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  Wedding Receptions

Wedding reception will cost approximately 50% of your entire wedding budget. This is primarily due to the cost of food and alcohol. The time of day you are planning to have your reception will determine the type of foods you will be serving:

  • Brunch (typically the most economical option): 10 am to 1 pm. Food served: breakfast. For desert, serve wedding cake.
  • Lunch: 1 pm to 4 pm. This can either be a sit down lunch or buffet style. Begin with Hors d'oeuvres and cocktails. Food served: chicken, beef, fajitas, salads, etc. Desert - wedding  cake.
  • Hors d'oeuvres: 3 pm to 7 pm. Foods served: fruit and cheese platters, stuffed mushrooms, quiches, chicken or beef skewers, shrimp cocktail, breads, etc. In using this option note on your invitation "please join us for hors d'oeuvres and cocktails" so that guests will know that no dinner will be served. Desert - wedding cake.
  • Classic dinner: 7 pm and onward. Begin with Hors d'oeuvres and cocktails. Classic sit-down dinner with soup or salad and main entree or buffet style (note: most think buffet receptions are less expensive, but it is not always so, because you have no control over how much your guests will eat). Desert - wedding  cake.


There are usually three types of bars:

  • Open bar, which means you cover all drinks ordered by your guests
  • Limited bar, where guests' drinks are covered, but the selection is more limited than in open bar (e.g. beer and wine)
  • Cash bar, where guests buy their own drinks. This option is big etiquette no-no!

To maximize your budget, consider buying your own alcohol. Here are the standard quantities and rules of thumb that will help you determine how much to purchase:

  • One bottle of wine = 5 glasses
  • One bottle of Champaign = 6 glasses
  • One case of wine or Champaign = 12 bottles 
  • One 1
  • liter bottle of hard liquor = 15-18 drinks
  • One 5 gallon keg = 53 12-ounce servings
  • Rule of thumb: one drink per guest per hour
  • Allow one bartender for every 50 guests
  • Some of the most popular types of liquor include: vodka, scotch/whiskey, bourbon, gin, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, rum, tequila
  • Stock your bar with red and white wine and beer

Money saving tips:

Reception Idea: Have the reception and ceremony at the same location. That way you will only have to pay one site fee.

Reception Idea: Saturday weddings are the most expensive. Consider picking Friday or Sunday, as the vendors often have lower prices.

Reception Idea: For more economical option consider serving brunch or lunch instead of dinner. This will save on your budget since there is usually less alcohol consumed earlier in the day.

Reception Idea: Hold your reception at a restaurant, hotel or other facility that is fully equipped with tables, chairs, linens, silverware, etc. Otherwise, all this will need to be rented.

Reception Idea: If you are planning a small wedding with your closest friends, consider renting a penthouse, suite or other luxurious room in a local fancy hotel. You can order a room service, have flowers already set up at no extra charge, plus get things cleaned up afterwards for considerably less than traditional wedding reception.

Reception Idea: Open bar vs. cash bar. Cash bar is tacky. You don’t invite guests to party and expect them to pay. Instead, consider limiting the time the bar is serving alcoholic drinks. Reducing the cocktail hour from 1 hour to 45 minutes could go long way in saving you money. The remainder of the reception the bar can continue serving non alcoholic beverages.

Reception Idea: If allowed by the caterer, you can buy alcohol in large quantities from a warehouse store and serve at your reception. Ask the warehouse store if they will let you return unopened bottles for a refund.

Reception Idea: Instead of serving Champaign consider sparkling wine or have a Champaign fountain with Champaign punch and slices of strawberries for an added touch of elegance.

Reception Idea: Food! Serve expensive foods alongside inexpensive dishes. For example, if you serve filet mignon as the main course, start it up with a green salad. 

Reception Idea: Supply a timeline to the caterer, detailing the flow of events from the first toast to the time the dinner is served. This will ensure the events will take place in the right order and in a timely fashion.

Reception Idea: Get everything in writing from all your vendors so that you know exactly what you are getting.

Questions to ask when selecting a facility for your wedding reception:

  • What is the total fee and what does it include?
  • What are the time limits and is there a overtime charge?
  • Are there other events scheduled for the same day?
  • Are we required to go with a certain caterer or are we free to choose our own?
  • Can we bring our own alcohol?
  • Who is responsible for clean up?
  • Are tables, chairs, linens, silverware, glasses, etc. included or have to be rented?
  • Is there ample parking and is there a parking fee?
  • How many restrooms are there and where are they located?
  • If the reception is taking place outdoors in case of bad weather, is there an alternate indoor location?
  • Can we get married and have reception at the same location? Would that be one site fee?
  • Will there be staff member on location during the day of my event for assistance?
  • Is the site insured?
  • Do permits need to be purchased for music, alcohol, etc.?
  • When is the final headcount due?
  • What is the cancellation policy?


Additional Resources:

Wine Labels -  Wine labels from Bottle Your Brand. Create beautiful full color wine labels online! Choose pre-designed wine label templates or personalize your own wine label. Great selection and lowest prices for custom wine labels.

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Did you  know that when someone toasts to you, you should stay seated and not raise your glass or sip from it till your toaster is done? Just smile and say thank you when they are done.  

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