How To Save Money on Indian Weddings
Ajay Manaktala reviews Big Fat Million Dollar Indian wedding contracts almost every week, and even runs the SODJLA.com and runs the Indian Wedding Audit service. He's also a most viewed writer on Quora and one of the top Indian wedding experts in America. In this post he's going to explain how to reduce your Big Fat Indian wedding expenses.
While SODJLA specializes in Indian and Asian weddings, for our non-Asian readers please rest assured this information will save money for any American wedding hotel also!
How To Save Money on Indian Weddings
The big fat Indian wedding can also be a big fat financial mystery.
While each wedding is unique nowhere are two weddings more different than in the price. Since couples usually only get married once or twice, there isn't much opportunity get useful experience that can be applied until it's too late.
Hotel Wedding Cost Basics
Your venue and/or Hotel is the most expensive part of your Big Fat Indian wedding. Most hotels categorize their wedding rates under banquet and conference packages.
They will likely give you the ballroom and all electricity/technicians for free, but you're paying for that in the costs of food, alcohol, room rates and other services.
EVERY HOTEL SHOULD HAVE A STANDARD WEDDING PDF THEY CAN SEND YOU WITH BASIC TO AVERAGE BUFFET OPTIONS
Before you try to search for room and buffet prices on Expedia and then do rough calculations, you should be mindful of a few things:
$25 a plate versus $50 versus $100? The average cost in California for an Indian wedding hotel, per plate, per event is closer to $200 as of August, 2019. Places like Irvine Hotel, Pelican Hill and Terranea Oceanfront Resort will all charge between $150 and $250.
In India or Thailand, a fancy Marriott would be around $80 per plate to $100, per plate, per event.
Per plate charges usually include food, alcohol and venue and PER EVENT like Sangeet and Reception.
Hotels will charge extra for outside catering and have kitchen fee's.
Many hotels will only give you 1-2 outside catering allowance and push you to order food for them to lock in their rates (since they're giving you the venue).
Alcohol has an extra corkage fee for bottles and similarly for kegs of beer you have to ask each hotel about their policies.
If you have a 300 person wedding, you don't buy a buffet for 300 people. You keep it around 200-250 people and you mix it up with live station counters, outside vendors, etc..
Staff is allocated based on your guest counts and will need to be agreed upon in the contracts!
Huh what? I just want to know how much a hotel wedding reception costs!
Factors that Affect Indian Wedding Venues
These can be tricky because they're so many variables and hotel banquet employees KNOW that you don't know!
One wedding has 100 people while another has 500.
The 100 person one obviously has a lower total cost, but the 500 person one might be cheaper per person.
types of hotel rooms and suites, (will once uncle get upset his room doesn't face the ocean while everybody else's does?)
bar spends and alcohol choices,
kitchen fees...it can get confusing!
Rather than write a long confusing post trying to walk you through a contract, your best options are as follows:
How to Save Money on Indian Wedding Hotels
1. Ask for Quotes Before You Meet
Hotels want you to come in for a meeting and discuss the event with their banquet sales team. You should of course do that. But if price is your top-down guidance for your particular wedding, you should be able to get a frame of reference via email.
But in order to do that, they need info from you.
How many people per event? (250 for wedding ceremony, 350 for reception)
How many events? (ceremony, sangeet, etc..)
How many meals? Sit down or buffet seating?
What kind of meals? (Veg, non-veg)
How many of the 250 people will be drinking alcohol?
How many rooms will you need in the hotel property?
Sound and Lighting? What type of entertainment and power will be used (DJ, full band, live singer, etc..)
Who are the decorators (some hotels only let you use certain decorators)
Based on most or all of the questions above in your initial email your hotel should be able to give you ballpark quote for you to know if it's even in your budget.
PRO TIP: Ask for a sample menu (3 appetizers, 5 main course, 3 desserts, etc..) for 200 people and costs for each menu package (bronze/silver/gold). They will have options.
For example a 5-star Marriott/Hyatt type of hotel in Thailand, the average price per guests is about $60 per plate at a buffet.
Again, many hotels will give you a buffet for 150 people (assuming you have 200 people) and also give live food counters like satay, eggs, noodle station, waffles, etc.. to make up the rest.
PRO TIP: Hotels rarely run out of food so don't worry about 10-20 people here and there. If you're unsure about a buffet of 150 versus 175 go with 150, but if it's 150 versus 300 go with 250.
2. Ask Your Friends for Their Wedding Contracts.
Don't be shy! Yes this is normal! No they won't be offended.
Read how much they had to pay per meal. Read what alcohol was included. The more you see this stuff before you go into your first meeting with the hotel planner, the more prepared you'll seem and they'll realize oh wow, they know at least something (which is more than 80% of meetings they take).
Don't have any friends who got married at the Ritz Carlton San Diego in the last four or five years? That's fine too!
PRO TIP: Go on Instagram and check out the location. See if you can find any other ethnic weddings that happened there in the last few years!
Yes it's a little "out there" but chances are both of you will have a common friend (Hey desi communities are small!) and peole are more than happy to share their tips and experiences! I know if anybody messaged me about my wedding venue, stranger or not I'd be happy to help!
3. Don't Fall for the Room Guarantee Trick!
I know about this trick, and then I fell for it again at my brother's wedding!
Basically, the majority of Indian weddings, especially destination Indian weddings are usually overestimating that everyone they know will pause their lives and make it for their wedding. I know it's all love, but trust us...the people you expect to be there 100% sometimes don't make it and the ones you never expected to say yes will show up.
As a result, unless your entire guest list is from your town in which the wedding is happening...an initial 400 person guest list will likely finalize down to a 250 person wedding.
Now do you want to be on the hook for 200 rooms (at 400 people), or would you rather have signed an initial contract for 100 rooms (at 200 people) and then hopefully adjust/update the contract as you need 15-20 extra rooms?
Hotel Revenue is big business on this early contract because they know people always over estimate special occasions like weddings, so don't BITE MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW!
4. Ask for More Stuff rather than Less Revenue
I feel bad for hotel wedding sales teams because they have some pretty big goals.
But the beauty of that is you can get more bang for your buck.
The most important advice on my entire website (yes I know, big thing) is probably this point. I wish more planners told their clients this.
While the hotel representative might need to make sure they make a minimum of say $60,000 from your event...that doesn't mean they can't throw in things like:
5 extra appetizers post weddign ceremony,
the ballroom for another two hours, from 1am to 3am if the party is off the hook
an extra makeup suite, or two for your family?
free valet parking,
complimentary hotel suites for the families, close relatives
10 more ocean view room upgrades for your guests etc...
50% off the rooms for your out of town photographer, florist, makeup, (called vendor rooms)
4PM late checkouts for the ragers
Always get more out of your hotel! You can't reduce your payment but you can get WAY MORE FREE STUFF!
I would even argue the first contract has room for 25-30% more concessions.
This is not like a DJ or photographer or floral where the extra costs are incurred on extra equipment. This is a sunk cost like an empty airline seat so an extra few rooms isn't going to hurt anybody.
At my wedding I insisted that:
the breakfast stay open another hour till 11AM because I knew my boys would be struggling
we get 10 extra rooms open for guests who want to switch their rooms
10 free rooms for photographers and DJs,
another 30 rooms with an Ocean view upgrade included at the basic room rate
A small free welcome dinner for guests who checked in a day early
discounted airport transfers
THIS IS NORMAL! The hotel will not want to lower their revenue from you (e.g. reduce the cost) but THEY CAN ALWAYS GIVE YOU MORE FOR YOUR BUCK!
HELP ME SHOUT THIS TO THE RAFTERS! THIS IS THE NUMBER ONE WAY TO REDUCE YOUR INDIAN WEDDING COST!
5. Electricity, Insurance and Other Sneaky Charges
The average hotel wedding contract shouldn't be longer than 15 to 18 pages. Any longer and you need to spend half a day reading it.
YES YOU CAN DO IT!
I had a hotel try to sell me $2000 of high tea (literally, tea/coffee/cookies) between a ceremony and reception.
But guess what, this was around the time another bar was opening up and people would probably anyways go back to their room to catch a break and chit chat. Plus we had all day tea/snacks in the lobby for the guests. Luckily we caught this early and avoided it.
Another hotel said the towels used during the mendhi were ruined and needed a $600 replacement. We got it down to $500 but lesson learned!
Another Los Angeles hotel asked for $1200 for extra power because the DJ had a bigger stage and lighting setup then they anticipated. Extra power!?!?
More stuff to be mindful of!
Even if you can't manage to march through all the fine print, it's as simple as asking your hotel sales person...are there any other hidden charges outside this contract?
6. Bargain Again AFTER the Wedding Is Over
Your groomsmen ordered a $40 wine bottle from room service that cost $400 because he was caught in the moment?
Somebody borrowed a surge protector for the makeup artist and the hotel is now charging $140 for that. For a surge protector?
Four of the rooms stayed past 2PM and the hotel is trying to charge another night for that!?!?!
We get it. Hotels are used to it.
On a $60,000 hotel bill these are all things you can nitpick on. Don't forget that!
7. Media Contacts & Social Media Influencing
Hotels and wedding venues rely on Indian weddings and banquets for massive business.
If you work in media, have a 5 or 6 digit social media following, can refer additional clients or can get the venue featured in a major publication like Trip Advisor (or even if you ARE a platinum or high rated reviewer on those sties) try to offer some quid-pro-quo to your hotel.
Wedding Media Coverage
Social Media Influencing (e.g. offer them coverage in your or a friends Instagram/YouTube)
Vendor relationships (exclusive new luxury wedding planners)
I keep this tip last because I wouldn't count on it, but I have seen couples who have an online presence get their costs down a few thousand dollars with a couple of nifty digital tactics.
While you should be mindful and respectful and not too stingy with your hotel (they are working their butts off to make your day special and feed their families) you should negotiate this massive expense the way you negotiate buying a car, a house, a travel itinerary or anything else.