This is Part 1 of a multi-part series about having a budget wedding in the DC area. There will be additional posts over the next few weeks.
Reading Part 1 probably left you feeling a little discouraged. But, think of it as a simple reality check. Better that you realize it up front than several months down the road, like we did. The more reasonable your expectations, the less likely you are to become stressed and disgusted with the prices of weddings in the DC area.
In terms of wedding logistics, your most important decision will be the wedding venue (I say wedding logistics, because the venue is not the most important part of your wedding. That part is saying your vows and having a good time!). So, here’s my recommended approach for finding a budget venue in the DC area.
1) Eliminate right off the bat any venue that has a pre-approved list of caterers or only allow you to use in-house catering. These places, no matter what (see #2), will be too expensive. Here’s a little wedding industry secret I learned. Many venues actually charge caterers a fee for being on their exclusive, pre-approved catering list. Well, caterers want to recoup that fee. So what do they do? They pass it on to you. So, by choosing a venue with a list of preferred caterers, you are already upping your overall wedding expenses, by probably close to 5%. Does 5% not sound like a a lot of money? On a $20,000 wedding, that’s an additional 1000 bucks.
2) Just because a venue is relatively inexpensive does not mean that your wedding will be inexpensive. Our original venue that we had put a hold on was Glen Echo Park, a fairly reasonably priced venue for this area. For a Friday, off-peak season wedding, we were going to pay $1800 to rent out the Bumper Car Pavilion for an entire day. Compared to other places in the DC area, that seemed like a downright bargain! Well, unfortunately, Glen Echo Park fell victim to topic #1, the dreaded pre-approved caterers list. Even with such an inexpensive venue fee, our venue/catering budget was going to reach $10,000 very quickly, especially since the venue did not provide any equipment like tables and chairs.
3) Farther outside the city does not mean cheaper. Perhaps you already realize that places right in DC will be too far outside your budget. Just because places have some foreign sounding names that you only hear on evening traffic reports, it does not mean cheaper. Leesburg, Manassas, Occoquan, Gaithersburg. Venues in those locations are not cheaper. (However, and this is a topic for a different post, if you look for other vendors, like photographers and Deejays, based out of Fredericksburg or Richmond, those can be a bit cheaper.) A rule of thumb: if the venue is on Wedding Wire or The Knot, realize that it will be out of your budget, regardless of its proximity (or lack thereof) to DC.
4) Only consider venues that allow you to bring in outside alcohol and soda. Can you believe that we saw soda packages from some caterers (SODA!) for as high as $8 per person!? For fucking Coke and Sprite? Sometimes, alcohol packages were as high as $30 per person! And, there are some venues that have pre-approved caterers that DO allow outside alcohol (you typically just have to hire a bartender (not sure of cost of that) and pay for a state liquor license – about $25). Of course, venues do not advertise this, so make sure you ask and are pushy when asking, especially if they give a vague answer at first.
5) If your venue does not provide tables and chairs, be advised that your caterer may throw a fit if you tell them you want to use an outside rental company. We had one caterer (the same caterer mentioned in #2) tell us outright that they would not cater a wedding unless they provided the tables and chairs. They said that it becomes too difficult logistically, and that it has caused too much trouble in the past. There might be some truth to that, but don’t book a caterer for a venue assuming that you can get cheaper rentals elsewhere.
6) When searching for a venue, go beyond Wedding Wire and The Knot. See my tips for searching for a wedding venue.