Food and drink for a wedding reception for less than $50 a head? The entire production for under $9,000? It can’t be done, the experts told us.
But my new husband and I did it. And our guests are still talking about the food.
The key to doing a wedding on a budget is to shop around for everything. Never take the first price offered. Search for Bridal Bargains. The four areas I targeted for savings: site, food, photography, and the bride’s dress.
Wedding Location – Bridal Bargains
- Halls and historic homes are often less expensive to rent than hotels. Boats cost less too. The fee for using a historic home can be as little as we paid — $1,200 ($150 an hour) — at the Boyhood Home of Robert E. Lee in Alexandria. Spend a day visiting locations before you choose.
Wedding Photography – Bridal Bargains
- Photographers’ rates vary widely. If possible, choose a photographer who will let you buy the negatives outright, as we did. Our bill came to $850, including one 4×6 of every shot, and we don’t have to go through a third party every time we want a copy of a photo.
Wedding Dress – Bridal Bargains
- Wedding boutiques sell dresses that can cost thousands of dollars. You might spend $200 an hour for the time the thing actually encases your figure. Christine Martin, a former American University student now working in San Francisco, designs custom-made, nontraditional bridal dresses and suits that you can wear again. Mine, which Martin sells for $1,500, was a three-piece ivory silk suit with beaded top. It will reappear soon with matching silk pants at black-tie events.
Martin advises prospective brides to get recommendations for local designers from stores such as G Street Fabrics in Rockville and Fabrics Unlimited in Arlington.
Martin says the reason to buy a custom-made dress is not to get it at half price. It’s to get a style, fit, and fabric that may cost less than retail. It’s also to get one that is likely to see some wear after the wedding.
Bridal Bargains on Wedding Reception Food
You want food at your reception. Call a caterer, right? Not necessarily.
We went to a local caterer known for high quality and competitive fees. It priced a light lunch of chicken, salmon, salad, and pasta, including hors d’oeuvres and wedding cake, at about $60 a head. That didn’t include liquor or soft drinks. It did include tables, silverware, china, linens, and the people who put all this where it belongs. Those costs nearly doubled the price of the food. So we tossed the torte overboard, cut the number of chairs and tables in half, and made other changes, but still the price hovered just under $50 a head — without tax, tip, or drinks. With 92 guests, food for $5,000 was looking iffy.
Then a friend suggested that we have a restaurant cater our wedding and told us about Ramparts Restaurant in Alexandria. I gave special-events director Linda Farmer our budget, and some general ideas about a menu. She came back with an estimate that was 30 percent lower than the high-end caterer.
Ramparts simply passed along its cost of renting tables, chairs, and other equipment. Although most major caterers own their equipment, they charge renters a premium to use it. That alone saved us $1,500.
Not every restaurant does catering — or does it well. But asking around can lead to some great Bridal Bargains. Ask whether your favorite restaurant caters, and get references from clients if it does. Check estimates and bills for any hidden costs. If you’re not familiar with a restaurant’s food, it makes sense to eat there before signing a catering contract — and, as you would with a caterer, try to arrange a tasting of your menu.
The well-known caterer offered a much larger selection of linens, in floral patterns and every color imaginable. To do a wedding on a budget, these are the sacrifices one has to make. More important, we paid for beer and wine by the bottle — a smart bet if the crowd isn’t big into drinking — plus a $4-a-person charge for all the sodas our guests could drink. We managed to do food and drink for under $5,000.
The restaurant even tossed in its own artistic touch — “Jayne and Richard” spelled out in cucumber and pimiento on the salmon platter — at no extra charge.
Be diligent and search far and wide for Bridal Bargains.