The Wedding Markup is Real, But Here’s Why I Don’t Mind Paying It
You wouldn’t expect to get Manolos for a Payless price. Weddings are no different.
My fiancé and I are planning a wedding. Yay!
But it’s so &$^!!*#% expensive. Booooooo.
I consider myself an advanced shopper. Sample sales, deal sites and apps?—?I’m all over them. And yet now, for the first time in my life, I’m forced to pay for things that are not only full price, but above full price?—?the so-called “wedding tax.”
A 2016 study from Consumer Reports found that 28% of vendors quoted a higher price for weddings compared to an otherwise identical “anniversary party.” A similar investigation in Australia revealed that venues?—?the priciest portion of any wedding budget?—?charged more in 50% of cases.
You might even hear horror stories of aggressive vendors. Maybe the limo company that only offers couples eight-hour minimums, complete with garish “Here Comes the Bride” horns. Or a planner who guilt-trips you because “This is a once-in-a-lifetime fairytale!!!”
People who go into the wedding industry tend to be lovely, hard-working people who genuinely find pleasure in being part of a couple’s big day. Most of them will work with you on your budget.
Look, no one wants to get price-gouged and overall wedding expectations have ballooned to grotesque proportions. I’m not saying a $20,000 dress is worth every penny because there’s bound to be a massive markup in that price.
But after interviewing and signing with multiple vendors, this girl—who has never paid retail in her life—is okay with the “wedding tax.” It’s true: When vendors hear “wedding,” they jack up the price. And with good reason. Here’s why.
The products and services are on a whole other level.
Even if you don’t believe the hype that THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF YOUR LIFE, you have to admit: It’s a very important day. What’s perfectly fine at a birthday party might not be a great match for a wedding. The first step in accepting wedding prices is to understand you can’t expect peonies at carnation prices.
“Weddings require significantly more planning, practice and attention to detail both before and during the occasion,” says Devon Stein, VP at Scratch Weddings, a company that has executed over 100,000 events. DJs aren’t just playing music; they’re orchestrating a detailed run-of-show, including entrances, dances, toasts, cake-cutting and more.
Or take your wedding dress. I always thought I would simply buy a designer dress that happened to be white and call it a day. Why spend $10,000 on a bridal Reem Acra when I could walk into a department store and spend a fraction of that for a Reem Acra ready-to-wear?
Set one foot in a bridal salon and you’ll see why. Bridal gowns are couture, with all the craftsmanship and high-end materials that word implies.
“Each gown is made one at a time, by hand, and for one specific person. This is different than buying something off the rack because these [off-the-rack] items are usually cut in bulk and produced in mass, thus keeping the cost down,” says Orla Stiles, founder of Solstice Bride in Venice Beach, California. “It’s not just a white dress you pick up at the mall; it’s the workmanship, fabric and fit that differentiates this from any old white dress.”
The work must stand the test of time.
A wedding has a lot of moving parts and making everything run smoothly requires a ton of work. Take the photographer, for example. If this was a family reunion, a photographer would take some pics of the guests, the vibe, and the food. Done.
Event photography is journalistic in nature, showing everyone as they are. Happy, perhaps—but also sweaty, wrinkled, and chewing with their mouths open.
If event photography is suited for a newspaper, wedding photography is suited for Vanity Fair. That means post-production editing, as well as plenty of work on the front end, including finding the right angle and light, corralling all the guests, and making sure Aunt Cathy’s scruffy Pomeranian isn’t in this timeless, perfect picture.
Your vendors show grace under pressure.
With all the build-up, out-of-town guests and the fact that (hopefully) this is the only time you’ll do this, the stakes are higher for a wedding.
“You wouldn’t be happy if your boss came up to you and said, ‘Even though you are handling the Smith Corporate Account taxes, I think you should earn the same wage as if you were working on Mom & Pop’s taxes even though you’ll be working 3x as much with 3x the risk’,” says Leann Moore of Whimsical Floral, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Increased pressure leads to increased diligence, which leads to increased price. Simple as that.
Vendors are ready to execute Plan B (and C).
Because the day is so important, many vendors build contingency plans and buffer time into their pricing. What if your ceremony musician is sick? Or there’s traffic and the limo is held up?
Patience, attention, quality and peace of mind are?—?despite our wishful thinking?—?not free.
“We prefer to plan for the worst-case scenario,” says Megan Garmers, founder and director of MG Hair and Makeup. “We allot extra time so the artist isn’t running to another appointment immediately after yours or making you feel rushed. It is your wedding day and you should be able to enjoy the process.”
Though you might not use the back-up plan and everything might go exactly to schedule (fingers crossed!), these safety nets are like insurance and instant peace of mind.
Make sure you’re comparing (gold, spray-painted) apples to apples.
Wedding planning is filled with sticker-shock moments, but you have to ask yourself: What is this sticker actually paying for?
All in, a wedding catering bill can easily cost $175+ per person. When I first heard that, I was flabbergasted. After all, that price will get you a tasting menu at the best restaurants across the country, including Le Bernardin in NYC ($180), Alinea in Chicago ($210) and Manresa in the Bay Area ($185).
But off-site catering is not the same as a restaurant. If your venue doesn’t have the components you need, the caterer must rent everything: tables, chairs, linens, plates, glassware, ovens, etc. Staff must travel to and from the site. And unlike a restaurant, wedding staff serve only one dinner, meaning that, compared to a restaurant, a caterer serves fewer people in the same amount of time, resulting in higher labor costs.
You get flexibility and communication…with a smile.
The average engagement is 14 months, meaning wedding planning is a long, drawn-out process that allows for limitless second-guessing and stress. Even if you’re not seeking perfection (whatever that means), wedding decision-making can feel fraught.
I’ve asked so many questions, waffled, and requested trials and samples, always feeling guilty that I was being a difficult bridezilla. But my vendors have always taken the time to listen and are happy to make any changes—even moreso after the contracts were signed.
Normally a service has a set number of decision rounds. You wouldn’t expect a lawyer or graphic designer to give you unlimited edits. And yet with a wedding, vendors try to cater to the couple’s every wish and whim—service that is priced accordingly.
In the end, the bill is high?—?but fair.
Look, I’m not saying you have to go into debt to have a wedding, or that you need all the bells and whistles because of outside pressures to be lavish or Pinteresting. I’m also not saying higher prices are ethical or warranted across the board (um, bathroom trailers are bathroom trailers wherever they park). Maybe, for you, a backyard BBQ is best. Or an elopement. You have to do what makes you comfortable.
But people who go into the wedding industry tend to be lovely, hard-working people who genuinely find pleasure in being part of a couple’s big day. Most of them will work with you on your budget while still maintaining a happy medium.
“Nothing is worse for a company or a bride than going so low on a budget where the…150 guests at a wedding leave with a literal bad taste in their mouth,” says Matthew Antoun of Modern Art Catering in Los Angeles. “We don’t put ourselves or our brides in that situation, ever.”
So the next time you think, “Weddings are just a chance to get ripped off,” remember that patience, attention, quality and peace of mind are?—?despite our wishful thinking?—?not free.