How to plan a wedding reception


Sometimes deciding where to get married is more complicated than deciding who to marry. Planning a reception is complicated. But Carley Roney, editor of, has great advice to make planning the reception manageable.

How to plan a wedding reception First and foremost
  • The wedding reception will probably be about 50% of your budget and 50% of your time spent planning.
  • The first decision you should make is where you are going to host your wedding.
  • Pick your priorities when planning a wedding (i.e. If the location is most important, determine if you are willing to wait until it is available or see if you can hold the wedding on a Thursday or Friday night).
Outdoor weddings
  • If you want to have an outdoor wedding you not only need to be aware of the weather but you also need a backup indoor plan in case the weather turns bad.
  • Other things to consider if you are having an outdoor wedding are having bathrooms and laying a floor of sorts for chairs and tables.
Average prices
  • The average number of guests at a wedding right now is about 160 and the average price tag on a wedding currently is about $25,000.
  • Per person it can range anywhere from $145 to $450 depending on the city and location.
Working wisely with your budget
  • You can stretch your money some by having a destination wedding. The hotel will tend to go out of their way to ensure a prefect wedding and extended stay of your guests.
  • Know your budget and be aware of the time of year and location since the location may not be willing to budge on their price if it is peak wedding season.
  • To really save money you need to pick an off-season time or off day of the week.
  • If you want to do things such as the flowers and decorations yourself just be sure you have the time and resources available.
Plan for changes
  • If someone is sick or something comes up that would force you to move the wedding, the ability to do so may be determined by how close you are to the actual date. The location will more than likely not give you your money back. They may re-book you but it probably won’t be soon.
  • Wedding insurance is becoming more popular these days to help you out if something does come up.

LISA: I'm Lisa Birnbach for Planning a wedding can be completey overwhelming. So many questions to ask or answer. Luckily the wedding experts at come out with a handy book full of advice. It's called The Knot Book of Wedding Lists and here to answer just a few million of our questions is editor in chief Carley Roney. Hi Carley.

CARLEY: Hello!

LISA: Of all the issues a bride has to face, a bride to be, planning the reception is the one that needs to most lead time, isn't that right?

CARLEY:  Well the reception is--it's 50% of your budget; it's 50% of the time you're putting in. There's so many different factors, so you really need to start with that right away. The first decision you're going to make is where to host that wedding.

LISA:  If you're determined to have an outdoor wedding, what else besides weather and almanac do you need to consult?

CARLEY:  Outdoor weddings are the most beautiful weddings that they're are; they are also the most complicated weddings. You need to have an indoor plan for your wedding and you need to consider things--a lot of people think oh I'm just going to have it at this great location outdoors and in my own backyard.Well you're going to have to rent toilets if you're having an outdoor wedding. You're going to have to land down a floor because you can't just sit those beautiful ballroom chairs right into the dirt--they'll sink in. An outdoor ceremony is a little more flexible. Receptions are better off held, definitely in a tent outside or indoors.

LISA:  Now for an average size wedding-- I don't know what average is anymore--let's say you have 100 friends and guests and family all together. What is the average price tag for a wedding?

CARLEY:  Well the average wedding in America right now is about 160 guests actually and the average price for a wedding right now is about $25,000.

LISA:  I mean how much variance will there be in the cost per head? 

CARLEY:  In New York City to get married at the St. Regis is about $450 a person. In probably one of the best places in Cinncinati it tops out at $145 a person. And you can also stretch your dollar with a destination wedding very far because you know the hotel is dying to have you and your 100 guests and they're going to go to great lengths to give you a fantastic wedding, make sure they get all those three and four room night because that's really their business. 

LISA:  Can you actually manuveur the price at all?

CARLEY: Well budget is a very tricky thing when you're planning a wedding. There's always variance. You know there's some places that don't have to negotiate with you; they will book every weekend for a wedding whether you book it or not and so you have to know that going into it. You have to know how much your budget is and know what the target place is like and know that on a Saturday night in June they don't have to work with you.

LISA:  Right.

CARLEY:  It's a combination of if you really want to sort of save money, pick an off season time or an off season day of the week. You know they're saying that the Friday night wedding is a new trend. Or you have to sort of start picking away and saying I don't need that, I don't need that and just sort of scaling things down whether it's your number of guest or your number of courses.

LISA: Yeah I have a friend who did her own flowers and she went to the flower market and did something a little homey and she probably saved $10,000 in flower costs.

CARLEY: Doing your own flowers or doing it yourself in general, you have to be careful that you actually have the time to do it and have the resources. It's like yes in New York City we can pop over to the flower market and gobs of flowers in bulk and they're all beautiful, but do you know how to condition flowers? Do you know how many days before your wedding to buy them? Do you have the containers? There's actually a lot--you have to have a lot of expertise to do that. And you have to have the time. 

LISA: Let's say there's been some illness in the family or there's been some sort of crisis and you need to move the date. How flexible are hotels and restaurants?

CARLEY:  It is not something that is going to go over well. Usually by that time you've put a tremendous amount of money down on your deposit for your site; you've probably paid at least 50% before your actual wedding day. Clearly it's a factor how close you are to the actual day and time, but since weddings are booked so far in advance, the site's not going to give you your money back. They may rebook you, but even so, not going to rebook you soon. It's a very difficult thing. That's one of the reasons why wedding insurance is become a new trend and something for $300 you can insure your $20,000 wedding against problems like that and instances and things that you cannot have your wedding. They will help you rebook and rebook your services because the vendors--they lost that business that day. They're unfortunately not, they don't have much liberty to give you your money back although some I'm sure would be happy to do it.

LISA: Thank you Carley. For I'm Lisa Birnbach.

meet theexpert
  • Carley Roney

    Carley Roney Editor-in-Chief, The Knot Carley Roney is editor-in-chief of The Knot, the number one wedding brand worldwide, as well as The Nest. She has authored nine wedding books for The Knot and appears regularly on TV shows such as Oprah, Live with Regis and Kelly, The View and Today. more about this expert »