Strategies for a fun, affordable large wedding in the midwest?
October 23, 2016 6:53 PM   Subscribe

We want to throw a party for about 300 people that happens to begin with a wedding ceremony. What are some nontraditional / outside-the-wedding-industrial-complex strategies for creating a meaningful, festive, family-centered, and cost-conscious celebration event for such a large group? We're in St. Louis, Missouri but are very interested in general strategies and examples from other regions that may not be as commonly known here, as well as St. Louis-specific advice. Help!

We can't shrink our guest list without eloping or estranging our relatives. (Not gonna happen, so please don't suggest it. :) And honestly, we're really excited to share the day with our friends and huge families. We'd love to do a relaxed, festive, kid-friendly party somewhere that gives us both indoor AND outdoor spaces to work with. Something along the lines of a backyard lawn party, although it doesn't have to be that. We're hoping to avoid a traditional windowless banquet hall but we do want our guests to have access to a climate-controlled environment. (Especially for our older guests.)

If we only had 50 or 100 people, we could easily do this at home but 300 is just way too many to fit. Local park pavilions and nearby "barn" event sites are entirely open-air. B&Bs seem to max out around 150-200. These are all "close but no cigar." But there's gotta be a cigar out there! Right? Or are we asking for too much here?

We have a really optimistic, can-do attitude; creative spirits; open minds; and a wonderful group of people who are eager to help us. So, I really think we can make something unusual work, if only we can figure out what! If you had a large wedding we'd love to know what worked for you. (Even if it looked a lot different than what I just described.) Thanks in advance for your insights.

PS. Our budget is flexible so don't let cost stop you from suggesting anything. While we have a frugal mindset, we are willing and able to spend on things that truly add to the value of the day. We won't spend much at all on the dress, flowers, decorations, favors, etc. and will prioritize venue, food/drink, photography, and fun.
posted by inatizzy to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have an exact answer for you, but I have a "close". Or maybe it's a cigar.

On our recent RV trip across the U.S., we spent some time in the St. Louis area. Mostly we visited the wineries down near Ste. Genevieve. If I were doing something like what you suggest, I'd do it at Cave Vineyard. A wedding reception in a cave! Yay! If that's not quite your vibe, I might consider Chaumette or one of the other wineries in the region.
posted by jdroth at 7:11 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Their website is not working well on my phone, but the City Museum does weddings, and that place is the furthest thing from a banquet hall.
posted by Fig at 7:24 PM on October 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

Friends of mine rented a venue that is a sleepaway camp in the summer, and is a "conference center" in the rest of the year. It had beautiful outdoor space + a large, rustic dining hall that could accomodate everyone.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:28 PM on October 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

Some of our local CSA's (community supported agriculture) do weddings too.
posted by BoscosMom at 7:32 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

A friend had their twice as large as yours wedding in an exhibition hall at the local county fairgrounds. Worked great.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:34 PM on October 23, 2016

Several community colleges in my area have beautiful cafeterias and meeting areas. Its weird to say that but I guess the designers really embrace the "bring the outdoors in" aesthetic in my neighborhood and I've attending two lovely weddings at two different community colleges.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 7:42 PM on October 23, 2016

try a local Girl Scout or Boy Scout camp. We wound up in a state park pavilion because it was soooo cheap and there were so many things for people to do but we almost did the camp thing.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:44 PM on October 23, 2016

Oh yeah, we also looked at the county fair expo hall and it was wicked cheap.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:45 PM on October 23, 2016

If I was doing my wedding over I'd also consider renting an entire bowling alley, mini-golf course or video arcade.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:51 PM on October 23, 2016

I recommend perusing the AskMe fave website A Practical Wedding and buying their book of the same name. The website has lots of great inspiration and tips. The book will help you figure out what's really important to you and how to have a celebration that's meaningful to you.
posted by radioamy at 8:08 PM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite weddings ever was at an apple orchard/cider mill.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:10 PM on October 23, 2016

Summer camps tend to be inexpensive in the off-season. I had a relative married at one on a lake--the ceremony proper was on the beach, the party was in and around the (large, cavernous) dining hall of the camp. The buildings were nothing fancy but the whole thing was pleasingly rustic, there was lots of space for little kids to run around, and the general air was relaxed but still appropriate to the occasion.
posted by praemunire at 8:12 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Two wedding receptions we attended fit this bill. One was at a park and featured a hysterically funny softball game with a wild age range, the other was essentially a takeover of Dave& Busters which had food, music & games and several of us competed in paired auto-racing & Ms. Pacman for the best scored...
posted by childofTethys at 8:13 PM on October 23, 2016

RE not spending much on flowers - I recently just completed an origami wedding bouquet for a friend's wedding (well, bouquet, boutonniere for groom and dads and corsages for moms) for about $100. Would have been cheaper if I planned better. They look great and can be keepsakes. Something to consider for the frugal and doing something different vibe.
posted by MandaSayGrr at 8:13 PM on October 23, 2016

  • Babler State Park has an outdoor education camp that I've seen used for weddings occasionally. We've also gone there for field trips, and it's not bad. Our field trip group was probably 200 kids and adults. 300 might be pushing it a bit, but you could call and ask.

  • Purina Farms might be a fun venue. They have HUGE event spaces, and you can pet the farm animals outside.

  • The St. Louis Zoo rents out their spaces for weddings -- especially that cafe space near the pond.

  • I went to a wedding at the City Museum once and it was amazing!

  • Queeny Park has the Greensfelder Recreation Complex. It's available to rent.

  • Big Chief Roadhouse in Wildwood does events and parties. It's a great historic space with a heated, covered patio. It dates back to the 1920s. Go visit and see what you think.
  • Butterfly House in Chesterfield.
  • Crown Valley in St. Gen.

  • posted by Ostara at 9:44 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

    I also came in to say the City Museum, which is awesome and insanely kid-friendly, although I bet you have to rent pretty far in advance! The Zoo is another kid-friendly option. There are a bunch of vineyards in the St. Louis area that can accommodate 300 and that might be fun. The Budweiser biergarten also seats 300!
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:44 PM on October 23, 2016

    Nthing a couple that I've seen: exhibition building at the county fairgrounds, and out-of-season ski resort.
    posted by traveler_ at 9:50 PM on October 23, 2016

    we got married at a summer camp, and we thought it went fabulously. many people stayed over (in bunkbeds or camped) and there was free time for people to do their own thing as well as hang out. of course, this kind of thing leads to planning a weekend instead of planning just an event, so that will be more logistically challenging (and expensive) if you decide to go that route.

    things that can save you lots of money include:
    - having a potluck style wedding (everyone brings a salad or side dish and a bottle of wine, you guys make the main (like bbq chicken or something). I have been to a few of these kinds of weddings and people's involvement tends to get them bought in to the spirit of the day
    - if you are having an outside wedding, having some people pick wildflowers the day of the wedding, instead of buying flowers for tables
    - not worrying about the extras, like tablecloths, fancy cutlery/plates, etc. these things add up like crazy and seriously NOBODY cares if the dishes are china or chinette
    - having an email invitation (free! and nobody cares!), or print your own invites on paper, like a flyer. we used a brochure printing company to print ours, which meant we didn't need to use envelopes, and they were priced like brochures, not wedding invitations.
    - we had an ice cream sundae bar instead of a cake. wedding cakes are like ZOMG $1000 or MORE for your size of party. totally outrageous.

    our wedding was very hands-on; everyone helped out the whole weekend to pull off a huge event. this was really fun BUT if we had to do it again we would have scaled back on some of the events (we basically had, among other things, a music festival at our wedding with 7 bands, which was so great but so ridiculous) because it meant that some of our friends worked A LOT harder than we anticipated or would have liked. but my partner and i agreed afterwards that we could have spent less money, not more, and still had the same awesome time. so when you're stressing about, i dunno, invitations or whatever, just go the cheaper option, if money is an issue, and even if it isn't. it won't matter in the end, i promise you.
    posted by andreapandrea at 10:15 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

    Offbeat Bride has an excellent archive dedicated to non-traditional weddings, plus it includes lots of great ideas for keeping your budget down.

    Looks like they don't have many St. Louis specific weddings on there but they do have this one that was held at the City Museum.
    posted by BeeJiddy at 1:47 AM on October 24, 2016

    I love the idea of a summer camp wedding. It already comes with it's own theme! (Please don't encourage guests to pick wildflowers though.)

    Here was my wedding: We rented out a local microcinema that used to be a one-room chapel for our actual ceremony, which included immediate family only — parents, grandparents and siblings. Then, we rented a local craft brewery for our reception, so that all our friends could come party with us. I think we rented the brewery for like $250 for 2-3 hours and 200-300 people. Total cost for the wedding, including my (Betsey Johnson) dress, our rings and the ceremony and reception was something like $5K.
    posted by Brittanie at 2:51 AM on October 24, 2016

    You might check the Tivoli movie theater on the Loop!
    posted by ChuraChura at 5:20 AM on October 24, 2016

    Some colleges/ universities allow alumni to rent their space very cheaply. If either of you have connections to such an institution, it's worth looking into! (My university literally gave us the outdoor wedding and indoor reception space for free, and catered at a shockingly low price too.)
    posted by metasarah at 6:45 AM on October 24, 2016

    In St. Louis, you might try an area farm like this. Not sure if they accommodate your size, but I've heard wonderful things.
    posted by Jacob G at 8:23 AM on October 24, 2016

    The lodge at Pere Marquette by Grafton might be able to accommodate - especially the indoor/outdoor element.
    posted by Occula at 8:48 AM on October 24, 2016

    These are incredible suggestions and advice!! You've given me renewed energy, thank you. Keep 'em coming.
    posted by inatizzy at 1:29 PM on October 24, 2016

    Claverlach Farm in Eureka might be another option.
    posted by Ostara at 1:29 PM on October 25, 2016

    Do any music venues in St. Louis have a lawn attached? We have Rose Music Hall here in Columbia, which is a regular, fully-enclosed music venue that has a big fenced-in lawn where they do summer concerts & movies. It would be a great wedding venue.
    We held our 2013 wedding at a different music venue here in CoMO, and since we didn't have to rent the sound system, the dance floor, the bar, etc. (all of it is already in the venue!) it worked out as a relatively cost-effective option while also feeling right for us. We did have to provide some stuff like rented tables & chairs, but we also brought in a food truck for the best wedding food ever, and people ate out on the patio on a lovely October evening, and in general, yes, we did have the best wedding in the history of weddings.
    posted by aabbbiee at 9:18 AM on October 26, 2016

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