Event Budgeting 101: A Practical Guide for Success

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Event planning is a complex discipline, and there’s a reason why this is a full-time career for some. That being said, with the right amount of research and preparation, anyone can plan their own private event. 

While it’s certainly not a fun activity for most people, planning out a budget is the most important thing when you begin your preparations. This article lays out a few of the fundamental areas to keep in mind when preparing your budget, along with some key questions to ask yourself and average price ranges for associated professional services in Montreal. 

Note that the below article is meant as a starting point, and the price points cited may vary more in real life. As in any other line of business, some things in the event world are negotiable, while others are not. Always prioritize proactive and open communication with all potential venues and suppliers, and don’t forget that you can reach out to a professional planner if you feel like you are in over your head!

The Venue

Finding the right venue may well be the most important single step in your event planning journey, and as the most in-demand venues get booked up early, it’s recommended that you reserve yours as far in advance as possible. Our venue marketplace has over 175 to choose from! 

That being said, there is no standardized price for venue rentals. They can be by the day or by the hour, and the rates can vary wildly based on capacity, location, venue type and services or equipment provided. These rates are generally not negotiable outside of longer, multi-day contracts. 

Key questions to ask 

  • What capacity do I require? Note: be sure to validate this with each venue, as capacity is determined by multiple factors, not just square footage. Some venues may have different capacity levels depending on the type of event – always keep the format in mind when anticipating the amount of space needed). 
  • What extras from the venue do I need in terms of services or equipment? 

The nitty gritty

This will probably be your largest single expense. Prices will vary widely based on the above-mentioned factors (and can even change based on the season or day of the week), but you can expect to pay $100 to $500 per hour, or $1,000 to $10,000 per day, for a private venue rental. 

The Food

You’ll probably want to provide some kind of food to make your event as memorable as possible and to keep your guests comfortable. It can be a challenge to plan out budgets and portion amounts, but an experienced caterer can guide you through this process. 

Key questions

  • Does the venue maintain exclusivity with regards to the provision of food or the use of certain caterers and suppliers?
  • Does your venue have a proper dining area with tables, chairs, and cutlery?  
  • Does your venue provide kitchen equipment, a catering area, and refrigeration? 
  • Are there guests with dietary restrictions that you will need to make special accommodations for? 
  • What will you do with the leftovers?

The nitty gritty

Costs can vary widely based on the type of caterer, the type of services envisioned (buffet style, table service, cocktail and hor d’oeuvres, etc.) and the amount of courses, among other factors. You should expect to pay between $15 and $50 per guest. 

Note that some venues may charge a catering fee if outside caterers are used. 

The Bar

A well-run bar is a key factor in ensuring the success of a festive event. You want your guests to enjoy quality drink options, but you also want to ensure speedy and friendly service. Some venues have a liquor license and provide bartending services. At other spaces, you will have to supply and staff the bar yourself, or hire a third-party provided to do it for you. 

Key questions

  • Does the venue maintain an alcohol license and manage bar service? If not, have you thought about the permitting requirements of your event?
  • What kind of alcohol will you need to provide to match the preferences of your guests and the vibe of the event? Do you want to serve any specialty or thematic cocktails? 
  • Will you provide adequate non-alcoholic options?
  • What will happen with the surplus alcohol? 
  • Does your venue have an ice machine? Do you have an ice supplier if not?

The nitty gritty

If your event has an open bar, you should budget at least $10 per guest per hour. This budget should be spread proportionally across the different types of alcohol (beer, alcohol, wine, spirits, and seltzer) and other ingredients (mixer, garnishes, etc.) you will need. 

Ice can be procured at a grocery store, depanneur, or through a delivery company. For an event of 100 people, you should plan to spend at least $50 on ice, though storage conditions, service volume and the duration of the event can all play a role. 

The Entertainment 

What’s a party without music, performances or other forms of live entertainment? From DJs to bands to singers, good entertainment can make or break events of all kinds. To get the best entertainment possible, be sure to do your research and find a performer who fits the vibe of your event. 

Key questions

  • What equipment do your performers need? Will they bring it themselves, or expect you to provide it?
  • Do you have a special song you want to hear during the event? Will the performers be expected to take requests from guests? If yes, this should all be communicated beforehand. 

The nitty gritty

DJs typically charge between $50 and $100 per hour. The rate is often significantly higher for bands and singers, given the additional complexity of their performances. Note that DJs tend to be more flexible in terms of performance durations. 

It is generally considered good form to provide your performers with refreshments throughout the event to ensure they feel comfortable and energized. 

The Production

Good music without proper sound is like watching a great movie on a flip phone—the content is there, but the delivery is not. Ensuring the audiovisual side of your event is fully functional and professionally run is critical to avoid last-minute hiccups and disappointing guest experiences. 

Key questions

  • Does your venue supply technical personnel or audiovisual equipment (lighting, sound system, microphone, etc.). 
  • Do you want a lighting or sound technician present all night, or just for setup?
  • Do you have any special sound or lighting needs (for example, spotlights aimed at certain parts of the venue)? 
  • Do you require a projector to be set up with pre-loaded media? If so, you should provide your audiovisual professional with this content in advance. 
  • Are there risks of generating noise complaints based on sound levels or time of day?

The nitty gritty

You can rent a basic sound system and lighting for as little as $200, but you should budget at least $400 for a small event. A medium to large event can easily see audiovisual costs in the thousands. Larger rooms require larger sound systems, which in turn necessitate higher delivery and installation costs. 

Sound and lighting technicians tend to be highly specialized and experienced professionals, so you should expect to pay at least $35 an hour for their services. For smaller events, you may be able to find a technician who provides both lighting and sound services at a basic level. 

The Visuals

If it wasn’t caught on camera, did it really happen? Jokes aside, after all your hard work, you’ll want your dream event to be captured by the right photographer or videographer to provide beautiful memories for years to come. While we all have a cousin with a fancy camera, a true professional can make all the difference in terms of composition, framing, lighting, and the intuition ii takes to capture special moments. 

Key questions

  • Is there a limited time frame where you want photos and videos to be taken, or should the photographer or videographer remain on site for the entirety of the event? 
  • Will the event be well or dimly lit? If you expect photos or videos to be taken in a dimly lit context, you should mention this in advance, as special lenses may be required. 
  • Do you want to prioritize candid or organized photos?
  • Do you have a specific timeframe in which you want to receive the final products? 

The nitty gritty

Most photographers and videographers charge by the hour, including the time it takes to sort through and edit the content. Hourly rates for wedding photographers normally range from $100 to $500 per hour, though rates may be lower for non-wedding events. 

The Team

You might be an amazing jack-of-all-trades, but you still need a strong team behind you to ensure the success of your event. 

Key questions

  • Do you need hosts or waiters to welcome and serve your guests? 
  • Does the venue provide security staff? If not, do you need to hire security guards?
  • Is cleaning covered by the venue, or do you need to hire a cleaning team? 
  • Does any of your staff need to conduct a site visit ahead of the event?
  • Is there a room or area where staff members can leave their belongings?
  • Will tips be expected by staff? This is something you can communicate to your guests in advance if so.

The nitty gritty

Hosts, waiters, and cleaners will generally expect between $17 and $30 per hour. 

For rowdier events, you’ll want to book at least 1 security guard per 100 guests. However, some venues may have their own specific requirements. You may want to make sure the agents you work with are licensed by Quebec’s Bureau de la sécurité privée (BSP).

Furnishings and Decoration

From florals and greenery to banquet tables and chairs, you will want to plan for the material needs of your event well in advance. 

Key questions

  • Do you require any special decoration or lighting (candles, lamps, etc.) to make your event vision a reality?
  • What kind of furnishings are provided by your venue (tables, chairs, table cloths, etc.) and what will you need to rent? Can some of these rentals be provided by one of your existing suppliers (e.g. your caterer)? 
  • Do I need to hire additional staff to set up and remove my furnishings and decorations? 

The nitty gritty

For a wedding or similar event, you should allocate between $2,000 and $7,000 for florals and greenery. 

Chairs and tables are generally charged by the unit, with prices typically in the single to double digits for chairs, and double to triple digits for tables. 

Final Thoughts

This guide provides a starting point for your budgeting process, but every event is different and you should take care to plan as comprehensively as possible. Many types of minor expenses are not mentioned here (such as the cost of printing and sending invitations), but these can add up quickly, so it can be good to have a budget for miscellaneous incidents between 2-10% of your total budget. 

Proactive communication with your venue and suppliers is also highly recommended to avoid (or plan for) extra charges—in-person visits or meetings may help you anticipate these. You can also discuss your plans with friends or colleagues who have organized similar events recently to ask about their experiences, and don’t hesitate to browse through our Instagram page if you are ever in need of some inspiration. 

Hopefully you found some of the above advice helpful. We wish you the best of luck in your event planning journey!

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