herald

Monday 20 August 2018

Why do weddings cost a princely sum?

Last week I wrote a piece in this newspaper about the cost of organising a wedding in Ireland, and how many businesses feel we brides and grooms are sitting targets for over-inflated prices. We won't notice you see, because we are in love, and want a Disney-eque 'Big Day'.

Well, I seem to have struck a chord. Loads of people got in touch with their own horror stories. So much so, I feel like I'm becoming the Eddie Hobbs of wedding watchdogs.

And the more I hear, the more I want to tell the whole silly industry to stick their lucky horseshoes, their giant martini-glass floral displays, their diamond-studded wedding bands and their sugarcraft bride and groom right into a hen night stripper's posing pouch.

The whole thing reached its zenith when I picked up, and attempted to read my first wedding magazine last weekend.

I opened a random page, looked at the caption on the blurry photograph and read the words "jugglers always go down well at weddings". I had to close the magazine. Jugglers? Who wants or can afford jugglers?

But even if your tastes don't run to magicians, crystal carriages or booking Kool and the Gang to sing at your reception, you're still at risk of being bled dry by opportunistic businesses who see brides and grooms as star-crossed cash cows. They whack up the price of their photography . . . their sugared almonds . . . their button holes . . . their boy soprano, because they can.

Obviously, not every business quotes with a premium invisibly blended into the bottom line. Trevor, my fiance, and I have found lots of amazingly talented, honest folk who'll go beyond any expectation to deliver something incredible, with a fair price tag. But there have been some outrageous chancers too.

Like the hotels that seem to think it's acceptable to charge more for a wedding than for some other sort of function. A friend told me of a pal who, shocked on hearing the quote his bride-to-be had got from a venue, rang the place himself. Instead of asking for the price for an 80-person wedding reception, he said he was organising a family reunion and wanted all the trimmings. He got them all, and about €2,000 off the final bill.

"We keep clear of pricing matters," said an astute Paul Gallagher, President of the 900-strong Irish Hotels Federation, when I asked him about the potential for his members to add a premium to their charges for weddings. "But hotels should remember that every wedding they do is a potential sale to the bride and groom's family and friends. They could get another 10 weddings out of each.

"Weddings are also keeping most hotels in Ireland solvent right now." So it pays to price reasonably.

Ultimately, though, Gallagher advises the couple to shop around, and to refer to wedding forums and websites: "Anyone who isn't playing fair will get exposed because families are vocal about giving commentary."

Of course, in modern times, a lot of venues have all-inclusive packages. It's a great idea, but does it work?

Yes, if you're happy to get married on a Tuesday, or see value in a red carpet and 'engraved toasting glasses for the bride and groom'.

But as Paul Gallagher points out, "if you want a specific hotel, or particular date, the package might not be available".

So, it's back to the a la carte option and the costs start to mount. Like, 'corkage'; the concept where you pay the venue a per-bottle price to bring and open your own wine. I've heard of crazy figures up to €18 a bottle. And then there are the places that won't even let you do so. You have to order from their exorbitantly priced list.

And just when your budget is flexed the full 360° the hotel decides to play its ultimate trump card . . . seat covers. If you say you don't want them, the hotel will tell you that their chairs are 'functional' and need covers to blend with the decor. Well if they need to be covered, covers should be supplied. Not loaned out at €5 per chair.

But one that made me totally gasp, however, concerned the price of overnight stays. Whatever about the places that make you book out the whole hotel with the wedding reservation, it gets worse. One couple I know negotiated a 'special rate' for family and friends to stay in the very upmarket wedding venue, only to discover retrospectively that this rate was indeed special . . . because the same hotel was charging less on their website for similar standard rooms on the same night. That would certainly leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Trevor and I aren't going with a hotel, or a 'venue'. We've chosen a restaurant. We're debating about a cake, and thinking of ways to decorate the church that won't subject us to four-figure sums of flowers. We don't want a video, nor party favours, nor a firework display at midnight. (We won't be having jugglers). In short, we're trying to side step the money pits so that we can enjoy the finer things on our big day, without the feeling that we're on a ivory merry-go-round.

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