How to Save on Your Wedding Reception

(Part of The Smart Bride's 201 Smart Tips for Saving on Your Wedding)

Wedding reception venues are used to hearing that interested parties, (whether it be for a wedding or another function) are on a budget. This creates advantages and disadvantages, that you can use to your advantage.



Most reception venues price their services seasonally, which means getting married in the “low season” will mean costs are lower not only for the hiring of the venue, but also for the catering (if this is included). Each reception venue will have a different definition of the peak and low seasons, so don’t assume anything – get their price list.

Dinner receptions are always the most expensive, so even if you dream wedding plan included an afternoon wedding and a dinner reception, take a moment to consider the other options and seriously think about how your day would work if you didn’t do the dinner.

Other options for your wedding reception include:

Consider a combination of the above. If you want to invite 100 people to your wedding reception but can’t afford that many, have an afternoon tea for 100, and then a more intimate dinner for 20-30 afterwards.

Instead of specialist wedding venues, ask at your favourite local restaurant if you can hold your wedding reception there. If you have a sufficiently large group, you may be able to book out the whole restaurant for your wedding or some restaurants have dedicated “function rooms”. Restaurants often don’t have the large “wedding markup” that specialist wedding function centres have, particularly if you have your reception at a non-peak time of the week (avoid Friday and Saturday night).

Do you have a friend or family member with a nice garden that you could have your reception in? Even in the winter a garden reception is still an option. Putting up marques and gas heaters add a cosy atmosphere while you still get to enjoy the scenery.

You know that cute little park around the corner that would be perfect for a wedding … check with the local council before you go ahead because you may need a permit to have a wedding or even to have photos taken in particular public spaces. There can be large fines (and embarrassment) if you don’t have a permit.

Many reception venues offer the option of paying extra to dress up the chairs and tables with slip covers and sashes for the chairs. Instead of paying the venue to do this, why not do it yourself. Buy some cheap tulle, or fabric that is on sale or at the end of a roll (you can get good discounts on fabric at the end of a roll, just ask) and tie big bows around the backs of chairs. Or, buy your decorations second had from another bride (there are lots of places that you can do this online).

Some venues require you to pay additional fees for things such as security (security is often required for venues such as aquariums, botanical gardens, zoos etc where there is public access). Make sure you are aware of all of the charges and do you sums before choosing your preferred venue. The one that looks like good value for money may not be when you add it all together.

Get married overseas. This will force you to cut down on the number people that you invite, and your reception and honeymoon costs will combine into one.

Sarah’s Story

Sarah just could not get the numbers down for her reception. The lowest she could go was 130 and even that was leaving people out and she was already feeling terrible about doing this. Sarah’s problem is that she knew so many people from the church that she grew up in, and the church that she was now going to with her fiance, not to mention the large extended family that she had, and the people she had counted as friends through involvement in youth groups, community organisations and of course, school. Sarah just wanted everyone to be involved in her special day, and couldn’t bare the thought of not being surrounded with all of these people from throughout her life. The solution was to have an afternoon tea reception. All of the older ladies from her church organised it, supervised by her grandmother. The afternoon tea was held in the hall next to the church, and over 200 people attended. Sarah was surrounded by all the people that she knew and they were able to celebrate one of the most important times in her life with her. The hall was decorated by her entire family (closely supervised by Sarah of course!) and the important events that occur at a wedding reception were not forgotten. They still had a table for the bridal party to sit at, they still had speeches, and toasts and an open bar, they still had a cake, and even though it wasn’t what Sarah would have described as her dream wedding before she got engaged, after the event she couldn’t think of anything better. Does it get any better than that? Yes it does. She saved $15,000 on her reception.

Five Steps for Selecting a Reception Venue

One: Spend hours on the internet and make a list of reception venues that you would consider, from those you suspect are too over the top, to those you would only consider as a last resort.

Gathering information from a large number of reception venues will allow you to better compare what is value and what is not. Even if they are on the bottom of your list, knowing what they offer and cost will help you make the right choice in the long term. Wedding websites are great places to get ideas for reception venues.

My Story

The first place I looked at on the internet (a work colleague actually showed it to me) was my dream reception venue, and as I drooled over the computer screen while I looked at their web page I didn’t seriously consider calling them for an information pack because I thought they would be out of my league. Lucky I did, because surprisingly, they turned out to be comparable in price to some of the standard suburban reception venues that I didn’t even want to consider for my reception. With a bit of negotiating to bring the price down even further, I got my dream reception venue.

Two: Call all of the reception venues and request an information pack and price list.

Most reception venues will send you out a glossy brochure than will help you narrow down which ones you actually want to visit.

Three: Work out your budget, and decide which reception venues will squeeze within this.

When working out your budget, consider the total number of people that you will invite (not how many you think will come – you may be unpleasantly surprised), and think about different catering options if catering is managed by the reception venue. More catering tips and ways of saving money here (that might not be mentioned in the information packs sent out by reception venues but are often negotiable) are in the next section.

Four: Make a short-list of 5-8 reception venues, and do a drive by.

When doing a drive by look at things such as parking, travel time from your potential ceremony, and photo opportunities. Definitely get out and walk around if you can.

Five: Cut down your shortlist to 3-5 based on your drive bys and organise a day and time to meet with the host or manager to discuss your wedding reception. Use the list below to help you make that final decision!

Questions to Ask a Wedding Reception Venue

If providing catering:

If own catering options are available:

General questions:


One of the biggest mistakes couples make is inviting too many people. This will add the greatest cost to your wedding. Carefully consider who you would like at your wedding. The strategy I used was only inviting people that I would have over for dinner.

Packages are often cost advantageous, so consider packaging your reception venue with your catering. Your typical wedding reception venues don’t give you any other option, but if you are going for a more non-traditional reception venue (ie National Trust House, Public Garden, Zoo etc) there may be the option of bringing in your own caterer, which can often work out to be more expensive. Independent caterers have to consider the cost of travel, portable equipment and the more inconsistent nature of the business which can inflate their costs. In short, speak to your venue about their catering options, or their recommended caterers.

While venues who do not automatically cater will most likely have a list of recommended caterers, get independent quotes as a comparison.

Catering for dinner is always the most expensive option, so even if you dream wedding plan included an afternoon wedding and a dinner reception, take a moment to consider the other options. Just because you have a simpler reception does not mean you have to cut in quality. For example, a dessert reception can be held at any time of day and can include an assortment exquisitely decorated rich desserts, cakes, pastries, tarts etc.

Other options include:

Consider a combination of the above. If you want to invite 100 people to your reception but can’t afford that many, have an afternoon tea for 100, and then a more intimate dinner for 20-30 afterwards.

If you are having an afternoon tea as suggested above, do you have a group of people that could organise simple catering for you? People who could help out (and I’m sure would love to do so) could include people from a social group, church, aunts, grandparents, cousins, a special group of friends.

Have TAFE students (studying hospitality and catering) cater for your wedding.

Having a buffet will cut down on the number of staff required to serve your guests and will therefore save you money.

Reducing the number of options available for a set menu will bring the price down as they caterer doesn’t have as much food to prepare. For example, if it is standard to offer three choices for the main course, bring this down to two choices. Or even have just the one plate available for the entrée (making sure you cater for those with special dietry needs of course). If your caterer doesn’t offer this option, ask!

Instead of gifts, ask your guests to pay for their meal (as long as it isn’t too expensive). It may also be wise to test this idea on a few of your potential guests as some people will always be offended at having to pay to go to a wedding.

Get a fixed price quote. Don’t settle if your vendor says the price of specific foods will vary depending on the market cost that day. If you agree to this you are allowing your caterer to charge you almost whatever they feel like on the day.



Buy drinks online and get some great discounts:

If you are having an open bar, limit what is available and don’t include expensive spirits. You can always have this available as a guest pays option if you want.

Having a breakfast wedding will save you on alcohol costs as most guests will not drink a lot in the morning (if you decide to have alcohol at a breakfast wedding at all).

Decide to skip alcohol altogether and just have juices, soft drinks and maybe a fancy punch to add some sophistication.

Buy your drinks for a retail outlet and ask them before hand if you can return what you don’t drink for a refund. Most will.

If your caterer is providing the drinks, discuss how this will be charged. Some caterers will charge per person which can cost you extra if you have a lot of people at your wedding who don’t drink alcohol. On the other hand, other caterers charge per opened bottle, which can also add up if you’re left with lots of half drunk bottles. Think carefully about the composition of your guest list and how to structure the pricing for drinks.

You know those Christmas hampers that you can get where you put a few dollars away every week and then at Christmas time they send you a box full of goodies? Did you know you can get alcohol hampers from the same providers?


The Wedding Dress
The Bridesmaid Dresses, The Groom & Groomsmen’s Attire
Hair, Makeup & Jewellery, Shoes
The Ceremony & Music
The Reception Venue, Catering & Drinks
The Flowers, Cake & Bonbonniere (Favors)
The Photos
The Transport
Invitations, The Bridal Shower, Hen’s Night & Buck’s Night
The Gifts & The Honeymoon
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