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Less Expensive Wedding Does Not Have To Be Embarrassing - Advice

Updated on April 18, 2012

Dear Veronica

I’m Maid of Honor to my sister’s wedding next month and I’m pretty freaked out. It’s going to be horrible. She wants this big fancy wedding that she can’t afford so she’s doing it all wrong. You can’t invite people to a reception and expect them to pay cash for their drinks can you? The entrée is now a cheap pasta dish. The invitations went out and asked everyone their choice of entrée so everyone is expecting prime rib or Chicken Marsala or something great. She changed it after the fact to cut the dinner cost down. She also cut out the appetizers. She isn’t having live music now, this is the latest cut back. She asked my boyfriend if he will DJ for free. He said he’d help but doesn’t have equipment. She’s mad at him now because she thinks he should buy it. She told our little sister she’d pay for her dress so she could be in the wedding. Now she says she can’t, so our little sister is stuck with this bill now she can’t afford. She reduced the size of the wedding cake to one feeds 40 people. She has 200 guests coming! She spent $1600 on her wedding dress and they’re going to Africa for a honeymoon. No sparing expense there! Oh and her limo is a white stretch Hummer. Is it too late for me to back out of this thing? I feel like people are going to look at me as her MOH and sister and think I’m involved in this embarrassment. I’d rather just not show up.


Dear LeavingLasLaura,

I’m reminded of the worst wedding reception I’ve ever attended.

It was the wedding of a girl I worked with about 13 years ago. The service was a big church wedding, with a big bridal party. There were limos, flowers, gowns and tuxedos; everything you’d expect.

The reception, which was held in a nice restaurant venue, started at 3pm. And it went on for hours. And no meal was served.

There were very low-end hor devours until they ran out, and that was it. The wedding cake came out at 7pm. So they had expected people to be there all afternoon and into the evening without dinner.

What could possibly be worse? A cash bar, that’s what.

The invitation didn’t say, “Join us for hor devours. We hope you can attend.” The invitation asked guests to attend the wedding, and then to come to this well-known formal restaurant in the afternoon for the reception. The bride and groom spent money on the full bridal party and all the fanfare like limos and flowers. And decided not to spend money on providing food and drinks to their guests.

For hours, we watched guest after guest trying to retrieve their wedding card envelope from the gift table to take money back out, having based their gifts on the assumed cost of the dinner at the venue, and to use the cash for drinks.

Plates and utensils were not provided until the cake and coffee were served around 7:30. I found out later the restaurant had a dish service charge which the bride decided she didn’t want to pay. So people in formal attire ate greasy cheap little hor devours with their fingers, out of napkins, while sipping drinks they had to pay for.

I overheard her say she had contacted several venues but that this was the only place that would cut out all the things she wanted cut out. The others refused. I realized the other venues didn’t want the embarrassment of this stingy reception she wanted to throw.

The problem wasn’t that the bride and groom didn’t have a big budget. The problem was that they tried to throw the kind of reception they couldn’t afford by cheapening out on every thing that’s done for the guests.

What could they have done instead?

1 - A Small Dinner Party

Instead of treating 150 guests to a cheap crappy reception, throw a small reception for just 25 - 50 guests. For the same money it would have been a great night for all who attended.

2 - Brunch

A brunch or breakfast buffet of eggs, breads, fruits, cheeses, breakfast meats, waffles, yogurts and granolas would cost less than a third of a sit down dinner.

With breakfast you eliminate a few of the costly trappings of formal dining. Breakfast also means very little alcohol. Offering just one drink such as a Mimosa is fine. It’s a breeze for the venue, too. There doesn’t need to be a staffed bar, just trays of the same drink brought around. Breakfast is usually served in one course as a buffet. All these things mean less staff needed and less prep work or cleaning, which translates to a much smaller bill.

3 - High Tea

High Tea still feels formal and fa-fa, and can be done correctly for a fraction of the cost of a dinner. Make it clear on the invitation that guests are being invited for a 2 hour tea at such and such, at 3pm. Serve tea, finger sandwiches, scones, wine, and a few other appropriates. If you want you can have the invitation for such an event say, “Gifts are not necessary at this humble gathering. Your attendance at our tea party is gift enough.”

As with a breakfast reception, a tea party also saves the cost of limos, expensive flower arrangements, a big formal wedding cake and a band. Simple instrumental preset music would be more than appropriate. Cupcakes on a nice stand is a nice substitute for a formal wedding cake.

There is no reason to have a big bridal party for a small reception.

4 - The Casual Reception.

If you want 150 guests, then make sure 150 guests have a good time. We’ve been to many a wedding in someone’s home or backyard, on a beach, or in a VFW Hall that was absolutely fantastic.

Lots of liberties can be taken with a casual setting. It could be a feast of dishes made by parents, friends, and the happy couple themselves. Or it could be catered by a company that does casual events like barbecues, clam bakes or luaus. DJ’s and bands can be skipped for an i-Tunes mix or set of wedding CD’s. A case of wine and a limited bar with a keg is fine. And how about inviting an ice cream truck to come at a certain time at the end? Let everyone get whatever they want and then you pay the bill. That’s a big hit with the kids, and it’s a lot less expensive than you’d think.

This kind of reception can often be the best. As long as your guests know what kind of party you’re throwing, they will know what they can expect and how to prepare. If you’re having an outdoor picnic or barbecue and you tell them so on the invite, they’ll know not to wear high heels and tuxedos. If you tell them it’s a 2 hour tea, they’ll know to make dinner plans for after.

5 - Elope.

If they wanted to think about themselves instead of their guests, then they should have skipped the whole thing

They could have spent their money on a 5 day cruise, or a weekend in Atlantic City, or a week in the Poconos.

6 - Small Now, Big Later.

Since it’s so common in this generation that couples marry while unable to afford to throw a big wedding, it’s popular to have a 5th (or whatever) Anniversary Vow Renewal Reception when they’re a little more established and can afford the party they want. Have a small private affair now, and save toward that big bash in the future.

7 - Night Club Party

If you don’t want to spring for the big sit down dinner, the limos, the flowers, the fa-fa, then how about a Night Club Style reception after hours? For a great deal book a hall that already has a wedding booked for that night. If they wind up at 10 - 11, and you launch at 12:00 midnight, you’re perfect. The venue will give you a good deal. They have only a fraction of the work plus they’ve already made their money on the evening.

Midnight nuptials followed by a live band and/or DJ make for a young and sexy reception. I’ve been to 2 midnight weddings and both were fantastic.

One after-dinner wedding I went to had the service at 10pm, followed by three different bands playing back to back. They had a pizza bar set up all night, plus a Viennese table. They had an open bar but also had plenty of water bottles, Red Bull, Gatorade and juice. When the party ended the happy couple thanked the guests, the lights came up, and they handed out their wedding favors. Every guest got a brown bag with a coffee travel mug with the date engraved, filled with hot coffee, plus a bagel. We all exited together. Taxi cabs were waiting outside for anyone who needed one.

LeavingLasLaura, you can try to make the bride understand that people will still be talking about her wedding for years to come and not in a good way. You can try to offer some of the solutions I’ve outlined, or think up some on your own. But the bottom line is that it’s her day and she gets to have I however she wants to. That includes the poor etiquette of a cash bar or the rudeness of the major menu downgrade after guests have based their gifts on better information.

While she has the right to her day her way, you have the right to remove yourself from embarrassment. Normally I’d say stepping down as Maid of Honor leaves her in the lurch and that’s not fair. But she isn’t aiming at fair here. If you choose to separate yourself from this, just do it without confrontation. Don’t fight, just accept. Tell her you wish her every happiness and a beautiful wedding day, but that her event is just not something you’re going to be able to help her with.


Submit a Comment

  • algarveview profile image

    Joana e Bruno 

    6 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

    Hi, Veronica, great ideas for small weddings. I think you are absolutely right, better to have a small wedding than a big one where nobody has fun. Personally, me and my husband paid for our own wedding, so we told parents that we weren't going to invite their acquaintances, relatives that we had not seen for ages and the likes, we would just keep it small and cozy, closest friends and family. Even so, we had quite some people at the wedding, but not as much as other weddings we've gone to. But everybody had a good time, us included (very good memories) and we stuck to our budget. Voted up, useful, interesting and thanks for SHARING. :)


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