Enjoy Dining and Entertaining
7 ways to cut costs when planning a big event
Chase Sapphire cardmembers recently received access to the Emmy Awards and Governors Ball. With thousands of high-profile guests, the events required meticulous planning from large teams. This video highlights the process of planning for the big events. And the following article explores how to plan for a big event—without breaking the bank.
Alexandra Sourbis began to plan her wedding long before her now-husband Justin proposed, in 2015.
"I knew I didn't want some perfectly manicured wedding," recalls the New York-based publicist. "I wanted an untouched wildness you can only find outside the city. Even before my engagement, I was looking for the perfect place."
When the couple tied the knot at Hudson Valley's Fox Mountain House, in 2016, the day was everything Sourbis had envisioned. They walked down the vintage rug-lined aisle to "A Fistful of Dollars" by Ennio Morricone, the groom's favorite composer, hung Shakespearian quotes in the venue's outdoor gazebo and feasted on cakes from a favorite Brooklyn bakery—all while staying within the couple's $40,000 budget.
Planning a wedding was easy for Sourbis, but that's not the case for everyone. Hosts need to make many small, seemingly insignificant, decisions that often result in sticker shock. "The biggest challenge was getting my family and future husband to wrap their heads around the event costs," Sourbis adds.
Whether it's a wedding, big corporate event or celebration for your parents' 50th anniversary, throwing a party is more expensive than ever before. The Knot, a media outlet that focuses on weddings, reported the average cost of a wedding increased by $2,688 since 2016, while some venues are charging up to $7,000 for children's birthday parties.
Knowing how to plan a party for 300 people or more will ultimately save you headaches and some money. Here are seven things every host should do when planning a big, yet cost-effective, event:
1. Plan months in advance
The early bird gets the worm, especially when it comes to throwing a party.
"If you book ahead, you can probably save thousands," says Greg Jenkins, founder and partner of Bravo Events. Jenkins, who spent over 25 years in the event planning business. He recommends planning six months in advance. "You're buying into the market's current rate. If you wait until the last minute and the market changes or you have to do rush orders, you're probably going to spend more."
2. Know when to hire a party planner
Should you hire a planner? Well, it depends.
Andrea Correale, founder of New York-based party planning and catering company Elegant Affairs, admits having your event at a full-service banquet hall or hotel is the most affordable option, but argues a planner will help you throw the party of the year.
"If you go to a catering hall, you pick 'Package A' and it's a fixed price per person," she explains. "But you're not going to get that something special to make your party pop. Your planner is paying attention to all those little details that make your party special."
Event planners can be expensive—some can cost up to $150 per hour. But if you want to make sure yours goes off without a hitch, it's money well spent.
3. Pick a day with care
Friday and Saturday nights are the most popular times to throw a party, but they're also the most expensive. If you want to cut costs and have a flexible schedule, think of a plan B.
"If you're planning a corporate holiday party, try a luncheon on a weekday because the venue is not at a premium," says Jenkins. "If you do it on a Friday or Saturday, dates are limited and the venues can sell their space at a premium."
As for the best time of year to throw a party? It depends on the location.
"There are price peaks and valleys in every geographical location, so you have to think about what you're looking for," he says.
You might want to reconsider that winter corporate retreat in Vail, Colorado, or summer wedding in Montauk, New York.
4. Consider a buffet
Unless you're planning to cook everything yourself, Correale recommends enlisting a caterer. But before you sign off on a three-course meal, you might want to rethink the traditional sit-down dinner.
Most people's eyes want that three-course meal more than their stomach, says Jenkins. He says that guests tend to be sated after a few bites, so by the time dessert is served, they'll be too full to dig into that hot fudge sundae.
"If you can set up food stations and serve them on smaller, seven-inch plates, you're controlling guests' consumption, so you won't have to do a reorder and go over budget," he says.
5. Ditch the open bar
Where there's a party, there's also a well-stocked bar. Most guests take full advantage of an open bar, but probably don't realize they're blowing the party budget.
Hosts aren't paying a flat fee for open bar services. Instead, they are charged for every drink ordered—including those half-consumed, top-shelf drinks abandoned near the dance floor.
"People are more wasteful when they're not paying for something, so that's conceivably a difference between $20 per person and $60 per person," Jenkins says.
To get the party started without completely depleting your bank account, he recommends giving guests a voucher for two drinks, and require them to pay for additional beverages.
6. Create an inviting atmosphere
Decorations are necessary to transform any venue into a party space, but they can get expensive. Correale estimates floral centerpieces can set you back at least $150 each. If you want to keep prices down, Jenkins recommends investing in lighting.
"If you can rent or buy wireless par [lights], you can transform the space just by lighting and avoid the props," he says.
Compared to spending thousands on balloons and banners, Jenkins estimates you can illuminate a space with 15 par lights, which cost as little as $30 each.
7. Forget the party favors
For years, goodie bags were expected at the end of each party. While a personalized sweatshirt or swag bag full of gift cards is a sweet way to remember the party long after last call, they're now superfluous.
"I believe that party favors are a thing of the past and an unnecessary expense," Correale says. "Most people opt to do without."
She estimates a party of 300 or more can save up to $6,000 by forgoing the favors.
Kelsey Mulvey is a Chase News contributor. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, The Wall Street Journal, and New York magazine, among other media outlets.