The Wedding Tax
Updated: May 12
Back in December, we promised to write about the wedding tax in early 2020. So, true to our word, we're here to tell you exactly why event businesses charge more for a wedding than for a comparable corporate event or even a "social gathering".
Let's do an experiment
Want to do a little experiment with me? It'll take about a week, but this post will still be here for you after :) Choose an event vendor category (like photography, DJ's, or catering).
Do a quick google search for vendors in that category in your area and send them an email asking for a quote for services at your "family reunion, with a headcount of approximately 60, including a dinner and some dancing."
Then, about a week later, contact them from another email address asking for a quote for services at your "wedding with 60 guests, including a dinner reception and dancing."
Most vendors probably won't actually provide you with a quote without providing more information (or perhaps even an in-person meeting). But for those that do, nine times out of ten, the quote you get back for the wedding is going to be higher than the quote for the family reunion, or birthday party, or anniversary celebration, or business meeting, etc. In fact, the price could be marked up anywhere between 5 and 25 percent!
That Doesn't Seem Fair!
"Hold the phone, Todd. You mean to tell me that just because I said the word 'wedding,' I have to pay more?!"
That's right! Basically. But that's not the full story! It's not just the word. It's what's behind the word. It's all the little things the word means and the expectations it brings with it.
Why the tax exists
The shortest and easiest answer I can give you for why the wedding tax / markup exists is that weddings are different from other types of events. It stands to reason that they would be billed differently.
"But a chicken dinner is a chicken dinner, isn't it?"
Let me use an analogy. A ticket to Disney World has a significantly higher price than a ticket to, say, Valleyfair or Six Flags. "But a theme park is a theme park, isn't it?" Sure. But the experience you have at Disney World is an elevated experience. For Minnesotans like us, a trip to Disney World may only come once in a blue moon, while you may have an annual season pass to Valleyfair.
What if you were going to Disney World for the first time (maybe the only chance you'll ever get) and all of the rides you were most excited about were closed for the day? Or the characters you were most excited to meet didn't make an appearance? Or it was too rainy or too hot or too overcrowded? Okay, I think you get the point.
A wedding is a once in a lifetime experience and the stakes are incredibly high. If anything is wrong with that chicken dinner, it might leave a sour taste in your mouth for the rest of your life. If the DJ plays one song that makes you cringe, that might be the one thing about your wedding you still remember decades from now. If all of your photos are of your feet and not your face, you'll probably want a redo. At any other kind of event, you might get upset about these things, but they aren't likely to gnaw at you for years to come.
Event vendors recognize the importance of getting the details just right for your wedding day. They want to give you Disney World, not Valleyfair. They are likely to set their prices accordingly.
Weddings take vendors more time
As an engaged couple, you are likely highly emotionally invested in your wedding day. You may have been dreaming of this day since you were five and you want things to be perfect. That is wonderful and your vendors are so excited to help bring your vision to life!
But all of that emotion can mean a lot more work for a vendor. Let's take a florists' process, for example:
For corporate events, a florist will typically have one or two phone calls with a client and perhaps display a sample arrangement before dropping off the flowers at the venue and calling it a job well done. This could take the florist about 5 hours to accomplish from start to finish.
For weddings, the same florist is likely to have 5+ phone calls with a client, several in person meetings, full centerpiece mockups, 30+ back and forth email exchanges, and fluctuating ideas about which flowers and colors the client wants to use (along with Pinterest boards of these evolving ideas). It's not uncommon for couples to make last minute decisions a day or two before the wedding and expect the florist to adjust accordingly. On the day of the wedding, florists are often expected to bring a team to set up the arrangements in the space, which can take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours. In total, a florist may spend 30+ hours working on a wedding.
I could give similar examples comparing corporate events and weddings for photographers, DJs, stationers, hair and makeup artists, caterers, venues, and (of course) event planners. For nearly every vendor category, working on a wedding simply takes more time and resources than working on any other kind of event.
What to do about it
So are you doomed to pay more for services just because you are having a wedding and not some other kind of gathering? Not necessarily. There are a few things you can do.
1. Hire a Wedding Planner
When it comes to cost of services and saving money, there are many benefits to hiring a professional wedding planner. Your planner will be familiar with what vendors charge for weddings, corporate events, birthday parties, and more, so when they suspect you're being overcharged, they'll negotiate better prices on your behalf.
Vendors also know that planners can help to significantly lighten their workload, so they may reduce fees just because there is literally less work to be done.
2. Compare Quotes and Ask for Price Matching
My vendor friends hate when I tell people to do this, but if you really love a particular vendor and want to work with them, but their pricing is a little out of your range, show them a lower quote from one of their competitors and ask them if they can match the price. More often than not, the answer will be no, but those times you get a yes are wonderful!
That said, don't show a 20+ year veteran photographer a quote from someone who just graduated from a two year art school photography program. That would just be insulting.
3. Be Willing to Walk Away
You ultimately get to decide whether you're willing to pay a wedding markup to a particular vendor. If you know a vendor is charging you more for your wedding than they would for another type of event, and they don't give an acceptable answer when you ask why, you are under no obligation to hire that vendor, and can simply walk away.
4. Recognize that Your Vendors are Working Ridiculously Hard for You
In the year and a half Woodland Events has been operating in the Twin Cities event industry, I haven't met a single vendor who doesn't work their tush off for their wedding clients. I haven't met a single vendor who won't do everything in their power to help ensure your big day goes off without a hitch (well, except for the part where you get hitched...bad pun?). These vendors are incredibly passionate about what they do and really put in the work, often going above and beyond what you're paying them to do. If you keep this in mind, any wedding markup you pay won't feel like a tax at all.