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Why is the wedding industry so hard to disrupt? (vox.com)
74 points by anuragsoni 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 194 comments

>According to The Knot’s annual survey, the average wedding in 2017 cost $33,391, a slight dip from $35,329 in 2016, but still more than half of the median annual household income in the United States.

Uhhhh... I absolutely hate when the media uncritically (or at least without context/a disclaimer) parrots The Kont's "Real Weddings Survey" as meaningful, because, IMO, this number is somewhere between very misleading and complete bullshit.

Some issues:

-Selection bias - only includes people who sign up for wedding websites, (or in the case of Brides magazine’s “American Wedding Study,” subscribe to wedding magazines) which, by definition, excludes people who have reasonably priced weddings. People whose weddings are a BBQ in the backyard aren't signing up for wedding websites and subscribing to wedding magazines.

-Reporting on average without including median, which is much, much less. One million dollar wedding can skew the average very high, and like I said before, the low side isn't even included in the data set to offset the Chelsea Clintons.

-Conflict of interest - the wedding industry itself is the only one reporting these figures and the wedding industry has a vested interest in reporting astronomical numbers because it gets you primed to spend spend spend.


Often times, it is the reports themselves that mention average and not median. If you want their full data set, you usually have to pay out the nose for their 'premium service' or whatever.

At the end of the day, this article isn't investigative journalism. It's not different from articles where they obtain a quote from an email or phone call with a university professor on some topic, without a critical analysis of that professor's research focus, conflicts of interest, etc.

Very good points. Reminds me of the DeBeers-sourced "average cost of engagement ring" and the auto-industry's "average cost of new car" figures. It also takes advantage of the colloquial interpretation of "average" as meaning "normal". I think it all comes down to the endemic "journalism by press release" nature of a large portion of news media. But good journalism costs a lot of money, and the public is generally reluctant to pay for it in these relatively low importance subjects. That leaves the playing heavily tilted toward industries that are willing to spend to push their own narratives.

And ignores cultural aspects Indian (Asian) weddings can be Huge - in the UK in my relatively small county town we had one a few years back that had 600 guests.

How can someone with a straight face report mean wedding cost against median salary?

So little jounalistic quality/scientific integrity.

Unfortunately, it's very challenging to hire wedding scientists nowadays, since the HFT firms have snapped them up.

I'll settle for journalists with an understanding of high school stats.

I agree with most of your points, but this is a broad assumption that is likely not true "People whose weddings are a BBQ in the backyard aren't signing up for wedding websites and subscribing to wedding magazines."

People who are looking to spend money sign up for wedding websites and spend months wedding planning and their free time talking about wedding planning online; people who are looking to have a basic celebration don't get anything from hanging around a wedding website. Picking up a cake from the grocery store bakery hardly requires extensive planning.

My wedding reception was a huge party at our house (we have a big house that can accommodate tons of people) and the total cost was maybe $300(?) in food and booze, perhaps a little more, but definitely less than $500. If our house wasn't big enough renting the Italian American Club that's down the street for a day couldn't cost more than a few hundred dollars. The ceremony itself was just the two of us signing some papers in an office at city hall the total cost $100 for the JP and ~$30 for the registration fee. I couldn't imagine signing up for wedding website. Why on earth would I want to? What would I get from it? "inspiration" for toppings on the pizza we ordered? A discussion on the merits of cherry tomatoes vs grape tomatoes in the toss salad?

I can't agree more.

I had plenty of time to plan a wedding. I knew I was getting married: After all, I moved to a different country a few weeks later.

But what the heck would I use a bridal magazine for? Why would I want to sign up for a wedding website? We didn't even have presents nor a ceremony. Just some folks together in my mothers backyard.

Granted, we sorely missed out on having folks come in costume, but that's quite alright.

People start reading bridal magazines years before they get married. They are treated to splendid weddings of celebrities and in the movies. They've seen the best and worst of wedding events. In addition to magazines, there are wedding industry shows in every town, where vendors show off their wares.

Disclaimer: My spouse and I also missed out on a hollywood wedding -- we were in grad school at the time, and didn't want to spend any of our families' money. And I am now in the wedding industry, as a musician playing in what I would call "low budget" bands, typically for people who are on their second wedding.

Ah, wow. Reading them years before they get married never really occurred to me. I have never really been into weddings and the surrounding ceremony I guess. I am on my second marriage and honestly did more for the second than the first (the first was a simple courthouse wedding, no reception).

I would mention here that I really don't think I "missed out" on the whole fancy wedding, but "luckily was able to avoid it" :)

I think the category of "people who want to spend a lot of time planning their wedding" is a large enough category to merit a name. Perhaps not as broad a name as "the wedding industry", since as you show it's quite easy to disrupt that. But a lot of people do sign up for these web sites.

I don't think it's too hard to understand why. A lot of it is cultural inertia, some of it rather sexist. There's a strong notion that this is "her day", as if the rest of her life is going to be "somebody else's day". But even if she does escape the worst of the indoctrination, there are a lot of people who want to plan a once-in-a-lifetime party for a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) event. The dream about that is on par with dreaming about what you'll do with your lottery tickets, or planning your next vacation, enjoyable on its own merits even aside from the event itself.

Not everybody will buy into that; clearly you didn't. But I don't think it's unreasonable that other people do. It's just another form of entertainment.

Wedding websites are much more than just an avenue to spend money. This would include money saving things like online invitations and RSVPs. Someone having a backyard wedding may want to get decoration ideas, for example, this article from theknot.com (https://www.theknot.com/content/backyard-wedding-ideas).

So I think the general spirit of your assessment is correct, I still think it's a false assumption. Also, where do you live that you can supply food and booze for a huge party for $300?! :)

That does seem especially frugal. Not that I have a lot of even middling large parties but, if I had a nice party with 30 or 40 people, I'd probably spend in the neighborhood of $300 even doing everything myself.

Same thing here.

$300 for the wedding.

The money saved went towards mortgage downpayment.

We are living in a increasingly narcissistic culture, and theoretically wasting a huge amount of money which could be used in infinitely more practical ways is buying people one thing more and more people crave for, narcissistic supply.

Agree, but to be fair, backyarders are not the target market here.

I like the way you think

I spent some time researching this mostly because I was curious, but basically the answer to "why are weddings so expensive" and also "why is it so hard to disrupt the wedding industry" are largely the same in my opinion:

Because people have extremely high expectations for the major expenses of a wedding (venue, flowers, band, etc.).

The joke (and I even see it here) is that you can go to a baker and say "I want a cake" and they'll say "$20" but if you say "it's for a wedding" the price becomes $100. Why? Because if one iota of that cake is decorated incorrectly, the baker will hear hell about it - maybe not from your wedding party, but for every reasonable wedding party there are 99 expecting perfection.

So, it's not a huge surprise to me that wedding vendors have been hard to disrupt - it seems logical to assume that mass market usually comes with a reduction in quality compared to bespoke (or at least a bespoke-like experience), and people mostly refuse that and are willing to pay a huge premium for weddings (begrudgingly, admittedly).

To be fair on the cake:

Most regular cakes are small affairs. If you go to that same baker and ask for a 3-tier, ornately decorated cake that will feed at least 50-100 people and has a keepsake decoration on top, it'll be more.

Cakes like that are a different beast. They require special recipes so they don't collapse themselves. I know professional bakeries are able to spend less time than I did making my sister's wedding cake - a 3-tier affair - but they are still a decent amount of work and effort. Doubly so if you are paying the baker to transport and assemble the cake.

So yeah, of course wedding cakes are expensive, depending on the bells and whistles. But so are equally decadent cakes with the bells and whistles.

So I was under the impression it was common for the bottom layers of wedding cakes to be Styrofoam and the top layer was only used for cake cutting/pictures and the cake served to the guests was a sheet cake.

That is an option - some or all of the cake being completely fake, but I have honestly never seen one. It is just as common to go with a smaller cake plus the sheet cake for more guests. Most of these options are to cut down on the actual costs of the cake: It is easier to decorate styrofoam and much easier to deal with a smaller layer cake than a large sheet cake.

I, however, did not go that route :)

Also a very fair point.

In addition to that, weddings are very seasonal. Prices are often only a fraction if you get married out of season (e.g. getting a photographer during the week in winter). Vendors specialized on weddings have to make most of their annual income on maybe a dozen weekends per year.

Yeah, to me this is the biggest pro-tip if you want to save a ton of money but still want a big traditional wedding: Get married in the winter.

Seconded. Got married in November and had zero problems booking churches, venues or anything else for the exact date we wanted.

I picked December, but only so the date could be 11/12/13.

Of course our wedding was in the morning, and later that day there was a story published in several newspapers about a couple that had managed to get married on 11/12/13 at 14:15.

I'm still amazed that didn't occur to me!

The issue is that some venues are closed outside of summer. But it's a still good idea (both of my brothers had their wedding in October).

The people I personally know who having a "traditional" wedding was so important to them, they included the season to be just as important as everything else... So I'm guess people who get married in June are probably(?) more likely to spring for the silk seat covers (or whatever).

Yeah, I think my point was more: If you're being price conscious and aren't willing to have a more non-traditional (e.g. no/minimal flowers) wedding in June, your best bet is to have your large traditional wedding in November.

Truthfully, the part the guests largely enjoy is the reception (which is often indoors anyway), so it's really not a bad idea at all.

I don't know if I believe the price goes up that much because of the fear of a Bridezilla.

I would compare it more to, a regular cake has like, 2 9's SLA of being what you wanted. But for a wedding cake, people want 5 9's. They want enterprise Cake, that's always available and exactly as they expected.

So that's what they pay for. If I was working with a vendor, a plain-old regular cake with 2 9's availability would be fine for me. I'm unwilling to pay 4x as much for something, just to chase a very diminishing improvement.

Just as an addendum to your 5 9's concept - there's a level of stress that comes with providing this, and it's considerable.

You're paying them to absorb that stress and ensure that everything's perfect without having to manage them. It's me saying - I need exactly this, at this exact time, on this exact date, in this exact location. I need it perfect, no ifs ands or buts, no excuses, no reasons, no failures. Perfect. Period.

When providing this level of expectation, when any kind of failure or indeed anything less than absolute perfection is not an option, when there's no chances for do-overs, the stress load that comes with providing that is huge.

I'm not in the wedding planning business, but I'm a service provider in the tech market. As a service provider, if you want me to absorb that level of stress so that you don't even have to think about it, I'm capable, I can and I will absorb all of it. I will shield you from it all and show up with exactly what you ask, exactly when you need it, no failures, no excuses. But you're going to pay for the stress that causes me... and it doesn't come cheap. But it is dependable.

There's a reason you have a wedding planner for your perfect day and they're not just charging you for their planning skills. You're paying them for absorbing all the stress so that you just have to show up and have enjoy your fairy tale day.

You can only live under that kind of stress load for a finite period. Most people crumble in days or weeks. Forget lasting months or years. Eventually everyone breaks. Do you really want to break before your big day?

If you don't want to pay so much, you have to be prepared to throw out your expectations and go for something more relaxed. If relaxed is your bag (it is mine), then you won't have to pay 5 9's prices because you're not putting everyone under the pressure of delivering perfection.

Personally, I fall into a similar boat. There's few things I need 5 9's on in life, beyond access to oxygen to maintain life.

As I mentioned in another comment, I know a couple that substituted cupcakes in place of cake. Not only are cupcakes way easier to make than a multi-tiered cake, but they're quicker to serve, so guests aren't standing around waiting for dessert.

Even though you'd still have stipulation of "the cupcakes must be at this time and place", surely it's much easier to deliver on that. I bet they saved a bit on dessert costs.

Delivering to a time and place is easy if there's no expectation that every one of them is perfect. If expectations are relaxed, the prices are too.

Like you say, very little needs 5 9s. Many people want that and get their hopes up to be able to expect that and then complain about the price without thinking about the level of stress that puts on everyone.

My Mum baked and decorated my cake. She's not a baker, she's not a cake decoration specialist. She's just my Mum. I wanted the cake that reminded me of my childhood and that's exactly what I got. I knew she could do it, she's done it a thousand times in my life. It was never going to be perfect. It never needed to be perfect, yet it was perfect to me. I didn't care what anyone else thought. It served exactly the purpose I needed it to - I needed it to be a piece of who I am. It was comfort food - my Mum's cake. That was everything to me... and it was free.

My best friend's Mum from when I was a kid was like a 2nd Mum to me. She's been a florist my whole life. I asked her for flowers and gave her free reign on making the place look pretty. No stipulations, no expectations. She did a wonderful job with flowers she already had to hand and she loved doing it. She only charged me for her costs.

Interesting, how about RAIC(ake)? Order several of the 2x9s cakes and use the best one(s) on the day.

Even better, _display_ the best of the cakes but _serve_ them all. The honour of having the cake displayed - ahem advertising - goes to the baker with the best cake.

This is how Jeff Bezos would plan a wedding. Just like how all those cities made pretty proposals for HQ2. Oof, too soon.

Of course, to judge which cake was tastiest, one would have to measure lick-through rates.

If the premium for a wedding cake is really 2x as much as a regular one, you could use 2 less-reputable vendors and hope at least one comes through.

Which is an absolutely crazy notion, but I don't see why we can't apply our learnings from things like managing AWS costs (on demand instances vs. pre-emptible instances) to wedding supplies.

Hmm, I don't feel like your conclusion follows from your premises.

> I don't know if I believe the price goes up that much because of the fear of [an overly zealous wedding party member]

> But for a wedding cake, people want 5 9's. They want enterprise Cake, that's always available and exactly as they expected.

I see those two things as related, I guess. Nobody knows the difference between 2 9's and 5 9's until the service goes down or something goes unexpectedly.

> If I was working with a vendor, a plain-old regular cake with 2 9's availability would be fine for me.

Unfortunately for the vendor, since you're not ever going to be a repeat customer they have no idea which type of customer you are and have to assume you want 5 9's even if you're saying otherwise - or that you want 5 9's for the 2 9's price. The opposite of a lemon market, I suppose (a peach market?).

Look at it from their perspective: The worst case scenario is they give you the 2 9's price but you expect the 5 9's and complain loudly when you don't get that.

Cake is a commodity. I don't have to buy it from a vendor that specializes specifically in wedding cakes.

I should have set the premise up a little better: I can go to my local supermarket (2 9s) and order several cakes of different sizes, and get a fancy serving tray, to get the multi-tiered cake appearance that's classically what I think of, when I think wedding cake.

If my supermarket doesn't give me exactly what I want, nobody would really care, since most people don't go to supermarkets to by Enterprise Cake. They go with a more specialized vendor (5 9s).

I still don't think this follows.

You can go to a specialized cake vendor and still get a 2 9s cake - many people do, in fact, for special non-wedding events (for, say, a 60th birthday). That cake will still be significantly less expensive than if you tell the specialized cake vendor it's for a wedding.

Enterprise cake comes in many flavors :).

This is exactly right. My wife worked in the wedding industry for a long time and so she was aware of this when we finally decided to tie the knot. For each vendor we spoke with we only told them we were having an engagement party. We got the prices and then later revealed that this was for a wedding. We advise all of our friends that are getting married to do the same. You can save a decent chunk of change.

I have no doubt this works, but if the majority of couples did as you suggest, I imagine the cost of "engagement parties" will rise to something similar to weddings.

There are lots of ways to save money if you're okay with lying.

You live with wolves, you howl like one.

Wedding photography is another somewhat similar example. I've shot weddings for friends who just wanted some decent memory pictures. In school, I also shot a couple weddings for friends of friends for a small fee who were economizing. Or you can spend many thousands of dollars. In this case, it's not so much that wedding photography is a particularly high margin occupation but it's another example of going with a higher-end service than many people would consider for anything else in their lives.

I just wanted some decent memory pictures, and this is how I inadvertently discovered that I am a good photographer. We put out cameras and asked for photos. I assumed that everybody would take photos just like I do. I had never thought that I was a superior photographer, but the results disabused me of that notion.

Nobody paid attention to the background or bothered to frame things well, even when they had us pose for photos. My mother-in-law sent us an enlarged photo featuring an ugly old statue... oh, and us too. It looked like a photo taken to commemorate our trip to visit a statue.

I'm a reasonable photographer and my friends knew that. (I was photo editor of my undergrad newspaper, a photographer for various other publications, and earned beer money from my undergrad's alumni association for reunions, etc.) Having said that, I have no real knowledge of all the conventions and tasks required for a "traditional" wedding shoot whether purely conventional or some particular style. And many people have serious expectations about those things. There's no way I would accept money to work as a typical professional wedding photographer.

Mind you, I do shoot corporate events and other things (concerts, sports) from time to time unpaid. If someone wanted to pay me to do something like that I'd be happy to. Especially with digital these days, I'm very confident I'll produce something very publishable.

Because it’s (supposed to be) once in a lifetime. No reason to risk THE day in your life to save some “pennies”, you won’t get a second chance. That’s the feeling everybody involved in the industry is making money on.

> you can go to a baker and say "I want a cake" and they'll say "$20" but if you say "it's for a wedding" the price becomes $100

This is very important to keep in mind. Never mention that you are working on organizing a wedding. Renting chairs? It's just for a party. Getting flowers? It's for a birthday. Vendors will almost always apply a huge markup when they hear "wedding".

There is more on the line when a wedding is involved. The "narrative" that is the wedding causes more stress when all details don't fit the couples narrative. You are not just paying for goods you are paying for the service and priority. When the flowers have to be the right kind and the right shade of red there is extra work that goes into making that happen. Yes, some brides are happy to go down to city hall and have the reception at their favorite bar while others want all details to fit their narrative (that comes with a big price tag).

That can be a really dangerous game to play, fwiw. If a vendor figures out you're lying to them ("gee, I wonder why this birthday party wants boutonnieres and corsages") they can (and probably will) just bail on you and leave you scrambling.

You usually sign pretty tight contracts/agreements for a wedding, less-so for a birthday party.

I think it's up to the customer to decide how the use the purchased product or service, since when do you owe an explanation to a vendor where or how their product will be used? If they add wedding-markup for no other reason (like increased quality control or something) nobody should feel bad about lying to them.

> I think it's up to the customer to decide how the use the purchased product or service, since when do you owe an explanation to a vendor where or how their product will be used?

It goes both ways. The vendor can also decide they don't want to deal with a customer who's being intentionally dishonest with them.

It's quite simple for them to just refund your deposit/money and leave you without a florist a week before your wedding, especially since you didn't sign the type of two-way "binding" (I'm using that term loosely here) agreement that you do with a wedding.

I spoke to several vendors in the course of my research who handled situations like that in exactly that manner, for what it's worth. In one case the vendor arrived at the venue on the day-of, realized it was a wedding, and straight up just turned around and went home. Another basically required a "security deposit" that would be returned once the vendor confirmed the event wasn't actually a wedding.

TBH, those vendors sound seriously sketchy absent some credible explanation for why they think they need to charge more for a wedding.

If a vendor who supplies kids' entertainment rental (like those blow-up house things) tried to charge more for their services at a wedding than at a birthday party, I'd think they were trying to gouge. Flowers, something I know very little about, I could understand being treated differently for a wedding than other events, but I'd be interested in why.

> TBH, those vendors sound seriously sketchy absent some credible explanation for why they think they need to charge more for a wedding.

I mean, you can just ask why if you're curious. Most of them are sole proprietorships. It's not like you're dealing with a large corporation where pricing is set by a corporate office.

Re: bailing, honestly I think most of them just react negatively to being lied to because there's some element of a personal relationship involved in this kind of service. I'd similarly be pretty pissed if my boss lied to me intentionally about what I was working on.

Also brings fun to the party if the cake says "Happy Birthday" instead of having two figures on top :-)

"Honey, I didn't feel alive until we got married, so I've reborn.... also, we saved like 15k which we can use for a downpayment on that house you wanted us to eventually own."

> the baker will hear hell about it - maybe not from your wedding party, but for every reasonable wedding party there are 99 expecting perfection.

Note and important that the baker is not insulated in any way from the aggravation and the bad feelings as a result of a problem. They will hear about it and they will live it. This is pretty much true for any small business. In other words if you are Comcast the CEO is well insulated from the pain and agony of any customers. Ditto for Airlines and so on. But the front office staff and/or the people who actually take the calls. Sure they hear about it and sure they might perceive it's a problem but they are not hearing the actual customer pain and getting aggravated. The baker will have someone come into the shop and they will see and feel the pain directly.

> the price becomes $100. Why? Because if one iota of that cake is decorated incorrectly...

I don't agree on your why. The point is not perfection; the point is that a wedding is supposed to show affluence. It's in the same ballpark as a present to your fiancée (remember the rule of thumb for the price of the engagement ring: three times the gross monthly earnings whatever they are- which means: expensive by any standard). And I suspect this is valid across many cultures, so I'd say the reason is more or less anthropological. Thriftiness is rarely valued when it comes to these things.

> the point is that a wedding is supposed to show affluence. It's in the same ballpark as a present to your fiancée (remember the rule of thumb for the price of the engagement ring: three times the gross monthly earnings whatever they are- which means: expensive by any standard).

Ugh. Are many people really like this? I would never date, let alone marry someone who had this kind of attitude. It's so... wasteful. And stressful. I don't understand it at all.

Me neither. But I think it's at least one part of the cultural ritual of wedding. I mean, a rule like "the diamond should cost at least such and such" is not even conceivable outside this type of framework (consider that artificial diamonds are also a perfect substitute- and as perfectly useless as the "real" ones).

I don't have good references here, it's just observation. But think about it: all the process of the proposal, the engagement, the long planning, the event itself, the dozens of relatives and friends invited, the food and the party... it's heavily ritualized and designed as a public and expensive event. Of course, you can deviate from the script as much as you want. If anything (also pure observation, I might be wrong) it seems to become less extreme in cultures that value more careful planning against spontaneity and of, course, tradition: for example weddings in India are an incredibly expensive affair that can last for several days and have thousands of guests.[1]

Somehow the practice reminds me a bit of that of the potlatch [2], a ritualized exchange and destruction of goods that was meant as a display of wealth in some tribal societies (possibly also ancient Greece).

[1] https://medium.com/@rubychandu/the-nonsense-that-is-indian-w... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potlatch

> The point is not perfection; the point is that a wedding is supposed to show affluence

I would argue strongly that these two things are highly related.

Nobody attaches a physical price tag to their cake at the wedding - it looks immaculate, so you just assume it probably cost a lot.

Also likely why people get upset when it's NOT immaculate - it looks cheaper.

Good point. But also fewer want to haggle on prices when planning a wedding, because they're supposed to burn a relevant amount of cash anyway. When you go to buy that cake you've likely already decided how much you're going to spend in total, based on what's expected in your and your partner's background.

> But also fewer want to haggle on prices when planning a wedding

To overgeneralize a lot, but nevertheless I think that the trend is this way though it's nowhere close to an ironclad rule on any of these, petit bourgeois White Anglo-Saxon Protestants don't haggle over prices when planning a wedding. People of lower socioeconomic standing do, people of higher socioeconomic standing have agents that do it for them, and people of other ethnicities do because they don't have the cultural attitude that haggling is gauche.

Plenty of people have to organize a wedding within a budget and are under pressure to get more for their money when planning a wedding. Therefore I'm not convinced that "supposed to burn a relevant amount of cash" makes them less price sensitive.

People don't haggle on prices because largely in western culture we just assume the price is the price and we can either pay it or go somewhere else.

I imagine a fair amount of haggling goes on in cultures where that's a standard affair.

That's true. But I can guarantee you that people who run events for a living negotiate with venues and other suppliers all the time.

Sounds a lot like the satellite launch market before 2010.

Thankfully, since then there is a new baker on the block.

I don't think the two industries are at all comparable.

What if I want to have my wedding in low earth orbit?

At least Vox has pointed it out: An app/website cannot replace a building for a venue. An app cannot replace the band. It cannot replace the photographer.

What can it do? Attempt to be a middleman that extracts wealth from the sellers' margins.

In this case, the workers are not "gig economy" but professionals. They cannot be bullied nearly so easily as Uber can do with lopsided agreements and pittances in money to the desperate.

They can try to make it easier to connect these professionals with couples, but since people like to talk directly with these professionals and get the planning as part of the "experience", the two groups will bypass the middleman app's rent seeking through direct negotiation.

So the industry resist control by a tech company, simply because you cannot distill the whole process into swipes in an app + a credit card. This means the tech company needs service. It cannot have explosive tech-only growth where the only things needed are another few devs and more rented cloud servers.

This seems like one of the more salient comments on this thread.

When I got married, there's no way that I would have selected any of the vendors through an app. Even if I were inclined to discover them that way, my wife and I met with every vendor in person to evaluate their work, personality (as a proxy for reliability) and discuss pricing. It is an intimately personal affair, and I simply don't see room for a middle man. Even with a wedding planner, the couple getting married still often go through all of those steps.

MAYBE what could be done is to provide a party planning system; specify type of occasion, select from suggested categories of vendors, and let the system manage an assortment of the necessary details, including meeting times. Even in this situation, it's going to be extremely location-dependent. Imagine the complexity of organizing data for Door Dash or Grubhub, multiplied by all of the other categories of vendors (venue, supplies, decoration, setup, cleanup, so forth).

Startups win on creating efficiency: saving time and/or money. Compare that to a hobby, almost the entire point of which is to consume time and money...

Wedding planning feels more analogous to a hobby. My wife and I enjoyed the time we spent together while planning...tasting cakes, "dates" at caterers, looking at flowers, picking out attire, etc. Yes, there were some stressful moments, but if we had a startup that was designed to "streamline" everything, we would have missed out on that experience.

Weddings are deeply personal experiences. That's the hard part to scale, every one of them is pratically built to order.

What I learned on organizing mine is that service providers self organize in networks that refer each other not just as "favourtisement" but because they shared previous jobs and integrated well and that reduces their friction on delivering the client requests.

That something that a startup should target more than the end clients. Disrupting wedding planners seems more efficient than disrupting the wedding industry whole.

Yes, market size for people who don't want to put a lot of themselves into a wedding but also are willing to put in decent amount of money into paying someone else to do it for them seems rather slim.

If you don't want to bother so much about the wedding it seems likely you don't want to pay enough for a middleman to make a profit.

Maybe all of the discrete parts (the venue, the entree, the dessert) are more-or-less commodities, but it's how we package these things together that prevents an end-to-end commoditization of "wedding as a service".

It cheapens the experience if planning a wedding is as simple as going to a McDonald's drive-thru. For something that's supposed to be once-in-a-lifetime, I don't think people would want an app where they could just customize a few options, and have an entire wedding planned. The point of it, really, is that it isn't supposed to easy.

Maybe I'm a minority, but I love a management layer between me any anything. Any sort of software that offers a checklist, reviews, comparisons, contact management, status updates, progress bars, gantt charts, budgets, registries, seating, warnings about conflict or missed deadlines. I should be able to open the "my wedding app" click food, and within a click be able to contact any of my vendors. People helping me plan should be able to read each others communications so they can pick up where I left off. I should be able to add anyone in the wedding party, and even guests, and they see information that is relevant to them. Yelp+Slant+Mint+Intercom for the planning industry sounds great.

The thing that just a budget and schedule lacks is being able to watch each others progress and preferences.

I assumed (and I see there are) all sorts of online tools that purport to help with planning. Many people also set up websites these days. I assume these have affiliate links and the like but they're not exactly disruptive applications.

Some of them all do one or a couple parts of what I described, but they are all designed to be "easy and simple" more than powerful. And I really doubt most of them do things like watch my credit card to keep track of how much has been paid out.

There's plenty of room for innovation, with some more imagination.

> Maybe all of the discrete parts (the venue, the entree, the dessert) are more-or-less commodities, but it's how we package these things together that prevents an end-to-end commoditization of "wedding as a service".

I think you are partially right, but the key components aren't commodities, at least, for the clientele willing to spend enough money to be worth serving. Venues for ceremony and/or reception are quite often not, for instance

There are a lot of properties in common with real estate: for buyers the experience is rare and intense, at a huge information disadvantage. For service sellers, the transaction is repeated endlessly, in the same local market with the same people. There are many incentives and opportunities for service providers to work together to resist disruption.

I came to say the same thing, but you said it quicker and probably better than I. Funerals is probably a third such set of services.

Yes, funerals are perhaps the most extreme example, because in many cases you have very little time in which to make the decisions, plus you're in a state of shock or grief and maybe aren't making the most rational decisions.

One possible way to disrupt such an industry is by encouraging pre-planning, which helps eliminate the tight time constraints.

But while we all know we're going to die, and our preferences around our funerals tend to be based on our individual wishes, it's not certain that we're going to get married, and our preferences around our weddings tend to based on the joint wishes of the couple, so you can only go so far with pre-planning. It would make little sense for you to start pre-planning before you start dating the person who will become your future husband or wife.

Pre-planning may not be practical with a funeral either. I understand in the case of a terminal illness, but death does happen rather suddenly to a lot of people. For a wedding at least you can book the venue ahead of time.

Unfortunately from recent experience I can tell you that there is still a good amount that you can preplan with death, if not funeral, like getting a deal on the headstone or plot of land, signing a DNR and power of attorney ahead of time, or having a hospice care plan, as morbid as those are.

Totally fair, and a lot of those can be done years in advance.

My great grandma was well into her 90s when she died. Once you're in your 90s no matter how good your health is, your days are numbered. She did the logical thing and preplanned and prepaid for her funeral. Entirely. She even had the dress picked out that she wanted to wear.

Considering that the biggest expense of a wedding is the venue, then services (band, photographer), I could see the direct correlation to real estate.

I'm not sure you could get the venue owners to drop rates, because it sure doesn't seem like many have much of a demand shortage. Wedding venues seem to be booked way far out in advance, and don't seem to have any issues with vacancies. And I'm sure they are well aware of each others' rates.

Anecdotally, I also see large disincentives to lower costs for the other major services. Musicians who play weddings do so because the gig pays well, not because playing crappy covers is what they really want to do. Pretty sure the same goes for photographers - if the wedding business wasn't so lucrative, they'd probably just go do something else with their lives. They're all professional, but I'm not sure many would identify as a "wedding singer", just "musician" or "photographer". But, I'd guess they too are very aware of each other's rates, which gives them no reason to work for less money.

Not sure what there's to "disrupt" here other than culture. And if there's one true rule I've learned: Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Seems like maybe the best way to disrupt weddings, then, is to have some lower-cost venues that are close to on par with the current ones - kind of like the way the PC disrupted the minicomputer market. They weren't as good, but they were good enough, and a lot less money.

"AirBnB for event space" sites already exist, like https://www.peerspace.com. All of them just generalize for "event" planning. But most of the spaces are for smaller events, because that's what's unused.

Once you get to 100+ attendees, options drop dramatically. When I did a cursory search for "average us wedding size", I got a number of 120.

So, I'm just not sure where this source of "good enough" venues are going to come from, that aren't already in use.

I was thinking that the disruption would be the creation of new venues. It seems that there's a market for less-expensive venues that can hold from 120 up to perhaps 200 (?) people. There's unserved demand there. The trick is to create spaces that work, that are attractive, that aren't as expensive as the existing options.

I've gigged as a pianist and it's really not worth it, financially speaking - I only do it for the fun/joy of making music. Have you considered the cost of gear, the rehearsals, transit, tear down/setup, down-time without music, and dealing with shitty clients who expect more than the verbal agreement? When you deal with all of that, the money is not good, it's just about bringing joy with my piano music, having an audience that is often very complimentary and provides meaning to the 1000's of practice hours I have put in.

Financially, I make the same in a single 8 h day of coding that I do in my average "2 h" gigs, which really take 5 hours or so all inclusive, and which only occur 5-10 times per year. If I quit my full time position and tried to get more gigs, I'd get maybe 2 or 3 times more, and my income would go down about by 50k or around 75%.

Most professional musicians aren't comparing wedding gigs to high paying programming jobs. They're comparing wedding gigs to other gigs, and there weddings seem to be the best paying gigs around.

Lemme clarify that "pays well" meant "pays well in comparison to their other gigs". Which is still pretty bad, in comparison to doing pretty much anything else. Just a sad fact that almost all musicians make absolutely nothing.

Given that music is already the #2 cost for weddings, I'm not sure how you "disrupt that" other than not hiring musicians.

I'm not sure how you "disrupt that" other than not hiring musicians.

I haven't been to a lot of weddings, but non of the weddings I've been to the past few years had a band. So maybe that's already happening.

Where is the information asymmetry? Let's boil down weddings to needing to book a venue and have catering. The same could be said for planning a family reunion. You'd contact numerous venues and catering services and get the best prices, and then your event is planned.

In the case of a couple planning their wedding, what exactly do these service providers know that the couple does not? How much food ordinarily costs, when catered? How much a particular venue space usually rents for, for an evening?

You boiled out all the wedding specific stuff :). There are special conventions around everything from flowers to officiants to PA systems to photographers to DJs to invitations to rehearsals -- all things that most folks will never have done. (Separately, a tiny percentage of folks have ever planned a family reunion, let alone more than once).

Finally, even services that should be commoditized, like catering, segment their prices and offerings for weddings, because they can.

>because they can

And also because they're probably often a PITA compared to some conference or corporate event. I'm not saying corporate/conference event planners don't make a genuine effort to get things right. Smaller events, in particular, can be very well done. But no one's going to freak out if some aspect of the dinner isn't just so.

As someone who is planning a wedding, I don't really see what they are trying to "disrupt"? I am thinking the major costs for a wedding are:

- Rings - Dress (wedding dress/men's dress) - Venue - Food - Cake - Photographer - Music/"DJ"/MC - "extras"

Many of those can be rolled up into a venue (i.e. the venue supplies food, DJ, Cake, etc.), and personally, my fiancé nor I want to spend a lot of money on it.

So it feels like where they are disrupting are the "nice to haves" (expensive dress, cards, etc.) and not focusing on the "need to haves" (Food, venue, etc.)

And, if you come right down to it, the bulk of costs comes down to cultural/family expectations for a traditional formal wedding with a couple hundred of your closest friends of the sort I used to work part-time for a (old-line Main Line Philadelphia) caterer as a teenager.

I've attended a wide gamut of weddings over the years. Some are in the above vein, others are much more informal affairs, still others make the wedding a small family affair and have a bigger casual party as a separate event.

That is, as well as what the couple ends up wanting for the wedding too.

Sure. But I'd argue that's heavily flavored by cultural expectations in many/most cases.

Put another way: If the norm was to have a casual catered party/BBQ at your (or a friend's/relative's) house for a wedding, how many people would consider planning a $50K reception and dinner?

Yeah that is a good way to look at it, I didn't think about it.

> (i.e. the venue supplies food, DJ, Cake, etc.), and personally, my fiancé nor I want to spend a lot of money on it

That's where we were at - we ended up renting out a restaurant for the evening - as long as they made what they normally make for an evening they were happy to have less people come in. They went all out on the food as they were feeding 30 people with it instead of the usual restaurant crowd. Our wedding cake was a nicer version of their regular chocolate cake (again, included in the food cost). Our music was the restaurants usual music. It was an excellent.

In regards to the dress, if you're non-traditional there's a ton of off-white non-wedding dresses that look perfectly acceptable and cost a tenth of the wedding varieties.

>as long as they made what they normally make for an evening they were happy to have less people come in

I will echo the truth behind this. My food truck usually does food service for 3-4 weddings a year and we don't charge much more than our usual prices unless they're asking for something outside standard offerings. We greatly enjoy doing them since we know exactly what we're doing that day, they're a guaranteed income, and we can focus on good quality. Plus it's great fun to be a part of things like weddings, even on the business end of things.

I am leaving it up to the person wearing the dress. She was looking at used, but I do ultimately want her to be happy with it too. Thank you for the suggestion though!

We considered the restaurant option as well. But I think we are going to work with one event space that is actually very reasonable and fairly inclusive with everything.

The pricing variance between venues was insane (some charged to rent the space, come charged a price minimum, some charged for things other did not, some just had some different requirements).

>I am leaving it up to the person wearing the dress. She was looking at used, but I do ultimately want her to be happy with it too. Thank you for the suggestion though!

I'd never suggest otherwise. My wife couldn't stomach the thought of spending thousands of dollars on a dress, so she went for a cheaper alternative.

We were married directly in the restaurant (like I said, we're non-traditional), so it was just the one venue for us. The restaurant was incredibly helpful the whole time - they seemed to really enjoy being able to provide fine dining and change up their menu and venue as well.

Just thought I'd offer up my experience. Best of luck with your wedding, and I hope it's the start of a long and happy marriage.

Thank you! I appreciate hearing your thoughts on it.

How much a plate will it cost for food? $125, $150 more?

If the typical mobile, prepared in advance, reduced menu restaurant with no real physical footprint can charge per plate what the finest tradition restaurants charge then there is clearly room for disruption.

Just as a comparison, the most expensive group dining option at Ruth Chris (selected for no reason other than I like their food) is $115 a plate. That is less than 2/3rds what we paid per plate at our wedding for something called "beaph" and looked like an old shoe.

I think you're underestimating the costs associated with event catering, especially for a sit-down meal, that have nothing to do with weddings specifically for meals that are prepared on-site. You're loading a truck or more full of gear. Paying for cook and wait staff. Breakdown. Tents/chairs/etc. (Unless you're using an event space which has its own costs.)

[As someone else alluded to, sure you can bring in a couple of food trucks, which I see more and more at conference events. But that's not what a lot of people have in mind for a wedding meal.]

The location was not part of the price per plate we were charged for "catering". Perhaps that is not always the case. What is though is that all restaurants pay for cooks and wait staff and that sit down restaurant prices do include the cost of the "location".

For me, the question is does the caliber of the cook staff, the wait staff, the food at the typical catered event come anywhere near the caliber of what is offered at the very best sit down restaurants?

This post has lots of other noting that telling your service provider that the event is a wedding instantly doubles or triples the price.

Just my opinion, but it seems that there is plenty of room for "disruption" here. I think the same is true for "realtors" and "funerals" and "tour guides".

On the flip side, the forces working to keep these industries protected are basically fear and tradition. Both powerful motivators.

There might be greater inefficiency in weddings compared to restaurants, due to the requirement to serve every diner's main course within ~15 minutes. Higher kitchen door peak bandwidth, but lower average utilisation.

Of course, you've got to balance that against the efficiency gains from the much shorter menu.

Based on N of several hundred, restaurants can generally do a pretty good job of banquet-style serving for large groups by using a limited menu and keeping things simple. It's probably not quite as good or as customized as ordering off the menu, but it can definitely be serviceable or better.

Catering a meal for a large group is tougher without a local kitchen. If you're imaginative about meal choices (e.g. optimize around BBQ of some sort) or if you're willing to tolerate lines for e.g. food trucks you can do better. But in my experience you have to make some choices to serve a large meal where there's no permanent kitchen. (I did work for a caterer once upon a time.)

> all restaurants pay for cooks and wait staff

No, they don't, not really, hence, tipping culture. But for catering, unlike menu price at a restaurant, you are paying full freight for service. You are also (compared to a restaurant) paying for the lack of upsell opportunities. (Particularly, if you are supplying drinks separately and don't have a cash bar operated by the caterer: the bar is disproportionately where restaurants make their money.)

> you are paying full freight for service.

I wish. Wedding vendors, especially catering, are also tip driven and its generally expected to tip individuals (coordinators, bar tenders, wait staff etc).

When you put it like that, raw material costs (aka the food) seems like a very small portion of the total catering cost.

Food was by far the biggest expense of our wedding. My wife and her family did want to go all out, and it came to about $100 a head for food/drink (I forget if I rolled out the venue price out of that exact number). For a nice meal for a bunch of people in New England that's not even that bad of a price

The venue was the next most expensive coming in at a flat rate of a few thousand

Everything else was pretty inexpensive by comparison although it does add up

You can't put a website in front of it and call it disruption. Every one of those things you mentioned gets bought after you have physically spoken with someone to give yourself the confidence they are legit.

It's such an important day, people want to make sure they'll be taken care of as special, unlike say, a cleaning service.

I would say it would be nice for a "Zillow" type thing for it though? We only found half of these venues through word of mouth or by going to wedding shows. I was not convinced on a few of them they try provided the total upfront cost as well, or when you talked to them you found limitations.

> As someone who is planning a wedding, I don't really see what they are trying to "disrupt"?

These days, "disrupt" is really just fig-leaf language for "How do I get me a piece of those sweet, sweet margins?"

Food is the first cost around here weird to see it so far in your list.

My breakdown of the three largest expenses was about 40% food, 20% clothing and 10% the honeymoon.

I would've assumed the venue would be the #1 cost (especially so if you factor in anything facilities-related you'd need, like chairs or pop-up tents or whatever, plus decorations).

Well full disclosure we paid 90€/guest for a largish menu, there's plenty factor that are involved including head count and menu size, but average venues here were between 1k and 5k so even in a smallish wedding like ours food escalated quickly and reached over that cost.

We also ended up moving the wedding sunday which was weird but cut off some costs dramatically, we paid the stay for our international guests etc, so, as before, ymmv

I kept an Excel somewhere if people are interested in that sort of thing.

> I would've assumed the venue would be the #1 cost

If it's a signature venue, maybe, but for most weddings food is going to be a bigger expense, IME and from everything I've heard from everyone else whose been through the exercise.

Chairs, tables, linens, etc. are often rolled into the catering cost, rather than the venue rental cost.

Companies that use "total spend on weddings" as a proxy for their total addressable market are either naive or disingenuous.

For couples having a "big wedding", 80%+ of the cost goes to: catering, venue, photographer, dress, flowers. All of those require a business with a local presence - a web startup isn't going to be able to replace any of those.

The companies mentioned in the article are actually tackling wedding line items that represent a much smaller fraction of the wedding's budget: stationary, registries, wedding websites, and wedding planning tools. Median spend for websites and planning tools is probably $0, because most couples are fine with free website creators (often provided as a loss leader) and Excel spreadsheets.

They're also aiming to collect referral fees or advertising spend from the vendors that actually provide the big line items. However, the total market there is "advertising budgets of other wedding vendors", not "total wedding vendor revenue".

Because weddings are based on emotions, not based on money or logic. The average wedding in San Francisco is $80,000, which is fucking insane. But it's just how it is, and you won't get someone to change that with "facts". Many things can get disrupted, but when the entire industry is based on emotions, you can't change people's minds.

Exactly this. They are buying a fantasy, a dream. Who wants a $500 dream? They are only doing this once and it is the most important day of their entire life so money should be no object!

Even the "doing this once" is us giving into our emotions and assuming that absolutely nothing can go wrong in marriage.

“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert

Engaged couples have to give in to those emotions though, or the entire fiction of marriage falls apart.

If people seriously thought the risk of a marriage going wrong was significant why would they ever get married? So anyone who actually goes through with the wedding has to be completely emotionally all in already. Arguing against giving into emotions is tantamount to arguing they shouldn't get married in the first place.

I don't think this is accurate.

The risk of business failure is similar to the risk of divorce yet people don't consider starting a business a "fiction entirely based on irrational emotions." It's not, just like marriage is not.

And since more unmarried couples split up than married couples, you're actually arguing against romantic relationships entirely.

Using this logic, since you usually lose touch with many friends over the years, why have friends at all then? You're probably going to outlive your pet, so why get a pet at all if it's just going to die?

Just because something ends doesn't mean it wasn't worth it for the time it lasted and even if it wasn't, taking some risk isn't entirely irrational.

I’m actually very sympathetic to your views, but I also don’t think that mainstream culture agrees with this at all.

Take a look at these wedding vows, which I think are still representative :


Do you think it’s at all common that engaged couples would be happy to give up the vow of lifelong commitment (literally until death) or that mainstream culture would agree with you? I highly doubt it. Whatever the pragmatic view you support, neither marriage vows, romantic comedies, disney movies or religion seems to go along with it.


I don't want a dream. I want a reality. I don't want one day; I want a lifetime. The point of a wedding is to get married, not to have a wedding.

The building we got married in has been torn down. I lost my original wedding ring. The cake is long gone. My wife's dress sits in a cedar chest and has never been worn again. The developer lost our honeymoon pictures. Our marriage is still here.

I think maybe the focus on the day can be a distraction from the lifetime. The day isn't what's going to make your marriage work.

Also, status. Emotion + status = $$$$$. There's a sense of self-worth for a lot of women superimposed straight onto the event itself because everyone knows it's for the bride more than anything else. Don't have a big to-do with a lot of pomp and circumstance and she feels like she's not worth it.

I’m honestly surprised yours is the only comment so far that mentions emotions in this discussion (I also didn’t see a mention of this in the article).

I think this is a similar situation to the often extreme costs seen in the Death Care Industry (Funeral and Mortuary services), just with the opposite end of the emotional spectrum being taken advantage of. People get invested in what they think society sees as necessary or appropriate and are driven by an emotional high/low into not really thinking about what they (or their passed loved ones) really want. They are driven by the emotional state to ignore expense and do whatever they can to convince both themselves and others of their feelings/intent, be that the love and promise of a new marriage, or the love and respect for someone who has passed.

There's often a Principal/Agent problem too : the people deciding how fancy/big the wedding should be are not always the people supplying the funding. Then the funding folks have reputational risk from appearing "cheap" in the eyes of the Agents. This keeps them from limiting the funding.

this x 1000. Decisions are not based on rationality, but totally based on emotions.

Weddings, by their very nature are Affective Events. They are events that reproduce social relations and emotions in the attendees. As such, the decision making process is lead by emotions.

Because people have these movie weddings in their minds and are willing to pony up anything for a day to remember. Personally I find the whole experience rather sad and very very overrated. I have been to many weddings and opted out of the entire experience when it came to ours. Best decision I’ve ever made. Wife mostly feels the same but occasionally wonders what it would be like to have a traditional wedding. I don’t know, maybe the fact that I’ve been to so many weddings in itself has ruined the experience for me? Everyone I’ve even seen married never seem to have a great time - there is always a ton of stress, discomfort, expense and cliches that feel rather silly. I know women are the ones who mostly look forward to this, so hopefully they are getting their money’s worth and that day to remember.

Anecdotally, my family threw a large traditional wedding for my sister, and it was magical. Three years later, people still tell us it was the best event they've ever attended.

Don't assume that everyone who has an expensive, traditional wedding hates it - that's as bad as turning up a nose at affordable or quirky weddings.

Sure, I’m not saying everyone has a miserable time. A lot of that likely depends on your standing in society and your family. My observations most likely reflect my standing and of the people I know. I think it’s great if someone is able to have an amazing time!

I don't claim to know that much about it, but nothing I've heard suggests that there's that much room for automation in the industry. Every wedding is a one-off with at least some custom requirements, and none are ever repeated. Where does an app or website come in? The experienced people in the industry know who to trust to get it right, who can do what, and roughly what it costs. They have the human ability to take care of the small problems without bothering the family, and know what issues to escalate to them.

Maybe the planners would like and be willing to pay for some tool that helped them organize things, but there's probably too much individual customization needed to make any such solution practical to build cheaper and better than Excel or something.

I think when people spend $30K on a wedding they don't start by saying I am going to spend $30K. It just comes out in drips. Like $500 for flowers, etc.

IDK, perhaps it's cos we're 31 and 32 so a bit more mature and had been warned and been able to talk to friends who've done it. But once we got enough info to get an idea of cost per head for food, venue hire fee, we then put together a spreadsheet and were bang on. YMMV, but it's really not that hard to anticipate most of the costs.

The wedding industry is really heavy on the upsell and some people are really susceptible to it, I guess.

I've worked in the wedding industry.

You have one chance to get it right for your clients - there are no do-overs. People only get one wedding day and if you screw it up, you've ruined it for them and they will talk about it for decades to come.

There is no "fail fast" in this realm. Tread lightly.

It’s because there is no “wedding” industry. There is an events industry with its various subsets.

It's various industries with a "wedding" multiplier. "Wedding" dresses are thousands of dollars, but roughly equivalent normal dresses are hundreds. The minute you say "wedding cake" instead of "chocolate cake" the cost skyrockets.

> "Wedding" dresses are thousands of dollars, but roughly equivalent normal dresses are hundreds.

A lot of that cost differential is high-touch, small-floorspace, low-volume boutiques that throw a lot of effort into the buying experience; budget sensitive buyers can and do cut a lot out of that already, through discount bridal shops that have a sales experience more like traditional retail (despite providing all the same substantive services lie fitting and alterations/customization.)

The rest of it is the substantive services like multiple fittings and alterations, which tend to be priced in with wedding dresses and charged separately otherwise.

Why would anybody ever share that their cake purchase is for a wedding, then? Wouldn't everyone just say 'give me a chocolate cake' to save money?

Unless there's something about the cake design that obviously gives away the context of your request to the vendor --but beyond that-- it seems disadvantageous to disclose the information.

It really depends on if you want a "wedding cake" or not. If you want a wedding cake, you gotta say it, cause it has a particular look and feel.

I'm picturing a multi-tiered cake, but I don't really see anything unique about it. Maybe the designs/patterns they use to apply the frosting are different for wedding cakes?

I'll be honest, I haven't seen many wedding cakes. I've seen far more regular cakes. If I went to a wedding, and someone wanted to trick by serving non-wedding cake, I'd be fooled.

Oh yeah, we went full regular chocolate cake for ours. Wasn't a "wedding" cake, but was way more delicious.

I've been to weddings where people do cupcakes in lieu of cake. Everyone gets dessert faster, since you don't have to cut it up and serve it individually. I was a fan of the planned efficiency. The couple did actually have a small cake for the ceremonial cutting of the cake. Beyond that, everyone was OK with cupcakes, if they cared to eat dessert.

This is pretty insightful. I think I’d refine it slightly as “there’s no wedding industry despite people trying to create one” (cf Condé Nast and their magazine, mentioned in the article).

And after expanding the scope, as you do, you mostly get the same recursive problem the article concludes with: most of the expenses go to unconnected third parties like venue, band) who have little opportunity for roll-up.

Does the fact there’s a shoe industry mean there’s no sneaker industry?

It’s more like there’s no ‘driving to the airport’ industry. There’s a taxi industry that also drives to the airport.

The airport shuttle businesses might disagree on that. The fact that there's a larger more-generic group doesn't mean that a specialty isn't real.

But those are small business rather than a “sector” mainly existing due to external economics which vary rom airport to airport (parking costs/structure) and peoples’ willingness To put up with inconvenience.

It does mean the specialty is a relatively small market that isn't really worth talking about, though.

"Wedding-Industrial Complex"?

The surface area of weddings as a solvable problem is insane, partially because the variance in what people want out of a wedding is huge, and since the cost is usually so high, people are less incentivized to compromise on what they do and don't want.

Then it becomes a configuration problem. You could build a platform that connects couples with wedding vendors, but you might struggle to make that platform flexible enough to allow people to search for all aspects of what they're looking for. Food is a good example of this. When I got married, I had 3 separate dietary requirements I had to meet, which most caterers weren't able or willing to accommodate without a drastic price increase.

It would've been really difficult to build a platform that vendors would fill out fully because there are probably dozens of questions to ask.

I'm sure there are other reasons as well, but that was the biggest pain point for my wedding.

Fiddler On the Roof has it: TRADITION.

People get real salty if they've done something for generations and then suddenly you want to change things (or more likely things changed around them). See all rural politics.

Traditional weddings in many cultures were not necessarily huge and expensive.

In my culture, people just went to the Church and got married, followed by an open reception at someone's house or a hall owned by the Church and the ladies made sandwiches. People danced and went home. They were not big events.

Even most liberal women become Burkean conservatives when it comes to planning their wedding. I mean, why are flowers required? Why does there need to be some sort of feast? Why is music and dancing required? Why have a public event at all, when you can go to a courthouse, have a judge administer some basic acknowledgement with a couple witnesses, and call it a day?

It's easy to over-estimate how much average couples are spending, because basic math means you get invited to 50x more 100-guest weddings than 2-guest weddings.

I have a theory and so far it’s always been true.

Things that people don’t do frequently never get fixed!





Buying a mattress

Real estate

Anytime you come across high prices and broken processes check it against this rule.

I'm surprised at myself for defending the DMV, but at least in my state, I haven't been to the registry in many years (though I did need to go to AAA for a license renewal). But everything else has been online or by mail. Replacing a lost license last year took 10 minutes online.

As for customs, there are various electronic entry lanes for immigration and I haven't actually had a bag looked at by customs for years.

My local DMV is also surprisingly great: most things can be done online, and if you do have to go in, there are online appointments as well as quick walk-in service. I actually have longer waits at Chipotle than at the DMV.

Health care is something people use frequently, has broken processes, and high prices, and will seemingly never be fixed.

>> Things that people don’t do frequently never get fixed!

> Health care is something people use frequently, has broken processes, and high prices, and will seemingly never be fixed.

Your counter example doesn't work. The original claim was "things that people don't do frequently never get fixed", not "things that never get fixed are infrequently used by people".

I’d argue the majority of people don’t use it frequently.

Maybe not average aged working people, but everybody I know in the 60+ age group (mostly family) usually has regular interactions with the medical system, or at a rate far higher than 25-45 year olds.

And there's a lot of older people. As a cohort, there's only slightly fewer boomers than millennials.

Old people aren't necessarily the ones in a position to change the system. And the old people with power don't use the public system.

I'd disagree with the last two.

There are now many websites that sell quality mail order mattresses for much less than a brick and mortar store of yore.

I don't know how successful they are, but Redfin seems to have improved the process of home selling/buying.

A few aspects of weddings have been disrupted:

- Registries: the article itself talks about Zola, for example. Although traditional registry sites (e.g. bloomingdales, bed bath and beyond) seem to still have most of the market in my experience.

- Invitations: You can still go to someone local for this, especially if you need something customized, but more and more people are creating their invitations online.

But there are a bunch of pieces of the wedding that are stubborn to change. Other major expenses include venue, catering, photography, flowers and music/entertainment. But finding these things, which often involves driving out and meeting with someone face-to-face, or at least talking to them over the phone, is part of the process that people love about weddings.

Companies spend $30,000 on events. But most people spend $30,000 (or whatever your wedding costs) are paying for the experience of planning the party. My wife insisted on driving out to sample caterers' food (which for me was the best part of wedding planning) and meeting the potential photographers in person.

If this was strictly a business transaction, then yes, an app could probably make this more convenient. But the process is part of the experience that people seem to like.

EDIT: A lot of people don't see the rationality in having a big, expensive wedding that takes a long time to plan. My brother had close friends and family at a restaurant and it was great. If more people did that, then the wedding industry would be "disrupted". But I'd venture to guess that most people spending large amounts of money on their weddings enjoy the current aspects of the process.

The answer is definitely brides. 5k is "cheap for a wedding dress," and 8k is "cheap for a venue."

Why must these things be so expensive? You might as well ask why engagement rings are so expensive, or why dowries used to (and in some places still do) exist.

The parties involved see this as an existential purchase, not a practical purchase. The cost and and sacrifice you must give up is a reflection of the value of the bride. Skimping on a cost or a service is seen as an admission that the bride lacks value.

Also: I think dowries are unrelated, in fact the opposite.

Dowries existed in a time where women were not valued, because taking them on might be seen as an expense. So men got some 'free stuff' in addition.

Also, to be fair, men got the inheritance, so a dowry could be viewed as a kind of inheritance for the bride as well.

As far as 'cost and perception' - my feeling is that this is mostly not being driven by the groom's need to sacrifice, rather by bride's need to have 'perfect weddings'.

Personal experiences are not entirely scientific, but I've been to probably a couple of dozen weddings and in 100% of the cases, the grooms were not hugely interested in the organization, and were a little wary of all the spending. The brides were keen and eager to plan, to make the experience whatever they were. Marriage magazines etc. cater almost exclusively to women, for example.

This is a pretty sexist way to look at it...

I don't think it's far from the truth however. Consider the contrived societal expectation, devised by De Beers, to spend 1 month's salary on a ring. You can get an elegant diamond ring for far less, but we make a virtue out of spending in excess here and that extends to the wedding. It's not that men aren't complicit in this, but the more socially desirable the bride, and you know what that means, the more pressure there is to spend.

That's just... completely untrue, and is definitely sexist.

By the way, that De Beers campaign was marketed at the men, not the women, so it's men that are falling for that rule just as much, if not more, than women are demanding it.

Putting the cost of weddings at the feet of the brides is ridiculous.

For reference, I'm getting married in April, and it's been my wonderful bride who has kept costs way down, compared to my wild spending ideas.

It was marketed towards both. Men to go out and buy the rings, women not to accept rings 'beneath them'.

Advertising is absolutely just straight up sexist in a lot of cases, and people (speaking in the broad strokes that you have to when talking about complete populations) eat that up.

I definitely know someone who got turned down because the ring he bought her wasn't expensive enough. Personally I think he dodged a bullet, but that's neither here nor there there.

Advertisers use sexist advertising because it works.


I don't know that it's sexist. I'm not claiming that women are inferior to men.

I am claiming that as far as I can tell, there is a difference between how men and women view the importance of a costly wedding. It's possible that you think this is a sexist idea. I don't, and I think it's just a value judgement. (ie, a preference)

> the bride lacks value

0_0 Wow, brides don't even get awarded a pronoun by you?!

In a more humanistic universe, the traditions around marriage means the wedding celebration is generally considered the most important party you ever arrange, so costs are expected to be greater.

Anecdotally, american culture also seems to use wedding spending as a straight up status indicator, comparable to having an expensive care. A notion that is undoubtedly supported by the industry that has much to gain by getting prices as inflated as possible.

> american culture also seems to use wedding spending as a straight up status indicator

While there are many things that seem to be specific to US consumer culture, weddings historically have often been about aggregating wealth and power (rather than formalizing love-based relationships) and it's not like those families stop to consider how vulgar displays of wealth make them look.

I don't assign value to people via pronouns, and I genuinely apologize if I gave the impression I was devaluing anyone.

"Why must these things be so expensive?"

It's absurd and repulsive.

It's like we took only a single generation to forget how it was done for 3000 years across most cultures.

Yes, the elite always had big weddings, but most people didn't.

My grandparents and their peers: you go to the Church with family and friends, and then there's a reception at the cottage (considerably more people come by to say hi) where the ladies have sandwiches made. Uncles and aunts play music, people dance a little bit and then go home.

It's another negative aspect of cultural secularization that people don't even realize is happening because they have no context.

One day, after weddings have been corporatized, it's possible future generations think that getting married a 'The Starbucks (of weddings)' is normal as well!

Some of them will invent words like 'holistic' and 'organic' to buck the trend, when they don't even realize is what they mean to say is: "old timey, tradition wedding". Which just doesn't sound very cool or progressive ...

Well, I think it's because my partner and I avoided the Wedding Industry(TM) entirely, as are every other couple we know who want to avoid paying through the nose to act out other families' stereotypes of a "good" wedding, all to make our families miserable.

So we never employed anyone who Works on Weddings, and years later, our friends still insist it was the best wedding they've ever been to. All for ~$6,000.

Here is how we cut our wedding bill for 120 people from 45k to 10k!

Our wedding planning experience got off to a bad start when we told our wedding planner we had no specific budget. He took that to mean an unlimited budget... and came back with a plan for a 100 person medieval-themed party in fancy dress, complete with monogrammed plates and dancing midgets. Total cost around 45k euros. (The midgets alone were 1.5k!)

So we sacked him and did it for 1/4 of the cost:

- Timing - Switch to a Thursday, with an afternoon ceremony and evening dinner. No problems getting a venue. We decided not to stress about people who couldn't make it midweek.

- Venue for ceremony - The venue was a medieval cloister in the middle of Amsterdam. By doing it on a Thursday afternoon, we paid their standard rates for a business meeting. We made friends with the venue manager. He was able to provide post-ceremony drinks and nibbles at much cheaper rates.

- Celebrant - A friend who did weddings in a another region was able to register with the city council to be our celebrant. Zero cost.

- Fancy dress - As a joke to the wedding planner's medieval idea, we surprised our best man etc with ridiculous medieval fancy dress. A cheap way to help everyone laugh even more at their speeches.

- Flowers - The previous evening, the venue was used for the Dutch 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year' awards presentation. The friendly venue manager kept their flowers for us. Zero cost.

- Wedding cake - Decided we could do without this if people had nice post-ceremony drinks. Zero cost.

- Dinner - Booked out a nearby restaurant for the night. They could seat 80. That worked fine as from the 120 guests, many families with kids appreciated the option to go home after the post-ceremony drinks. The restaurant arranged all the catering at their standard reasonable prices. Very nice meal served by professional staff. Zero stress. After dessert, everyone gathered at the bar area and talked and enjoyed themselves til 1am.

- Photographer - A friend asked if she could take photos. Problem solved at zero cost.

- Band/dancing - Neither of us wanted this. Lots of clubs nearby for people who wanted to go out afterwards.

I definitely recommend booking a standard restaurant for a wedding dinner. Don't go to a specialist wedding venue!


Because you'd have to AirBnB the destination, Uber the guests there, Blue Apron the food/cake, Facebook the invitations/web site, etc...

IOW, what I'm saying is you would have to be multiple startups in one.

If you used economies of scale to bring down the cost of a wedding, then weddings would be very similar, and it's doubtful that's what the customers want.

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