In March of 2022, event planner Shannon Leahy was in Napa Valley meeting a tent rental company for a couple who planned to wed at a private estate. At the helm of her company for 15 years, she knew approximately how much the tent should cost; she had put up tents on private properties several times before.
Leahy said she estimated the quote would come in at $50,000 to $70,000. Instead, she got a quote for $165,000.
“I got two more quotes that week about the same,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it. How was I going to explain this to my client?”
A few days later, she met with a florist for a centerpiece mockup for another couple. Once again, the vendor shared a surprising quote, almost double the budget.
“We couldn’t deny it anymore,” Leahy says. “Inflation is a huge problem.”
Leahy is one of many wedding professionals feeling the effects of inflation, which has hit record highs this year at more than 8 percent. That means, she said, that a contract for $10,000 only buys about $9,000 worth of goods and services, cutting into the bottom line. The economy, combined with supply chain challenges, labor shortages, and revenue losses due to rescheduled weddings during the height of the pandemic, has all resulted in serious sticker shock for couples and vendors alike.
“Costs have gone up for suppliers, and they’ve been passing it on to us,” says Brian Buonassissi, who runs two wedding music businesses as DJ Brian B. “We’ve had to do the same to our clients, so it’s definitely been a trickle down effect.”
Couples see it too. The New York Times published a story this spring sharing the plight of a Brooklyn, New York-based couple that changed their venue, among other line items, just to stay somewhat close to their budget. The couple even skipped a DJ in exchange for a playlist. The event still topped $30,000, more than the average cost of a wedding, $28,000, according to The Knot.
Not only are the costs increasing for wedding businesses across the country but vendor teams are also faced with the challenging tasks of explaining this to their clients. Gretchen Culver, of Rocket Science Events, said that managing inflation is part of her job as a planner and educating her clients on what to expect in the next six, nine, or even 12 months. Her first line of defense? Creating a budget that accounts for unexpected price increases so quotes from vendors seem less shocking.
Particularly hard hit are vendor categories with higher overhead, like catering, venues, and florists. Rising ingredient costs, cost-of-living raises to team members, and increased prices of their fabricators have all meant pricier options for clients, said Carly Katz-Hackman, chief sales officer of Pinch Food Design, a catering company. While clients understand higher food costs in their personal lives, she said, that doesn’t always translate to their wedding budget.
“We tried to avoid [increasing pricing] for the sake of the couples who have been trying to wait out the post-COVID rush to wed, but we aren't able to push it any longer,” explains Sarah Worsley, director of operations at Race + Religious, a venue in New Orleans. “A 30 percent increase on our basic overhead isn't something we can eat any longer. Our profit margins are suffering.”
Flowers have also skyrocketed in price since 2020. Supply chain shortages still have popular wedding flowers like roses clocking in at up to 25 percent more than their pre-pandemic prices, said Rishi Patel of HMR Designs. He finds it’s an “out bid or overpay” situation with their suppliers to get the products they need for their clients.
He advises clients to expect a 35 percent increase in their design budget.
Part of the price increase is for rising labor costs. Tracey Morris of Ella & Louie has maintained her 2020 overhead reduction to temper her costs, which she said are up some 20 percent. But trying to balance customer service is a challenge, she said. Fewer employees come at a different price: customer experience.
“I just don't have the bandwidth for all the back and forth, so I use technology to manage it instead of extra employees that I either can't find or afford,” Morris says. “There is no extra help to do anything non-essential.”
Wedding pros and their couples have found inventive ways to account for inflation. Xin Huang, lead designer at Le Petite Privé, has seen couples streamline their guest lists in order to keep the experience at a high level, including live performances and specific design elements. She explained that couples are focusing on a more intimate group of guests—then skipping favors, hosting smaller rehearsal dinners, and opting for digital invitations—all to compromise for higher costs.
Some couples are choosing destination weddings as a way to reduce headcount. Florida-based Nicole Brandfon and her fiance, Adam Alonso, told CNBC in May that they are spending “a fraction of the cost” to say “I do” in Cartagena, Colombia instead of Miami. Though airfare prices have increased 34 percent from the summer of 2019, international destination weddings can still come in less expensive than certain U.S. destinations, said photographer Clane Gessel.
“Even if couples have unlimited money, they're more careful about who they select to come,” Gessel says. “Some of them even gave their parents a set number of guests they could invite.”
There are little ways to cut corners too. Planner Lea Stafford said that she has reduced the number of rental partners to save on delivery fees and labor costs for her clients. Don Hennig, owner of Chandon Arbors, a popular wedding venue in Keller, Texas, said that couples are reducing bar services and skimming proteins in favor of vegetarian Italian dishes as a way to compensate for the higher costs of catering.
Shafonne Myers, an online sales strategist for wedding vendors and publisher at Pretty Pear Bride, has seen a shift from traditional advertising in vendor guides to influencer marketing. Instead of a set monthly fee to be part of a guide, vendors can kick off a digital marketing campaign at strategic times. Myers said that many vendors are now seeing this form of marketing as a necessity when just a year ago, it may not have been top of mind.
So is relief in sight? Event designer Jove Meyer explained that once you pay someone a higher wage for a job, that wage will likely remain the same. Prices won’t go back to pre-pandemic levels even if they do decrease. Some vendors may begin to reassess partnerships with suppliers to ensure the value feels equivalent to the higher costs, and others, like Leahy, suggest including a price adjustment clause in the contract. Pros focused on destination events advise to charge travel costs as reimbursements for the amount booked rather than a set number or inclusive in vendor fees.
The biggest piece of advice, as noted by several wedding pros, is to be transparent with couples that what they want simply costs more.
“As an industry, we have to be honest about what prices are like right now, even if it means disappointing potential new clients and risking losing the sale,” Leahy says. “If you aren’t telling the truth, you are only setting that client up for failure and disappointment.”