The #1 Most Important Thing To Do Before Finding Your Wedding Venue + Venue Budget Breakdowns

Gosh, I cannot believe it is already the middle of May!  I mean, it's already been 1 month since French Quarter Fest and two weeks since Jazz Fest.  Where does the time go?!  Well, to keep up with our wedding planning, today, we're going to go over the single most important thing to do before you start venue shopping....

The guest list.

The guest list is the most crucial thing that effects staying within your budget and having your wedding vision come to life.  You absolutely must determine your list- or at least a rough draft of it- before going any further in the wedding planning process.

Why is this so important?  Well, simply put, the guest list effects EVERYTHING in your wedding...except for maybe your wedding dress.

Consider this: the more guests you have, the more you need for the wedding.  This may include, but is certainly not limited to, needing a larger cake, more centerpieces, more chairs/tables/other rentals, a larger food and drink budget, more favors, more invitations...the list is nearly endless!

So, right here, right now, I'm going to help you tackle this daunting to-do with a little exercise...

Be the boss of your guest list

What You'll Need:

  • A timer- this can be an app on your phone (I'm using my iPhone) or a good, old-fashioned kitchen timer.
  • Paper
  • Pencil/Pen/other fun writing utensil
  • A prayer (kidding)

Once you have all of your supplies together, set your timer for 10 minutes. Heck, you can even make it 20 minutes, if you need it.  Once you hit start, begin listing everyone- and I mean everyone- that you would invite to your wedding if budget was not an issue (channel Kim K. and pretend you have a limitless budget at your fingertips).  My best advice would be to start by order of priority, which could look something like this: family, close friends, other family (extended or long-distant relatives), friends & co-workers.  Remember, this is just a preliminary guest list, so don't feel obligated to stick to this because, chances are, you're going to have to shave this puppy down in the future. 

(And keep in mind that you still have to include your fiance's guests too!)

When you're finished, scan over your list and see if there are any people that you wrote down whom don't necessarily belong on the list.  Are there people on the list that don't necessarily have to be there?  Like that girl from grade school that you still talk to on Facebook every once in awhile, but haven't actually seen in person since 2002?  Or maybe that girl from the gym that you run laps with every other month or so, but don't have an outside friendship with?  Just keep these observations in mind for later; when the guest list needs trimming, people far removed from your inner circle should be the first to go.  (Sorry, BFF from 3rd grade!)

->-> Keep in mind, it's normal to want to invite everyone who has touched your life in the past, and it's okay to feel sad about not being able to include everyone.  The hard truth is, weddings are delicate balance between a fun celebration with everyone you care about and an intimate event where you share your most sacred vows.  Sadly, most of our budgets don't allow for us to invite everyone we want; but remembering those who have been closest to you over the years and the most involved in your life is the best way to narrow down the list.<-<-

The next step is to have your fiance complete this exercise on his own, then compare and contrast your results.  Anyone you both have written down as a pertinent guest goes on the list- after your immediate family and close friends, of course.  After you both have gone over your lists, you should contact anyone else who is contributing to the wedding (parents, grandparents) and ask them to complete the exercise.  Not only is it a nice gesture, but as a general rule, anyone who is contributing to the wedding should get a say in the guest list.  Most parents and grandparents are pretty laid back about this, usually just suggesting a few people that they'd like to include.  However, there are exceptions to this, and there is a fine line between requesting a few people and demanding to add a list of 30.  Its up to you and your fiance to determine what you're comfortable with.  If you're the ones primarily paying for the event, you get the final say on the guest list.

Your Guest List & Your Wedding Venue

I know you're probably sick of exercises.  Seriously, adult homework? But trust me, this one is extremely important as it will paint you the best picture on what you need to look for in a venue. 

For this exercise, you'll need to grab a calculator, along with your writing utensil and some paper.  First, take the number of guests you've got listed (remember, this is just preliminary) and multiply that by, oh, let's say 70.  How high is the number you came up with?  Now, try multiplying the number of guests on your list by 85.  What does that number look like?  If you've got a large guest list, I'm guessing you've come up with some decent-sized numbers. 

So, what does this mean, and where exactly am I pulling those numbers from?  Well, the numbers I gave you are similar to amounts charged per person at many venues.

And Now, Some Insanely Helpful Examples

Let's say you're starting out with 175 guests, and after shopping around, you've found the perfect venue that will accommodate all of your people.  The first thing you need to do is ask what the prices are.  Many venues break down their food and beverage prices per person.  So, going with our $70 example, your budget breakdown might look something like this: 125 (number of guests) x 70 (price per person) =$ 12, 250 (pre-tax cost).

Depending on your budget, that price might not seem very high, but you must determine what is included (or not included) in that price.  The price for food and beverage for some venues that may only include just that- food and beverage; which means you're still going to be charged a separate fee for chairs, linens, utensils, etc.  Thankfully, a lot of venues have more inclusive packaging, but most still charge a separate site rental fee on top of the per person amount.  And these prices don't even include the tax and gratuities that are tacked on at the end.

I'll break it down in the images below, first with an example using a 175 person guest list, and then with a 100 person guest list.

So, roughly, you're looking at $18, 700 for just the venue, food, and rental items (assuming they are included).  Generally speaking, this means you still have to allot for your cake, a photographer, DJ/band, hair, makeup, additional rentals (tents, photobooth, whatever else), guestbook, and more. 

Now, let's do another example with a guest list consisting of 100 people and all of the other values from above.

Notice the difference?  You can see how the price of a wedding can increase exponentially depending on the guest list.  True, for a limitless budget, a (almost) $7,000 difference won't make or break your budget.  But for brides with smaller price range, or just those wanting to save a little, $7,000 can be a huge chunk of their allotted funds.  Thus, streamlining the guest list is the single most important determinant when it comes to staying within your budget.  Later in this series, we'll discuss some ninja techniques for hunkering down and conquering your guest list once and for all.

Has this post got you re-thinking your guest list?  What are some ways YOU'VE trimmed down your guest list?  Share you ideas in the comments section below or hashtag #guestlistslimdown on Twitter and Instagram.  Show me how you're becoming the boss of your guest list!

Until next time!

-The Newly NOLA Bride