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The cost of a wedding site

The cost of online auctionsWeddings are expensive and complicated. Once you solve the age-old problem of who to marry, the next big issue is where to get married.

You can't plan the rest of the wedding without knowing where it will happen, just as you can't decorate a house you haven't yet bought or marry someone you haven't yet met.

"You can't set up the rest of the plans unless you have an idea of where the wedding is going to take place," says Lois A. Pearce, president of Beautiful Occasions, a special events planning business in Hamden, Conn. "So much about the wedding site is paramount to all the other plans. If the wedding will take place in a church, then there will be a certain formality with the invitations."

Therefore, having an idea of two or three wedding sites in which to exchange vows is first and foremost on the "to-do" list. Then, find out all costs upfront because the price may or may not include other pieces to the puzzle: the organist, minister, reception site, etc. -- issues that can definitely affect your decision.

Besides, knowing where you want to get married will also give you a better idea of subsequent wedding plans.


The most popular venue to tie the knot is in the church. You can pay a rental fee as low as $100 but as much as $1,500 for some church sites. The higher priced locations typically include additional amenities such as the officiate fee, organist and wedding coordinator.

Some churches waive the rental fee for members. But for churches that charge their congregation a wedding fee, it is usually less than the fee for nonmembers. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, members generally pay between $300 and $500 compared to between $500 and $700 for nonmembers, says Perley Larsen, a Dallas-based wedding consultant.

"I think they [couples] are surprised to pay that much for a church," says Larsen.

At the Salem United Methodist Church in Germantown, Md., nonmembers pay $100 to rent the church. But members do not pay the rental fee because it's assumed they are supporting the church by their prayers, gifts and service. A donation, though, is encouraged.

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That $100 can snowball to hundreds of dollars once you add in the cost of the pastor, reception hall, pre-marital counseling and organist.

At some churches, the cost includes the site's elegance and historic value. And if having your wedding at such a place is up your alley, then the First Congregational Church in Long Beach, Calif., may fit the bill. The church was built more than 100 years ago and declared a historic landmark in 1979.

A wedding at the First Congregational Church costs around $1,000, but that price varies according to membership and services required. That general price tag usually includes the minister, organist, wedding coordinator, rehearsal, candelabra -- a branched candlestick -- and a unity candleholder.


Most chapels are not historic landmarks, but they provide couples a less expensive alternative because they are smaller. If you're planning a relatively small wedding and do not have a religious home, then there are chapels that are more than willing to accommodate you.

For a small fee, some chapels provide flowers, music and photos. At the Little Bell Wedding Chapel in Harrison, Ark., just 35 miles from Branson, Mo., couples pay between $125 and $425, depending on the size of the wedding party and the needs of the couple. There's no blood test or waiting period in Missouri, but the marriage license is $30.

Russ Morgan, a chapel spokesman, says the chapel performs between 500 and 600 weddings a year, with May being the busiest month because many couples with June wedding dates elope the month before.

"The couples start running into problems and decide 'forget this,'" says Morgan. "They don't want to deal with the hassles and head to Arkansas to get married."

A hassle-free wedding is not the only reason some couples go to chapels. If you want a ceremony that's unconventional, something a bit out of the ordinary, then Las Vegas is the place.

Las Vegas Weddings has 20 chapels in the Las Vegas area and more than a dozen wedding themes, including Elvis, Star Trek and Gangsta, to add more pizzazz to your big day. The $500 to $900 price tag includes the fee for the minister, flowers, video and photo package.

Do it on the beach

Churches and chapels are popular venues, but have you thought about having your ceremony on the glistening sandy beaches of Hawaii? Dolphin Dream Weddings in Lahaina, Hawaii can fulfill those dreams by offering various packages that cost anywhere from $195 to nearly $2,500.

All costs include the beach wedding site and additional amenities. For example, the $195-package comes with a minister to perform the ceremony, two fresh floral leis, a copy of your wedding vows, assistance with the Hawaiian wedding license application, attendance of Dolphin Wedding professional personnel and a floral wedding certificate.

If you have a little more cash to spare -- OK, maybe a lot of cash to spare -- then check out the most expensive package, which is $2,500. Extras include: A pair of etched champagne glasses for the bride and groom, Maile lei for the groom, a bottle of sparkling cider or champagne (chilled of course), a two-hour chauffeured limousine ride around the island, a romantic dinner cruise for two, a two-tiered wedding cake ... and, how can I forget 10 white doves?

Garden weddings

Maybe you can't make it to Hawaii, or the thought of a ceremony on the beach is a bit too sandy. Maybe being surrounded by azaleas, roses, rhododendrons, ferns and lilacs is more appealing.

Garden weddings are popular with many couples. It's different. And it's beautiful.

And it can be yours, if the price is right. For $2,900, you can rent the Compass Rose Gardens in Bodega Bay, Calif., just west of California Highway One from May 1 to Oct. 31, both as a wedding and reception site. Half of the amount for the site must be paid at booking, and a $500 refundable security deposit is required three weeks prior to the wedding. The garden can hold up to 200 guests.

Another garden wedding site is located in Fruita, Colo., a city known for its dinosaur digs. At the Stonehaven Bed and Breakfast, the wedding and reception will cost you $1,200 plus tax. A 20 percent deposit is required at booking, and no refunds will be honored if you cancel within 120 days of the wedding.

Debra Menger, the innkeeper, says the cost includes use of the grounds for the rehearsal the day before the wedding and breakfast for you and the guests the day after the wedding. The site can hold up to 150 outside guests and 40 inside guests. Since the B&B opened in 1994, it has become a popular spot, says Menger.

Your question checklist

Churches, chapels, beaches and gardens are not the only wedding venues. Check out city facilities, civic centers, hotels and resorts. Oh, and let's not forget the least inexpensive wedding site of all: the backyard of your parents' or other relative's home.

Nevertheless, before you put down a deposit, make sure you know exactly what you're getting.

  • How soon do I need to book the site in advance? For churches, it can be four to six months in advance, while it may be wise to book civic centers, city buildings or any popular site a year in advance, says Larsen.

  • Does the cost cover only the wedding site space or other amenities such as the minister and organist...? All wedding sites are not the same, and it's important for couples to know in advance how much the site and use of the equipment, such as chairs, linens, etc., will cost, says Pearce.

  • Does the wedding site have good access for the physically disabled?

  • Are there any restrictions on the use of the site? Pearce says some couples have their dream site picked out only to realize that they can't use an aisle runner, place their own candles, etc. "It's better to ask all of those questions in the beginning. You need to know upfront."

  • Are there adequate facilities for the bride, groom and their parties to dress?

The bottom line is that you want one of the most important days in your life to flow smoothly. In order for that to happen, the wedding site must be a place that you and your spouse-to-be are comfortable with, both aesthetically and financially. You're a team, or at least you will be soon!

-- Posted: Aug. 6, 1999



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