do vendors really charge more just because it's a wedding?

Yesterday, Today Show contributor Jeff Rossen tackled a question that seems to come up every couple of years on TV news shows and in wedding magazines: Is there a secret wedding tax? That is, do vendors charge more for weddings just because they can, taking advantage of engaged couples in the process?

To answer the question, Mr. Rossen and his producer, Lindsey Bomnin, visited three different vendors while wearing hidden cameras. Mr. Rossen posed as a person planning a five-hour birthday party for 150 guests; Ms. Bomnin posed as an engaged woman planning her five-hour wedding reception for 150 guests. Two of the vendors, the venue (which was also providing in-house catering) and the photographer, offered identical or similar pricing for both events; the third vendor, a DJ, charged more for the wedding. You can watch the video for yourself here.

Shocking on the DJ's part, right? No, not at all, and here's why: Mr. Rossen and Ms. Bomnin asked for two very different things, so they got two very different prices. (I actually was surprised at the photographer's pricing, both because it was so low and because it didn't increase much for the wedding client. I'll get to that in another post.)

Photo by Jennifer Cody of Egomedia Photography, featuring the beautiful Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., and awesome DJ Anthony Simpson of myDeejay

Photo by Jennifer Cody of Egomedia Photography, featuring the beautiful Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., and awesome DJ Anthony Simpson of myDeejay

If you go shopping for two different things you don't expect to pay the same price for them, right? Of course not. But why should the same amount of time spent with the same number of guests cost more if that event is a wedding? Because there's typically so much more work involved:

Weddings involve a number of events (usually at least three — the ceremony, the cocktail hour, and the reception) all taking place in one day, and they have to flow together seamlessly. There are logistics involved like moving guests from one venue to another, setting the room for one event then resetting it for the next, and making sure deliveries to multiple locations happen accurately and on time. Each of those wedding events also requires its own design work, which involves hours of research and planning. Birthdays typically involve one event: The birthday party, which happens in one location.

Wedding receptions feature a number of what I call subceremonies: Introductions, welcome address, dinner blessing, cake cutting, garter and bouquet tosses, first dances and other special dances, a choreographed exit, and often more. Birthdays involve some of these as well, but typically not as many. Plus, again, birthdays lack a wedding ceremony or anything similar. Making sure each of these subceremonies happens on time and smoothly requires a great deal of behind the scenes planning, plus coordination with the rest of the vendor team. The wedding planner, DJ, photographer, videographer, and catering staff all have to act in concert to be sure the events unfold as planned and are beautifully photographed and filmed, because there's no redo. This amounts to hours of additional planning work before the event even happens.

Photo by Marisa Guzman-Aloia Photography, featuring a private venue in Washington, D.C., and wedding cake by Fancy Cakes by Leslie

Photo by Marisa Guzman-Aloia Photography, featuring a private venue in Washington, D.C., and wedding cake by Fancy Cakes by Leslie

So how does pricing for events work? Do vendors just hike up prices to cover the presumed extra work for weddings? I can't speak for everybody in the wedding industry, of course, but I don't price things that way and I don't know anybody who does.

At Pretty Entertaining, we have starting prices for the wedding services we offer. Those prices are based on the amount of work that constitutes a typical wedding for us. For events that are larger or more complex, however, our fees go up because the amount of work required goes up. And you know what? For events that are unusually small or simple, our fees go down because we know we'll be doing less work for our clients. Fair pricing matters.

We also offer planning services for birthdays and other social events. Our fees for those are typically lower than our wedding planning fees, but the planning fee for an elaborate birthday might well be higher than the fees for some of our simple weddings because, the birthday would require more work than those simple weddings. Again, fair pricing matters.

Photo by Spence Photographics at historic Whitehall Estate in Bluemont, Virginia

Photo by Spence Photographics at historic Whitehall Estate in Bluemont, Virginia

At the end of his piece Mr. Rossen encouraged his viewers to adopt his investigative techniques at home. He suggested that people planning weddings could get price quotes from their chosen vendors, then have a friend call up those same vendors to see if they could get better pricing if they lie and say they're inquiring about a birthday. This part really burns me up because Mr. Rossen is implying that vendors who charge more for weddings than for birthdays must be fleecing their customers, which is simply not true.

Jeff Rossen isn't a wedding professional but I am, so take my advice, not his:

  • Be honest with your wedding vendors if you want the best service and experience.
  • Don't assume that different pricing for different types of events equals vendor dishonesty, because it probably doesn't.
  • If you wonder why something costs what it does, ask about it! We'll be happy to explain. We want you to be happy and confident about all of your wedding decisions.

In short, be honest with your vendors and they'll be honest with you. Share as much accurate information as possible so we can take every detail into account and give you our very best work. That's what you really want, right? And that's we want too. Honest.