1-in-4 Photographers, Florists, Limos & Caterers Jack Up Prices When You Say “Wedding”

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The average wedding may now run you in excess of $31,000, but are you being billed extra for the event just because it’s a wedding? A new report claims that some event vendors charge customers extra when they hear the word “wedding.”

A secret-shopper investigation by our colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports for the upcoming June issue found that many vendors charge higher rates or tack on a “wedding surcharge” for their services.

The secret shoppers – which contacted 40 vendors in 12 states — were deployed in an effort to determine if going over budget was simply a result of consumers’ poor planning or being overcharged by wedding vendors.

As part of the investigation, pairs of shoppers called the same photographers, florists, limousine services, caterers, and other party vendors at least a week apart and got comparative estimates for a wedding and a 50th anniversary party that were identical in every other respect.

Perhaps unsurprisingly in more than a quarter of the cases (about 28%), vendors quoted higher prices for the wedding than for the anniversary party.

For example, limousine companies and photographers surveyed by the shoppers were more likely than other service providers to charge more simply because the event was a wedding.

In one case, CR found that a photographer in Atlanta charged $300 per hour for a Saturday night wedding in mid-October, but charged just $150 per hour for a 50th wedding anniversary at the same time.

Similar discrepancies were found when shoppers looked at caterers for the events.

While providing vague catering budgets for both the wedding and anniversary to the vendors resulted in similar proposals from the caterers, looking at catering menus in general showed a greater difference in pricing.

For example, a New York-area wedding banquet starts at $125 per person in January and February and $140 per person in May to October. Other events, such as a party or meeting, scheduled at the same time had a starting price of $55 per person.

Shoppers also found that several vendors and industries included built-in gratuities of as much as 26% on top of their standard cost.

A hotel in St. Louis imposes a 24% taxable service charge and a 5% taxable event charge on wedding booked at its facility. Those charges are in addition to the 10.179% sales tax that’s applicable to any party. In the end, an $18,000 wedding reception at the hotel balloons to $25,584 affair, an increase of 42%, according to CR.

While the report found that the costs can quickly add up when it comes to planning a wedding, shoppers also found that some vendors were willing to work with them on prices.

The caterer in New York said they would allow couples to use the standard banquet menu — depending on availability — to decrease the price per plate by almost $70.

Negotiating with vendors is often the only option couples have when trying to keep their costs down. But it’s not one that is always used, CR points out.

A recent survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that consumers usually don’t exercise their bargaining clout, and instead choose to take on debt for their big day.

The survey of 464 Americans who’d had a wedding reception in the last five years found that while 78% of newlyweds budgeted for their reception, nearly about 61% went over budget said they had overspent by at least 20%.

So how did couples make up the difference between their budget and their actual costs? Almost 41% said they withdrew from savings; 11% took out a loan from a bank or credit union; and 9% withdrew some money from a 401 (k) or 403(b), or IRA.

“If you’re planning a wedding, you need to be aware that you may be paying a premium for products and services in some cases,” Tobie Stanger, senior editor at Consumer Reports, said in a statement. “You may not think to bargain, but you should. While our findings aren’t enough to indict an entire industry, they’re a warning to wedding shoppers to read fine print, ask smart questions, and negotiate before signing anything.”

Consumer Reports offers several tips for consumers planning a wedding, including always negotiate, choose a low-demand season, day, or time-of-day for the event, and compare catering options carefully.

For additional tips on how to make sure your wedding day goes off without a hitch — and is affordable, check out Consumerist’s “How Not To Suck” wedding series:

How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 1: The Most Expensive Steps
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 2: The Stuff People Pay Too Much For
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 3: The Costly Little Extras
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 4: The Honeymoon
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 5: Spending Your Wedding Cash