It might sound unromantic, but wedding banquets in Singapore are often run like businesses. Aside from those couples whose main objective is to throw the most lavish banquet possible, many are more pragmatic. They balk at the cost of hosting a banquet but still do so to please their parents.
Deep down, they’re anxious about recouping the cost of the celebration from the ang bao donations of their guests. Here are some tips that can give you a higher chance of breaking even and perhaps even making a bit of a profit at your own wedding banquet.
Be selective about whom you invite
Ask any married person who’s gone through the entire wedding banquet ordeal, and they’ll tell you that the people you invite to your wedding are the single biggest factor influencing how much you lose or make from your wedding dinner. After all, the ang bao money is going to come from them.
Never make the mistake of believing that the more people you invite, the more money you’ll make. If you try to invite all of your primary school classmates, every single person who works in your company or all your distant relatives, be prepared to lose money. When people with whom you don’t share a close relationship get invited to your wedding, they rarely give big ang baos. You probably invited them just to make up the numbers, and they know it.
The most profitable weddings tend to be those to which only people who are close to the couple get invited. The closer the relationship is, the more generous the ang baos tend to be. If you intend to invite colleagues, do not invite the entire company or even everyone whom you speak with regularly. Limit those invited to your boss and your lunch kakis or those with whom you have a friendship outside of work.
Vet the people your parents or spouse invite
Chinese Singaporean couples tend to feel obligated to allot their parents a certain number of tables at their wedding banquets so the latter can then invite all their friends and relations. If your in-laws are demanding twenty tables or your parents are inviting every single person they know, from the auntie at their favourite hawker stall to every person in town who shares your family name, be prepared to lose money.
In general, relatives tend to give less than close friends—even worse if they’re distant relatives or you only ever see them during Chinese New Year. Entire families tend to be the most unprofitable people to invite, as any kids present will take up space at the table but will rarely be adequately compensated for in the ang bao.
While you might be determined not to lose money on your own wedding banquet, your spouse might have other ideas. It’s a good idea to be involved in drawing up the guest list rather than simply allocating each person a certain number of tables to fill. For all you know, your spouse-to-be is planning to invite everyone he or she has ever hung out with from the age of six to the present day.
Limit the alcohol
While you might be paying a fixed price for each table, you can bet that the final bill will be dramatically affected by how much alcohol is consumed at the wedding. If most of the people at your wedding are there just to get drunk, be prepared to have to foot a heftier bill. Conversely, limiting the amount of alcohol consumed at the banquet can lower your costs.
Not serving alcohol is pretty much out of the question at Chinese wedding banquets, and you can be sure you’ll face some very pissed off guests should you choose to go that route. There are, however, some tricks you can use to reduce the amount of booze consumed.
If you’re getting married on a Friday or Saturday night, you’ll not only end up paying the maximum price on your wedding banquet, you also run the risk of the guests trying their darnedest to get their money’s worth by getting completely sloshed. Hold your banquet on a weekday or Sunday, on the other hand, and people will drink much more conservatively in the knowledge that they have to show up for work the next day.
In addition, you might want to order only selected types of alcohol—expensive liquors or champagne are a no-no, while Anchor or Tiger beer is usually the most economical option. Instruct the servers to only serve alcohol at certain times—for instance, after the first or second course. Letting your guests start drinking before the first course will increase the amount consumed significantly, as they’ll be mingling with nothing to keep their hands busy.
Plan for a certain number of no-shows
If you think everyone you invited is going to show up, you’re naive. While it’s impossible to predict the actual no-show rate, many people peg it at around 10% to 15%. That means you should assume that 10% to 15% of the people who RSVPed are not going to show up, and you’re going to have to absorb the cost of their absence.
If possible, try to plan your wedding for fewer people than the number that have RSVPed yes. This can be tricky when it comes to seating plans and can be very difficult to execute if you’re holding a large banquet.
When drawing up seating plans for smaller weddings, bear in mind that some guests can be flexibly seated, meaning they can be comfortably shifted to various tables. As such, if you have invited 10 tables’ worth of people but are only going to pay for 9, at least 10 people will need to be flexible enough to sit at a different table if need be.
Although we don’t recommend inviting couples as they tend to give less per head, those who do come in a pair can usually be shifted around more easily as they won’t be alone even if they’re seated at a table where they don’t know too many people.
Relatives can usually be seated quite comfortably with various members of the clan and can be shuffled around accordingly. Another trick is to have mixed tables, containing some relatives and some friends. That way, it will be easier to shift people around without having to worry that they’ll know no one at the table.
Did you make or lose money at your wedding banquet? Share your stories in the comments!