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.
Oh my word! Again, I’m surprised. Surprised that venues would be charging a fee to vendors (caterers) to be on their preferred list! That is a wedding industry no-no! If anything, the vendors on the list should be offering a preferred discount to you when you book with them at that venue site. That’s how it’s supposed to work anyway. My “preferred list” is just that…people who I prefer to work with, who I know will give you excellent customer service and who are reliable and honest. I’m on other vendors’ lists and I certainly do not pay to be on those lists. I consider it an honor to be on their list and if you were to book me through them – you get an exclusive discount for it! Anyway…
Something to think about: bringing in outside alcohol – meaning purchasing your own alcohol and having a hired bartender serve it – can be tricky even with the state license. Although you will be legal and authorized to serve your alcohol on premises, YOU will be the one ultimately responsible for the alcohol at your reception vs. the venue or catering company. I would advise getting wedding insurance if you are going to bring in your own alcohol so that you are protected in case something goes awry. While it does save money to get your own alcohol, stocking a bar out of your own pocket is still quite expensive unless you’re going with a limited bar, like a “white bar” and a keg. And keep in mind that the hired bartender is coming in JUST to mix and pour. He will not be the one to chill your keg or your sodas or mixers. You will have the responsibility of chilling all your drinks, getting them to the reception venue and providing ice. Sometimes it’s worth the money to have the venue or caterer do the bar for you just so you don’t have to deal with all that! It offers peace of mind and you will most likely avoid any nightmares. It’s all about knowing when to DIY and what to DIY.
You’re right about “distance not being cheaper” regarding reception venues. But I know they exist – venues that will work with the vendors you’ve selected or want to select. I’ve worked with them, in the Shenandoah Valley anyway. You just have to find them – maybe think outside the box a little more. Have you searched fire halls ? Here’s one in Woodsboro, MD that lets you have free reign:
This may not be up your alley – but it might be worth checking out.
I googled “northern virginia fire halls to rent.”
Ask yourself what’s more important to you – what the reception venue looks like or your budget? Your guests will remember the good time they have at your reception, not where you have it! You are a savvy bride…I know you will find the right place. And if a vendor/venue raises your hackles, don’t do business with them. Not worth it! You go girl!
Thanks for your comment Darlene! I don’t want to mention the venue that charged the fee to the caterer, because I found out in a somewhat roundabout way, but it is a very popular venue in the DC area.
Our venue actually requires us to get liability insurance if we’re going to serve alcohol, so we’ll be needing to do that anyway. In fact, I should probably add that to my to-do list to get in touch with my current insurance company to see how much a policy like that would be. The venue said that it’s not that much. Unfortunately, it’s definitely worth the DIY for us to do the alcohol ourselves. Adding it to a catering bill would run us nearly $2000 extra!
Thanks for the additional venue recommendations! We should be hearing from ours any day to find out whether our date has been confirmed. Fingers crossed!
Since you mentioned wedding insurance
Here’s a post with ideas on having a “limited bar” that you might find interesting.
Also, couples are having signature drinks at their wedding. Maybe you’d like to have that at your wedding? You can call it the “Super NoVA” or something. LOL