“We kept noticing that our costs were way over budget,” said Laferriere, 29, who works for a wealth management firm in Los Angeles. “Food, rooms, travel – everything got much higher, and we had next to zero bargaining power.
After two years of pandemic-enforced drought, the wedding industry is booming again. But this sudden surge in celebratory demand is being hit by supply chain backlogs, labor shortages and inflation, driving up wedding prices across the country.
Consumers are ready to spend big again, even though the rest of the economy hasn’t caught up. Wedding vendors are reporting a flood of new inquiries for spring and summer weddings, as couples – some of whom have been unexpectedly engaged for three years – rush to make their way down the front aisle another wave of coronavirus infections thwarts their plans.
Overall, Americans are expected hosting 2.5 million weddings this year, up about 30% from last year and the most in nearly four decades, according to the Wedding Report, a national trade group.
“People still want a big poofy wedding, but the market just isn’t ready for it,” said Cele Otnes, professor emeritus of marketing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an expert on lavish weddings. . “Consumer culture is not known for its patience. People had to let go of key rituals during covid, and now that pent up desire is back and maybe going haywire.
Every week, dozens of brides and grooms beg to book wedding planner Susan Cordogan. But while the wedding business is frantically busy, its confetti vendor is out of business. Must-see wedding venues are closed. And Napa Valley paper, ink, flowers and wine are getting hard to come by.
“It’s harder to get, sold out, out of stock and more expensive,” said Cordogan, owner of Big City Bride in Chicago. “For two years, our hands were tied. Now it’s the big wedding boom, but our industry is still catching its breath.
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To keep up with the times, wedding singers book three ceremonies a day. The sites hold receptions every day of the week, including Mondays. And lawyers are working overtime to work out prenuptial agreements.
“I get calls saying, ‘I’m getting married in 2 weeks, how soon can we do this? said Carolyn Goodman, an attorney in Washington, DC, who sees strong demand for prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. “After two years of uncertainty, people want some control over their lives.”
This pent-up demand, combined with insufficient supply, also results in higher prices. Average spending on weddings rose 25% last year, to more than $27,000, according to The Wedding Report. Many wedding planners say they expect that cost to rise even more this year as companies raise prices and impose fuel surcharges.
Corgodan, the Chicago wedding planner, says she advises couples to plan up to 30% more than they normally would. She also encourages them to choose more affordable local options when they can: wildflowers from Indiana instead of orchids from Ecuador, wines from Michigan instead of California, and locally grown beef instead of imported seafood.
“Behind the scenes, most people in our industry have lost their jobs and just haven’t fully returned yet,” she said. “There are so many moving parts.”
Demand for its wedding planning services is up 45% from a year ago, although the most coveted sites are already fully booked for the next two years. Some couples are so eager to lock in available dates, she said, that they book places before they’ve even proposed.
But even once the location is secured, many wildcards remain. Caterers report difficulty finding saffron, vanilla extract and, sometimes, beef and chicken. Innkeepers say they are running out of towels and sheets. And wedding planners say it’s getting harder and harder to find party favors and flip flops for the dance floor.
“Before, we could move at the speed of light, but everything takes longer now,” she said, adding that she had recently sent a staff member on a two-hour drive to find some paper for invitations. “The kinds of things that we would normally have on hand, that we could get in a day or a week, take months. They’re really on the slow boat and just not available.”
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An estimated 80% of wedding dresses, for example, come from China, where new coronavirus outbreaks have crippled entire cities. Given the delays and looming uncertainty, more and more brides are opting to wear family attire, said Maria Luz, owner of Anytime Alterations in Kensington, Maryland. It doubled its staff to four employees last month and is working overtime. to accommodate last-minute brides.
“Dress deliveries don’t arrive on time, so people are using mom and grandma’s dresses,” she said. “We restore dresses and resize and restyle them for today’s tastes.”
Small businesses like Luz’s make up the vast majority of the wedding industry and have also been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. According to a Federal Reserve study, about 800,000 small businesses closed permanently in the first year of the pandemic, about 30% more than the average.
“Wedding vendors tend to be the little moms and pops who didn’t survive covid,” said John Salazar, associate professor of hospitality at the University of Georgia. “Whether it’s florists or limo companies, calligraphers or wedding planners, they just aren’t there anymore to provide the services people are looking for.”
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In Winthrop, Maine, venue owner Gene Carbona says the industry is so understaffed that local nurses and retailers have started moonlighting as DJs and wedding photographers. Meanwhile, he and his wife have started hosting rehearsal dinners and Sunday brunches themselves because vendors are so scarce.
“There has been an explosion of events at the same time as there is a massive shortage of workers,” said Carbona, who bought the barn at Silver Oaks Estate eight years ago. “Many caterers have had to double or triple their weekends. They don’t have the infrastructure to do it, but they do it anyway out of desperation.
Carbona says he also plans to raise prices to keep up with inflation. Ice and booze cost 50% more than before, he said, while Coca-Cola 12-packs have more than doubled, from $2.99 to $6.99. Toppings such as freeze-dried limes, which previously cost $2,000 per 100 pounds, now cost four times as much.
For many providers, the flurry of activity follows two years of near-zero activity, when gigs were constantly rescheduled or canceled. So while working consecutive weekends has been overwhelming, many say they are hesitant to turn down much-needed bookings.
Newark jazz violinist and singer Charisa Rouse is frequently triply booked these days, thronging for brunches, afternoon and evening weddings. Business has been so booming that she recently hired two assistants to help with bookings.
“Almost every weekend in 2022 is sold out,” she said. “But everything was down for two years during the pandemic, so I’ll never complain about too much work.”
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For couples, especially those who have repeatedly had to reschedule, the recent frenzy adds even more complications to years of anticipation and planning.
Eric Malcolm and Hillary Steiger got engaged in early 2019, believing they would marry the following year. But the pandemic has upended their plans. They had to reschedule their lakeside wedding several times near Cleveland.
Most of the wedding will remain as they planned, with 100 guests, rib eye steaks and an open bar. But Steiger’s dress went through multiple alterations, and the couple had to get creative to deal with inflation: When their wedding photographer raised prices by $1,000, Malcolm hired an ex-girlfriend to take pictures instead.
Now they are set to wed on June 4 – just weeks after Steiger gave birth to their first child.
“The baby is going to beat us,” said Malcolm, 39, who works in tech support. “We’ve been engaged for three years, but life hasn’t stopped. It’s time to get married.”