Wedding reception prices are often the largest portion of a wedding budget. When it's all added up the numbers can be extremely high. Keeping an eye on the price list based on the following considerations is going to make a huge difference in whether you come out over, under, or right on budget for your wedding reception.
Reception Cost Estimates
Knowing some basic pricing information will help you plan your budget, whether you're hosting a small and simple affair or a large and lavish event.
The reception venue rental is one of the biggest expenses in the reception budget. Typically, the larger and/or more lavish the venue, the more expensive it becomes to rent. Everyone on the guest list needs to fit comfortably into the hall, ballroom, convention center or banquet room at the same time.
TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com partnered to survey almost 18,000 brides in their 2012 Real Wedding Survey to come up with an average cost for wedding items. The survey results show that the national average is $12,905 for a reception venue.
Pricing will vary greatly depending on the venue itself - for instance, a grand hall in a museum will usually cost more than renting a gazebo in a city park - and where you live in the United States. Use The Wedding Report's CostofWedding.com search engine to figure out estimates for your area. For example:
- In Polk County, Iowa, which includes the Des Moines metro area zip code of 50265, couples spend around $2,545 to $4,241 for their reception location, with the average number of guests ranging from 184 to 204.
- In the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania zip code of 19140, couples spend from $2,775 to $4,625 for their reception venue, with the average number of guests between 123 and 143.
- In the Salt Lake City, Utah zip code of 84106, couples may spend around $2,585 to $4,308 for their reception location, and the average number of guests ranges from 122 to 142.
- In the Miami, Florida/Dade county zip code of 33125, couples should expect to spend approximately $2,585 to $4,308 for their reception location, with the average number of guests ranging from 115 to 135.
While the pricing may seem similar, note the average number of guests is higher in some areas, making those receptions less costly per person.
Food and Drink
Next to the venue rental, providing food and drink is often the next biggest expense. In fact, it may surpass the actual cost of the venue. This is another area where the size of your guest list makes a difference; as your guest list grows, so does the cost of your food and drink.
Caterers typically charge per person so the larger your wedding, the larger your bill. Buffets are generally cheaper than served sit-down meals, so keep this in mind when budgeting for a wedding caterer. The Real Wedding survey places the average cost for meals at $63 per person, making a 150-person reception cost around $9,450.
CostofWedding.com's average range for food service across the country is:
- Polk County, Iowa: $3,452 to $5,753
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: $3,764 to $6,274
- Salt Lake City, Utah: $3,506 to $5,843
- Miami, Florida: $3,506 to $5,843
Choosing to provide alcohol, especially top-shelf liquors, can also add significantly to your food and drink bill. CostofWedding.com's average range for bar service nationally is $1,842 to $3,070. Across the country this cost is:
- Polk County, Iowa: $1,782 to $2,970
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: $1,943 to $3,239
- Salt Lake City, Utah: $1,810 to $3,016
- Miami, Florida: $1,810 to $3,016
Cake and Desserts
Remember to include the price of your wedding cake or other desserts into the cost of the reception. Designer wedding cakes tend to be costly, so keep that mind when you budget for your reception. Cakes are often priced per slice, so to figure out your total cost, multiply the slice cost by the number of guests. Special design elements or elaborate cakes may also cost extra.
The Real Wedding Survey shows wedding cake costing an average of $560. CostofWedding.com's average range for cake/desserts across the country is:
- Polk County, Iowa: $305 to $509
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: $333 to $555
- Salt Lake City, Utah: $311 to $518
- Miami, Florida: $311 to $518
Hosting a dessert bar is a great idea for a wedding, so remember to include the cost of each of the ordered desserts into your budget.
A wedding DJ or band is traditional entertainment. Both usually charge by the hour, or provide a set price for a certain number of hours. The bandleader or DJ will often serve as emcee of the reception as well. The DJ and band usually come with their own lighting and sound system.
Hiring a wedding DJ for the reception is common for many couples. The Real Wedding Survey shows a DJ costing around $988 for a wedding.
Pricing around the country ranges in these amounts from CostofWedding.com:
- Polk County, Iowa: $515 to $859
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: $554 to $924
- Salt Lake City, Utah: $517 to $861
- Miami, Florida: $523 to $871
A live band is usually more expensive than a wedding DJ, but having live music is a must for some couples. If you decide to go with a band expect the average price to be in the following ranges provided by CostofWedding.com:
- Polk County, Iowa: $1,134 to $1,890
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: $1,220 to $2,034
- Salt Lake City, Utah: $1,137 to $1,895
- Miami, Florida: $1,151 to $1,919
The Real Wedding Survey puts the average cost at $3,084 nationally for a reception band.
Decorating the reception venue is usually necessary, even if you do the bare minimum. The items to add into this portion of the reception price may include:
- Table linens and dishes, if not provided by venue
- Wedding reception centerpieces
- Head table backdrops
- Additional décor, such as replacing curtains or bringing in columns
Decoration costs are not split into ceremony and reception costs. Instead, they are overall totals. Keep this in mind when figuring out your own wedding budget. The Real Wedding Survey prices decoration and flower costs at $1,997 while CostofWedding.com's average pricing around the country is as follows:
- Polk County, Iowa: Decorations - $313 to $521; Table centerpieces - $233 to $388
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Decorations - $329 to $549; Table centerpieces - $245 to $409
- Salt Lake City, Utah: Decorations - $336 to $560; Table centerpieces - $250 to $416
- Miami, Florida: Decorations - $325 to $541; Table centerpieces - $242 to $403
Couples often choose to thank their wedding guests with a small token of appreciation. The favor choice, and subsequent cost, usually depends on the number ordered and overall wedding theme. CostofWedding.com estimates the following ranges for favor costs at weddings across the country:
- Polk County, Iowa: $152 to $253
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: $157 to $261
- Salt Lake City, Utah: $158 to $264
- Miami, Florida: $155 to $259
The Real Wedding Survey has similar findings, with their average right at $221.
If a unique item is on your "must-have" list for the wedding, remember to include it in the reception costs. You'll need to contact these vendors to find out if these options are available in your area and what they may cost. These extras might include:
- Photo booth rentals
- Cigar rolling table and demonstration
- Ice bar
- Babysitter for children during reception
- Change of attire for bride and/or groom
- Extra fees from photographer for extended stay at reception
Overall Wedding Costs
The reception is a big part of overall wedding costs. The average cost of an entire wedding across the United States is $28,427 according to the Real Wedding Survey. However, this can vary depending on where you live.
- ABC News reports that total average costs in Los Angeles are around $37,000 and close to $65,000 in New York City.
- In Massachusetts, expect to pay around $25,00 to $30,000 according to The On-Line Massachusetts Wedding Guide.
- The Star Tribune mentions an average Minnesota wedding can cost around $22,884.
Averages and Estimate Information
Whenever you're looking at pricing, it's important to keep in mind that averages and estimates are just what they say - an average or an estimate. As Slate points out, the Real Wedding Survey's averages are not the median (or middle) costs. Your actual costs may be significantly higher or lower than an average or estimate depending on the style of your wedding, your location, and your chosen vendors.