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Planning your wedding reception in a charming Pinterest-inspired barn instead of the typical banquet hall? If you're not careful, it could skyrocket your wedding bill.
Social media has heightened the appeal of unique locations instead of traditional places with all the bells and whistles built in.
For example, the number of couples booking farm, barn and ranch reception venues has jumped from 2 percent in 2009 to 15 percent in 2017, according to data from The Knot, and historic home bookings now account for another 14 percent of weddings. Meanwhile, banquet hall bookings fell to 17 percent in 2017 from 27 percent in 2009, and country clubs to 10 percent from 13 percent over the same period.
Alternative venues — like industrial warehouses, public parks, summer camps, museums and lofts — may not cost much up front. But experts say the do-it-yourself aspect of filling in the service gaps a traditional venue provides, from silverware to portable toilets and kitchen appliances, can blow up a wedding bill.
"This is how brides are misled," said wedding planner Angela Christoforo, owner of Elite Wedding & Event Planning in Hudson Valley, New York. "The venue gets the bride in the door, booked, based on a low site fee. Then after she books — bam — she finds out how costly her wedding really is going to be."
The costs can be $20,000 to $30,000 more than a couple anticipated spending, Christoforo said. (Not ideal, considering that a recent Student Loan Hero report found three-quarters of engaged couples already expect to take on debt to cover their wedding bills.)
Banquet halls and hotels charge more up front, with starting prices of more than $100 per head plus other fees. But in the end these one-stop shops can be the cheaper bill, wedding planners say, because they use the same equipment and staff for various events.
"Once you start bringing in all these different vendors, each of them have to make their own profit," said Janice Carnevale, owner of Bellwether Events in Washington, D.C.
Here's how couples can control costs while hosting their fantasy Pinterest-inspired wedding:
Many alternative venues weren't built to host events and don't come with major amenities like bathrooms, a kitchen, and heat or air conditioning. That can result in thousands of dollars in extra rental costs for must-haves like portable toilets or commercial kitchen appliances.
Some offbeat venues, like barns and warehouses, are being renovated to include those amenities, now that the rustic and industrial look is on trend for weddings.
If the venue doesn't come with a kitchen, you can still minimize costs by hiring a caterer who is near the venue so they "can do most of the cooking at their kitchen, and then finish cooking at the venue with minimal equipment," said wedding planner Deanna Nash, owner of Deanna Nash Events in Los Angeles.
Check your venue's policy on alcohol. Some require that your caterer provide the alcoholic beverages, for liability reasons.
But many venues allow the wedding party to provide their own alcohol, which "significantly reduces costs," said wedding planner Jesse Reing, owner of Jesse Reing Events in New York.
"You just want to make sure your caterer will allow you to either use or pay a small fee for the use of their liquor license for the day," she said.
Providing your own alcohol can cost under $3,000 for a 200 person wedding, while you're looking at $60 to $90 per guest if the caterer provides it, Reing said.
Think about where you and your guests will park.
Alternative venues may not come with many parking spots because they aren't required to have them, the way banquet halls are, said Elite Wedding Planning's Christoforo. Venues in remote areas could require shuttle services to take guests to and from the venue, on buses that cost from $900 to $1,500 each, she said.
If Uber has a large enough presence in the area, couples can save money on transportation services using Uber Events, if driving distances aren't too far, said Reing. The service lets couples provides their guests with a ride promo code that bills each ride to the couple.
Flowers and décor can be a significant wedding expense, ranging from $3,000 to $12,000 on average, said wedding planner Marni Farmer, owner of So Smitten Special Events based in Long Beach, California.
Venues that make the most of Mother Nature can help minimize those costs. California has plenty of state parks, botanical gardens, forests, and dramatic coastlines for that purpose, Farmer said.
"When the rest of the venue is trees, flowers and ocean, then you don't need to do much more than the bare minimum with flowers," she said.
For an outdoor wedding, ask the venue what their options are in case of rain or other inclement weather during the ceremony. "If they don't have a backup location protected from the elements then you will have the added expense of a tent for your rain plan," Cristoforo said.
That tent may cost from $300 to $1,200 depending on how many people it needs to fit, she said.