Couples spend between $12,343 and $14,006 on average for their wedding venue, according to recent surveys of brides. This cost includes any general location fee as well as food, drinks and incidentals like tables, chairs and linens. Each couple's venue cost, furthermore, is highly individual and varies based on their vision, geography, and budget. A good rule of thumb is to expect to pay about 45% of your entire wedding budget for all of this. You should try to get as much for this money as possible, and don’t forget to account for service fees and taxes, which are likely to add an additional 30% or so to the rate you’re quoted upfront.
- Cost by Wedding Venue Type
- Wedding Venue Cost Components
- Consider the Wedding Venue Fee
- Determining Your Wedding Venue Budget
About half of recently married couples chose a banquet hall, country club or hotel as their venue. But historic homes and buildings and farms have gained popularity in recent years. And many couples are opting for more unusual venues that reflect their personalities, like public gardens, breweries, children’s museums and backyards. As you might imagine, there can be an enormous amount of variation between the least you might spend at each venue type, to a more lavish approach. For a fairly small wedding hosting 50 guests, a couple might face the following amount ranges at different types of venues in Atlanta.
|Venue Type||Lower Cost||Higher Cost|
A number of optional elements and choices - from the type of meal served to whether the location charges a venue fee - determine your final cost. For the bare minimum, you can provide a simple buffet meal for your guests, with soft drinks only. It's impossible to cite a true maximum since you could theoretically continue to upgrade all your options to the highest priced foods and drinks and decor known to man. To go all out, consider a cocktail hour and full premium bar all night long, a lavish plated 4-course dinner with lobster as an option, extra desserts, late night snacks including Kobe beef sliders, and freely flowing Gout de Diamants champagne (about $1.5 MM per bottle).
So what influences the large variability and range in costs? Your venue cost typically incorporates a lot of your reception expenses (and potentially some ceremony ones if you hold both events at the same place). For example, more expensive venues generally tend to offer more inclusive services, and higher-end options. The following table shows the common elements, and what a couple hosting 140 guests might get at four possible venues in Atlanta, GA.
|Venue Budget||Modest||Typical BYO||Typical Inclusive||Lux|
|Venue Type||Event Center||Historic Building||Golf Club||Luxury Hotel|
|Length||4 hours||4 hours||5 hours||6 hours|
|Menu||Buffet||2-course plated||2-course plated||4-course plated|
|Alcohol||N/A||BYO||Hosted bar||Hosted bar|
|Addl Required Rentals||$1400 (incl. DJ and décor)||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Food/Alcohol Costs||$1,960||$6,020||$10,000 minimum||$50,000 minimum|
|Bar setup and staff||N/A||$300||Included||Included|
|Service fee||18%||20% (on food only)||22%||24%|
Based on these examples, a couple could spend anywhere between $37 and $572 per guest, depending on the venue, and also on the elements included for the reception, such as a cocktail hour with hors d’ouevres and a piano player, and main dish options from lasagna to lobster.
Food & Drink Requirements
Some venues—often hotels, banquet halls, and private clubs—require couples to source all of their food and drinks in-house. Others, especially those with minimal kitchen facilities, like gardens or historic buildings, expect you to hire a caterer and all other vendors you’ll need. You may or may not save money by choosing the piecemeal approach, depending on how the individual pieces add up.
Because there’s no standard format for venue pricing, you need to be savvy about knowing what you’re getting for the amount your venue is charging. To take alcohol as an example, some allow you to supply it yourself, some charge a per hour per person rate, while others count up and charge you for all of the drinks ordered. When you’re comparing venues, make sure you’re thinking about all the potential costs you’ll pay to get what you want.
On-Peak vs. Off-Peak Timing
The cost of hosting your wedding at a particular venue will also depend on supply and demand - this carves the year into on- and off-peak seasons. If you have a plethora of similar venue options in your city or town, the higher amount of competition will likely keep prices lower. If the weather is generally mild and temperate, there are more months available to wedding parties, which also helps to reduce costs. Wedding couples typically avoiding extremes of heat and cold (those months become off-peak).
Generally speaking, an easy way to pay less for your venue: choose an off-peak month, day or time for your wedding. To rent one historic building in Seattle for your wedding, you’d pay $625 if you held your wedding on a Thursday evening or Saturday morning in November; while you’d pay $1750 for the exact same space and number of hours if you chose a Saturday evening in August. That makes the on-peak event 2.8x the cost of the the off-peak wedding.
When you’re hammering out a contract with your venue, make sure you ask exactly what’s included in the cost, exactly what’s required but not included (like an insurance certificate), exactly what else you might need that you’ll have to get elsewhere (tables and chairs in some cases,) and exactly what fees will get tacked onto the final bill. Venue fees are generally taxable, at your state’s sales tax rate. It’s also customary for venues to add a service fee to the bill for food and drink, typically between 18% and 24%. This is a significant added amount when the bill comes due, so make sure you’re factoring it in from the start.
The fee for the venue can range from $0, often at hotels and resorts that bake it into the food and drink costs, to many thousands of dollars. This fee may include administrative costs and basic overhead, as well as things like insurance, security, and use of tables, chairs and linens.
In the example above, the relatively high venue fee of $3,500 at the historic building negates the lower food and drink costs from hiring your own caterer and bringing the alcohol yourself. A couple in this scenario would end up paying nearly the same amount for their wedding as a couple who opted for an average-priced all-inclusive venue (a decent hotel, a country club, or a banquet hall).
However, by making different frugal choices—like finding a place with a lower venue fee which allows them to bring in their own food and drinks—a couple could end up spending much less with a piecemeal approach. The table below shows how this could play out for a reception with similar elements in Bowling Green, KY. (For simplicity, we didn't price appetizers or alcohol, which would make the differences even starker.)
|An Outdoor Landmark||A Country Club|
|Venue Location Fee||$1,500||$4,800|
|Similar Meal and Soft Drinks||$2,940||$4,340|
|Tableware & Napkins||included||included|
|Tables & Chairs||$276||included|
In this case, the couple cuts their costs in half and saves $5,637. A significant portion of that comes from the $3,300 difference in the venue fee (it's higher at the country club). The rest is from higher food costs, and higher service fees and taxes.
It’s useful to plan your wedding with an overall budget in mind. This number might be based on what you and your fiancé(e) can pay from your savings, along with any contributions your families have offered. For most couples, 40% to 50% of the budget will cover the venue, including food and drinks and incidentals like tables, chairs and linens. For a couple spending the average amount of about $30,000 on their wedding, and hosting 140 guests, their target venue expenditure might look like this:
|Total to spend on wedding||$30,000|
|Total Venue Cost (at 45% of the total)||$13,500|
|Venue Taxes and Service Fees (31%)||$3,195|
|Venue fee, food, drink and extras||$10,305|
|Per guest expenditure, for 140 guests (ex taxes, etc.)||$74|
Ultimately, this couple could spend about $74 for each guest’s food, drinks, and related costs, not including taxes and service charge. Your figure might be higher or lower, depending on your total budget, but quantifying it will help you decide if you can include filet mignon as an entrée choice, and whether or not those seat covers are really necessary at $6.50 apiece.
To back into the amount you might pay towards the venue costs, use the following formula:
- Total to Spend x 0.45 = Amount you can spend on the venue (including food and drinks).
- Next, take the amount you can spend on the venue and divide it by 1 + the total percentage you’ll pay for tax and service fee. The tax will vary by state and the service fee by venue. The total percentage is typically between 26% to 32%. (So you would divide by 1.26 or 1.31, or some number in between.)
- The result is the amount couples generally spend on the venue fee plus food and drinks and incidentals for their guests.
For most wedding couples, the venue eats up the biggest portion of the budget, so it’s worth it to explore your options, and consider ways to save on your venue.
To compare the options in your area, you can check out websites like wedding-spot.com, where you can filter venues by location, type and their costs based on your needs. You can click through the options, including time of year, length of festivities, and types of food and drink served, and get a cost estimate.
Once you find a few options that suit your sensibility and fit your price range, you should visit them in person to get a feel for the space and its possibilities. One element that is hard to capture in data, but strongly influences the feel of your wedding, is the ambience of your venue. So visit it before you book, if at all possible.