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The Biggest Wedding Cost - Reception & Catering

Hey guys, Kate here. Welcome back to another Wedding Planning Collective blog post. Today we’re going to break down what will most likely take up the largest portion of your budget: the reception costs.

Before we get into it, if you haven’t listened to episode 32 of the podcast, please head back and check that episode out first. In that episode I discuss the overall wedding budget, and how you come up with that big picture number. Once you hear that, we can get into breaking down the details that will make up 40%-50% of that big picture number.

I can’t tell you how many times clients have come to us after booking their venue, and when we start discussing the budget we realize that it’s taking up 60%+ of the total number. This means that they are going to need to either sacrifice in other areas of the budget to make up for it, or adding to that overall budget, meaning you’re over budget right from the beginning. I don’t want that to happen to you; no one wants to sacrifice or be over budget! So how do you make sure it doesn’t happen to you?

Let’s first talk about what we include in that 40%-50% for reception costs. The breakdown of this is going to depend on the type of venue you’re at, and in regards to this conversation, we’re going to talk about 2 main types of venues.

The first I’ll refer to as a “traditional venue”, meaning a banquet hall or hotel venue. The second I’ll refer to as a “unique venue”, which would include backyard or tented weddings as well as venues that require you to bring in your own caterer and rental items.

If you’re at a traditional venue, your reception costs will include:

  • Room rental fees

  • Food & beverage costs/minimums

  • Service gratuities, taxes, and other venue fees

If you’re at a unique venue, your reception costs will include:

  • Venue rental fees, if applicable

  • Tent rental costs

  • Catering, bar service & event staffing

  • Hard rentals - tables, chairs, flatware, dishes

  • Restroom trailers

  • Lighting

  • Essentially all of the details that would be included in a “traditional venues” rental

As you can see, a unique venue definitely involves more details, which is the reason that the idea of a backyard wedding being cheaper than a traditional venue is often false. That’s not always the case, but breaking down the numbers before making that decision is super important.

If you’re thinking about having a backyard wedding, or a wedding at a unique venue, please make sure to grab the free Backyard Wedding Guide for a full rundown of the extra details you’ll need to consider.

Whether you’re in a traditional or unique venue, the biggest portion of your reception budget will most likely be your food and beverage costs, so let’s break that down a bit further.

If you’re at a traditional venue, you’ll mostly likely have a food & beverage minimum, which means that there’s a specific dollar amount that you must hit, or you’ll be responsible to make up the difference. This total is for the cost of the food and beverage portion of the event though, so make sure that you’re not including the room rental, audio/visual fees, and other costs like rentals and valet.

The biggest hidden cost, however, is the service/gratuity cost and taxes. Some venues are very upfront about this, and others tuck it into the fine print trying to hide it. Service fees can be anywhere from 15%-25% plus any state sales tax, and that’s a huge amount to be unexpectedly added to the budget.

Let’s walk through an example. If your venue has a $500 rental fee, a $10,000 F&B minimum, a required gratuity of 18% and 6% tax, the real minimum that you’ll be spending at the venue would be just over $13,000. That additional $3,000 can really mess up your budget, so make sure that you have that accounted for.

If you’re working with an off-site catering company at a unique venue, you’re most likely not going to have a minimum to hit, and the initial pricing might seem to be a much better deal than any traditional venues that you may have been pricing out. But remember that when you’re at a unique venue, you’ll most likely have additional large expenses like the tent, table, and chair rentals, staffing, and bar service.

When it comes to gratuity for an off-site caterer, each company tackles this one differently. Just like traditional venues, some are very upfront with any required gratuities on the initial quote, and others will leave it up to the clients discretion to tip after the event.

Some will also have an office or administration fee which is sometimes considered a gratuity, and sometimes that’s to cover the staffing needed to help plan and coordinate the order. So in the end, you need to make sure you’re asking them what their policy or requirements are so that you’re not caught off guard with an unexpected additional cost.

Looking back, remember that I said your reception cost should be 40%-50% of your overall budget. This means that all of the details listed above shouldn’t total more than half of your budget. In the previous example, if your TRUE venue minimum is $13,000, then your overall budget should be at least $26,000. This will ensure that you have enough room for all of the other wedding details and you're not going over budget right from the beginning.

Whether you're at a unique venue or a traditional space, I would highly recommend that you grab that backyard wedding guide. This will outline any additional costs that you might have with your space and help you move on to the next step in planning the wedding. Again, you can find that at, along with other free planning resources.

And if you found the related podcast episode helpful, I would love it if you could write a quick review. It would mean the world to me and would help other couples find the wedding planning tips they need. Thank you so much for listening and I will see you in the next podcast episode and blog post!

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