There's no doubt about it, choosing a wedding venue is one of the most important first steps in the wedding planning process. Your wedding venue will really set the tone for your wedding day. Your choice in venue and its capacity will also put a cap on your guest list, and may have bearing on the other businesses you’re able to work with for items like catering and even wedding flowers and decor.
Needless to say, the wedding venue is also one of the biggest expenses you'll encounter throughout the planning process. It depends on what’s included in the rental fee but most couples spend anywhere between $5,000-$11,000+ on a wedding venue, with the average budget sitting somewhere around $8,000. (Note: it’s much higher in major metro areas!) So what goes into the price of a venue, and what should you expect to be covered, and how can you save money? Read on for our guide to wedding venue pricing.
What factors into the price of a wedding venue?
When we talk about wedding venues, we're mainly referring to reception venues. Because they require catering, music, rentals, and more, they typically cost more than the ceremony venue, which averages around $1,000. You can save money by holding your ceremony and reception at the same venue. That said, let's focus on what impacts the cost of a reception venue:
- Location: Location is one of the most significant factors that affects how much you'll pay for a wedding venue. Big cities, like New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and Los Angeles, are going to be more expensive, while rural areas and small towns offer more affordable options.
- Size and event space: The size of your ceremony site has a pretty big impact on your budget. Wedding venues that can accommodate a large number of guests, like a banquet hall, country club, or convention center are often more expensive than smaller sites. Some venues that provide catering determine prices "per guest," so the size of your guest list is directly proportional to how much you'll have to spend. It all depends on what’s included, so make sure you’re taking all of those extras (like rentals, service staff, and catering) into account.
- Wedding date and season: Saturday is typically the most popular day for weddings and also the most expensive day of the week to host your ceremony. If you're flexible with your wedding date, choose a Friday or Sunday as you may be able to rent out the venue for less. And depending on where you live, you may be able to save by choosing a shoulder season. Late spring and early fall are peak wedding seasons, so if you and your partner are open to a winter or mid-summer wedding, you might be able to get lower prices on your venue.
Do venues include rentals like chairs and tables?
It really depends. Most of the larger, more established wedding venues and hotels do include tables, chairs, flatware, linens, and so on, but there’s no guarantee. Be sure to go over this with your venue before you sign a contract; if you need to consult an external vendor for rentals, you should anticipate this adding an extra $600-2,000+ or so to your budget. Also, if you do decide to go for a venue that does not include the essentials, you might want to consider hiring a wedding planner to help ensure you have all the pieces accounted for. A common misconception is that planners are just for the high-end weddings, but a big part of a wedding planner’s job is to really help you stay in line with your budget.
What costs aren't included in the price of a venue?
All venues vary when it comes to what's included in the packages they offer, but here are some items you should ask about and plan to budget for if they aren't included:
- Gratuities: There is usually an in-house team in charge of the reception--a manager, maitre d', a coat check person, bartenders, and service staff. These workers are essential to making your wedding day go smoothly. Be sure to discuss with your partner how much gratuity they'd like to set aside for each team member and when and how you'd like it distributed.
- You may be given one or two options for on-site parking, but if you are looking for valet services, you will need to inquire about this in advance. Valet parking can cost more than on-site parking on some occasions, so be sure to ask how about rates before signing a contract.
- Event Insurance: Many venues require you to hold an event insurance policy for your reception in case of any damage incurred from guests (some parties get wild, right?). A typical price is about $150, and it's a one-time fee that covers any possible damages at your wedding.
- Catering: Many venues include catering in their packages but if yours does not, then you’ll need to account for that. Expect to pay anywhere from $30-100+ per guest. The catering invoice is typically the largest piece of the wedding budget so make sure you’re accounting for this as you’re planning out the budget and choosing your venue.
- Kitchen use: If your reception venue isn't providing catering themselves, they may have a limited kitchen for you to use during your reception. Some venues charge a flat fee to use the space, while others charge by the hour, and others are included. If you're concerned about hosting your own food station at your wedding, ask how much it would cost to set one up or if there's an extra cost associated with shipping and storing goods that are brought in from outside vendors.
- Corkage: A corkage fee is the cost of a bottle of wine that you take into the venue. If you're hosting your wedding at a restaurant or hotel, this might be included in the total price of the food package. That said, many wedding venues that provide catering will list a corkage fee as part of their service charge, so make sure to ask.
- Cake cutting: Some venues include serving the wedding cake as part of their catering packages. Others will charge a fee if you want to bring in your own wedding cake and then have them cut and serve it. Just make sure to ask!
Tips to save money on a wedding venue
Your venue might be the largest expense, but there are plenty of ways to cut costs:
- The number-one piece of advice for cutting down on wedding venue costs? Trim the guest list. Remember, many venues include catering and charge per guest. If you're going to stay true to your budget, you need to be realistic about who gets an invitation.
- Consider a tax-deductible site. Many venues that are associated with non profits (like parks, museums, and historic homes) offer tax-deductible site fees.
- Choose a venue that is flexible. The venues that require you to use their preferred vendors often mean you have leniency on price points. Going with a venue that allows you to choose whomever you want to work with will help you save money as you plan.
A final word on choosing and paying for your wedding venue: Secure your venue as soon as possible. It's one of the first steps in the wedding planning process, and the sooner you get it done, the easier it will be to plan out the rest.