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The cheapest possible wedding reception in DC... Help please :)


We are looking for a cheap (but of course as nice as possible) wedding reception in the DC area. We are willing to travel a bit out of the city if the deal is right. (I'd say Germantown, Columbia, Woodbridge, Fairfax, Annapolis, Waldorf would roughly be our boundaries).

For reference we know people who have done:

30 person brunch at the Mad Hatter chicken/salmon for around $500
30 person dinner at Alfio's lasagna around $700

We are planning for 70 people (her fault not his) and would like to do it for $600. (He personally thinks $400 would be great lol)

We were thinking that a cocktail option might be best for us. If it matters, almost all of our attendees are non-drinkers so alcohol isn't necessary and we might even prefer a dry reception (don't judge lol)

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time/suggestions in advance.

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  1. if most of your guests are non-drinkers, I'd say officially dry would be ok, but see if a cash bar or even BYOB is an option to consider. as a drinker myself I wouldn't mind either and alcohol even for just a few can add a hefty charge. I would let those who indulge know of the situation however you decide.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hill food

      Thanks. We may literally have 4 drinkers out of 70 people. (Large church crowd.) So we probably will do dry and definitely allow byol in discrete containers lol.

      1. re: brokeinlove

        4 out of 70? I'd add 5 more to that list and then just encourage hip flasks if they feel it's really needed.

        there have been threads about us drinkers getting our noses out of joint over this issue, but those folks are just silly.

        it's you're day baby. we (the drinkers) can get drunk later. spend the money on the food and room and all the other stuff.

        (<edit> sorry I called ya baby before I realized you're the groom posting, ehh still sort of works in a Sinatra way)

    2. See about renting the Tea House in Gambrill State Park near Frederick, MD. It's on top of Braddock Mountain with a 40-mile view, costs about $200 to rent for a day. It has a full kitchen and barbecues. $400 would buy plenty of groceries to feed 70 people.

      1. If you guys are okay with doing some of the work yourself (or with the help of friends/family), you can rent some nice community rooms in Reston that have a kitchen, tables, chairs for super cheap ($25-35 an hour). You would want to decorate it though. For food, you can take appetizers from Costco/Trader Joe's and mix that with some fresh stuff (cheese plates, fruit, etc.).

        2 Replies
        1. re: lovinglocalinReston

          Thanks. Do you know any of these community rooms specifically? We'd prefer a venue but we're open to handling it ourselves.

          1. re: brokeinlove

            Reston's main community center--you can find it at the Reston HOA pages. They have increased their rates for people who do not live or work in Reston, but they are still pretty reasonable. I think the main art room at Lake Anne's community center in Reston might barely fit 70 for a stand-up reception.

        2. Check with the folks at the Penn Ave. Pour House on Capitol Hill. Their upstairs room - "Top of the Hill" is an OK space for your budget. Ask for prices on Heavey Apps (warning you are going to be getting "bar food" preperations), open bar soft drinks, and cash bar.

          Do not try to compete with Football on Saturday or Sundays. I would recomend that you try for a late afternoon/early evening gig and limit it to 2 hours.

          Don't forget you need to figure in a gratuity into the final cost - even if your guests tip as they go along.

          FYI - Top of the hill is not wheel chair accesible, there is one flight of seriously steep stairs. So you need to have somebody walk with the older folks.

          However, like others have suggested, for less than $10 a head you are definitely looking at a self-catered affair.

          1 Reply
          1. re: drewpbalzac

            Thanks for the input. I'm actually familiar with the Pour House. I'm one of the 4 drinkers who will be in attendance (lol) so I've been over there for a drink or two. I'll check give them a call but it might be on a football Saturday (Go Blue!) I'll check if our reception date is flexible...

            Self-catered is out. I've told her that to stay near what I'd like to pay, we might have to prepare our own food. I even suggested a "pot luck" event (some of the church ladies can throw down) lol... She's not having it.

            She wants a room in a restaurant/bar type venue where we eat prepared food (at least Orderves <-- Spelling? lmao)

            She's telling me her friend did Chicken/Salmon at the Mad Hatter. I told her I've been to the Mad Hatter and it struck me as a dive bar. But I looked at the web site and they actually have a nice space for rent that I've never seen. However, I think the room that I liked is too small for our group and wasn't particularly fond of the larger room.

            As far as my vision, I'd prefer to do the cocktail reception thing with Pepsi products in place of Grey Goose lol. Have it be in a commercial establishment be it restaurant, bar, or catered reception call. I think the cocktail thing would actually be more fun for people than a sit down meal.

            I am thinking based on the input thus far I have to rephrase the question to "WHAT IS THE CHEAPEST COMMERCIAL VENUE THAT SERVES FOOD?"

            If we can't do it for $10 you can't blame a guy for trying. I could probably afford up to $16 if that's what it's going to take to do it at a commercial location to the satisfaction of the bride to be and her trillion guests (sigh)...

            I still appreciate input from any one on suggestions of places. So far I'm going to call:

            Pour House
            Mad Hatter (just to check it out)

          2. It's "hors 'd ouvres" and you're absolutely right not to want to spend a whole lot of money on a wedding reception. It really ought to be snacks, and not a feast. Between the ceremony and the reception you send people off for their dinners and then have them come back for desserts that match the theme of your wedding cake. Be sure to tell them that they're not to expect dinner at the reception...but also expect them to stay pretty late, depending on the crowd.

            The way you sell this to your bride-to-be is that you tell her that people won't all want the same kind of foods anyway, and the grown-ups will want a chance to drop off their kids with the sitter.

            Have coffee and tea in big urns, and a banquet table with little tiny dessert plates. Then have...wedding cake, 3 cheesecakes, petit fours (that's little chocolates), cherries, grapes, jordan almonds, pistachios, dried apricots and other bulk food stuff that looks good. Keep it chill and play some jazz. I think this is a better option than serving people tunafish salad on toast. You can even see if you can borrow the dishes from those same church ladies since you're really laying out a bunch of candy dishes.

            Oh, and probably never let her see this post. Congratulations and good luck!

            8 Replies
            1. re: PirateICE

              LOL she knows how I am by now... poor girl's chosen to subject herself to it...

              Thanks for the well wishes!

              1. re: PirateICE

                The dessert buffet is a very good suggestion, because I couldn't even begin to wrap my head around the idea of trying to feed 70 ppl @ $5 a head, I don't think a McDonald's happy meal would come in under budget...You will either need to DIY, increase your budget, or reduce your guest list...

                1. re: thistle5

                  I can do $16 a head if that's the basement of the market rate... But I'd prefer the best balance of economics and quality possible.

                  Just looking for the lowest priced commercial venues.

                  If need be we can call Olive Garden a day in advance and let them know we're coming and just have the guests all order from the "2 for $20" menu... lol

                  1. re: brokeinlove

                    I didn't mean to sound discouraging, first off, congrats on your upcoming nuptials, the important thing is celebrating w/ friends & family...if your budget is limited (my wedding was on a small budget), you just have to get very creative. The problem w/ lowest priced commercial venues is that they don't usually say 'wedding'. I had lunch at a Chinese buffet today w/ my kids, $8.99 pp, it was a good lunch, but despite the abundance of mostly decent food, I couldn't see it as a wedding venue, w/out tweaking. If you can find a moderately priced place, that you can add a few personal touches to, you can have a great wedding....

                  2. re: thistle5

                    I actually think a dessert reception is a great idea! You can get a couple of cakes, pies, candies etc. Even buying at Costco could work. No lie they have an AMAZING chocolate cake that I would prefer to any crappy expensive wedding cake I've had. Serve with coffee and tea, maybe even a champagne toast for the 4 people who like champagne (sparkling cider for the rest). It can be a very classy affair if you chose the right location. The Pour House actually might not be a bad idea if you can do a dessert reception there. They have seating up there (which is important if you are doing it non-sit down style. My Mom just went to a cocktail wedding reception and complained that there was no seating). The cool thing is you can do pictures around the Hill beforehand.

                    I'm not at all sure how much this would cost, but maybe see if Bistro D'Oc can do a dessert reception within your price-range. The upstairs area is really nice and if you are planning a Fall wedding, they can build a fire in the fireplace.

                    1. re: Elyssa

                      Thanks I'll add them to the contact list!

                      1. re: Elyssa

                        If you have a pro photographer, heads up that you need a permit in a lot of DC locations. Some don't care and will risk it, but around the Capitol, there are so many cops that it is not something I'd recommend w/o a permit....just an FYI

                        and PS, that chocolate cake from Costco is the BEST cake. My wedding cake was amazing, but that cake will put you in a delicious coma :)

                    1. I would do dry over a cash bar.

                      You could rent a room at a community center (Arlington's multipurpose rooms are $80 an hour for residents and twice that for others). Are you getting married at a church? Do they have a social hall? That would be even better.

                      Armand's catering looks about as cheap as you can get for a meal--pizza and salad for $6 a person. But I like the desserts and fruit from Costco idea, especially if you have a couple friends who could pick everything up and arrange it on platters.

                      RFD also does bar food and has a private room--but they might have a minimum charge to use the room and they charge a 20% service charge and 10% tax. So $10 per person budget = $7 per person in food.

                      Also, I'd consider doing a weekday ceremony--it will be cheaper and fewer people will come (which is also cheaper!). You could get married in the morning and go for brunch after (Harriet's is downtown and has a $12 buffet) or cater lunch (Roti, Qdoba, Potbelly, etc.)

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: braver

                        Thanks for the feedback. Her friend did Brunch. It did work out to be cheaper.

                        1. re: braver

                          How about Chicken Out for catering? My friend did that for her rehearsal dinner and she said it was really affordable and everyone loved the food. Also in terms of cheap yet fun catering, check out California Tortilla. I personally have always dreamed of having my rehearsal dinner catered by them (and yes someone on this board once called me "classless" when I suggested this a few years back HAHA). I just love their food and think they are a fun, local business to work with.

                          1. re: Elyssa

                            Well I would never call a stranger on the internet classless... That's the definition of classless...

                            But I personally wouldn't do California Tortilla lmao

                            I would consider Chicken Out but I like it. I'm not sure if the others like it or not. Maybe I'll take her there to try it and see what she thinks...

                            If it were up to me it'd be catered by Popeyes lmao

                            1. re: brokeinlove

                              Listen, I think anything done right can work. I've heard of celebrity weddings that have brought in fast food as a dining option at their wedding. It should reflect your personality, your relationship AND your budget. I'm more open to new ideas for this type of stuff----so Popeyes on fine china actually strikes me as fun. But that's just me....

                              1. re: Elyssa

                                oh yeah, I love Popeyes. just not the odor of the beans and rice that oozes out of my pores the next day. yet it doesn't stop me.

                                if someone on another thread is doing a pop-up wedding, why not a pop-up reception?

                              2. re: brokeinlove

                                I'd go with the Popeyes, too! Especially on Tuesdays. My local Popeyes has a Tuesday special of a drum and thigh for 99 cents. 200 pieces of chicken under a hundred bucks! That would leave you $300 for venue, sides, beverages, cake.

                          2. there is no way you can cater anything, pay for a venue, pay for paper goods for 70 for $400. My suggestion since this is a church group is to make it a pot luck wedding dinner and have the nice church ladies cook their finest and have a huge buffet. you supply the venue, paper goods, soft drinks and you could even afford a case of beer. otherwise there is no way you could pull this off for less than $6.00/pp. good luck.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: dining with doc

                              I agree w/ Doc, maybe you should elope. I just think your budget & expectations are unrealistic (I would love for you to prove me wrong, & do this wedding on your budget), but if you want 'restaurant/ bar venue where we eat prepared food' for 70 people for $400-$600, where's the profit for the restaurant? They're a business, not your family who want to throw you a wedding...
                              Realistically, a wedding reception is the largest catered party you will ever host, if you can't cover it w/ extra cash (nothing wrong w/ that), you have to put in extra work, to make it special...

                              1. re: thistle5

                                Well I readjusted to say I would go up to $16 per person which would be a little over $1,100.

                                I'm willing to do it at whatever the lowest market price is for a decent place. I just want to make sure I am getting the lowest price.

                                I honestly don't believe I should have to feed 70 grown people who can feed themselves... But then again I also think all we need to get married is us and the justice of the peace.

                                But I know receptions are traditional so I'd like to have one. Just an inexpensive one.

                                1. re: brokeinlove

                                  If you don't think you should feed 70 grown people who can feed themselves, why should they want to celebrate w you? Just go to the justice of the peace, & get married...but if you care about your guests ( & I think you do), you should try to make your wedding one that they & you will remember, it doesn't have to break the bank, you just have to put some thought & time into it...

                                  1. re: thistle5

                                    Yes. Blow your money on a decent hotel and a nice meal for the two of you. Spare your friends the horror and embarrassment of a wedding reception without booze.

                                    1. re: thistle5

                                      I agree. It sounds like you resent having to pay for a reception and that is something your guests will notice. I'd never want to do ANY gathering with my friends and family as cheaply as possible. They deserve better than that.

                                      Maybe you should discuss this again with your fiancée. If she wants a full spread and you are trying to keep it as inexpensive as possible... well, those two goals don't really mesh, especially if you don't want to feed people who can afford to feed themselves.

                                    2. re: brokeinlove

                                      You can celebrate at a later date.

                                      1. re: brokeinlove

                                        I have followed this thread wracking my brains out. My sis, with limited funds at the time, did a bbq wedding. We had a great time. I've been broke more times than I care to remember. Living on 17 grand a year(rural teacher) in the early 90s was not easy. I made it work when it came to entertaining friends. My soups/stews are legend. My kitchen table was a card table and chairs but it worked. I had a cheap tablecloth and cloth napkins for that damn card table. Dinner parties Since then, I've been to wedding receptions at all ends of the spectrum but the thing is, a wedding reception isn't about doing it because you have to or feeding people who can feed themselves. Yes, planning a wedding and reception is stressful and expensive but in the end it's about celebrating (hopefully) one of the best days of your life with friends and family you care about. I guess what I'm saying is if your heart isn't in it, don't do it. If your heart is in it...get creative or realistic.

                                    3. re: dining with doc

                                      One thing to think about if you go with a non-restaurant space is rentals. Even if the church provides the tables and chairs, you would probably want tablecloths, plates, silverware, glassware, and servingware. If a church hall has all of that you could use inclusive, then you might have a fighting chance. I wouldn't discount fast food actually. A lot of celebrity weddings do a "junk food" theme with In n Out burgers, fries, and shakes. Five Guys would cater for cheap. Rockland's catered out wedding and they were very reasonable when you just ask them to bring the food (it gets pricey when you are asking them to staff the event). But that's also something to think about - what "in kind resources" do you two have? Will there be people to help set up and clean up? I do second the idea of doing an afternoon tea theme. That's an easy DIY event. Get jugs of iced tea, water, and lemonade. Go to Costsco for desserts and sandwiches. If oyu are using disposable plates/glassware/silverware you'll be fine on budget. There's a great picnic pavilion near Alexandria that worked for a friend of mine that was like $25/hour.

                                    4. Y'know, there's a big difference between "cake and punch" for 70, appetizers/snacks for 70, and sit-down dinner for 70.

                                      Cake and punch is the traditional Southern budget approach to a wedding reception -- if you still have $$$ left, you can add some appetizers. I don't think you'll be able to host a sit-down dinner unless you find free labor from friends and family.

                                      Please, please, whatever you do, have something on hand for the diabetics, even if it's unsweetened iced tea as an alternative to punch and some whole-grain pretzels or something. That way they can join the festivities and not feel left out.

                                      1. These places seem pretty reasonable, but you’ll have to double-check their terms (such as minimum order), whether they include any “extras,” and whether they deliver (or charge to deliver):




                                        For something a little different, this place offers to deliver large paellas – may not fit the budget, though:


                                        And this one does Cajun catering – no price on the roast suckling pig, though:


                                        Important disclaimer: I live in Florida and have neither tried the food nor done business with any of these establishments! All of this research is from Google searches. Use at own risk. 

                                        1. My friends did a fun reception at the church hall with a pretty cake, pizza, soda, beer and wine. They billed it as a post-wedding pizza party, and used a local pizza place and arranged the order well in advance. Everyone had a great time. Have you considered pizza?

                                          1. what about renting a space and see if an up-and-coming food truck will cater?

                                            I don't know much about the trucks because I work where there aren't any, but I've heard many are amazing and they might be looking for some non-weekday income. It could be really fun

                                            1. Not sure if it's been mentioned yet, but Ft. McNair, Ft. Belvoir, or Ft. Myer! It's an all inclusive package, so for $60-something or $70-something per person, you get the ENTIRE reception - beautiful venue, wedding cake, centerpieces, flowers, DJ, dancefloor, full bar, awesome dinner - EVERYTHING. We had our wedding at Ft. McNair, which is situated right on the Potomac, and it was a huge hit. I highly recommend it.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: AmyMarie1

                                                Yes but this poster has a budget of $16/person...so this would be way overprice.

                                              2. What if you called whichever FroZenYo is closest to your ideal location? Bring in an iPod dock, play the music you want for an hour, have everyone be able to have all you can eat FroYo, and then part ways. I feel like it's better to spend the money on something short and fun and memorable than trying to stretch a dollar and having a few hours of awkward and unpleasant.

                                                1. I would look into the park/food truck idea. Maybe get Curly's Q to show up in at a park in MoCo somewhere? Plus an ice cream truck? Or even hire someone to do burgers and hot dogs?

                                                  1. Does it need to be American food? You may have better luck at a Chinese, Indian or Thai restaurant where you can order family-style dishes. One or two meat dishes with the rest veg, noodle and rice could be filling, festive and within your budget. Another thought is La Tosca. Mezze style dishes may seem fancier than bar food.

                                                    This might be *too* casual but Lucky Strike rents small party rooms with catering options. No idea on the cost but we did that for a work function recently so it can't be too pricey :)

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: iambecky

                                                      I would recommend Wu's Garden in Vienna. It's large enough that you won't be taking over the entire restaurant. The food is good Chinese American (much better than the buffets). You can get several courses served family style, so if any guests can't or won't eat any particular dish, they still won't go hungry. They should be able to come up with menus at different price points so you can find the balance between your budget and acknowledging your guests (and making the wife happy--that's a lesson you can't learn too early in a marriage ;)

                                                    2. My best suggestion would be to look into one of the rented venues that some people have suggested here, and call some caterers with your budget and see what they can offer you. We frequently use La Prima, Amfora, and Corner Bakery at work and they are very good at making something work for whatever the budget is. For what you're looking to spend, you could probably do a nice hors d'oeuvres menu instead of a meal.

                                                      1. I completely understand the need to keep costs down for a wedding reception. My husband and I (married 26 years) paid for our own wedding. We had saved enough money between us to either have a big wedding or put down the money to buy our first house. We chose the house. We had the reception at our just purchased house which was pretty much empty so we rented chairs and put up some long tables in the diningroom. Someone gave us a wedding cake as a present. Our mothers supplied the basics for a buffet and we asked guests to bring a dish. Needless to say, it was a casual wedding but the food was delicious and everyone had a great time.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Clatterbuck

                                                          I would have a dessert reception at a friend's or relative's home. Fill the dining room table with all kinds of desserts, fresh fruit, a cheese platter, and punch. Hire a teenager to clear plates and clean up. Spend the entire $600 and make it as lovely as possible. It will matter to your bride.

                                                        2. My friend had her wedding in a church by the waterfront, and they used the community center underneath for the reception. I think her budget was a few thousand, though.

                                                          The thing about ethnic restaurants is that you'd probably be buying out a place for the night, and they would be losing money, so I can't think of very many that would be willing to do it at your price point. Off hours/ wedding tea/ dessert may be best option since folks wouldn't necessarily expect alcohol if it's not dinner.