Tips for Hosting a Budget-Friendly Wedding Weekend Welcome Event

Red cocktails

In my last post, I discussed the pros and cons of hosting a cocktail hour welcome event versus a post-wedding breakfast. Robert and I envisioned many incarnations of the best way to entertain our out-of-town guests, but we were happy with what we settled on: a cocktail hour between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. at Pub 5 in downtown Nashville. Here’s why it worked out for us.

  • Originally, we had hoped to host a barbecue for out-of-town guests, but we didn’t have access to a home that was close enough and big enough to the downtown Nashville area. A park was also considered, but we were concerned about the heat and transporting warm food. That left us with renting venue spaces. We eventually tossed the idea because with so much on our plate, we needed to streamline the planning as much as possible. I highly recommend that you avoid turning your event into a big production. Your wedding is a big enough production as it is.
  • Our second plan was to host a cocktail event in the evening, around 7  on Friday. But this is a prime time for bars to make a lot of money, and many couldn’t work with us within our budget. But when we settled on a rehearsal luncheon instead of a dinner, it made more sense to move up the drinks event to occur soon after the luncheon. We settled on a two-hour event starting at 4:30, which is a slower time for bars, and made working with us more appealing to establishments. It also meant we were in happy hour territory, which was better for our wallets.
  • Next we considered how important it was to us to have a reserved room, which typically increases costs. We decided a few reserved tables as a home base were all we really needed, but some places couldn’t commit to even this. In the end, we lucked out and got the whole second floor of the relatively new Pub 5, a recently renovated, narrow three-story gastropub.
  • One reason we enjoyed this event so much is because Pub 5 was flexible. Many other bars had unbending minimums. One required us to buy a catering package that rivaled the cost of our wedding catering. With Pub 5, I simply told them a comfortable minimum for Robert and I — $500, which we also considered our max. They told us they couldn’t give us the popular rooftop space for that price, but they could give us the second floor. We agreed and signed a contract.
  • We debated limiting what drinks our guests could order or giving out tickets so guests could “buy” drinks — both good techniques for reining in spending — but in the end, we simply put up signs that said: “Your first drink is on us!” We had the floor to ourselves, so all drinks were on our tab,  and we knew one drink per guest would keep us within our budget, even if everyone ordered the fancy signature drinks. Turns out there were enough people drinking budget-friendly beer or not drinking at all, so we were able to offer our guests a second round and not go over our minimum.
  • Our open house event was only two hours and wasn’t during meal times, so we didn’t offer food. If it was any longer, we would have. When we offered the second drink, we considered ordering a few platters of appetizers as well, but no one seemed hungry, especially because so many of us came from a giant, late lunch.
  • Pub 5 placed out pitchers of water and glasses and a long table. I thought that was a nice touch and we really appreciated it.
  • Pub 5 also offered to stop accepting orders once we hit about $430 — that way, we would be in the vicinity of the $500 we agreed upon once we included a tip. I really appreciate that they thought of this. If you have a hard and fast budget and need your price to include tip and tax, mention it to your vendor as well. We ended up going a little over $500, but only because those assigned to our event did such a good job that we felt they deserved a generous tip.

Of note: I’ve seen the welcome drinks event take many forms. Some couples leave the cost of drinks up to the individuals. This doesn’t bother me — everyone knows throwing a wedding is expensive. I’ve also attended an event hosted at a couple’s friend’s home with food and drinks for the same price as what we did. This can also be an excellent option. I’ve also seen fancy versions of the welcome event with a band and catered food under a tent.

I tell you all this for this reason: The welcome event can be anything you want it to be. There is no standard. Do what makes sense for your situation.

Find a restaurant or bar to host your event here!

Photo by iStockphoto.com

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