Cheap Wedding Reception Ideas

Updated November 20, 2018
groom and bride at cheap backyard wedding

Planning an inexpensive wedding reception on a budget that is still worthy of your special day isn't always easy. After all, you want to keep things budget-friendly without actually looking like you're using cheap wedding ideas. With a little research and planning, there are ways to keep costs in check while still hosting a proper reception.

Cheap Reception Venues

While glamorous venues like ballrooms, castles, and historic theatres are stunning reception venue choices, they are not cheap choices. Many inexpensive wedding locations have plenty of potential for a reception - they may just need a little extra decorating to ensure you've created a cheap yet classy wedding reception.

Religious Hall

Most churches and religious buildings have a kitchen with large dining hall attached. If you plan to wed in a church, consider booking the dining hall or commons area for your wedding reception. They typically have plenty of tables, chairs, basic linens and table settings included in the rental price. Make sure you understand what activities are restricted within the area before booking - after all, you don't want to sacrifice a dance if the church won't allow secular music in the building.


The backyard of your home, your parents' home, or a generous neighbor provides a wonderfully cheap reception venue. Borrow picnic tables from friends and neighbors for a rustic feel, or set up long folding tables and chairs with cheap linens to create a more elegant atmosphere.

Wedding Reception Tents

A backyard can be cheap, but if you live in a climate where it rains often or inclement weather is forecast, you may need to rent a reception tent or canopy. Canopies, if the weather isn't expected to be too severe, can save you significantly over a full tent. Also keep in mind logistics such as electrical hook-ups, guest restrooms, and food safety before choosing to host the reception in a backyard.

Club Hall

A club reception hall is a great inexpensive venue for a wedding reception. Local AMVETS organizations, 4-H clubs, firemen's associations, and recreation centers often have small banquet halls with kitchens or kitchenettes. These halls are generally well-kept, but they may not have enough tables and chairs to suit all of your guests. Additionally, there may be alcohol restrictions or other rules you need to check on before you book.

Save on Reception Food

Next to the actual location, the food and drinks are what end up costing most couples the biggest bucks for their wedding reception. Even if the place you choose offers a full menu, you usually have plenty of room for creating a cheap wedding reception menu.

Low Cost Drinks

Keep in mind that serving non-alcoholic drinks is the cheapest option at all receptions. However, you can always limit the drinks to one type of beer, one brand of champagne, and/or one mixed cocktail to keep costs down if you want to offer alcohol. Otherwise, have non-alcoholic party punch and water available for everyone.

Main Dish and Sides

While carved prime rib is delicious, it is also expensive. Instead, provide some lower cost options that are still filling. Start with a salad made by chopping iceberg lettuce heads and topping with sliced tomatoes and onions, plus a couple dressings. Then move to your main dish, which might include:

  • Pasta - Pasta dishes are inexepensive and can fill a crowd. Fettucine alfredo or tortellini with red sauce are quick and hearty, especially in cooler months.
  • Finger foods - Serve a multitude of finger foods that are small bites. This allows you to have plenty of options to suit a variety of tastes.
  • Sandwich bar - Have cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes and other condiments for guests to choose from when they top their ham, turkey, or roast beef sandwich.
Sandwich bar

Include inexpensive and easy side dishes you can make ahead or purchase cheaply from local grocery stores or delis. These might include pasta salad, scalloped potatoes, and a fruit medley. Serve guests a delicious but deceptively cheap grocery store wedding cake for dessert.

Dessert Bar

If your wedding will be held mid-afternoon, few people expect a full meal. Instead, put out a dessert bar filled with yummy cookies, chocolate covered strawberries, bars, pies and wedding cupcakes. If desired, add a small table with some cheese, meat and cracker trays and vegetables with dip.

Decorate on a Dime

Decorating a cheap venue may be a little more involved than decorating a venue that is already elegant. You may need to cover unsightly wall paper or scratched tables.

Party decorations

Tulle, candles, balloons, and silk florals and garlands are all versatile and cheap reception decorations that can be used throughout the reception venue. For example:

  • Hang tulle behind the head table and down the center of your guest tables.
  • Use pillar candles with a silk floral ring for centerpieces.
  • Hang silk garlands across the guest book table and the cake table.
  • Swag the floral garland across the head table.
  • Add balloons to the corners of the venue and around the ceiling.

If you know people who recently wed, ask them what reception decorations they kept after the festivities were over. Newlyweds are often hesitant to throw out their décor, but don't want to store it for years, either. Ask if you can borrow things like marbles, fish bowls, candles, or mirrors. Before you alter any of the borrowed items, be sure to okay it with the couple first. This is a great way to decorate on a budget.

Plan Low Cost Entertainment

Entertainment doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg.

Dance Options

Hiring a live band is the most expensive option. However, hiring a wedding DJ can be expensive, too. Instead, set up a playlist with your iTunes, Spotify, or Pandora account and hook it up to the venue's sound system.

Bride and flower girl dancing

Other Reception Activities

Wedding reception games, like bride and groom trivia, are always fun and are extremely low-cost. Be sure you ask someone to lead the games if you don't want to do so yourselves. For receptions with kids, set up a craft or coloring corner with crayons and coloring sheets.

Inexpensive Reception Favors

Reception favors don't have to cost you a bundle. It's the thought that counts when you want to express your thanks. Make favors do double-duty as both the place setting assignment and favor by using cheap frames from dollar stores. Small bags with wedding colored candies tied inside are also cheap and easy. Packets of flower seed are perfect for a spring or summer wedding while single-serve coffee or hot cocoa is great for a fall or winter wedding favor.

Cheap Wedding Reception Budgets

Even small budget weddings can be stunning with the right planning. Nobody has to know you did things "on the cheap" if you take your time planning out the reception. After all, it's all about the fellowship and the fun at a reception, not the funding of the party.

Cheap Wedding Reception Ideas