most couples want to get married on a Saturday night during prime wedding season (May, June, September, October), venues typically charge high prices for these dates. Popular venues can book 1 or 2 years in advance.
When an Event Manager gives you their wedding packet, think of this as a starting point and assume these prices are for a Saturday evening during the most popular season. Your wedding date may be one of the biggest factors in your venue’s prices. Consider opting for one or both of the following options, and you might save up to 50% off venue fees:
- A non-Saturday night
At St. Francis Winery in Sonoma Valley, CA, for example, the cost is $11,800 for a Saturday wedding but only $7,800 for a Monday through Thursday wedding. That’s significant savings.
A stunning ski resort may be out of reach in winter, but affordable in spring. A desert venue might offer the best wedding deals in fall. As long as you take into consideration weather conditions during the venue’s off-season, you can take advantage of great wedding rates and treat your guests to an extraordinary experience at a top-notch venue.
The Guest List
It’s basic math: the more guests, the higher the costs. This will impact the type of venue you choose. But it’s the unexpected costs that might surprise you, too. For example, the per-person fee doesn’t just include the cost of appetizers, meals, and drinks, so if you’re renting any items such as tables, linens, or flatware, not only do you need to consider the per-person rental cost but also the delivery and setup cost. That can be a few hundred dollars.
If your venue includes these items in its fee, great. But for every additional table, you’ll need another centerpiece. And if you’re providing a place/escort card, menu or favor, those costs add up, too.
The Venue Type
During your research, you might not notice a big difference between a barn’s or hotel’s fees—that’s because they’re both considered expensive venues. This simple categorization may help:
- Expensive wedding venues: hotels, resorts, historic homes, barns, farms, wineries, country clubs
- Moderate wedding venues: museums, zoos, aquariums, theaters, libraries, city gardens, ships, restaurants
- Cheap wedding venues: courthouses, public or national parks, beaches, schools, houses of worship, community or veterans reception halls
This is a generalization. A fine dining restaurant in a big city such as San Francisco or New York, for example, could be very expensive. While it’s too difficult to give an accurate average cost of a wedding venue across all 3 categories, expensive venues can generally cost $10,000 to $20,000 whereas cheap venues can cost less than $500. Moderate venues are in the middle. To help you make the best decision for your wedding, it’s important to know what’s included in a venue’s overall price tag.
Tip: Wondering about a DIY backyard wedding? Even though the location is free, they’re usually not cheap. In fact, many couples find that by the time they rent the basics and specialty items needed for a non-commercial venue (portable bathrooms, lighting, power generator, weather-protecting items such as tents or umbrellas), the cost is similar to a commercial venue! If you’re thinking about hosting your big day in a backyard, do a cost comparison first.
What’s Included in a Wedding Venue Fee?
Couples spend about 40% of their wedding costs on the venue and catering—basically, the reception. Interestingly, the ceremony is either included in the total venue cost or, if booked as a separate venue, is expected to cost only 1% to 5 % of the total budget. Having the ceremony and reception at the same venue is a convenience for the couple and their guests. But if the ceremony is at a house of worship, courthouse, public park, or beach, the site rental fee or permit is usually inexpensive. (Ceremony rentals, such as chairs, may be required.)
A wedding venue that includes the ceremony and reception can have one or both of the following in its overall cost:
- Site Fee: This is the rental cost of your venue. The less expensive the fee, the fewer amenities or services usually offered. For example, a community center may include metal tables and chairs or none at all. A winery may provide farm wood tables and chairs, linens, cocktail tables for cocktail hour, wine barrels for decor, and a dedicated day-of coordinator during your entire event.
- Catering Fee: If the venue has an onsite kitchen and alcohol license, there will be a separate cost for food and alcohol. Venues that offer alcohol may offer the choice of a per-person or per-consumption rate. Per-person is a flat rate per guest regardless of the number of drinks ordered. Per consumption is a cost per drink which can vary if the drink is beer, wine, or hard alcohol.
A wedding venue might also offer you a special deal on the rehearsal dinner, which is usually hosted the night before your wedding day and includes immediate family members and the wedding party (at least bridesmaids and groomsmen). If you decide to do a rehearsal, you’ll be at the venue anyway. It would be convenient for everyone to enjoy a meal together there. Traditionally, the groom’s parents host the rehearsal dinner, but in today’s modern wedding world the engaged couple might cover the cost. Don’t panic; it doesn’t have to be an expensive meal. A light lunch buffet of sandwiches, or pizza and beer, are perfectly acceptable options while not breaking your bank account.
Key Questions to Ask Wedding Venues Before Booking
It can take a lot of time touring venues in person. Or, taking a tour might not be possible when planning a destination wedding. If the following information is not included in the venue’s wedding packet, here are some critical questions to help you narrow down your options:
- What’s the guest capacity?
- Where is parking, and what’s the parking capacity and fee?
- What’s included in the venue fee?
- What add-on items are available (dance floor, heaters), and what are the costs?
- How will staff members work with you during the planning and the day-of?
- Does the venue provide a dedicated day-of coordinator, or are you required to hire an insured day-of coordinator or wedding planner?
- How many restrooms are available, and where are they located?
- How is the venue suited for guests with special needs (if relevant)?
- What options are available for bad weather (if outdoors)?
- Can the venue provide a list of recommended vendors, and are you required to use that list?
- What are the rules and regulations (noise, decorating, setup/clean up)?
- Are staff gratuities included in the service fee, or are those extra? Who should you tip and how much is suggested per person (for catering)?
- What’s the payment schedule and cancellation terms?
Unfortunately, the hospitality industry is tough. There’s high employee turnover. It’s common for an engaged couple to go through at least one employee change while working with a venue. That said, it’s important that the Event Manager you work with writes notes in your file and, more importantly, includes your dealbreakers in your contract. Promised items or services, all fees, and restrictions or conditions should be in the legal contract you sign. Think of it as a helpful safeguard against fee increases or service exclusions that may get created while you’re working with the venue. It also legally binds you, so make sure you carefully read the terms and conditions before signing.
Tips for Saving Money on Food & Drinks
For guests, a favorite part of a wedding is usually the food. It’s also a big part of the wedding reception venue cost. Whether you use the in-house caterer or an outside vendor, consider these great tips for providing a delicious experience for guests without busting your budget:
- Opt for unlimited beer and wine, but no hard alcohol (or only one or two signature drinks during cocktail hour) which generally costs more
- If your guests are mostly adults who enjoy drinking, consider a per-person fee as opposed to a per-consumption fee for the alcohol
- Offer just enough light appetizers during cocktail hour to offset drinking and growling tummies
- For a less formal evening wedding, a buffet typically costs less than a plated meal
- A brunch wedding can cost 25% to 50% less than a dinner wedding
Choosing a venue is an exciting part of wedding planning! It’s where you’ll share vows with your soulmate and the setting of the most fun party you’ll throw for friends and family. Go ahead and dream big when it comes to choosing your venue. Now that you know ways to save money, you can turn that dream into a reality.
Catherine Seda is a marketing strategist, author and freelance writer. In the wedding industry, she has worked with invitation brands, bridal salons and bridal gown designers. Catherine discovered her love for weddings while planning her own—a DIY “Pirates of the Caribbean” destination wedding in a Napa Valley wine cave, and a swanky 1960’s local reception with a band and “Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin” impersonators.