Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Q & A: Deceiving Wedding Vendors?

Reader Question: I know one of the pieces of advice going around the blogosphere (and maybe in regular WIC media, I can't recall) is to tell potential vendors that you're planning a family function when asking for a price quote. Theory (and often, practice) being that by uttering the wedding word the price automatically jumps up.

In contacting a caterer, I used the family function line and they came back with a very reasonable quote. When we met in person to discuss the event I revealed that this family function would actually be our wedding reception. Nothing else changed. Same menu. Same modest venue (church fellowship hall). Same number of people (almost all of whom are family). The next day the caterer e-mailed me saying that because of my deception they did not want to work with me.

Now I'm feeling rather befuddled. Was I really being dishonest? Is it disrespectful to vendors to not specify that a family function is a family wedding? Or were they just upset at the idea of doing a wedding for a lesser price than they might normally charge? (By the way, before I told them it was for a wedding they said multiple times how they were basically going to treat the "family function" like a wedding.) So, am I too close to the situation to see that I've become morally compromised? Or is it something else that I totally can't think of at the moment?

Yikes. What a dreadful situation! You clearly caught this particular caterer in the infamous Wedding-Switcharoo (i.e., the prices get multiplied by ten if you put the word "wedding" in front of your request). This phenomenon is well-documented throughout the "World Wide Wed" (phrase coined by Meg, which I love).

I experienced this situation myself at one of the wedding reception venues we considered. We could rent out their meeting room and deck (including tables and folding chairs) for an entire day for a mere $350. If, however, we were throwing a wedding instead of a reunion, the exact same space for the exact same number of people would cost $1,800. For only five hours! Any additional hours were an extra $300. So, in essence, the same space for the same amount of time would be $350 for the reunion and $7,500 for the wedding. To be fair, the wedding price also included "banquet" chairs (instead of regular folding chairs), cake/gift/guest book tables, tableware, tablecloths, napkins, and a dance floor. But for $7,500, I think you could probably get a lot more than that.

To me, it sounds like the caterer you talked to was flustered about being caught in their own web of deception. With that said, I'm not sure that the most strategic thing to do is to respond to deception with deception.

I think that one of the things that made our wedding truly meaningful and memorable was building really strong relationships with our vendors. Our vendors went out of their way to help us. They became like family to us (professional family with lots of skills and resources!). If we had tried to deceive them in order to secure a lower price, we wouldn't have had the same high quality relationship. Our experience would have been built on a rocky foundation.

Now that I'm thinking about it, this is why I named my personal blog Feeding the Soil. The idea is that if you want a beautiful plant to grow, you have to start by enriching the soil. In other words, if you want your wedding to exude community, connection, and joy, then you've got to cultivate those things with the people involved in bringing your wedding to fruition.

Don't get me wrong. I think what your caterer did was completely ridiculous and awful. However, you're probably better off not working with those people. I think the trick to being honest with caterers AND getting a fair price is to travel off the well-worn wedding path. The more a vendor has produced weddings, the more likely they are to function as a cog in the Wedding Industrial Complex machine. For example, if you go with a local restaurant that has experience catering for groups but doesn't often do weddings, you're more likely going to get a fair price and be able to be honest about the fact that your event is a wedding.

The other thing to do is to be honest that it's a wedding when you first get a quote. After you get the quote, you can ask, "Is this the same price you would charge for a non-wedding?" Then you can have a conversation about the difference. If they try to explain that "extra" wedding things cost "extra" money, then kindly reject those extra wedding things to bring the cost back down.

Those are just my two cents. I'd love to hear others' thoughts on the situation!

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Sarah said...

Two thumbs up! Our event space and caterer have the same prices whether or not it's a wedding or a family reunion. I think it's rotten that folks charge extra for weddings.

kahlia said...

You know, I thought by having our wedding in my parents' backyard and dealing with a chill, local caterer and photographer that we would be able to avoid all of this deception (theirs, on prices, I mean). And then we tried to book a band that we've seen play at numerous neighborhood parties, and the price was FOUR TIMES the price of a regular party (and ours is basically the same party the neighbors have had, with most of the same people, there will just be a wedding ceremony first and a few more of our family members in attendance!). It's true that the band also includes a jazz quartet for the "cocktail hour" for weddings, but when we told them there wouldn't be a cocktail hour so we wouldn't need them to bring all those extra people (and the price could go back to being that of a normal party), they still only agreed to lower the price to twice the normal rate.
This price changing is frustrating and it's real, and I think that because of that in some cases it wouldn't bother me to tell vendors it was a family party (it is, after all), but there are situations in which that's not possible (as with this band). And I don't know what we (as a group of people planning weddings) can do about it, which is even more frustrating.
But I think Sara's advice to look for vendors who are more "your kind of people" and who maybe don't work exclusively in the wedding world is good. So I hope that helps others who are just starting out.
(Also, what jerks (the LW's caterers) saying they didn't want to work with you because of YOUR deception! I agree, I think they just didn't know how to react to having been caught. Good luck finding someone who's more ethical/in line with what you're looking for!)

miss fancy pants (the bride) said...

Ugh, honestly, I have no advice for this kind of situation, other than to continue the search for honest vendors who won't charge a bundle more simply because its a wedding. In the mean time, you might get some amusement from this video, which pretty much exemplifies the situation a lot of couples are put in whilst dealing with vendors:

Lisa said...

Ok, yes, it is rude to charge such vastly different prices, but just for a little devil's advocate. Weddings are stressful to work at.

My mom worked in catering for years and finally decided not to work weddings anymore. Yes, in theory it is just an event with "so many" people gathered, but think about how much more stressful it is planning a wedding for 50 than it would be a party for 50. Suddenly every decision gets fraught with much deeper importance, a lot more people with opinions, something not coming out as you wanted can break your heart, and after spending so many months planning it, your expectations are VERY high. Even though we think we will all be a chill bride, a caterer needs to be prepared for very personal expectations with small details.

For my mom as a caterer, the stress level between working a corporate party (or family function) and a wedding wasn't even in the same league. I can understand why a caterer would want to know early on.

megan said...

Our wedding was Saturday night, and I could not have been happier with our caterers. I got their reference through word of mouth, and when we contacted them for a price, I told them exactly what we were looking for. She drew up a price quote that would be the highest possible based on everything we could possibly want, and we worked our way to a reasonable number from there by adding and subtracting all the little extras.

My words of wisdom are to start early, be honest (say it's low key and non-extravagent from the get-go. if they give you a high price, go elsewhere...sucks to be them), and try to get references from people who have been to successful weddings recently. They can normally find out from brides who they had and if they were good to work with. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I have to say, working in the hospitality industry, watching my boss charge triple the price for accommodation, just because its a wedding.. I can see why trying to avoid the word "wedding" would seem like a good idea.

I would call first (get a friend to call under a different name) and get a similar quote for a "family function" and then call a second time for the "wedding quote" and then determine if its fair or not.

PS @miss fancy pants, I liked the video!

CCL said...

It seems that if you honest and upfront about the expectations you have for the vendor and your needs, that the purpose of the event is irrelevant. I've been keeping conversations vague "an event" or a "social event" and then being clear about what I want. I hate the frustrating 10 min. conversation I have to have after the word "wedding" is uttered. "No, I don't need flowers or out of town bags or a rented Limousin. I just need 10 sleeping rooms. Sleeping rooms. That is all!" I feel if a vendor is not listening to my request or needs, that it is time to move-on.

Sara said...

That is definitely a pickle! When I was searching for my reception spot, I had the honest conversation that Sara was talking about between a regular function price and a wedding price. The reception spot's answer? Brides are harder to work with, and therefore require more staff time. Which, I imagine, SOME brides are. But not every bride. And to triple the cost of a spot due to that reasoning seems a bit unfair.

What'd I do? We rented out a restaurant that doesn't typically do weddings (at a VERY reasonable cost) that has delicious food, and is right on the ocean. Just keep looking - it's out there!

liz said...

i've heard the "weddings are more stressful" argument a dozen times- but i also was a banquet server. and i can tell you that i've worked some laidback weddings, and some uptight, stressed-out corporate meetings and family dinners.

find vendors who don't do the price hike. that's the only point when you'll really get good results. they DO exist.

Dinabear said...

I completely agree with Sarah's post. Our caterer usually does family reunions and picnics, and we are getting a TON of food for a lot less than we would have paid a typical wedding caterer. Also, the caterer has been extremely supportive in terms of us all working together to make a really joyful and easy event.

Definitely go off the beaten path! If your venue allows it, totally take advantage of finding a caterer not already on their preferred vendor's list. It will mean some extra work--ask friends and family for recommendations or connections--but it will pay off. Good luck!

Emily said...

I had a similar dilemma and hated feeling dishonest asking about an "event" I was planning when looking for quotes. You might try to apologize and say you weren't trying to be deceptive but are struggling with the WEDDINGness of it all and that you and your fiance are trying to approach it like a family event instead of a look-at-me event. It might not bring the caterer back, but might make him feel like a jerk about it.

Unknown said...

I completely understand your dilemma. My fiancé and I are attempting to plan a low-budget wedding for next spring. We thought by going through a private residence and renting some vacation property we would be able to keep the cost down.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear our plan will come to fruition. The rental of the property itself is $850 for two cottages and the use of the 3.5 acre lake-front land. However, the owners tacked on an additional $1000 "lawn fee" so that we could set up tents, porta-johns, tables/chairs, etc. OK, that was understandable. We have approximately 130 guests (mostly family, so we can't even cut any out), and that many people on this family's lawn with tents and chairs could be a little damaging. So -- $1850 -- still not bad at all for a lake-front wedding, and we would have the property for the entire weekend. YES..Chris and I were so excited.

Then we received a final price quote from Mike, the family member we had been negotiating with. The final quote came to be $3000! Essentially, an additional $1150 for the inconvenience of their not being able to use their rental property that weekend (the family also has a private house they use.)

I feel as though they feel justified in renting it for so much more money because it's a wedding and not a basic weekend rental. We were crushed when we received this final quote. Our budget is already so tight, and we have such a large family, that it may end up being just as expensive, if not more, to rent this property for the weekend. As I keep saying to myself in my head, 'We're not married yet. We don't have the money yet. We're just starting out.' Why don't these businesses understand this?

Walking Barefoot said...

It sounds like the proper response to that vendor is: "Because of your deception, I don't want to work with you." If the vendor set fair prices regardless of the type of event, she/ he would not have been displeased to find out that the event was a wedding.

Don't worry - this person sounds like they would be difficult to work with anyway. Better to find out up front - now - than down the line, when they start nickle-and-diming the details because they weren't included in the initial quote.

Vendors may try to make you feel badly if you want to do things that aren't traditional - we had a potential DJ, who, after hearing that we didn't want a lot of emcee activity, or a first dance, or a father-daughter dance, just basically a great dance party, suddenly discover that he had a conflict on our date. C'est la vie. We ended up with a better DJ anyway, and weren't about to be cowed by his traditional expectations into doing something that we didn't want.

lill said...

I thought about saying I was planning a "family function" on several occasions, but just couldn't bring myself to lie. I would just avoid admitting that it was a wedding until they asked. That being said, I also ended up going with several vendors that had clearly published prices on their website, so I avoided some of that price inflation.

For our photographer, I actually left a message on his website saying "I love your work, but I'm afraid your prices may be out of my range." He called back and told me he wasn't planning on doing a wedding that weekend because of a personal commitment on Sat, but that was that he could cover our Sunday wedding, and he was willing to give us 50% off!

I think the combo of praising them + being clear about your budget is a good approach.

SingColleen said...

I had a similar experience with getting quotes for tents and chairs - my SIL called first because she lived in the area, mentioning that it was a wedding. When I did the follow-ups, I avoided mentioning that this was the same event OR that it was a wedding, and two of the three places gave me a lower price. And they aren't even around the day of the event!

I didn't feel like I was being dishonest by doing that, because we were then able to determine who was being fair. But I do think you should be honest once you book with someone, that way they know. And good vendors will *sometimes* throw in a few extras be-CAUSE it's a wedding, and they want you to come back the next time you throw a party.

*Obviously, small vendors are less able to give materials away, but that something extra could just be good service.

Anonymous said...

It's completely reasonable! I work in catering, and I've actually calculated it. The average wedding costs our team 46 man hours. No kidding. That's before the Big Day. That's for budget-minded to average weddings. That's checking the rental orders and re-tweaking when the count comes in, diagramming the setup, custom pricing the custom menus. On and on and on. It's a LOT of time, ladies. =)

Don't ask me why, but all other events take about 1/5 as much time and work (and stress). And we usually don't have to do a tasting for anything but weddings. Behind the scenes, tastings are wildly, wildly expensive...almost the same kitchen labor as for the Big Day itself. Imagine what 8 or 10 hours of executive chef and sous chef prep time cost....

megan said...

i forgot to mention...my lovely caterers were a husband/wife team and they called me to do a tasting when they had a similar menu-ed event they were preparing for. word of mouth and small companies might be the best route.

Marina said...

The thing about deception is that it only works when you go all the way. Don't tell a vendor that it's a family function if you're later going to TELL them you lied and it's a wedding. If it truly is no different, then you have no reason to tell them it's a wedding, right? And if it is different, you're better off telling them up front that it's a wedding.

One option would be to ask them outright if they have different prices for weddings and family functions. If so, ask what you're getting for the extra money. Put the burden of proof on them that you're getting your money's worth, and if you don't want any specific things they're offering, then you can bargain.

And if weddings are more expensive because "they're more stressful" but the vendor can't name specifics? You don't want to work with these people. Really.

A-L, said...

Sorry for the delay, but thanks for your response! I am the OP here, and I posted my response on my blog here http://anhonorableestate.blogspot.com/2010/05/2000-dollar-wedding-answer.html.

Thanks again!

Unknown said...

First of all, thank you for this blog! I am planning my wedding on $3000 and am glad to see it can be done for that and even less.

As far as this topic goes, I guess one way to get around the feeling of deception and misleading, maybe it would be easier to go ahead and order the food, pick it up yourself and have a buffet style. That way, in my opinion, it's not the caterer's business about what the food is being used for.

Being the child of two small business owners, I can understand why they felt deceived. I believe they could've handled the situation different, but I feel they are right in being a little upset. I think the person in that situation should've explained they were having an extremely small wedding in a backyard (or whatever) and that they had a small budget to work with. I feel like relating personal details instead of "lying" probably wins people over better. ESPECIALLY in this economy.

Unknown said...

Guess what? Most caterers do not charge administrative fees to cover all of the time spent by the catering manager/sales assistants. Guess what else? Most weddings take about 3 times the amount of effort, including all of the meetings, site visits, phone calls, emails and time in general, than corporate parties or other events. (Not to mention that often times brides do not hire wedding planners so caterers are often thrown into filling those roles because there is no one else!) So, it is totally realistic to charge more for weddings than for an easy birthday party or corporate function.

That being said, it isn't right for the caterer to automatically charge more, just because they hear the word "wedding", anymore than it is right for a couple to deceive their caterer by lying about the function they are planning. Furthermore, I agree that some caterers may see this as an "opportunity" to double or triple charge. It should never be about opportunity, it should only matter that price is equal to service provided.

As a caterer, I have the same set of menus I give to all types of clients. However, when I am creating a custom menu for a client that I realize is going to require a lot of extra time and hand holding on my part, I do charge more, regardless of whether it is a wedding, bar mitzvah, or birthday party!

The reality is, unless someone is a caterer, they really have no idea what goes into the planning of a wedding versus other events.

Beauty to Unveil said...

My parents are caterers and they don't charge extra for a wedding, unless extra things are asked for (table set up, cutting/serving cake, opening wine bottles/serving alcohol, sit down serve instead of buffet, etc). This is because it requires more employees to do some of these things or takes time away from preparing the meal. They may also charge extra if there are new/out of the ordinary menu requests(depending on difficulty of preparation). My mom will even pick up any rented utensils/linens, at no extra cost.

It's ridiculous to me to think that some caterers raise their price just because it's a wedding. Stop seeing dollar signs and start seeing real people, you're there to serve them. They're not there to fill your pockets with money.

Anonymous said...

“The next day the caterer e-mailed me saying that because of my deception they did not want to work with me.”

That sounds fair. I wouldn’t like being lied to either.

“I think what your caterer did was completely ridiculous and awful. However, you're probably better off not working with those people.”

That sounds unfair. I don’t mind working with people who demand a base level of honesty.

“The more a vendor has produced weddings, the more likely they are to function as a cog in the Wedding Industrial Complex machine.”

What I’ve heard from a wedding photographer is that the more they’ve worked with brides, the more they know that a bride is much more likely to be picky and troublesome. This vendor can now add “and dishonest” to that list.


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