Why an Outdoor Wedding May End Up Costing You MORE Than a Hotel Ballroom


The minute I walked through the Mediterranean house and on to the sprawling emerald green grass, I knew I was in trouble. On the edge of the lawn was a rocky cliff followed by the most gorgeous and expansive view of the Santa Barbara coastline. At that moment I said to myself, “I don’t care if I have to serve mac n’ cheese to my guests. I’m getting married here.”

Fast forward several months after booking that private home for my wedding, and suddenly, I was hit with the reality that outdoor weddings get expensive fast. The caterer had her list of rentals, and because there was no commercial kitchen onsite, we basically had to create an outdoor kitchen with rental equipment to cool, heat, warm and serve. There were water pitchers, forks, napkins, and salt shakers. Sure we saved money by purchasing our liquor for the bar at Costco, but when you have to order wine glasses, old fashions, tumblers and water goblets, the bar tab expands at a rapid rate.

As a first time bride, I hadn’t considered all the things that come along with an outdoor wedding. That expansive green lawn was both a blank canvas for ultimate personalization and creativity, AND a space that had to be filled with things to make eating and dancing possible. There were the basics like tables, chairs, and the dance floor. A lighting company and valet parking were required for safety. Heaters and umbrellas were needed for guest comfort.

I was fortunate to have family help with some of the costs of the wedding and received a generous industry discount from the rental company. But for many brides, the cost of hosting an outdoor wedding may overshadow the magic of the venue. If you’ve pushed aside the notion of a wedding at a hotel or event center assuming it’s more expensive, think again. Almost all the items that you’d need to rent for an outdoor venue are generally included with a hotel. They own tables, chairs, heaters and linen. They have commercial kitchens and lighting. Many also have outdoor space such as an event lawn, pool area or garden setting which you may not have considered.

If you are doing a side-by-side comparison of a hotel venue vs. an outdoor site, it’s important to make sure you are considering all the costs:

  • Catering – While you may be able to save money by choosing the caterer of your choice, the rentals they require will up their cost considerably. When you get a quote, ensure that staffing (also see below), the bar rentals, kitchen and everything required to serve a meal is included in the estimate. Always order 5-10% over your guest count for things like glassware, china, napkins and silverware.
  • Staffing & Service Charges – Staffing will usually be separate from the food cost with an outside caterer. Many catering companies indicate how many servers/kitchen staff/bar staff will be required and charge you an hourly fee per staff person. For a hotel, service is generally included in the menu price but they do have a “service charge.” This can range greatly from 15% all the way up to 30% and is often a taxable fee.
  • Restrooms – Are there restrooms at your outdoor venue and can they accommodate all your guests? You will need at least 2 restrooms/stalls per 100 guests. Restroom trailers can often be rented from your local trash company. Restrooms will be free at a hotel (unless they charge a restroom attendant fee).
  • Rentals – Beyond the catering requirements, you’ll need a dance floor, chairs (for both the ceremony and reception), heaters or umbrellas, and a whole slew of tables (dining, cake, guest book, gifts, escort cards, DJ/Band, bar & bar-backs) and linen to cover every table. Just be sure you have a full list of rentals from your florist and caterer before finalizing the costs. You’ll need to order 5-10% over on most items and be prepared to pay for broken & lost items (it ALWAYS happens!). When comparing with a hotel, get a full list of exactly what the hotel has onsite and what is included/not included in your wedding package. This varies greatly from hotel to hotel.
  • Timing & Delivery – If you are starting with an empty lawn, everything will need to be delivered to your site. Know exactly what your windows of time are to load items in and remove them after the wedding. If items have to be delivered and removed the day of the wedding, expect to pay for “timed” delivery fees (especially for after-hours pick-ups) and extra charges to deliver/pick up on a Saturday & Sundays. These additional fees can amount to hundreds of dollars on top of your rental order.
  • Lighting – For an outdoor wedding, entry/exit pathways will need to be lit to ensure the safety of your guests. You’ll probably require some general string lighting across your dining tables as well. There are wonderful things you can do with lighting to create warmth and ambiance as well. While lighting will likely already be in a hotel ballroom, some couples like to add on lighting such as uplighting, chandeliers or dance floor lighting. Some hotels require you to use their onsite lighting team, so check on this in advance.
  • Parking – Is there parking available at the outdoor venue or will valet be required? If you are getting married at a private home, consider that even if valet is not required your guests may be walking far distances down the street to get to their cars at night. If at a hotel, is self-parking an option or will you be charged for parking/valet for every guest?
  • Site/Set Up Fees – How much does the outdoor venue or hotel charge to use the space? Many hotels will waive their site fees if you book a full meal. Some hotels have a food and beverage minimum on Saturdays.
  • Music & Hours – Many cities have ordinances on what time amplified music must be turned off for outdoor venues. Some outdoor venues prohibit amplified music altogether and only allow acoustic. One of the benefits of a hotel is that music is often permitted to be played much later than outdoor venues.
  • Weather – It is important to have a backup plan for outdoor venues if the weather gets nasty. To keep your guests comfortable, keep in mind that umbrellas are needed for the heat, mushroom heaters for the cold, and tents for rain. All these items add up, but are a must for your guests. A hotel may own umbrellas and heaters and it’s good to know in advance how many they have and if there is a fee to use them. Tents generally always need to be rented from a rental company regardless of what venue you choose.

So before you fall in love with that romantic garden wedding, know exactly what’s involved. As you can see from the list above, there are all sorts of things you may not have considered when choosing between an outdoor wedding or hotel ballroom. Your costs will greatly depend on what your venue already has and what will need to be brought in. Now with tall that said, I’m certainly not trying to dissuade you from having an outdoor wedding. There is something magical about getting married outside and celebrating under the stars. I absolutely loved my outdoor wedding and would do it again in a heartbeat.

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Happy Planning!



Photo by Mike Arick Photography