How to make a wedding that's less Vera Wang, more Beacon's Closet
September 8, 2010 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Can we have any semblance of a wedding in the NYC area when we're not rich? Do you know any dirt-cheap event spaces in Brooklyn or Queens that we can use to accommodate 75 people? Catering and decorating tips for the impoverished? We've got 13 months to plan, lots of motivation, but the piggy bank is low.

I wouldn't mind smuggling a bottle of Prosecco into city hall, but part of me gets wistful for the celebratory aspect of a wedding: wearing a fun dress and hanging out with our loved ones. Tulle and china plates need not be present, but the accomplished hostess in me simply dies when I think of how much fun it would be to have all our favorite people celebrate with us. Since 80% of our friends also live in NYC/Brooklyn, leaving them behind to have the wedding in cheaper areas is out of the question. Googling "cheap wedding nyc" turns up couples lamenting on message boards that they only have $15-20K to spend on a wedding. I'd cry if I spent $8000 on the Wedding Industrial Complex ($8000 is a year's worth of rent!), and I don't want to start our marriage off in piles debt. My bare bones requirements used to be a cool dress and an open bar, but even the latter is something like $5000.

Cost-cutting ideas thusfar, and please tell me if they're ludicrous and/or unfeasible:

-Holding wedding just outside NYC and busing friends to the event
-Doing my own make up and hair
-Baking wedding cupcakes
-Asking a talented friend to take our pictures
-Asking another talented friend to make the dress (I'll pay for supplies)/turning a cheap dress into a wedding dress
-Having a cocktail reception rather than a sit-down meal
-Having the dinner be a potluck affair (this seems extraordinarily tacky to me)
-Showing up at a large bar around 5pm, have everyone buy their own food and drinks from them, and call it a day

Yes, I have seen the $2000 wedding, which is helpful to a certain extent but wasn't held in the New York area.

I'd appreciate guidance for cheap event spaces, other ways to cut corners, and anecdata from your own inexpensive wedding in NYC or elsewhere.
posted by zoomorphic to Society & Culture (37 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Have you looked a really down-scale reception places, like an Elk's lodge? This place rents for $450 for 4 hours and lets you bring in food and alcohol, according to the comments. If you serve cold food that can be prepared before hand you can definitely keep it under 2000.
posted by fermezporte at 12:22 PM on September 8, 2010

-Doing my own make up and hair

Totally not ludicrous. It's downright normal for most of the weddings I've been to/in.

-Having a cocktail reception rather than a sit-down meal

Also not ludicrous.

-Asking another talented friend to make the dress (I'll pay for supplies)/turning a cheap dress into a wedding dress

Sure. Or just buy a dress you really like and call it a wedding dress. There's no requirement to buy an officially designated Wedding Dress.

-Having the dinner be a potluck affair (this seems extraordinarily tacky to me)
-Showing up at a large bar around 5pm, have everyone buy their own food and drinks from them, and call it a day

I vote no on both of these, although they are not what I'd call ludicrous. And the potluck thing is less "no" than taking over a bar, but I think it works better if it's a "let's get married in my parents' beautiful garden!" affair.

Another way to cut costs: cut back on your invite list. Does every one of those 75 people have to be there?
posted by rtha at 12:24 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You do not need to provide transport to the wedding, and it is perfectly reasonable to have it out in the burbs. However I can tell you first hand this might not be the cost savings you expect it to be unless you really get out there.

I think even with all these things I think you'll be hard pressed to do a wedding wedding for <8k for 75 people in a hall unless your only cash costs were the hall and the booze.

Your best bet is to ask a friend with a house to host it.

All of your other ideas are utterly reasonable. I got married in NYC, but uh, yeah. Not inexpensive.
posted by JPD at 12:25 PM on September 8, 2010

We planned our wedding adhering to the Miss Manners' school. Regarding the reception, there's some quote in the wedding book (a truly delightful read, I highly suggest picking it up) that says, if you can't afford champagne, serve punch, if you can't afford punch, serve water, but do it with class. Seriously, I love her, you have GOT TO read this book. I'd lend you my copy but I love it too much.

As for a lot of the other things, those are entirely up to you. I hope it is freeing to you to know that nobody cares about your dress, your makeup, your pictures, in that pretty much no matter what you do, everyone will think you are the most beautiful bride ever and cry buckets. You can do whatever you want! Hurray!

Feel free to e-mail if you need help with anything! I like to make things happen.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:29 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest looking into large-ish outer-borough restaurants as a venue. Many of them will close for the night for a private event. You could choose one near city hall if you want to have your ceremony performed there, or you could find a restaurant that has room to do the entire wedding all in one place.

A couple of good friends of mine were married at a Greek restaurant in Astoria. They had the ceremony there, which went really well; the food was great, as it was a restaurant they already loved; and it was only a few blocks away from both the subway and their house, so it was easy for them AND their guests.

Certainly worth calling around to get some quotes!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:30 PM on September 8, 2010

How much CAN you spend? Can you give some kind of figure? That's the MOST IMPORTANT THING about planning a wedding. It doesn't matter what you can afford, as long as you set up a budget and think about what you WANT vs. what you can AFFORD right from the start. You should know immediately what you are willing to sacrifice/DIY and what you must have/do. That way you'll know how to allot your funds.

My fiance and I are planning a wedding for next March.

Things we did on the cheap:

-We made our own save the date cards
-We are going through etsy for lots of other things (like invitations, decorations, and accessories)
-We are getting a friend to play florist instead of paying for a professional (we are doing something simple)
-We are skipping the cake altogether and just getting two cupcakes for us (and providing dessert for guests)
-We are hosting the whole shebang at a restaurant so we can avoid venue rentals for both ceremony AND reception, plus catering costs
-We are setting a fairly low budget for our attire (my dress was only $300, but I could have gone cheaper)
-We are hiring a jazz band from a local university where my future hubby is an alumnus

Things we spent a lot on, because there were important:

-Hair/Makeup for me

From the start, unless you have a friend/family member with a big house, odds are that you'll either need to cut down that guest list BIG TIME or find a restaurant/venue and/or caterer to help.
posted by two lights above the sea at 12:31 PM on September 8, 2010

(oh! And it's worth mentioning that said friends were operating on a fairly tight budget.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:31 PM on September 8, 2010

Also, has a great budget resource for that. You put in your budget, it'll give you approximate ratios on how other people spend, and it'll also let you change figures to what you want to spend.
posted by two lights above the sea at 12:35 PM on September 8, 2010

As you have identified, space is really the killer in NYC. If you can control your own space, you can control your own catering and booze, and thus dramatically cut your costs. (There are a lot of NYC spaces that will only rent to you if you use their approved caterers, which start at $75 per head, absolute minimum.)

We rented a loft, did not tell them it was for a wedding or that we were shoving 100 people into it, hired the deli downstairs to cater, ate wedding cupcakes, and served wine and beer only - and did it for a reasonable amount of money. However, we did not do it in NYC because we could not find the space.

If you can beg, borrow or steal a warehouse, open plan office, loft, garden, park or rooftop, that will make this possible in a way it may not be otherwise. 2000/75 is $26 a head, which is really tight but doable if it doesn't have to include space rental costs.

Other ideas: I got my wedding dress, made to my measurements in my fabric and color choice, on Ebay for $150 including delivery. It was lovely. I did my own flowers, bought wholesale and stuck in IKEA vases with pebbles. I bought dozens and dozens of un-frosted cupcakes from a local bakery for pennies each; my sister frosted them enormously. We decorated each one with a model railway bride and groom for 25 cents each! I bought paper umbrellas and lanterns at Oriental Trading and we decorated with those. I made all of our invitations, and I'm not sure I saved money - good paper is expensive - but I enjoyed it and it was fun for me.

Most importantly, we spread out the expenses - I bought invitation supplies really early, we had our decorating stuff and favours six months in advance,we bought booze in advance and delayed delivery, and the run up to the wedding itself was not more than we could financially manage. I highly recommend DIY on a long-term project basis to cut costs with minimal stress.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:37 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Elks lodge or a restaurant sound like good options. The key to doing it cheaply, even with a restaurant, is making sure you can bring your own alcohol and not have them charge you for whatever the guests order.

You should think about what you want to have for your guests, and knowing you guys a little bit, I would guess that your priorities are 1) drinks 2)music 3)food.
So if you want to provide drinks, get a place that will let you bring your own and then buy cases of wine from Trader Joes and a bunch of whiskey from a restaurant supply store and just have those be the only options.

Get a friend to DJ and have your friends make you wedding mix cds as presents for the bachelorette and give them to your DJ friend to switch between at the party.

Food is the hardest things because it can get so pricey and as soon as you have one thing you start thinking about all the other things you should have and the options for the vegetarians, diabetics etc... My vote is that you order a bunch of pizzas and have them delivered to the venue. You could also make a variety of cold salads a while in advance, like pasta salad or bean salad. Another option is to just make it a drinking thing and get those huge bags of popcorn or peanuts and let people get wasted with some snacks.

TL;DR: Make a budget, prioritize what you want to have, get friends to help you in fun ways.
posted by rmless at 12:44 PM on September 8, 2010

-Showing up at a large bar around 5pm, have everyone buy their own food and drinks from them, and call it a day

Doesn't it always seem like when we are playing a meetup in NYC, the bar is booked for a wedding?
posted by smackfu at 12:48 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Subway access is important. Don't go to the suburbs.

Some affordable places that my wife and I looked at three years ago were:
-art galleries - galapagos in Dumbo and a few others
-community centers with gyms - the community center in Forest Hills Gardens is amazing, but you have to know someone who lives in the neighborhood.
-The light-ship fryingpan - I dont know what they charge, but it is a cool place
-The queens farm museum - really beautiful, but not subway accessable
-The brooklyn Botanical garden allows small ceremonies for free before 11:00 am. You could have a picnic party in prospect park afterwards...unless it rains (tents are expensive).
-If you can do things a little bit more last minute, you may be able to rent out an empty store front.

When looking at venues, tell them it is for an anniversary party, not a wedding.
Many venues will allow you to put a one day rider on someone's homeowners insurance to cover the risk of serving alcohol without an insured caterer.

Food is always going to be overpriced, but caterers are the worst. If you can swing some kind of take-out spread on disposable plates, you will save a lot of money.

We had friends take the photos, print the invitations, make the rings, and DJ. Food and location are the hardest parts. Once you figure them out, everything else is much easier.

Mazel tov on your engagement.
posted by abirae at 1:12 PM on September 8, 2010

The Kvetch forums at IndieBride can be helpful too. Don't get embroiled in anyone's drama there - just read the interesting threads on ideas for dresses, decorations, invitations, attire, etc.
posted by barnone at 1:24 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy the blog 100 Layer Cake.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:25 PM on September 8, 2010

-Holding wedding just outside NYC and busing friends to the event
-Doing my own make up and hair
-Baking wedding cupcakes
-Asking a talented friend to take our pictures
-Asking another talented friend to make the dress (I'll pay for supplies)/turning a cheap dress into a wedding dress
-Having a cocktail reception rather than a sit-down meal
-Having the dinner be a potluck affair (this seems extraordinarily tacky to me)
-Showing up at a large bar around 5pm, have everyone buy their own food and drinks from them, and call it a day

Our wedding was a lot like this. We had it at my mother's house (in NJ, though all the guests invited from NYC made it there without a problem--hooray for NJ Transit!), had a local Turkish restaurant do buffet-style catering, had my sister bake cupcakes, had a friend perform the wedding, had another friend play the guitar, bought two cases of two buck Chuck for the alcohol (though his dad showed up with more booze), had a friend take pictures. In place of a band, we had an ipod+hula hoops+board games purchased from a thrift store. A friend of mine generously offered to make my bouquet, and I bought a brown J. Crew dress for $80 from a catalog reseller, in place of white frou frouness. The most expensive things were our rings ($400--we got them custom done from an etsy seller), the table and chair rental ($800) and the party favors (we bought wholesale mugs and stuffed them with packets of tea and instant cider, and had hot water available at the wedding), which were around $100 total, but worth it since every single one was taken. Our wedding was a bit smaller than yours--50 people--but it cost us less than $2500.

(Other cost-cutters: we skipped saved-the-dates [I may have sent out an email]; I designed, printed and mailed our own invitations; instead of renting a tent, I found one on amazon for like a hundred bucks; we bought his suit on overstock)

I'd highly recommend, if you haven't already looked it up, and I also second the suggestion to decide on your budget first. You easily get roped into spending lots of money if you have no price point in mind. Something that was useful for us was thinking of it as a big party, with a ceremony tacked on the front, rather than a "wedding." "A glorified BBQ" was what my husband called it. That being said, it was perfect--and really memorable, not only for us but (if their crowing is to be believed) the guests as well. Our emphasis was making it laid back and fun, which is precisely what it was.

Also, yay for October weddings! Feel free to email me if you have any questions. I loved planning my cheesy, fun wedding.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:29 PM on September 8, 2010

Talk to Talented Friends (TF).
Our wedding (held in Seattle almost 18 years ago) cost less than $3K; but we:
- Had a TF do my hair (a professional)
- Had a TF make the cake (former wedding cake pro)
- Had a TF do the music (both during ceremony and after - we hired a live band (more TF's) and they gave the 'friends' rate, we also let them eat/drink)
- Had a TF do the catering (newbie to catering, so reduced rate), but we bought many of the ingredients/raw materials at Costco).
- Served only beer and wine, with enough champagne for a toast.

Focus on the event being fun, not perfect and you'll be fine.
posted by dbmcd at 1:30 PM on September 8, 2010

Also look into knightas of columbus halls . A lot of them can hold more then 75 people. Some of them Are very nice inside.
posted by majortom1981 at 1:35 PM on September 8, 2010

I was in a lovely wedding in Brooklyn earlier this year at the Brooklyn Historical Society. They have a really nice, big space with high ceilings, and the bride brought in her own caterer, as I recall--perhaps it might work for you?
posted by Lycaste at 1:44 PM on September 8, 2010

-Showing up at a large bar around 5pm, have everyone buy their own food and drinks from them, and call it a day

Doesn't it always seem like when we are playing a meetup in NYC, the bar is booked for a wedding?

Yeah, but that's definitely something to organize with the bar well in advance. I have no firsthand experience with any of this, but there are lots of bars in NYC that will let people do private parties. You'd want to call around. You can't just "show up" with 75 wedding guests as if you were bar hopping with a bunch of friends. Also, what about the under-21 guests?

As to the cash bar idea ... The aforementioned Miss Manners prints a letter (Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, pg. 427-8) from a reader who's been invited to a wedding and found out there are going to be 150 guests and a cash bar. The reader wants to know if this is within the bounds of etiquette. Miss Manners responds: "selling drinks is disgusting." Sorry. I'd say the potluck is out too (not to mention a huge logistical hassle -- cajoling people to make the right type of food, and gathering and storing it all on the wedding day).

If you have to invite fewer than 75 people to be able to provide food and drinks, I'd do it. When you list your family members and close friends, do you really have an average of 37.5 each? Well, then how about just extraordinarily close friends?
posted by John Cohen at 1:45 PM on September 8, 2010

I'd say the potluck is out too (not to mention a huge logistical hassle -- cajoling people to make the right type of food, and gathering and storing it all on the wedding day).

Actually, for what it's worth, we had a decent number of guests offer to bring dishes. Keep in mind that it's not tacky if the generosity is offered, rather than asked-for.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:07 PM on September 8, 2010

The key to having an affordable NYC wedding is to let go of the stupid arbitrary traditions that get exorbitantly priced. We had our ceremony in Madison Square Park; the license to hold the wedding there was twenty bucks. We had the reception at the top-floor party space that a friend had access to in his building; We gave him an iPod to say thanks. Transport from the wedding to reception was via subway, except I put our parents in taxis.

Our big expense overall was in food for the reception, but even that was essentially small passed food -- we knew our friends would want to use a chance to go out to dinner together afterwards, and we went out to a nice small family dinner after.

My wife's dress was beautiful, and it was less than $100. A friend did an awesome job of photographing, with a very kind discount as a wedding gift. At the end of the day, my face hurt from smiling and laughing so much. Enjoy your wedding, and revel in not starting your marriage with tons of debt or waste.
posted by anildash at 2:28 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you don't mind shipping people upstate about an hour, check into the Village of Cold Spring. It's a picturesque little town on the Hudson that is ridiculously amazing in the Fall. In addition, the train will drop guests off right there, downtown in the middle of the village. Easy.

I'm pretty sure you can find a talented close friend to do *most* of what you need— hair, make-up, music, food, stuff envelopes, arrange flowers, photography, etc. Jeez, I mean, I did make-up for all the gals and sang at a wedding a few years back, and called it my wedding present to the couple. Much sweeter and personalized than throwing a pair of salad tongs their way.

But seriously— these people are here to celebrate with you, not because of you. Just enjoy and have fun.
posted by functionequalsform at 2:40 PM on September 8, 2010

Ask your friends to help you do things. (Seriously. I am volunteering.)

And anildash is right: weddings in the park can be really cheap.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:48 PM on September 8, 2010

Actually, for what it's worth, we had a decent number of guests offer to bring dishes. Keep in mind that it's not tacky if the generosity is offered, rather than asked-for.

But I don't think that's what the OP is asking about. She's asking whether to have a 75-person potluck to cut costs. Answer: no, that's tacky and too much of a burden on the guests. It's asking enough of them to travel to your wedding and show up dressed appropriately. Not everyone lives in NYC -- they're likely to arrive in town very shortly before the wedding with no time or energy to cook something first. Even if 5 people volunteered to bring something and you let them (which I would not do), you'd still basically need to budget things on the assumption that you had to feed everyone as if no one brought their own dish.
posted by John Cohen at 2:59 PM on September 8, 2010

Response by poster: It's asking enough of them to travel to your wedding and show up dressed appropriately. Not everyone lives in NYC -- they're likely to arrive in town very shortly before the wedding with no time or energy to cook something first.

Of course, I'd never ask the out-of-town guests to bring potluck dishes. I'm not even seriously considering a potluck; it's just not my style, though I wouldn't be put off if a local friend asked me to do something similar. I have been to exactly two weddings in which I was not the flower girl, so I don't know what's normal and what's totally alien.

I love many of the suggestions so far, especially getting whiskey from a restaurant supply store and buying things over the course of the year so we're not slammed with costs near the end. I just looked into prices at BAM and was surprised by the low-ish cost for a reception that includes cocktails/bartending, sound system, and furniture.

Thanks again for all your input! Keep the suggestions coming.
posted by zoomorphic at 4:02 PM on September 8, 2010

Well, based on the recent vitriol that seeped out in another AskMe about single people having a +1, make it EXTREMELY CLEAR on your invites whether or not single people can bring guests.

It's funny; 75 people in a room is an odd number, but god forbid you invite one single friend and they can't bring a total stranger or random friend as a date, apparently, so you'd better plan to only invite 74.

If you think your single friends will be offended by not being allowed to bring a guest, don't invite them or, if you are inviting them, speak to them about your budget issues beforehand and make it clear how important it is to you that they attend personally, but you cannot pay for or fit another person into the space. (I fully expect people to eviscerate me on this, but hey, I've been attending or serving in 1-5 weddings per year since I was 11 and I'm 38 now. Not everybody has parents who can pay for stuff and lots of single people have no idea how much weddings cost... my own folks sprang 3 grand for my sister to marry, which was done at a local church with no food, photos, music, video, dancing, alcohol or favors and no honeymoon.)

Things I'd suggest:

- Start with the absolute basic cost: marriage certificate, honeymoon (if you want one), officiant, preferred date, dress/suit, wedding bands, and anything else that will break your heart if you don't have it; that is your starting budget. Guests, location, everything else is extra; budget in order of importance to you and your fiance

- Ceremony in public park - lots of places will allow this; try checking other places off-season, during a week night, or on Sundays (weather permitting)

- Have a friend get the paperwork and act as your officiant - many ministers/churches can charge up to $600 or more for the ceremony

- Set out your budget and break each item down by deadline (when you need to have it finished) and cost; pay for 1-2 items each paycheck

- Have no official attendants for the bride or groom, but ask everyone to wear your preferred wedding color or colors instead as a group show of unity

- forgo flowers for paper origami versions you fold yourself over the coming months

- ask cosmetology schools if anyone needs a hair model for things like updos or blowouts the day of or before your wedding for cheap or free hairstyling

- find a makeup brand you like doing makeovers the day of and have your look done free, if you think you can deal with that option

- invite family only and meet your friends for the reception/after party at a local restaurant or venue where everyone pays their own bill (tacky, I know, but friends hate to be left out, and family will feel slighted if not prioritized above friends)

- webcast the wedding ceremony itself from, say, the JP's office, then dash to meet family and friends at a follow-up location similar to my above point that's cost-friendlier

- ask each friend who is capable of doing something for the wedding - buy alcohol, cook, bake, sew, do graphic design, etc. - to do that task as a wedding present

Finally, I'd suggest Etsy as a great source for finding cool, cheap, non-traditional wedding items.

I feel your pain. My fiance has a very large family that live across the US and in a foreign country and we are trying to make everyone happy within our budget, which became a bit trickier since both my parents were laid off from their jobs two months after we started planning things and had already booked a location. Basically we have 100 people who are family that must come or be insulted forever, and 70-100 friends between us that can't understand why we're not inviting everybody.

Whatever you decide to do, make a plan and stick to it and don't let others try to control or take over things unless you specifically ask them for help. Letting a bunch of offended, hurt people force you into doing things you can't afford or don't want to do should not overshadow the fact that you're getting married.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:02 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

One option for a cheap wedding, even if not in the city, is to to rent a scout camp or similar venue outside the city. I have no idea how much it would cost, or if they even let you. It is great if you can get it to work though- everyone can stay over for the weekend in bunk beds, food and drink can be fixed cheaply there. I've been to a couple of such whole weekend events in Sweden - both non-traditional and dirt cheap, and absolutely amazing!

Another idea is Indian food. You should be able to negotiate a very reasonable price for a couple of currys, rice, and nan. It keep warm for hours without getting bad. I've done it a couple of times for very large groups and it has worked very well.
posted by brorfred at 5:03 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Additional suggestions: most places make you rent the chairs or seating. If you have an outdoor ceremony in a park, this is one less expense.

See if your office or a friend has access to paper or card stock at a discount for paper invites.

Order your postage online if you mail the invites and get the "forever" stamps - not as cute as "love" or whatever, but the cost won't change between now and the ceremony.

Get a heart die-cut stamper from a craft store and use it to make heart-shaped confetti to throw at the ceremony instead of bird seed bags, bubbles or other BS you don't care about/want to pay for.

Have a friend with a cool car drive you away from the ceremony instead of renting a limo or taking a hired car.

See if friends who live in a desirable city are vacationing next year and borrow their place for your honeymoon instead of paying for a hotel or B&B in addition to traveling expenses. (Again, I'm sure people will hate this idea - I've done home shares with friends who wanted to visit family right when I wanted to go to, say, San Fran and it was great.)
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 5:14 PM on September 8, 2010

Since everybody is (correctly) turning to Miss Manners for authority on these dilemmas, it is worth noting that she disapproves of cutting your guest list for financial reasons. You first figure out who you would like to invite to share this happy ritual with you. You then figure out what you can afford to do with them.

In other words, don't listen to the people telling you to dump half of your friends.
posted by willbaude at 6:26 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I went to an awesome wedding Saturday at The Invisible Dog in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn (link). The space was huge, loft-ish, and fit 100 or so people comfortably at long picnic style tables, with a dance floor/ceremony area.

The couple has a fashion and design background and is pretty DIY, so it was low-key and very personalized and a ton of fun. There was some wine and beer reception time before the ceremony, which a friend of theirs officiated, and they had another friend's friend DJing and another as a photographer.

The food was really good and I don't think it was that expensive - 4 caterers, mostly on wine/beer refilling and plate clearing duty and refilling water pitchers. There was a buffet dinner, self-serve, which was delicious. All the plates were mis-matches, probably Goodwill finds, and the glassware was from Ikea. Apparently it was much cheaper than rentals, and now they are SET for pint glasses. It was really great! The space was key - it had that kind of loft/barn feel that really set the stage for the whole wedding/reception. I loved that it was so convenient - a quick walk from their place and a subway ride away for most of their guests.
posted by foodmapper at 6:39 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why don't you get married at City Hall, which is wonderfully romantic, and then have a reception at someplace in Chinatown?
Everyone can take your pictures. Buy a cute dress that you'll wear again, and some nice shoes. Have a friend bake a cake.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:52 PM on September 8, 2010

I was in a wedding at Housing Works bookstore and it was really lovely - they had the reception there too. I don't remember the exact cost but I do recall that it was surprisingly reasonable. They had it catered with appetizers and cupcakes and it was super fun.
posted by lunasol at 10:41 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

lunasol: I was in a wedding at Housing Works bookstore and it was really lovely - they had the reception there too. I don't remember the exact cost but I do recall that it was surprisingly reasonable. They had it catered with appetizers and cupcakes and it was super fun.

Dude, if I could do that, I'd seriously consider getting married again. That seems like an ideal kind of solution. One of the reasons I like that idea so much is that having gone through this twice* now, I can tell you that when you DIY your wedding, you have to worry about everything leading up to the day and everything on it: rentals, food, booze, ice, sound systems, coat room provisions, everything.

If it is possible to do it in your budget in a) an established venue that b) has house catering and c) will provision and serve food and drinks for you, that leaves you to make some nice decisions (feta or aubergines? what kind of flowers?) while freeing you of a lot of responsibility for execution on a day you really want to be free to enjoy.

*To the same person, I hasten to add.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:44 AM on September 9, 2010

My good friends recently had a wedding in NYC for fairly cheap. Here's how they did it.
-They had it at the Nest Event Loft, which is not dirt cheap but is a gorgeous, amazing, subway-accessible space, and comes all decorated so you don't have to spend anything else on decor or flowers or anything
-Self-catering, which means that they asked a few of us who lived in the city very nicely to make large dishes for a kind of buffet cocktail hour (and paid for our groceries to make them), and then they bought a ton of cheese and crackers and baby carrots and other snacks at Trader Joe's
-Nest lets you bring your own alcohol (though you do have to hire a bartender) so they just bought lots beer and wine and brought it to the space
-DIY and Talented Friends for everything else -- invitations, hair and makeup, photography, performing the ceremony, iPod DJ mix.

One thing that my friends did that I wish I had done at my DIY wedding was ask a Talented Friend to be a day-of coordinator, who was the one to make sure more cheese and crackers got put out, that the guest book was open, etc. There are just a lot more balls to keep in the air when you are DIYing everything, and you want to be able to relax and enjoy your day if possible.

It will still cost more than you think, and be much more stressful than you think. But it was a great party. I also like the idea of having the wedding in a park and then going to a bar or restaurant for the reception, and something like a Chinatown banquet or Indian buffet shouldn't be too expensive per person.

I personally am of the opinion that the guests shouldn't ever have to pay their own way, however, so I would say either plan a reception that you can afford or go the city hall route.
posted by EmilyFlew at 8:18 AM on September 9, 2010

Sorry I don't have any NYC-specific advice, just general things to keep in mind (I got married last fall so it's fresh in my mind, what seemed to work well and what didn't).

When a friend of mine got married a few years ago with a similar guest list size, she ended up doing the food herself, but without actually cooking--she did a lot of organized planning and went to Costco and other similar spots around town ahead of time, getting hors d'ouevre-y things for platters, and assembling herself at the venue. This of course involves a lot of time and work on your part, so if you don't see yourself wanting to do this you might want to consider if there's anyone in your life who'd be up for it as a gift to you. I have to say the food was excellent and aside from her and her family buzzing around the site kitchen to replenish things once in a while, it didn't feel unusual at ALL. A lot of that has to do with presentation and what kind of food taste you have to begin with. She has phyllo mushroom tarts, bits of sushi, lots of cheese and fresh fruit, different herb breads, petit fours, standard sandwich cold cut platter, and a chocolate fountain (not sure where she acquired that or the details). She also DIYed the booze; it was another friend's wedding gift to the couple to be the bartender. If you find the potluck route too tacky or weird, you might want to consider something similar, especially if you have broke/unemployed but enthusiastic friends, it's a semi-graceful way to help them not sweat gift giving (not that they NEED to give gifts anyway of course, but you know what I mean...if you're worried they might stress a little about that part). This sort of "have friends help you with a nontraditional but still fleshed out event in lieu of gift stuff" seems to be a popular tactic, we employed it ourselves (I was a little uneasy throwing the idea out there, but my husband thought his bandmates would enjoy playing our wedding, and lo, they did).

The other thing to keep in mind is overall general costs vary a ton, where things could possibly be allotted, and to keep that in mind, the hidden costs with various approaches. I'm not describing myself very clearly here, but what I mean is like, it might be worth it to do the legwork to find a venue that is flexible in certain ways so you can cheap out in other areas, or vice versa depending. So for example, maybe you get a really great deal on some venue, but then you find out they force you to use entirely their staff at their prices, or they won't let in a DIY band or will charge you to bring in that equipment, or will only let you use fancypants caterers, or their tables and chairs, and have bullshit cake-cutting fees, whatever. It might be worth it to save money on food, service, music, decorations, and table rental by choosing a more flexible venue and DIYing, or it might not. You'd have to do up balance sheets for each possible iteration with ALL costs, hidden ones too, to know. It's probably worth it to. And it works the other way too--another friend of mine tried to save money by doing her wedding in her backyard, but it was a big enough party she still wound up having to rent tables, chairs, tents, etc. and she actually didn't save much, and it limited her in ways she didn't like to boot. I figured out my venue very carefully after much painstaking weighing of pros and cons, and it meant it wasn't the most gorgeous or coolpoints space on my list, aaand it seemed like more money upfront, BUT then I saved a ton on everything else because it was so flexible, and so much was included in that one single bill (no hidden costs, it included the stage/amp set up, clean up, bar and service, tables, chairs, and the decor of the place was fine without any additional stuff like big flowers or colorful things). It really depends on how you match all the puzzle pieces, and your own proclivities regarding which things you wouldn't mind DIYing and having more control over and which would just be a pain in the ass distraction from the day for you.

If you'll have the time, definitely make your invites yourself. It's not really that hard provided you give yourself the time, and everyone I know who's done their own honestly had better, more memorable ones. Not that invites really matter, but if you're at all crafty/arty they're weirdly fun.

Definitely an iPod DJ over a rented one. So easy, and so much better (no cheesy annoying generic crap).

If your wedding's at night and someplace dark like ours was, you might want to consider making sure whoever takes the "to last" photos takes some of you two and your family much earlier in the day, out and about town or wherever you are, while the light's good. It is really hard to take good wedding photos in dim lighting. Plus then you can just enjoy the event and not pose all night and worry you haven't gotten enough pics yet.

Consider killing a buncha birds with one stone as much as possible. Example: have your decorations or centerpieces, if you choose to do any, serve in part as favors, or even dessert (the "non-frou cakes or dessert platters at the center of each table" thing has been done a lot in my circle of friends, but it doesn't really get old because it's still a brilliant idea). It's been mentioned on AskMe before, by others too, but we did used books as centerpieces and then guests took them home as favors. Bonus, that involves a weekend at used book stores together picking them out, which is fun. So decorations AND favors were on the order of $30 for 8 tables or something, provided you go someplace where used books are around 0.50 each.

If you don't have a wedding party so much as 1 or 2 super close family member/friends-thing as your right hand people that day, you'll save your friends money and yourself (no need to give 5-10 people pricey generic thank you gifts).

If you see an idea early on on etsy you love--a kickass hairpiece or tiara or veil or whatever--you can often figure out how to do it yourself, if you have the time and inclination. A lot of that really pretty quirky wedding-y accessory stuff is overpriced but can give you good ideas.

And if fresh flowers seem daunting and expensive to you, consider paper ones or other non-temporary decorations. This might sound tacky, but we went that route and a plus was all of those bouquets are scattered throughout our apartment now lookin' pretty and making me smile whenever I look at them, as they remind me of that day. If you have quirky non-frou taste, the decorations you pick or make probably can be used as home decor afterward, if that's any comfort in terms of spending money.
posted by ifjuly at 8:51 AM on September 9, 2010

Utilizing your talented friends is definitely a way to save money, but definitely make sure that it is a gift freely given. I'm probably cautioning you against something that isn't a problem, but remember that if you have a friend that is a wedding photographer/florist/dress maker, that's what they do for a living/for their own personal amusement, and it's rude to decide for them what sort of gift you will be receiving. This is especially important if you are asking someone who has been asked repeatedly for wedding related favors, or someone that is a more distant friend/acquaintance. Having friends do things for free also means you will lose a lot of the control you would have if you were paying for the same service. I'm not at all suggesting that you don't use your friends, but just reminding anyone reading this to be reasonable and respectful.
posted by fermezporte at 10:47 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

We did it for $12K for 75 people in 2005 (exactly 5 years ago tomorrow!) in Park Slope. We were convinced we couldn't pull it off, but luck and an excellent wedding planner made it happen.

-I did my own makeup (but I got great makeup and practiced applying it for weeks), and got my hair updone at a cheapie salon.
-Our DJ was a friend.
-We had the invitations professionally designed, but then printed and assembled them ourselves
-I got my dress off of ebay for $200. I had a short-list of dream dresses that I wanted, and one of them happened to be on eBay. The woman I bought it from had bought it and changed her mind, so it was new-in-box. I had to get it altered slightly, but the total cost was nowhere near the price of the original dress. That was awesome, but the rest was even more awesome!

When I was first out shopping for dresses, I had gone to a small bridal salon in Prospect Heights (since gone out of business). The owner knew a woman who runs a small business as a party planner (pm me for info if you'd like). Her fee took up a large part of our budget, but she knew how to take the rest of that money and WORK IT. She contacted furniture rentals, dragged me to the flower district to make selections, and she negotiated prices.

The planner did tons of research and set up meetings with various restaurants/event spaces. We ended up renting Bistro St. Marks (which is now The Flatbush Farm and Bar). We rented the bar side--the place had tons of character and the owner gave us an great price on the space, food, and drinks. We invited family and close friends for the ceremony in their rear garden and a sit-down dinner in the back of the space. After the meal, we had the rest of our friends come and opened the whole bar with passed hors d'oeuvres for several hours. The wedding was PERFECT. The space looked great, the food was amazing, and people still talk about its greatness to this day. (Bistro St. Marks went out of business several months later, so I assume that was why the price was so nice, but you take gifts when you get them...)

All this to say that Brooklyn is full of talented people who will help you for surprisingly affordable amounts, and that they're much easier to find once you've started taking your search to the streets. Doing things like talking to boutique owners and picking up flyers from sewing stores will steer you to the people who you can afford. (Because if someone can afford a big promotional budget, you can't afford them.) You're also less likely to get a cookie-cutter "wedding experience" that way.

The one thing I regret is not hiring a professional wedding photographer. Though we hired a friend who is a professional photographer, she hadn't had experiences with weddings and the photos were really disappointing. So if I were going to reallocate funds for anything, it would be that.

And you guys have the advantage of time. (I procrastinated that thing into a 6-month blitz.) Just treat it like you're planning a big party (in fact, some of your vendors don't need to know exactly what it is you're celebrating *wink wink*) and don't get discouraged. It can be done!
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 2:18 PM on September 9, 2010

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