The first purchasing decision you’re likely to make when you’re planning your wedding is your venue. The second is your caterer. These are generally your two largest purchases, and it’s best to make them in that order.
Sometimes the venue is a stand-alone cost, and sometimes it’s combined with catering. There are pros and cons to each. For the purposes of the moment, we’ll consider venue and catering separately.
In Maryland, venue fees start with a no-cost home wedding and continue up into the low five-figure range. Costs can vary by season; by day of the week; and on weekends, by time of day. Venues sell time and space, so the duration in hours matters, as does the size of your wedding. Venues with a larger guest capacity usually cost more than smaller venues of similar quality.
Every venue has a different fee structure. For instance, some venues charge separate fees for ceremonies and rehearsals, while others include them in their base fee. Trust me when I say that these fees and the many other details about each venue will all scramble in your head after you’ve seen two or three venues. Your notepad or wedding binder is your friend! I’m also a big fan of using spreadsheets to compare venue costs, features, and pros and cons.
There are two general groups of venues, stratified by price and quality. The first includes meeting halls and the like, as well as some dedicated event venues. Many of these venues are architecturally unsophisticated and are generally connected with production-oriented catering. As a venue alone, they fall into the $500 to $2,000 rental fee range.
The other large group includes venues that have more “wow” factor architecturally, have or use caterers with food to match, and provide more of a custom experience. The venue fees tend to run in the $3,000 to $7,000 range, with many running right around $5,000.
Now let’s talk about catering costs.
Your caterer provides a lot. Full-service catering includes food, beverages, and the bar; china, linens, flatware, glassware and other serviceware; tables and chairs, if the venue doesn’t provide them; and service staff, including waitstaff, bartenders, kitchen staff, and an event manager.
Catering fees are generally charged per person. The rates that caterers set are usually based on a 100-person event. That doesn’t mean that they don’t do events for less than 100 people! What it does mean is that the per person rate for your 50-guest wedding will be higher than it would be for your 100-guest wedding. That’s because the caterer has fixed costs that are included in every wedding, as well as a certain minimum number of staff that are required.
Caterers, like venues, are also stratified by price and quality. The variables are: the quality of the food itself; how that food is prepared; the presentation of the food on the plate, the plate and the other ware on the table, and the table itself; and the service staff. These four components vary widely, but tend to move up and down the price and quality scales as a unit. Moreover, price and quality also tend to track together. In wedding catering, you usually get what you pay for.
The two groups we defined for venues serves pretty well for caterers, too. Caterers in the first, production-oriented group typically charge in the $20 to $70 range per person. Caterers in the second, custom-oriented group, tend to start around $50 or $60 per person and go up from there, toward and beyond $100 per person. A lot of the catering I see at my wedding venue in Baltimore is in the $60 to $100 per person range.
Most venues and caterers are happy to explain their rates. Make a point of asking what is and what is not included, so your can make the best possible decisions about your wedding.
- David L. Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a wedding and event venue in downtown Baltimore. Visit Chasecourt.com, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook.