The Top 16 Ways to Save Money on a Wedding Reception

orange wedding reception table

Here’s a “fun” fact: the reception is nearly always the most costly part of the wedding. Spring for a real pearl wedding tiara or a designer dress, and shoes that cost more than your rent – you still won’t top the cost of the reception. It makes sense. Wining and dining 100+ people is seldom (okay never) cheap, and if anyone can justify the upsell that wedding vendors are so often accused of its the space where the whole shebang goes down.

Still, my motto is always ‘Why pay more when you don’t have to?’ There’s nothing that says you have to lay out big bucks on your wedding reception. You’ll be just as married if you don’t, after all. Chances are that even if you’re a budget bride your reception will still be the costliest part of your nuptials – but costliest doesn’t have to mean it’s a budget buster. Here are 16 ways you can save money on a wedding reception without sacrificing style or good times.

1. Reserve your banquet hall or reception space early so they put a cap on the price per person. Who knows what the cost per head will be six months from now when open days are few and far between? When you’re sure you’ve found the right space, pull the trigger.

2. Think outside of the box. Instead of a traditional banquet hall or country club, consider hosting your wedding reception at a community center, nature conservatory, greenhouse, library, museum or church hall. Some alternative options are actually more expensive, but not all!

3.Getting married in the off season really can be a money saver. Could you see yourself getting married on a Friday or Sunday morning – could your guests even make it? If that’s too much to ask, late fall and winter wedding dates are often the friendliest options when it comes to your wallet.

4. Have a cash bar instead of an open bar. Will some people give you the stink eye? Yup, but if they’re so déclassé as to absolutely require free booze to have a good time then who needs ’em!

5. Instead of treating your wedding guests to a full sit-down dinner, have a champagne cocktail and dessert reception with nibbles, a small selection of cocktails, coffee, and wedding cake. Truth be told, I have never not left a cocktail reception full – you can enjoy plenty of food without sitting down to do it.

6. Keep the guest list small. Fewer mouths to feed translates to a smaller bill at the end of the big day. Cutting down the guest list is hard, I know, but believe me when I say that most people won’t actually be offended when they don’t receive an invite.

7. Buy your own alcohol, if your reception venue allows it. I’ve written about putting together a DIY wedding bar before.

8. Limit the nibbles circulating before the meal if you’re having a sit down dinner. Consider three or four food stations, instead of eight or nine butler-passed hor d’oeuvres. Or scrap the whole works and let guests satisfy themselves with one lovely meal.

9. Steer clear of anything with “market price” on the menu, obviously. Comfort foods are often nicely priced and can be spruced up so as to make them trendy and fun. Think stuff like grilled cheese sliders and tomato soup shots.

10. Ask your reception site about guaranteed numbers. You might still have to pay for 150 guests even though 120 showed up, but the discount you could get might just make it worth it. Or heck, just flat out ask for a discount. You never know when someone might be in a good mood and the worst you’ll hear is no.

11. Prioritize. If you’re not a huge cake fan but want a wedding cake for the fun of it, let them eat chocolate and vanilla instead of shelling out for a tier each of peach spice, key lime, and almond torte. Don’t care for beer? Don’t serve it. Do you really care about the relative quality of the linens? Think about what you’re paying for before signing on the dotted line.

12. Pick daytime over dinner – lunch or brunch receptions tend to cost less than dinnertime affairs in part because lunchy and brunchy foods are budget-friendly. And who doesn’t love brunch?

orange wedding reception flowers

13. DIY your reception table centerpieces. It’s amazing what you can do with some glass jars or vintage bottles and fresh flowers – no prior experience in the florist industry required. Make sure, however, that you’re not still paying a fee for decorations provided by the venue.

14. Though it seems counter-intuitive, consider letting your reception venue do all the work. Why not DIY wherever and whenever you can? Because professionals working at a site can often do it cheaper because they do it A LOT and have access to discounts you don’t. Sometimes getting a deal is as easy as having the venue provide not only the space, but the food, drink, cake, music, and decor.

15. Switch cities. Just for the big day, of course. If you live somewhere like Manhattan or Boston, you could save big bucks on reception costs by getting married in your Middle American home town.

16. Ask for help. Controversial? Yes, but often worth it. Skilled friends may be only too willing to help out with your reception. I recommend only asking very good friends to pitch in – you know, the cousin who is like a sister and just happens to be a first class cake designer or your very best best friend who actually does arrange flowers for a living.

And there you have it. You really can plan a wedding reception that’s fabulous and frugal, too, so you have more money to devote to what really matters. Like wedding jewelry, hint hint.