Friday, September 30, 2011

Venue In's & Out's #4 - Additional Charges

Our last installment in Venue In's & Out's  covers additional charges (check out 1 through 3 here, here and here).  While comparing venues, one of the most important tasks is making sure you are comparing "apples to apples" and have an accurate sense of how the bottom lines for each venue stack up.  While the price per person is the biggest line item, there are quite a few incidental fees that can really add up.  Because each venue structures their additional charges differently, it's important to create a budget comparing all charges, big and little, for each venue.  

Here's a short list of all the incidental charges to look for on your search:

Service Charge/Gratuity: most every full service venue will charge a service fee (which is subject to tax) or a gratuity (not taxable) that covers your staffing (and sometimes a few other items like linens or administrative fees).  I've seen service charge percentages range from 18% - 23% of the food & beverage price.  Let's start with a price of $150 per person.  18% service charge tacks on another $27, & 23% means another $34.50.  Take into account sales tax (New York's currently set at 8.875%), and that $150 quickly becomes $192.71 with an 18% service charge and $200.87 at a 23% rate.  Woah nelly.  

Valet Parking/Self Parking: Most notably in urban areas, parking is a big detail for your wedding.  While you want to make every effort to accommodate your guests, paying for parking in NYC can run you $40 a car, which doesn't even include valet.  Assuming even a quarter of your guests need parking, this averages out to another $10 per person for your total price per person. 

Ceremony Fee: In order to host your ceremony at the same venue as your reception, many places will charge you a ceremony fee (or room rental), something as nominal as a few hundred dollars to $2,500 depending on the venue.  While you may not be able to have this waived entirely, nothing is off the table when negotiating your final price, so it never hurts to ask for a reduction or modification of some sort.

Beverage Service - while nearly every menu you are presented will include "premium liquors", for some venues this means Absolut while at others it's Grey Goose.  If you have a "must have" liquor or wine or beer, a venue might charge you additionally, by the person or by the quantity, to supply you with it, which is never done at cost.  It's common knowledge that restaurants' largest profit margins come from alcohol sales, so expect to pay a hefty ticket price for nicer wines, beers, vodkas or, sometimes even to have champagne served at your wedding beyond the toast.  (Insider tip: your venue wants to make you and your family happy, so if you only drink Ketel One or your mom only drinks champagne, ask the venue if they can provide just you and your immediate family with your upgraded drinks of choice.  They are typically happy to oblige.  The same goes for that super fancy scotch your dad drinks - they may let your dad bring in his own bottle to serve him at the wedding if it's something so expensive that they can't just throw it in, and then you avoid paying a mark-up on something he's already got sitting in his bar at home.  Your dad will probably like the sound of "free").

Other Charges:
- coat check attendant: by the person, by the coat or by the attendant, this could be anywhere from $300-$600
- ladies' room attendant: usually charged by the attendant, you're looking at $150-$300
- cake cutting fee: some venues will charge you a flat fee or price per person to plate a cake from the outside.  Even at $2 a person, which is on the modest end, this turns into $400 for a 200 person wedding. 
- security guards: even if your guests aren't the wild type, some venues will require a security guard which typically averages out to $250 a guard.

It's amazing how quickly $250 can start to seem like chump change when you're talking about an overall budget of $30,000, $50,000 or $100,000, and you may begin to find yourself thinking "well, what's $250 in the grand scheme of things?". While each of these charges may seem like small potatoes when examined individually, just the small "other charges" listed above add up to $1,550.

My favorite "game" to play with wedding budgeting is to identify a single "splurge" item that you would love to have for your wedding but that doesn't exactly fit in your current list of expenses or that you think of as completely indulgent.  Maybe it's a videographer or a photo booth or a pair of Louboutin's.  Whatever it may be, keep the price for your splurge item at hand and use it as your litmus test when comparing venues, vendors and all your wedding expense options.  For example, if you would die for a pair of $1,200 Jimmy Choo's, then compare every expense or additional charge to those Choo's.  If you can save $1,500 by going with the venue that includes valet parking, then chaching, you just found $1,200 for your shoes with $300 to spare.  The coat check attendants listed above?  You're looking at half a pair of shoes (so, I guess that means one shoe).

Were you surprised by any extra charges you hadn't budgeted for at your venue?  If so, I'd love to hear...comment away!

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