Cocktails and canapes, high tea and breakfast receptions have become popular wedding-day alternatives for couples getting married on a budget.

An Auckland-based wedding planner says three-course sit-down meals and open bars are out of favour among couples who don't want to spend a small house deposit on a big white wedding, as more brides and grooms opt for intimate, inexpensive affairs to tie the knot.

Beautiful Events director Lisa Hill, who has been organising weddings for eight years, said the average New Zealand wedding cost $30,000.

But Mrs Hill said she recently organised a $10,000 wedding for one couple who had an "amazing" day.


"And that included them having a planner, and they had two bridesmaids, two groomsmen and about 45 guests.

"She still had beautiful flowers. We still managed to do some great styling. She still had a wedding cake, and great photographer.

"It's just all in how you structure the budget."

Catering was one of the biggest expenses of a wedding, according to Mrs Hill, who said that depending on the venue, dinner could cost between $80 and $100 per head.

For an average-sized wedding of 120 guests the bill soon added up, and then there was the bar tab, which could be as much as $50 a head.

However, Mrs Hill said, couples who wanted to be thrifty could choose a buffet, or canapes, bowl food and a carvery, high tea, or a breakfast to reduce the food budget to between $25 and $60 a head.

She recommended choosing low-priced bottles and using waiters to serve wine at the tables.

"If you put bottles on your tables your beverage budget will disappear a lot faster because you can't control the consumption."


Some couples set a bar tab and left guests to pay when it ran dry.

Mrs Hill said high-tea brunches were becoming increasingly popular.

"It's a way for them to have a small, intimate wedding, but not have a huge cost."

Mrs Hill, who costs between $200 and $8,000 depending on her input, said these days, guests were not shocked at having to pay for drinks at a wedding, or that a couple would opt for a cocktail evening instead of a full reception.

"If you go to a wedding where you know that it's a couple that are struggling, or they're doing something small and intimate, you're not going to be expecting to be drinking Moet and Veuve Clicquot all night," she said.

Marriage celebrant and former television presenter Kay Gregory said one couple held a picnic by the lake for their reception.

"They just wanted something that was not so structured and that was absolutely lovely.

"It is quite a growing trend to do things in a simpler way but it's hard to know if that's budget or just wanting to do things not the way it's always been done."

She said other couples chose a restaurant for the reception instead of a function venue and asked guests to pay for their meal in lieu of a present.

Photographer Nicola Inglis said many couples opted for the digital-only photo package, which was about $2,000 cheaper than an album, to save money. She said more couples were setting up a registry where guests contributed to the cost of the album, or they paid it off over time.

Photographer Brooke Baker said she was to shoot a vegan wedding where guests were being asked to bring a plate and pitch a tent at the couple's lifestyle property, while the hosts would provide homegrown vegetables and the alcohol.

Mrs Baker said couples were learning they didn't have to "do what the wedding industry tells them" on their special day.

Less costly gatherings just as nice

Kate and Hamish Campbell's high tea wedding reception cost less than $8,000 but the bride still had all the trimmings, including new shoes, flowers and a photographer.

The couple chose high tea on Auckland Anniversary Day in Cornwall Park for their 48 guests because it matched their budget and desire for a relaxed and intimate wedding breakfast.

Mrs Campbell, 40, said the day was about family and not having a large "shindig".

High tea fitted their vintage theme and helped keep the cost down, allowing Mrs Campbell to still have a wedding dress from her favourite UK shop, Monsoon, professional hair and make-up help, a car service, a cake, a bagpiper and even a wedding planner. She and Hamish were determined not to spend money they didn't have.

"As soon as you say "wedding", the price seems to double. We didn't want to start off in debt."

Rotorua lab technician Clair Scott-Coker said she and her new husband, Allan, chose a cocktail reception so they could spend more time mingling with guests.

Mrs Scott-Coker, 25, said the pair only recently returned from their OE and had bought a house, so a cocktail evening for 60 at her parents' lodge in Hamurana suited their budget and style.

The night wedding and honeymoon to the South Island cost less than $9,000, including $4000 for a photographer.

She had a $1300 off-the-rack wedding gown, flowers, and a $400 cake. The food, by Waiariki Institute of Technology students, cost $650, but Mrs Scott-Coker advised others thinking of a similar reception to make sure there were plenty of canapes.

Say 'I do' and save

• Buy a second-hand designer dress. Trade Me has new imports.
• Find a bargain photographer. Skip the before photos.
• Hire corporate cabs as wedding cars.
• Go for a smaller cake.
• Get a DJ, cut the guest list and go BYO.