I've been asked this question twice in the past 24 hours. One couple had a guest list of 50, the other 150. Here's my answer:
$5,000 is a lot of money, so it doesn't surprise me that so many couples pick that magic figure as their wedding budget. However, In Washington, DC the average wedding (150 Wedding Guests, 5 Bride’s Attendants & 5 Groom’s Attendants) cost $40,000 (this figure isn't statistically correct; there are deviations, but it's a popular average). Now, say you're planning a pretty simple wedding. It's not over the top. You're not splurging on flowers. As a matter of fact, you've saved tons of money on photography and transportation, because you have a terrific wedding planner (yeah, that would be me :), you can still expect to spend anywhere between $135 - $265 per guest depending on your venue. Now this total isn't just the catering portion of your budget; this is total cost -- from dress to favors -- so here's your budget estimate:
150 guests x $135 = $20,250 or 150 guests x $265 = $39,750. Therefore, if you have 50 guests and a $5,000 budget, to stay within budget your total cost cannot exceed $100 per guest, and if you have 150 guests and a $5,000 budget, to stay within budget your total cost cannot exceed roughly $33 per guest, which means you would either have to cut corners or cut your guest list.
That said, can you plan a wedding in DC for 150 people for only $5,000? Absolutely! As long as you have realistic expectations of what you will get for your money. You may not be able to have the four course sit-down dinner at the historic ballroom you've been dreaming about ever since you were a little girl (because their site fee alone is $9,000), but you can still have a nice party.