Weddings - at what price?

Our investigation confirms higher quotes go hand in hand with the W-word.
 
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01 .Introduction

iStock_wedding

We set out to prove - or disprove - the theory that brides-to-be pay more. Last year, the number of Australian couples tying the knot hit a 20-year high and in 2008 the average cost for a wedding was $33,349. The wedding industry cops a lot of criticism when it comes to pricing, and when the W-word is mentioned, can you ever be sure you're paying what you should?

CHOICE commissioned two shadow shoppers to organise quotes for a wedding and a birthday - both events had the same number of guests and identical requirements. Our shadow shop focused on the following:

  • venue hire
  • photography
  • hire cars
  • entertainment
  • cake
  • flowers

We suspected higher quotes for those planning on saying "I do" but some disturbing techniques also emerged in our wedding enquiries. One of the main trends? Our shoppers were often directed to pricey "wedding packages" that include a lot of unnecessary extras, and don't allow for individual requirements. The importance of shopping around is recommended - and don't be afraid to haggle!

Please note: this information was current as of December 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


 
 

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Businesses were selected in Melbourne and Sydney to provide a good cross-section of suburbs and demographics. To see if the W-word would make a distinct difference in prices our two shadow shoppers contacted 60 businesses  – 30 in each city – and each was contacted twice, once by our bride and once by the birthday girl.

  • Florists were asked to provide quotes on flowers to decorate the venue only – no bridal bouquets were requested.
  • The photographer was told they were only needed for the reception and not the ceremony, as this was being done by a friend.
  • For the cake, flowers and car enquiries, the birthday shopper used the same details confirmed for the wedding scenario.

Wedding enquiries were conducted first. Our prospective bride made a phone call to ask about pricing and request a quote. Once this enquiry was completed, the second shopper called the same business with exactly the same request, but claimed the event was a 40th birthday. The second call was made approximately one week after the first call.

As suspected - more than half the wedding suppliers approached by our shadow shoppers quoted a higher price for the bride than the birthday girl.

What do industry experts say?

That wedding customers are often far more demanding than other customers - and this is why so many suppliers are inclined to charge extra.

John O’Meara, Chairman of the Australia Bridal Industry Association, argues that in some cases charging a price premium is justified.

“A wedding is a one-off, and as a result people are often very demanding and very high-maintenance customers. In many cases, a wedding customer is going to expect so much more in terms of quality and service than another customer. Most of the suppliers are small operators and they have to work hard to make
the client happy."

Wedding celebrant Megan West sees a lot of overstressed brides with sky-high expectations. “Some brides are so stressed about trivial things like place cards that they lose sight of what their wedding is really about. I had one woman who was so obsessed with everything being perfect she actually forgot to write her wedding vows!”

With so much money to be spent, it's hardly surprising there's a growing number of wedding suppliers eager for a slice of the action. Glenn Findlay (managing director of Australian Bridal Service) says car hire companies, photographers and make-up artists are typically the most complained-about services, many of whom are start-up amateurs hoping to cash in on couples ready to spend up on their big day.

The Choice verdict?

Our shadow shop shows it doesn’t pay to mention the word “wedding” if it really isn’t critical. If you’re planning a wedding, be clear on what you are willing to spend, don’t be afraid to haggle and always be sure to shop around.

CHOICE believes that for services such as a DJ and car hire there should be no difference in the quality of the service provided or the cost.

For reception venues, cakes, flowers and photographers it depends on your individual requirements and the contract you enter into with the provider. One CHOICE member (see Don’t blow the budget) saved a fortune by asking for a catering quote from a venue before disclosing the event was a wedding!

Take note! There is no governing body for the wedding industry in Australia, but consumers can take complaints to the Office of Fair Trading in their state or territory.

Reception venues

Wedding Venue iStockA venue can gobble up the biggest slice of your wedding budget. Our shadow shop indicates you’ll be charged more if you’re having a wedding – with one Melbourne venue wanting to charge almost double. Overall, the reception venues had a one-size-fits-all approach - with little tailoring to suit individual needs, and generally costing a lot more.

“You do see a lot of people getting pushed into doing the same things; often the wedding options are packaged up and there’s not much opportunity to deviate from what’s on offer,” says Terri Psiakis, author of wedding survival guide Tying the Knot Without Doing Your Block. “People also seem to feel pressured into having what their friends had. As a result, you can go to five different weddings from one circle of friends and they’re all the same. It’s difficult to remember whose wedding was whose.”

Beware the additional fee some venues impose to have your wedding ceremony onsite. Some charge an additional flat fee, while others charge per guest. One CHOICE staff member was recently quoted an additional $25 per head for her 70 guests if she wanted to have her ceremony onsite at one venue. When she queried what this extra $1750 covered, she was told it was for 20 chairs, a table, a piece of carpet and an archway.

Photographers

Camera lens iStockThe photographer can spend hours with the couple before the ceremony and during the nuptials, travelling offsite for more formal shots of the bridal party, and capturing the revelry of the reception. Photographers are usually responsible for any post-production work and developing a wedding album.

In order to keep requests identical, the bride shadow shopper told photographers she only wanted photos taken at the reception, as a relative would be capturing the ceremony. Both scenarios required a photographer to take photos at the venue for four hours, with a mix of posed and informal shots to be delivered on a CD.

Our shadow shoppers collected some extreme discrepancies from the 10 photographers approached.

  • Only three photographers offered the same rate; and only two had a small difference with most quotes calculated by the hour.
  • Four businesses quoted a much higher price for the wedding. One photographer wanted to charge a massive $2200 more for the wedding - insisting there was only an all-day rate for weddings, despite our shopper emphasising she didn’t want or need this. When our birthday girl called, the same business was quite happy to provide an hourly rate at a reasonable price.
  • In the other cases, photographers quoted up to 150% more for the wedding, again only offering expensive all-day rates.

As with venues, wedding photography packages were offered with little flexibility and in most cases priced at a minimum of four to five hours. On several occasions, our bride said she didn’t feel the staff really listened to her specific requirements. Once again, the one-size-fits-all approach applies once the W-word is mentioned.

Cakes 

Wedding Cake iStockIt’s worth shopping around for any kind of cake -  on two occasions the birthday cake quote was 11% more than the wedding cake!

Our bride and birthday girl requested a modern style, white chocolate mud cake, decorated with fresh flowers and big enough to feed 80 people. Two of the 10 cakes shops quoted a much higher price for our bride, one quoting 75% more than the same cake for the birthday girl.

The cakes ranged from $160-$475 depending on the store, so our advice is not to let on that it’s for a wedding and be sure to shop around.

Flowers

Obviously, a wedding is usually going to have different requirements to a birthday party. Wedding Flowers iStock

So, our bride was instructed to request flowers to decorate the venue only. Our birthday girl was scripted to ask specifically for
the same flowers that had been suggested by the florist to the bride.

Of the 10 florists, half quoted more for the wedding while the other half quoted more for the birthday – certainly an indication
that it’s a good idea to shop around if you’re looking to order flowers for any kind of event.

Hire cars and entertainment

Entertainment iStockSeven out of 10 car hire companies quoted more for the wedding scene.

Two Sydney businesses quoted our bride 54% more for the same car and the required hours. And, as with reception venues and photography, car hire had minimum hourly rates. 

The entertainment request was simple: a DJ to play for four hours, with a selection of tunes that guests of all ages would want to dance to. Our identical request resulted in less than identical quotes. Six of the 10 businesses quoted a higher rate for the wedding, with one quoting 87% more for the wedding.

Hair at what price

Chandra Pile and husbandChandra Pile, from South Australia, was quoted a price when she booked a hairdresser for herself and her bridesmaids for the morning of her wedding day. On the actual day, however, when the hairdressers had completed their work, Chandra was told she would have to pay what she says was “almost double” the price of the quote.

When she asked why, she was told it cost more for the staff to come in to the salon on a Sunday and that she would need to pay cash straight away. Having been put on the spot, she was left with little choice but to pay up.

Chandra’s advice to anyone planning a wedding is to pay for everything in advance to avoid a similar situation.

Wedding Bouquet or funeral flowers

Terri PsiakisTerri Psiakis, comedian and author of wedding survival guide, Tying the Knot Without Doing Your Block, says she was warned many times by friends not to let on she was planning a wedding when shopping around for flowers and cakes, as she’d likely be charged more.

To test the theory, Tsiakis called a local florist and asked the cost of a wedding bouquet made with certain flowers. A few weeks later, she called the same florist and asked for an identical bouquet, but this time said it was for a funeral. The price difference was astonishing, with the bridal bouquet costing almost $200 more.

“Apparently the bridal bouquet would have the stems wrapped up, but apart from that they were exactly the same. For some reason it seems to be cheaper if you say someone has died.”

Don’t blow the budget

George Paul called the venue he was interested in to get quotes for his wedding, describing the event as a birthday party. He says organisers were fine with the requests and sent him a quote. Later, when confessing he and his partner planned to marry on the day, he says the staff went into in a flap, claiming a wedding required a different menu because there were “different packages for weddings”. When asked why, the response was “that’s just the way we do it”.

When George checked the wedding package, the quote was about 60% more than the original for the same venue, drinks and a slightly different menu. “I told them I only wanted to pay for the birthday package they originally provided. Once they recognised they’d been caught out, they agreed to let me have the wedding there at the price I was originally quoted, no extra cost.”

Since CHOICE published this report we’ve discovered that the wedding industry is a hot topic of debate amongst consumers, industry experts and media.

As a result we recently invited some of Australia’s most influential wedding suppliers and lifestyle, food and consumer bloggers to weigh into the debate This roundtable discussion offered an interesting insight into the many complex views on this issue and its potential impact on both the consumer and supplier.

Anthea Leonard from Sweet Art, Lynleigh McPherson from Belinda Franks Catering, Lorraine Elliot from Not Quite Nigella, Phoebe Gazal from Papier d’Amour, David Mendes from KAREN Magazine, Alicia Richardson from The Knot, Claire Aristedis from Lifegloss, Matt Lee from Infinity Photography, and Matthew Duchesne from Milk & Honey Photography attended the event, which was moderated by Project Runway mentor, bridal fashion designer and expert on all things wedding, Henry Roth.

Also present and contributing to the debate were members of the CHOICE team including journalist Kate Browne who wrote the original report.

Video: Wedding Roundtable

Wedding industry professionals put their views forward at a roundtable event hosted by CHOICE.

Your say - Choice voice

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