By Tisha Cuffee with The Hilton Garden Inn Richmond Innsbrook

It’s FINALLY HERE! The chance for you to plan the dream wedding you have always wanted. You and your fiancé have saved up a lot of moolah for the big day, and you feel prepared. You downloaded all of the vital wedding help tools to prioritize and stick to deadlines. You even created a spreadsheet for your budget with your new last name and wedding date in the header of the document. After doing your research and deciding on the “must haves”, you start plugging the numbers into your expertly organized spreadsheet. You quickly realize, everything adds up FAST.

After months of appointments, negotiating, and tons of information, you’ll start finding expenses like 5.3% state tax, 4% food tax, and a 22% service fee. If you didn’t create columns for these costs, you can instantly become overwhelmed. Most of the time, wedding venues have what are called “hidden fees.” These fees are often taxes that the venue must pay to host the event on your behalf or service charges that are used to pay the laborers and staff. If you are not aware of them up front, you will be blindsided with an increase of thousands of dollars after you have already communicated your budget to all of your vendors. It’s important to remember that all rates being quoted are “++” meaning plus taxes and service charges. Otherwise, it can be frustrating to go back and reduce your order or have to renegotiate to stay in line with your budget.

Here are some helpful tips when calculating your expenses:

#1. Hotels often charge for distributing gift bags, usually about $2.50 per bag, which isn’t always mentioned in the reservation quote.

#2.  Are you renting any specialty items to be set up?  Make sure to consider possible setup and installation labor charges, delivery and pickup fees, fuel charges, and damage waivers. Be sure to ask for this information up front.

#3. Most venues add an 18-22% service charge, which is mandatory, and sales tax in most states. The service charge may or may not go directly to the venue’s employees, so additional gratuities may be considered if you are provided exceptional service.

#4. Your venue may charge about $1.50 per guest to cut and serve your cake.

#5. If you’re providing any alcohol, be prepared to kick in extra corkage fees to have it served. This could be $15-$20 per bottle.

#6. Most full-service venues charge a bartender fee. It’s usually exclusive of tax and service charge.

#7. Be sure to add your local taxes to everything, plus food taxes to your catering.

Find ways to become empowered with your wedding finances! Some vendors have hidden fees that are outrageous, but some do not. If you ask questions, you will get help and pertinent information regarding your final balance. Also, always require an estimate up front for your guest count with your proposal. The proposal itself may have the fees in writing, but we all tend to skim documents and miss the little details. While changes may occur throughout the planning process, this will allow you to see any potential fees. Be sure to ask for additional services you are considering, but haven’t decided upon yet, to be on your estimate.

Once you get your hands on all the viable information, you will be able to make the best financial decisions for your wedding day. The best thing about pre-planning financially before saying your nuptials is that you save the worries (as well as some money) and have fun!

Tisha Cuffee is the Catering Sales Manager at The Hilton Garden Inn Richmond Innsbrook and specializes in weddings with the amenities and resources you need at a price you can afford. To learn more about weddings at The Hilton Garden Inn Richmond Innsbrook, please email