An Insider’s Guide to Wedding Spend

Kelly Chandler explains the importance of finding out a couple’s budget

Do you feel you sometimes don’t quite get it spot-on for your wedding clients? Or are you not getting the right weddings for your venue, or not achieving enough revenue for your hard work? There may be numerous reasons for this but one I come across time and again is where a venue is not truly understanding the demands and needs of its couples and reflecting these in its offering.

While it’s certainly not all about pounds and pence, the level of spend on a wedding is a huge indicator of the style and requirements of clients, yet very few venues seem to know their overall wedding spend so can be doing a lot of guesswork. Venues need a better grip on what their couples are investing overall. There needs to be a much more open approach towards budgets and costs, and much more discussion about it. So, I’ll be sharing some facts and figures in this feature based on my considerable experience putting together hundreds of detailed event budgets for my independent planning clients at The Bespoke Wedding Company.

Wedding budgets calculator with small model of married couple
Pic: Getty Images

You might well ask, what is the point? Our venue hire is what it is and we leave the clients to plan their event details and extras, and set their overall budget accordingly. Why do we need to know their budget?

This might be partly true, but particularly if you offer a ‘blank canvas’ venue (with an element of ‘create your own wedding’ via marquee structures and more), you will find that budgets, size and scale of weddings will vary enormously, and it’s not always guest number related – I’ve planned weddings with bigger budgets for 40 than for 200. While a lot of places and spaces tend to attract a certain client with a certain budget, that is not always the case and I see venues that offer a bespoke approach right from the outset achieve a more luxury (and higher spending) client base as a result. This is worth thinking about before you fix yourself to a finite venue hire fee and keep your involvement set to that.

Matching to your dream team
By having some idea of a couple’s budget, you can direct them to the best suppliers at the most suitable price point to meet their needs, and this does reap its rewards for you as a venue. Couples are often very time short and your recommended supplier list can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. While some wedding professionals are able to adjust what they provide according to budget, there are quite a few companies who have minimums, appeal to a luxury budget or, on the flip side, are not geared up for jobs of a certain size or complexity. Be sure to ask your supplier partners for typical and guideline pricing for the sort of services a client would choose at your venue and see if you think it’s a good match.

There should still be choice so you need to have an interesting range of suppliers on your list. The smart money is on your team really knowing which company to recommend for which client.

Your suppliers will be a lot happier with the relationship if they are getting the ‘right’ enquiries coming their way and your couples will be much more satisfied and less anxious if they are seamlessly referred to the perfect suppliers that tick their boxes. Obviously, happy suppliers are good for you in that they are much more likely to support your marketing events, in-house team, social media efforts and more – this collaborative effort is hugely important in the wedding business these days. Happier, more content couples during the planning is also a big bonus; you’ll find them less demanding if they are being well served by the right wedding professional teams.

Looking for add-ons
The further added bonus of delving more into couples budgets is you’re able to look at gaps or products and services which are perhaps desirable but outside of budget. These could be items you look to bring into your venue offering either as a new, ‘included’ but highly coveted feature, or as a very popular paid-for add on that you can develop and delight your clients with.

Can we really ask a couple what their budget is so directly?
As an independent wedding planner working with couples right from the outset of their wedding planning and putting the puzzle together with and for them, the budget question flags up early on and is key to setting the framework of what we do. I won’t get started on a planning job before I have a pretty clear idea of what a couple intends to spend on their wedding.

Some people don’t understand this and I’m often reassured that “budget isn’t an issue” when they don’t wish to commit, but that is highly subjective. I’ve planned weddings with budgets of £25,000 and with £500,000; they require entirely different approaches right from the outset, entirely different teams of wedding professionals, levels of service, time and expertise. I have to have some idea before I start researching venues and more for them. I believe that this applies to you as a venue too, particularly if you are matching your couples to caterers, florists and so on. If a client really wants to get the best service from you, they need to share their vision with you and you need to put this point across in a friendly, professional way.

A lot of wedding couples are naturally inexperienced about the cost of a wedding so sometimes the approach I take is to give them example budgets of what things cost and provide them with guideline figures. While they still might not be able to give a definite budget we can narrow it down this way. It’s quite common as well for those at the luxury end of the market to take the view that they want to see what X gets them as they can extend their budget – in these cases I try to get parameters to proceed with. 

Clip art wedding budget
Pic: Getty Images

What is your average UK wedding budget?
Surveys do vary a little but one of the largest independent surveys I know and rate is conducted by Splendid Insights. Despite being a US consultancy, its 2016 survey was conducted from 328 couples (heterosexual and same sex) living in the UK. The 2016 survey revealed that:

  • 25% of couples spend up to £7,760
  • 51% of couples spend from £7,760-£23,280
  • 17% of couples spend from £23,280 to £73,722
  • 7% of couples spend from £73,822 or higher

Interesting stats I think. 

50% on venue hire and food/drink
The 50% rule is not a survey-based one but a formula that I’ve developed and applied over time with pretty much all clients I’ve worked with over more than 14 years in wedding planning. The optimum is where 50% of the wedding spend should go towards a combination of venue hire and food and drink. This allows a really balanced wedding celebration that has given thought, care and attention to all the different areas, without splurging in any area or running out of funds. Naturally this then leaves the remaining 50% for all other elements of the wedding planning for the day.

I use this as a very reliable rule of thumb for the calculation of all of my wedding budgets, no matter how big or small. So if a couple intends to spend £40,000 on their wedding day overall (note: day, not including honeymoon), then they should allow no more than £20,000 of the budget for venue hire and food and drink. This might be made up of around £8,000 for the venue hire and £12,000 for the catering, or something similar based on say £100 per head for 120 guests for food and drink.

Where the rest of the budget goes
You should be aware of just how much has to go into the remaining £20,000 – clothing for the bridal party, celebrant costs, flowers, stationery and paper goods, transport, the cake, photography and film, music and entertainment, production, décor, furnishings and possibly accommodation too.

I know that in some cases couples really stretch themselves to afford a venue and spend a big proportion of their budget on the location, leaving little for anything else. While this is their decision and not yours (why should you care, some might say?) over time you will find that your weddings become less attractive, lacking in detail, décor etc. due to budget shortages, and this can have a negative effect on the image that you’re able to portray and on the morale of the team delivering the weddings.

A smart business will have an eye on doing its best to attract weddings that are a good match to the style of the venue, as visually ‘wow’ as possible, remembering that galleries, film and images shown on social media are vitally important to keep ahead of the game and bring in more of what you want.

So what do other wedding services cost?
While every couple will make different choices (and may increase their budget slightly as the planning advances), as a general guide, for 120 guests on the £40,000 budget level, they would typically need to spend:

  • On Photography – from £2,500
  • On Flowers – from £2,500
  • On Live Music – from £2,500

With a £40,000 overall budget, we often find that there isn’t much room for the luxury extras, such as sophisticated production and hired furnishings, or a fully paid cash bar. A wedding film might be a luxury for the ‘very keen on film’ rather than a necessity for example.

How do you find out what your clients spend on their weddings overall?
While it’s more awkward for you as a venue to ask than for an independent planner, it can and should be done, particularly if you want to offer couples an in-house planning or co-ordination service and/or for the reasons already outlined.

Why not start with obtaining some general stats? For example by conducting surveys of your past clients, where you can add some budget questions in? You can then obtain your own venue-specific information on what your customers are spending alongside asking new clients what their budget expectations are so you can help match your suppliers to them.

I hope you’ve found this useful and I’d be keen to hear your thoughts and questions on wedding budgets. You can always email me at enquiries@kellychandlerconsulting.co.uk and I’ll do my best to answer each question.


Budgets and More

I talk a lot more about budgets, among other topics, in my group training sessions written especially for ambitious wedding venues – take a look here for Autumn 2017 dates www.kellychandlerconsulting.co.uk/consulting-services/group-training

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