But there are ways to hold a festive wedding on a budget that you (and your guests) can afford. Simply follow these behind-the-scenes secrets for saving money on everything from banquet facilities to the menu itself from the country's top meeting planners:
If you are working with a wedding coordinator, set a budget as opposed to a working "paddable" version. The firm budget forces the planner to ask questions ahead of time, which is always the best route for saving money.
The more bargaining chips you bring to the table, the better the deal. If you and several high school or college friends are tying the knot in the same year, approach an airline and hotel chain directly to negotiate one rate for all guests.
Always negotiate the final package with suppliers face to face.
Hotel Accommodations for Guests
Negotiate a flat rate versus a single-double rate. "Instead of paying $70 for a single and $85 for a double, go for a rate of $75 for one to three people per room," suggests Bobbie McAdam, owner and president of Meeting Planners, Inc.
"The normal compensation rate on blocks of rooms is one per 50, but sometimes you can negotiate that down to one per 40," Muldoon notes. "Or, arrange with hotel staff to apply the comp rooms toward suites for the attendants in your party," she adds.
Request your complimentary room ratio be cumulative rather than on a straight, per-night basis. Under the straight numbers deal, if you book 80 rooms for two nights on the 1 in 50 ratio, you get two free rooms. With the cumulative package, the hotel credits you with 160 rooms, which translates to three free rooms.
Insist that any group rate apply for several days prior to and after your wedding.
Stipulate that you want a group discount on parking fees.
It's a myth that a buffet-style meal is less expensive than a served one. In reality, buffets require more food and more labor so their cost is higher.
If you are working with a smaller group (say 40 to 70), piggyback onto another group's menu. This allows the hotel to buy in bulk and lowers your price.
Whenever possible, order in bulk yourself.
Consider other main entrees besides beef and chicken. "Chefs can do a lot of things with pastas and the price is very reasonable," McAdam explains.
Allow the chef to try out his new, original recipes with your group. Most welcome the chance to be creative and lower the price per serving in exchange for the group's feedback. "Be careful that it's not something too exotic, though," McAdam warns. "Lamb or swordfish might not appeal to everyone in your party."
Use 8-inch plates rather than 10-inch ones. "It appears very full," McAdam confides.
Negotiate house wine price with dinner versus a specialty wine.
Find out how the caterer/hotel taxes food. If gratuity is part of the taxed bill, the cost will be more.
Ask for standard linen versus upgraded linen on the tables.
Determine which table decorations are available at no charge. This list usually includes votive candles and bud vases so try to work this into your wedding theme.
Entertainment/Unusual Reception Ideas
To save on the cost of a full dinner, create a themed reception around a topic that can be covered by food and drink only. For instance, if you go with a Caribbean beat, umbrellas in the drinks, a few streamers and some tropical food choices are enough to give the effect. There is no need to purchase a reggae band, too.
Ask the hotel what stock items it can lend you for special themed events.
Request waiters to pass trays of drinks and appetizers. "This strategy uses less food than the buffet version and looks extremely elegant in the bargain," Muldoon points out.
If guests consume a large amount of alcohol, the hotel should waive the bartender's fee.
Insist that bartenders use shot glasses. This keeps drinks uniform, and if you're charged per bottle, prevents bartenders from "pouring heavy" to go through more bottles.
For large groups, buy beer by the keg, not the bottle.
And remember, it's not the price of the wedding that determines the quality of your marriage or dictates a good time for all involved!
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