Bride on a Budget: The Reception-Venue Search

Bridal Blogger Stephanie hits multiple speed bumps before finally settling on the Arts Club of Washington.

The future site of Stephanie's wedding reception.

I wish there was a Google search for “perfect reception venue for Stephanie and Matt.” If one existed, it would’ve saved us lots of time and stress.

As I mentioned in my Setting Priorities post, finding a great place to have our post-ceremony party was at the top of the to-do list. The nerd in both of us wanted something historic and unique, so we began our search with old homes in the area. Knowing that there’d be out-of-town attendees, we also looked into nearby hotel packages.

Though there are a lot of great options in and around DC, most local properties were sadly not in our price range. Downtown hotel packages start at around $185 before tax and tip—usually an additional 30 percent—and many historic venues have rental fees that start at $7,000 before tent and equipment rental. Yikes!

When we realized the adorable little restaurant at the Mount Vernon estate was available at a price we could afford, we thought we’d hit the jackpot. After reading several positive reviews on, we were ready to move forward with a contract. Could it really be so easy?

No, as it turns out. In the process of closing the deal, the management made a few mistakes that jilted our feelings about the venue. It may be just another day for the restaurant, but this reception is the biggest and most expensive party we’ll ever throw. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the utmost professionalism.

This snafu sent us straight back to the Google search bar. We learned to be less discriminate and embraced a “beggars can’t be choosers” mantra. Suburban hotels, country clubs, county parks, private clubs, restaurants, art galleries, museums—nothing was off limits. I even looked at the National Zoo’s Web site to see if we could do a wedding there. (Sadly, the answer was no.)

After months of searching, we set out one Saturday in March for what would be our last round of reception-venue site visits. On the agenda for the day were three very different locations: a hotel in Arlington, the Fort Myer Officer’s Club, and the Arts Club of Washington.

We vetoed the hotel when the catering manager, attempting to be polite, told us our budget was not “the worst” she had ever seen. Not wanting to be on any of her top ten lists, we took our money elsewhere.

The Fort Myer’s Officer’s Club was beautiful. The price was fantastic, and the package included a DJ, wedding cake, and decorations, but it wasn’t meant to be. The deal breaker? A security checkpoint with military police. Nothing says “wedding bells” like .22-caliber guns, right?

Shooting 0 for 2, we made our way to the Arts Club of Washington—a hidden gem my older sister had found for us. Matt and I fell in love with the venue because it’s so close to what we’d originally hoped for. A historic home turned art gallery, it has all the quirky elements of an older home and chic artwork. The manager, Jon Paul, was also great about working with our budget—there was no food or beverage minimum, just a modest flat rental fee. Ladies and gentlemen, we found our venue. As soon as we handed over the deposit, I let out a huge sigh of relief. Time to get our party faces on!


Lessons from the Budget Bride:
• Go beyond wedding Web sites to find venues. Destination DC has a whole page dedicated to available meeting rooms.

• Be honest about your budget with the catering and venue staff—we asked for per-person prices including tax and tip. The staff will tell you if there’s room to negotiate.

• Wedding packages aren’t always a bargain! Ask for a breakdown of the total cost, and don’t be afraid to cut out extras—no one will miss superfluous courses.

>> Don’t miss the next installment of Bride on a Budget—picking the photographer!

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