Pro tips: Maximize Your Impact With Rental Items on a Limited Wedding Budget
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
As much as many of us would love to have an unlimited wedding budget to create the Instagram-worthy wedding of our dreams, we know that's just not often the case. That's why using your funds wisely is key. When it comes to rental items for your wedding, make strategic choices to create the biggest impact on a limited budget. I always tell my clients: when your wedding is in Colorado, it’s going to be stunning whether or not you choose to upgrade your dishes/glassware/linens from the basics. If your venue comes with everything you need for your wedding, you don’t *have* to rent a thing. And while it’s not necessary, you *can* evoke that look you swooned over on Pinterest with a few simple and relatively inexpensive tweaks. If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this post, it’s that you don’t need a huge budget to add some rented fabulousness to your wedding day. You just need to make smart choices.
Where To Start
Your planner or coordinator can direct you to her favorite rental company. She'll take into account pricing and professionalism, as well as the specific inventory each rental company carries, to best suit your needs. If you don't have a wedding planner, (first, consider hiring one!), and then ask around or look at online reviews for a place to start.
Visit The Showroom
Not every party rental company will have their entire inventory pictured on their website, so you’ll want to visit a company’s showroom to see the inventory in person, touch the items, play with various combinations of colors and textures.
Wedding tabletop items are high-touch. By that I mean your guests will hold a wine glass in their hand, dab their lips with a napkin, put that fork in their mouth (obviously). For all these reasons, it’s important to know what that fork or napkin *feels like* in your hand.
For linens in particular, you’ll want to see these items in person. Computer monitors display colors differently; the light can shift the color of certain fabrics. “Matchy-matchy” looks aren't really my vibe, but if your bridesmaids’ dresses are a warm rust, rather than a cool burgundy, you’ll want to see that “merlot” napkin in person to decide if it fits into your chosen color palette.
A note about our post-COVID world: showrooms are open again in Colorado with limited staff, availability, and hours. If these limitations keep you from going in person, ask your rental company to send you photos of the items you’re considering, if they’re not already shown on a website. They can also mail you swatches of the linens you’re considering.
A few items before we dive in:
Ballpark price ranges listed are for the mountains of Colorado, because that’s where I work and what I’m familiar with. Prices in your area of the country will likely vary.
When I talk about costs below, I’ve listed estimates for *upgraded* items, not the basics.
For simplicity, all price ranges listed assume 100 wedding guests. I’ve assumed 10 guests will sit at each of ten six-foot-diameter round tables (although, again, COVID may change how we have to handle guest seating in the future.)
In the ballpark prices I’ve listed, delivery and pickup are not factored in. More on that below.
Do check in with your venue on how they handle rented items. Some are happy to set up your chairs for you; some don’t have the staff to handle that. They’ll almost always be happy to set your tables with your rented items, but best to clarify anyway. And *always* make sure they are aware of any deliveries being made, so that someone on their staff (or your planner) can be there to receive them.
Let’s dig in!
We start with a clean, white table. This is likely to be what your venue will provide you with your package, and - like we discussed earlier - it is *absolutely fine* to stick with this. Your wedding will be absolutely beautiful. See?
Should you choose to make some upgrades, however, below are the items I recommend you consider renting for your wedding. They are listed in the order in which you should consider them to make the greatest impact for the smallest financial investment. We start with napkins.
Nothing makes a bigger impact for a smaller investment than a stand-out napkin. To achieve your design goals, you may choose to add a pop of color with your napkin, a fun pattern or floral print, or an upgraded texture with elegant detailing (like a white linen hemstitch napkin, for example). Either way, you’re making a big statement for an investment around $125 to $375. If your venue provides everything else, including the white polyester table linens, you can absolutely stop there if that’s all your budget allows. A simple napkin upgrade elevates your table setting to the next level.
A note on napkin folds: I could do another full blog post on napkin treatments and folds. For our purposes its simply worth noting that an interesting napkin fold can add an additional level of sophistication to your tabletop design.
2. Water Glasses
So you’ve chosen your upgraded napkin. Yay! If you have a little more wiggle room in your budget, you may want to consider an upgraded water glass for your place setting. Because glasses rise up off the table, they give your tabletop design some height, meaning they’re noticeable. They draw the eye and give you more bang for your buck. Think about walking into a reception space. What will you notice first? The fork lying flat on the table or the taller water glass? The water glass, of course. So choose one that draws attention to itself and complements your design either with color or style. Color will pop, but a uniquely designed glass can evoke a modern or elegant tone. If you stick to upgrading just the water glass, and keeping your wine glass(es) basic, you can accomplish this upgrade for $150 to $375.
3. Dinner Chair
Ok, hear me out. This next one is a *significantly* bigger investment than the last two. BUT we’re talking about maximum impact here. Nothing transforms a reception space more completely than swapping out a basic folding chair, or your venue's dated-looking banquet chair, for an upgraded one. The options are endless, so you can find just the right chair to suit your wedding vision. Want to evoke a Colorado barn in your hotel banquet room? Choose a rustic crossback chair. Want to keep your visual weight to a minimum in a crowded space? Choose a clear acrylic “ghost” chair. Going for a more modern or industrial style? A metal chair is perfect. Like I said, this investment is steeper – from $1,100 to $4,000 – so if that’s not in your budget, no big deal. Skip to #4.
In my opinion, chargers are another high impact item, and here’s why I think so. Have you ever been to a wedding, and - in between your fork and knife - there’s nothing but a napkin? To me, it just looks like something’s missing. And that’s not to say that your wedding won’t be lovely without it. It will, but since we’re talking about “upgrades” here, a charger is a great choice. You can achieve the charger upgrade starting at $450 for an acrylic charger or up to $2,300. If you intend for your napkin to be placed on top of the charger, choose a simple one, as you’ll be covering up a lot of the piece itself.
PRO TIP: Want an insider tip for keeping your costs down? Skip the charger, and choose a beautiful dinner plate instead. The larger the better. It will be less expensive than a charger but serve the same basic purpose. Chargers are typically 13”, so look for a 12” dinner plate.
A note: Glass chargers can be relatively expensive, and are also easily breakable. Talk to your rental company about their breakage policy and/or damage waiver to protect yourself against having to replace broken items, or consider an acrylic or wood option.
5. Table linens
The next two items might be a toss-up as far as order of importance or impact, but I would choose to upgrade linens first for a few reasons. 1) There are a bajilliondy options for linens. You can create *literally* any look you want with the variety of options on the market. 2) I am personally *obsessed* with linens. I love the variety of colors, patterns, weights, and textures in the fabrics. For my own events, I might prioritize linens before any of the above. I often start my design process with the linen. Ok, enough about me. Linens are awesome. You get it. :-D
Individual linens can run from about $25 each for a colored polyester linen to upwards of $125 each for a velvet, sequined, or otherwise specialty linen. Your standard party rental company may only carry the most basic poly linens in a few colors. They can generally access specialty linens for you, but they’ll mark up the price for the time they spent coordinating the rental. If you have the time and inclination, you can go directly to a linen company for a specialty rental. Ask your planner for recommendations. Assuming ten tables of ten guests, your total investment for an upgraded linen can run anywhere from $250 to $1,350.
PRO TIP: To stretch your budget further, choose a few high-end specialty linens for focal areas like a sweetheart table, a cake table, an escort card table, or your cocktail tables, and keep the dinner table linens basic.
6. Flatware (aka silverware)
I’ve chosen to list flatware last for a few reasons. Yes, I did say above that your guests interact intimately with silverware. But your venue’s standard silverware is likely to be perfectly lovely. For me, this is really a “nice-to-have,” rather than a must. One reason you might choose to upgrade your flatware is that the metallic accent in your design is gold or rose-gold rather than silver. While it would be perfectly acceptable to have, let’s say, gold vessels holding your floral centerpieces next to silver flatware, the perfectionists among us might choose to upgrade to gold flatware to *really* perfect the look. That said, there are some amazing flatware options out there.
When costing out flatware, remember that you’re doing the math per piece. For a plated dinner, you’ll need *at least* a salad fork, a dinner fork, and a dinner knife. If you’re serving coffee or soup, you’ll need a spoon. If you’re serving steak, you’ll want a steak knife. And don’t forget an extra salad fork for dessert if you’re serving cake! The investment for upgraded flatware will run you about $400 to $1,000 depending on the style you choose and how many pieces you need per person.
Note: one thing I always keep in mind is how a piece of flatware feels in my hand. Some of the coolest-looking items on the market are very light, and can feel cheap. Remember: our parents’ generation valued *actual* silver, which is quite heavy. Your grandmother might be horrified by what feels like a plastic spork from KFC in her hand. (But of course this is your wedding, not hers.)
Finally, all the finishing touches....
These are the things that would be super nice to have, given an unlimited budget. A presentation stack of a lovely dinner and salad plate on top of your charger... a matching bread and butter plate and bread and butter knife... A gorgeous salt cellar with those adorable tiny spoons, if you really want to go all out. We haven't swapped out the wine glasses here, but you could upgrade to a sleek, modern style or add a champagne flute.
OK. You’ll notice I haven’t yet mentioned those uber-popular rustic wood farm tables. These tables are beautiful. No doubt about it. They’re also often custom made, of heavy wood, they can be scratched and damaged, and they require installation by your rental company. All that is to say -- they’re expensive. Given that and the fact that your venue probably already has tables, they’re at the bottom of my list of upgrades. However… if your alternate choice is a $120 linen, or your venue doesn’t provide tables, and you’ve got to rent a table on top of your $90 linen, you may be looking at the same cost.
A note on table sizes: farm tables are typically 8’x40” or 42”. That’s wider than a standard 8” folding table, which is generally 30” wide. While family style service is a fun trend (which, again, may become less popular in post-COVID world) it’s hard to accomplish on a 30” wide table when you’ve already got floral décor, place cards, glassware, and two 13” chargers to squeeze in there, so just be aware of space constraints on 30" wide tables.
A few words on tents
Ahhh, tents. Love ‘em. Creating your dream wedding venue in the middle of a field in Colorado sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? It is! But the truth is: tents add a significant level of complication to your wedding day. Tents will require another full blog post to do the topic justice, but for our purposes today, I’ll say this: 1) Tents are always more expensive than people think. If you’re on a budget, it’s not your best option. And 2) If you *do* choose to go with a tented wedding, you *need* a wedding planner. Trust me.
Delivery and Pick Up
As I mentioned above, the ranges in prices I listed for rented items did not include delivery and pick up. So you’ll have to work with your rental company to factor that cost into your budget. And much to your dismay, I’m not going to give you a ballpark cost for delivery in this post. Here’s why: your party rental company will calculate your delivery and pickup fees based on the amount of labor or “man hours” required to accomplish the job. A variety of factors can cause those labor hours to vary significantly. Here a few examples of factors that affect delivery costs:
How far is your venue from the rental company’s warehouse or their standard delivery area? Are there unpaved roads involved? (This may sound odd, but in the mountains of Colorado, it’s common.)
Does your venue require that your delivery arrive at a certain time? Does your venue require that your rental items be removed immediately after the conclusion of your wedding? So like… at midnight? That definitely costs extra.
Where in the venue should your items be dropped off? At the loading dock? Or do they need to go to the ballroom on the other side of the hotel complex?
As you can see, there are loads of options out there for making a big impact with your wedding rentals. All you need is a strategy. I hope you’ve found some inspiration for designing your dream wedding on a less-than-dreamy budget.
Questions about design? Budget management? Drop my a line via the contact form on my website! I'd love to hear from you!