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B.C. wedding vendors seeing a return to small weddings, tight budgets after big pandemic catchup

Say "I Do" to smaller crowds

When pandemic restrictions on events lifted in the Okanagan, brides and grooms who had put off their big day came out in droves to make their summer 2022 celebrations happen.

The 2023 wedding season is now on the horizon, and those in the industry have noticed significant changes to what their clients are asking for, and are re-evaluating how much work they can take on.

The post-pandemic shift in demand had venues, photographers, planners and officiants working overtime to fulfill their clients' plans.

Jennifer and Jake Hodder, a wedding photography couple based out of Kelowna, have been shooting couples' big days since 2014. Jennifer takes the lead as the main photographer with her husband helping out as the second shooter.

This year, they are being more particular with the weddings they shoot, deciding not to overbook themselves after last season.

“I feel a lot of us got burned out last year with how much we had to take on,” Jenn said.

“The venues were just all booked during the weekends. So a lot of the vendors, venues and staff had what's called double headers or triple headers or even quadruple headers where it's just wedding after wedding after wedding.”

“It was a tough run because during COVID there was nothing and then everybody was playing catch up for that season, so everybody was at the end of their rope because they didn't have any money coming in. And then everybody was pushed even further because they were way too overwhelmed with all the work that was there to do,” Jake added.

Venues that had set agreements but had to move couples forward also saw this happen.

Tara Silvius, the events manager for Arterra Wines Canada, said their winery See Ya Later Ranch had a ‘super crazy year.’

“We had a ton of people last year, almost too much,” she said. “This year is kind of mellowed back out to I think like the baseline… we're at about 25 weddings.”

Tammi Foster of I Do Weddings and Events has been planning weddings for over 20 years and said her company hit a record running events in Penticton and Naramata last year.

“We had a record of 51 or 52 weddings, but it was a catch-up year. So we had weddings from 2020 up to 2022,” she said. “That was a challenge in itself. This year, I'm welcoming a smaller amount of weddings, and really focusing on having their details executed perfectly.”

Fewer guests, more time together

Now that venues and vendors have all played catch up, they are noticing that more people are opting to celebrate with fewer attendees.

“I think it's an appreciation for your guest list. It's really hard to see all of your guests when you do have a large 200-person wedding [against] the intimacy of a 50 to 80 [person] wedding,” Foster said.

On average, See Ya Later Ranch says 30 guests are booked in, with the couple focusing on more of an elopement-style ceremony.

“For a lot of our brides, the Okanagan is a destination wedding almost. Everyone's coming from Vancouver or Calgary or something. So everyone's travelling, it's a little bit more expensive, especially with gas and everything these last couple of years. So I think that helps rein it in,” Silvius added.

“I hear brides [say], 'Oh good, we don't need to invite my parent’s neighbours.' You can really keep it to your close family and friends and not have this big huge shindig.”

The desire for a more intimate wedding has also translated to a bigger focus on the ceremony rather than the reception.

Sondra Richardson, who is a certified celebrant and marriage officiant, said that couples are wanting to invest in that experience.

“I'm finding that it's a flip. People used to have a smaller budget for ceremonies, now it's growing,” she said. Since this is her 11th year working in the wedding industry, she added that it’s a nice change, especially since she focuses on creating custom ceremonies.

“Everybody wants to celebrate, everybody wants to gather with their people and I'm finding that mostly with weddings, people are into storytelling, making their celebrations more inclusive.”

Inflation leads to tight budgets

A common note from the wedding industry is that overall budgets have decreased, as prices for fabric, marriage ceremonies and services are seeing markups.

“I feel like the previous year, it was ‘We have to get married because we waited for two years. We're willing to spend anything.’ And then now people are really not having to fight for venues as much and I feel like now it's going back to watching budgets a little bit more,” Jenn said, adding that more people are opting out of getting engagement photos done to save on cost.

“It'll be interesting to see where people really tighten up the purse strings, considering mortgages are exorbitantly high right now and all this other stuff that we're dealing with,” Jake added.

Poplar Grove Winery, which only hosts a small handful of weddings per year, said they are clearly seeing the tighter budgets reflected in the number of guests that are invited.

“That 120 to 140 person wedding, I seem to be getting fewer requests for that and more requests for that 25 to 30 or 50 to 60, in that zone,” Michael Ziff, food and beverage manager for Poplar Grove, said.

He added that micro-weddings are now becoming increasingly popular for couples.

A study of 19,993 couples from The Knot, Wedding Wire and found the average Canadian wedding cost roughly $29,450 USD in 2018 — a total omitting honeymoons, rings and other jewelry. Since then, costs are estimated to have risen more than 30 per cent.

“I think with the smaller weddings, they're trying to land in about $20,000(CAD). It's achievable as long as you don't want paper lanterns strung around and crystal glassware. It's definitely achievable if you've got a really, really good base plan for your wedding. You can pull it off,” Foster said.

“When you're up in the larger numbers, everything just skyrockets. Of course your venue, your catering bill, everything.”

Supply costs hike for vendors

That cost increase is not only impacting couples but vendors as well. Especially those that run their own business.

“With us having the film photography part of it, that actual tangible cost that just went up 40 per cent…before, we might spend $500 on acquiring film for a wedding. Now, it's about $1,000,” Jenn said.

“I feel like people don't necessarily equate if it's $3,000, we're almost making just a little bit more than minimum wage when you break it all down. But seeing such a huge cost, [they say], ‘Oh, you're just there for 10 hours?’ No, we're actually working months. So I do wish that people knew that it wasn't just we get to go to a party and meet cool people.”

Poplar Grove has had to change their venue and reception costs as well.

“Labour is going up again. Obviously great for everyone who is staff, but it does make it a little more difficult to manage labour costs, food costs, cost of goods are going up, everything's going up. So the price of weddings has gone up,” Ziff said.

Tossing traditions for fun

Vendors shared that more viewed traditional components of wedding days have been less important to recent couples, in favour of adding some playfulness.

“We kind of noticed traditions being set aside, even pre-pandemic, like the garter toss, I think was like the first one to really go,” Jenn said.

“Cake cutting is actually decreased a little bit. We had a lot more donuts. There was kind of like the cupcake era. I think we're in the donut era right now.”

Silvius echoed that sentiment, saying she hasn’t seen cakes come in for a while. What’s also changed is how much decor couples are using.

“Because we're our outdoor facility and we're built at such a beautiful location, I find that they're really going minimal on decor. They're really just letting like the background speak for itself.”

Richardson said she has seen the expansion of venue options really add to what people will do on their big day.

“I've done elopements where people come in on wave runners, to a beach in a bikini and a bottle of champagne, grab somebody on the beach to be a witness and off you go again, and sail off into the waves to horseback here on the cliffs or elopements. Oh my gosh, everybody's so different. It's wonderful,” she said.

“People are getting a little bit more dialled into who they are authentically as a couple. And so if it doesn't resonate to have a big, blowout, wedding in a vineyard or something like that, then they're really doing their wedding the way it means the most to them.”

Valley is sought after

The attraction to host in the Okanagan Valley continues to grow, as these vendors notice more out-of-town couples booking their special day.

“I feel like the Okanagan has become known around the world now as a destination location,” Richardson said.

“So not only from people coming from across Canada but other countries to celebrate here. It's so beautiful. And I'm also finding that people are having extended celebrations, so two, three or four days where it's gathering with their loved ones and making it more of almost a family reunion kind of vibe.”