Money Matters

A Wedding Costs What?

Recently The Knot published that an average wedding costs roughly $35,329 across the nation, while weddings happening in major cities (like Chicago) would run nearly double that ($60,035 to be exact).

No matter which way you roll the dice, a wedding is an investment.

So where can you save?

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If You Build It They Will Come

Let’s start with the venue: The more space you have to fill, the more likely you will be to invite that second cousin twice removed who you met that one time when you were seven at Aunt Kathy’s 90th birthday.

An average wedding is roughly 150 – 200 guests, so when doing the math ($60,035/200) your average per guest is going to be run around $300 - $400 per person. If you are looking to save on costs, limiting the guest count may be the right way to go.

If your budget is roughly $10,000 and you run the numbers ($10,000/$300) you have enough for an intimate gathering of approximately 30 of your closest friends and family in Chicago. Keep in mind that this does not include all of the costs associated with a typical wedding, like postage for your wedding invitations, and your gratuities for your vendors. So when budgeting it’s a good practice to separate out your food, beverage, and venue budget from the ancillary budget for photographer, music, dress, etc …

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Depending on how many out-of-town guests you are inviting and what weekend your chosen date falls on, something else to consider is that you will probably have anywhere from 20% - 30% attrition on your invite list.

Before You Sign the Dotted Line

Both on-premise and off-premise venues (see the difference between venues HERE) have their pitfalls. Generally speaking anything customized beyond a hotel’s set menu is going to cost. Similarly, an addition to the bar package, lighting embellishments, and even sometimes a DIY project that you need to pay union labor to have installed, will drive up overall costs.

The same could go for that perfect loft venue that was just within your budget, until you realize it doesn’t come with any chairs, tables, glasses, forks, knives, or coffee equipment (Don’t get us started on the cost off off-premise coffee). All of a sudden your caterer has to tack on another significant charge to their bill that sometimes can equal the same amount as the venue itself.

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There’s going to be pressure to sign and lock in a date. There’s going to be that emotional connection you have with a space that checks all your boxes and evokes that vision you had when you thought of your wedding when you were younger. As a voice of reason, we encourage one extra look through the contract, a few extra questions, or a conversation about where you may want to customize. This could mean the difference between “We do” or “We do need to find an additional job.”

So Where Can You Save Some Money?

With all of the options available, we recommend finding the space with the least amount of stress on your vision. If you are set on suspending elaborate hanging centerpieces over long feasting tables, a venue like Café Brauer, which is excellent for rigging, may be the right choice. Or if you want a contemporary and elegant environment with incredible views, maybe the Langham Ballroom is the right fit. Either way the more your vision aligns with your space, the more your decisions will match what the space is already equipped to do.

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The same could be said for food and beverage. If you know you want to recreate the appetizer you and your fiancé shared on your first date, you may be hard-pressed to find that on a hotel wedding menu, whereas an off-premise caterer will be able to recreate it in a snap of a finger. If you are interested in a completely customized bar, with 12 craft beers, a whiskey tasting, and wine pairing with each course, it may behoove you to look into a venue that would allow you to provide your own liquor, like the Newberry Library.

If your top priority is having a live band and creating a dance party that rivals River North’s best night clubs, choosing a venue that has ample power, includes a dance floor, and has a list of recommended bands that have worked in the space is a smart route to take.

When you align your vision with both your vendors and your venue, things will naturally fall into place. The vendors themselves will be able to naturally guide you through conversations and decisions that match your vision, and inevitably the costs associated with those decisions will fall closer to your ideal budget.

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What Not to Do

One of the most commonly missed opportunities we come across when working with our clients is prioritizing the budget. Establishing what is most important to your vision is the #1 way to establish whether the expense is worth the dollars associated with it. Our recommendation is to choose your top three “budget busters.” This may be the band, food and bar or perhaps it’s venue, dress and desserts. It’s different for every couple!

We won’t lie, it is very easy to spend a few thousand dollars on custom letter-pressed invitations, and if that is the most important thing to you, then it’s great to establish that when allocating funds. However, if you’ve gotten wrapped up in the fun of planning then the budget you allocated for your band may have just been spent on those beautiful invitations. 

When you are able to prioritize the important items, it will establish where you should start, what matters to you as a couple, and also give you the confidence to say, “the most cost-effective option is just fine” for those items that fall outside of the lines.

With the amount of details, guests, vendors, and logistics that go into a wedding, it is sometimes hard to have “the budget” conversation, but the more you are able to clearly allocate your funds and prioritize what is most important, the easier it will be to come to your day with peace of mind, allowing you to say “I do” without the weight of the wedding on your shoulders.

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First Comes Love, Then Comes Venue Hunting?!

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So you said “Yes”

No matter if you are bride or a groom, everyone has envisioned their wedding day at some point. From gilded golden archways that spill into a candlelit aisle, to reclaimed wood beams that frame wildflowers and natural linens, that day started as a vision somewhere.  

But wait.

No one said there would be just as many decisions required to build and furnish a house, as there would be to say I do.

We understand.

So where do you start?

Well it all needs to happen somewhere, right? So, let’s start with the venue.

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The Basics of Wedding Venues

In Chicago there are two major categories of wedding destinations; hotels and venues. From the Drake Hotel and Union League Club, to the Bridgeport Art Center and Chicago History Museum, there is no shortage of options to float over the floor during your first dance. However, there’s another, often overlooked, differentiator between the locales: on-premise vs. off-premise.

What is on-premise?

On-premise venues refer to venues in which the food is prepared on site. Think hotels, private clubs, restaurants, banquet facilities, and even some of the cultural institutions like the Shedd Aquarium. These venues generally are able to offer you more finite wedding “packages,” many of which include in-house equipment, like tables and chairs. On-premise venues will often provide the bar and may include staff as a part of your per person price. On-premise venues generally will come with an F&B (food & beverage) minimum or tag on a mandatory gratuity or service charge.

A Service Charge? Where does that go?

More often than not, a service charge will go towards staff gratuities and taxes. When working with a hotel it’s important to establish early on what the standard service charge of the property may be. There’s nothing worse than budgeting based on a published menu or package price, only to be surprised when the actual bill is going to be 20% - 25% higher.

If the property does have a service charge, another important thing to note is if that service charge covers gratuity. If so, confirm with your catering manager or salesperson if the expectation is that you would add any additional gratuities on top of the total charge. Think of this being similar to going to a restaurant with a large group and finding that a standard 18% gratuity will be added to parties of 6 or more. For exceptional service, you may tip beyond that.

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What is off-premise?

As you might guess, off-premise is somewhat the opposite. Think a converted loft venue that can be transformed into a Soho House fantasy, or a park district venue that does everything from public programming to garden weddings. Off-premise venues, a lot of the time, will allow you to choose your caterer, may or may not have tables and chairs for you to use (or if they do, you may prefer not to use them, just saying), and may even allow you to provide your own liquor for the bar.

It takes a village

With off-premise venues, you can expect to be reaching out to a few more partners to execute your day. With more partners, comes more meetings, more logistics, and sometimes more room for details to slip through the cracks.

At an on-premise venue, by comparison, you will typically be working with one Catering Manager who handles your menu, room layout, staffing, equipment, and sometimes even lighting. In the world of off-premise, you can expect to work with someone who represents the space (a Venue Manager), your main catering contact (who will typically handle staffing) and may even have a third-party equipment provider that will be bringing in specialty furniture or rentals. There’s also potential for a lighting crew (which may be coordinated through your décor partner), or a vendor hired to provide some drape or fabric panels.

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All of these vendors will be in addition to your more commonly referenced wedding vendors which apply to both on-premise and off-premise venues: Wedding Planner, Florist/Decor Provider, DJ or Band, Photographer, Videographer, and Bakery.

What Wedding Venue Is Right for You?

So where do you start? While style is always a driving factor, something else to think about is the amount of decisions you will want to make. We’ve sat through a tasting with a caterer that has erupted into an argument over the flatware pattern for an off-premise wedding. While the argument was never about the pattern on the fork (we kid you not), it was only heightened due to the amount of decisions that had to be made.

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Off-premise venues are often times a blank slate, allowing you, as the incredible visionary you are, to mold and transform the canvas into your own personal work of art.

Now if that last sentence just made your heart flutter, and a wave of anxiety washed over you, maybe off-premise is not the way to go. We are not saying you can’t turn the ballroom at the Four Seasons into something that is truly unique and incredible (if you are interested look up Oprah’s going away party, pretty astonishing to see the before and afters), but even so, you are generally a little bit more limited in your selections.

We are lucky enough to live in an incredible city that allows us the luxury of having every type of venue available to us. There’s no one right way to choose the place you may be taking your fiancé’s hand in marriage and dancing the night away, but hopefully a little knowledge leads to power in weighing the options.

As always, we’re here for you, with services ranging from month-of coordination to full service planning, and everything in between!

Happy hunting!

Photos in this post are courtesy of Erika Mattingly Photo / Tim Tab Studios / Ben Elsass Photography / Emilia Jane Photography / Elizabeth Greve Photography