No doubt, weddings are expensive, but have you ever had the suspicion that prices get inflated once the ‘W’ word is dropped? You can almost imagine the wedding photographer rubbing his hands together in glee. Once in a lifetime events call for once in a lifetime prices.
Well, that’s exactly what we wanted to find out: Does the wedding surcharge exist?
I split up the vendors into a few main categories:
- Venue – Country Club
- Venue – Hotel
For the sake of this experiment, I had to pose as someone who was looking to get married in eight months’ time. Time to flex my acting skills and step into the shoes of a bride-to-be. Game on.
For this, I called up a country club. Wedding venues are the most expensive thing on the list – especially if you’re thinking of hosting a chinese-style banquet.
While on the phone with the booking facilities staff, I belatedly realised halfway that I hadn’t actually planned out any details of my “wedding.”
So when the kindly woman on the phone asked me for my wedding date, I blanked out for a whole 20 seconds before coming up with a random date that fell on a Saturday, “because I love weekends.”
“And are you doing solemnisation or the wedding?” she asked.
Having never considered planning a wedding, ever, I tried my best to sound convincing: “I’d love to do both… because it’s what I’ve always dreamed of.”
Fortunately, it’s easy to fake it over the phone; my panic could have easily passed for pre-wedding jitters.
I got hold of the country club’s wedding package rates (in addition to rates I “needed for a company D&D”). I got a quote of $13,800 for a 200 guest wedding dinner, and $13,000 for the similar sized D&D.
But venues commonly throw in freebies for both D&Ds and weddings. So, to be fair in my comparison, I singled out freebies that are provided exclusively for weddings, and estimated their value using external vendor prices.
Country Club (200 Pax) Wedding Freebies
- Wedding invitation cards ($100, assuming 50c/card)
- A night’s stay at the country club with breakfast (worth $200)
- Wedding favours ($300, assuming $1.50/pax )
- Estimated Total: $600
Country Club Surcharge: 1.15% ($200)
Assuming I’m bringing in 200 guests. The difference between a wedding and non-wedding package would be about $800. However, this is offset by the wedding freebies estimated to be $600.
So actually, there was only a practical difference of $200. So, quite a fair deal here!
On the other hand, getting my hands on the event price list from a prominent hotel was much more rocky.
It was easy enough for me to channel my inner-bride and sleuth out the banquet prices. I found them starting from $1,400 per table (seating 10 pax). With 200 guests, that amounts to an eye-watering $28,000.
However, it seemed they were on to me – when they returned with only the wedding price list after I asked them for the D&D one too. Dang.
Here stepped in my saviour/fiancé/intern, which we named John, to the rescue.
After a few awkward phone calls, he found the price of the dinner and dance package, totalling $18,600.
Whoa, that’s a big difference. Both packages were fundamentally the same – a 10-course Chinese dinner for 200 guests. The only difference I could find between the two were certain freebies.
Hotel Wedding (200 pax) Freebies
- A bottle of champagne ($60)
- 30 litres of beer ($500)
- Basic wedding decorations ($1,300)
- A night’s stay in the Bridal Suite with breakfast ($1,200)
- Wedding favours for all guests ($400, assuming $2/pax)
- Estimated Total: $3,460
Hotel Surcharge: 32% ($5,940)
After reducing the value of freebies, the difference in cost of the same 10-course Chinese dinner between my wedding and a D&D rates came up to $5,940. Ouch. Our first finding of a significant wedding markup.
Now, every bride has to be beautiful on their special day. Even if I wasn’t going to really married, but damned if I wasn’t going to look fabulous for my fake wedding.
For makeup services, I had to talk to a makeup artist to figure out their rates. It was easy enough, I contacted the same artist twice, first asking for makeup, then the second for a birthday party.
Both packages come with their own freebies. To keep things consistent, I requested for single morning sessions for my non-existent wedding – and for someone else’s 21st birthday party.
The wedding package came up to $460, which includes:
- A trial session for hair and makeup
- Hair and makeup on the wedding day
The birthday party package, on the other hand, came up to only $150. No trial of any sort.
The makeup artist also charged a surcharge depending on the call-time as well, ranging from $50 to $120 (on top of the base $460) – which seems fair, if your wedding includes a gatecrashing event at an unholy hour at ass-o’clock, justifying the additional costs.
In this case, the freebies offered, such as false eyelash extensions, were identical between both packages. So both package’s freebies effectively canceled each other out.
Makeup Surcharge: 53% ($80)
If we consider the wedding package’s trial session as a separate session – the wedding package’s price of $460, divided by two, would come two $230 a session, $80 more expensive versus birthday makeup at $150.
I hit a snag regarding photographers.
A professional photographer friend shared that it would not be a good idea to cheap out on a photographer.
“The skill sets will differ a little,” he said, “because weddings are more emotional, and there are key moments to capture unlike regular events where you just have to take photos of whatever is happening, in general.
“This is why the rates are different – a wedding photographer has the experience to be prepared for things in ways an event photographer won’t,” as he justified the wedding premium.
So, for 8 hours, his prices for a wedding shoot were $2400, while for an event lasting the same duration would cost $1200.
Photographer Surcharge: Very high, but justified? 100% ($1200)
My Big Day
Planning for my wedding taught me a few things: Yes, there is a wedding surcharge. And that I’d never marry a guy called John.
But in the end, you might ask, what can I do about it anyway? It’s not like you can convince your photographer and venue that you’re holding a giant bridal-cosplay convention. Be prepared for a 3-tier cake to be thrown at your face.
However, it’s no secret that weddings are not cheap and get pricier every year. In fact for hotel venues they increase yearly – up to 5-10% per annum. But what’s stopping them? Willing buyer, happy seller. If venues continue to be fully booked, vendors will happily continue to increase away.
But the trick could be side-stepping the above-mentioned list of conventional wedding items. If you (and your in-laws) can forgo making the wedding a lavish event, costs can be brought down drastically.
Some creative couples have employed clever tricks such as using alternative wedding venues, DIY’ing their makeup, to even baking their own wedding cakes! Using these techniques, one couple kept their wedding to $3,300!
Now that’s a good start to a happy marriage.