Local businesses recognize changes in wedding trends

Date: 1/17/2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Managing Editor

You've found the right partner. You've picked out the ring. You've told all the important people. Your mom, and maybe your dad, cried.

You're really getting married — in a year . maybe two.

That may seem like a long time away. But just ask any former bride; there's a lot to do before that big "I do."

And though Mom and Aunt Mary may have some ideas about what you should do on your big day, Scott Samuelson, general manager of the Castle of Knights Meeting & Banquet House in Chicopee, said most couples today turn to the Internet when they first start looking for themes and ideas for their big day.

"A lot is driven by Facebook and Twitter, by social networking," Samuelson said. "Whatever is hot on social networking is the new thing [in weddings]."
"A lot is driven by Facebook and Twitter, by social networking."

—Scott Samuelson, general manager, Castle of Knights Meeting & Banquet House

To keep up, he said the Castle of Knights has its own Facebook page. It also maintains accounts with wedding trend watch sites such as Wedding Wire and TheKnot.com.

"It gives us a bit more of the pulse" of what's happening with weddings without having to go to every trade show, Samuelson added.

One of the trends Samuelson said he's seeing continue into 2011 and 2012 is the pared down guest list.

"Definitely, its smaller weddings," he said. "[Couples] are staying at an average of 150 guests or so, when a few years ago it used to be over 200."

In 2010, Wedding Wire reported the number of guests at an average wedding was projected to be between 135 and 145.

In contrast, Kristen Blackman, director of sales for Bancroft Bridals of Feeding Hills, said she's seeing the number of attendants in the average wedding party for 2010 and 2011 climb.

"I've seen them go up over the last year. There have been some wedding parties of 13, 14, even 15," Blackman said, adding that Bancroft recently fitted a bridal party with a total of 14 bridesmaids. "Others are saying, 'I want my best friend or my cousin and that's it.' [Wedding parties are] either really big or really small."

Samuelson said he is also seeing a continuation of the concept of a menu budget in 2011, something that the 2008 recession ushered in to wedding planning.

"[Couples] are probably looking, per 100 people, to spend $50 or less per person" on the reception meal, he said. "Before the downturn, people were spending between $80 and $90."

That budget is just for food, and doesn't include other wedding extras such as the limo, DJ and flowers, he added.

And though Wedding Wire reported that package deals were still a strong sell with couples in 2010, Samuelson said, locally, the trend has been to offer brides and grooms a list of suggested service vendors rather than a complete package.

"We don't want to tell [couples] that these are the four DJs you can use in this package . if they have a bad [experience] with them, we don't want that [to reflect on us]. It's the same with limo service, because of the levels of customer service, " he noted.

Limos, Samuelson continued, are one of the first things couples have been eliminating when budgets are tight.

So is the concept of an open bar at the reception. "Cash bars, not open bars, are definitely the trend," he said, as is the paring of superficial extras at receptions.

"Over the past two years I'd say the amenities have decreased," he acknowledged.

When it comes to paying for the wedding, Samuelson said he's seeing a continuation of the 50-50 split between the traditional financial arrangements — where the bride's parents pay for the wedding — and the more modern trend of couples footing their own bill.

Still, Samuelson said there are some upturns in the wedding planning business in 2011.

"People are beginning to look at the amenities that were cut out [in 2009 and 2010]," he said. This means extras, such as chair covers as part of the reception linen package, are regaining popularity.

And, as Wedding Watch noted in their 2010 projections, couples are continuing to eschew traditional wedding favors placed at every table setting for items that give guests a bit of a choice.

"We have added a candy bar package — that is something that is a trend," Samuelson said. "It's a candy table with different flavors of candies and fudge and whatever the bride and groom may want, or theme that they may have."

A local trend that Samuelson noted is an up tick in ethnically-inspired reception menus, something he attributes to the influx of workers drawn to the area by Baystate Medical Center.

"It attracts so many people for jobs from so many different cultures," he noted.

Among the receptions the Castle of Knights has been asked to arrange recently are those where the couples were Pakistani, Indian and Asian.

"We're working on an Iranian-Greek wedding right now," Samuelson said. "The large number of different and mixed cultures [at receptions] is really a big thing."

As for one of the biggest expenses, the bride's gown, Samuelson said he's seen more brides shopping the Internet for reduced-price or sale gowns over the past few years.

"They bring it to a seamstress to have it altered [instead of a full-service bridal shop], and that decreases the overall cost," he noted.

Blackman said she's seen that trend too, recently, and Bancroft has helped out several brides who discovered that buying a gown online wasn't always a money saver.

"Buying online, you can't get fit or advised about what looks best on you," Blackman said. "There's been many a bride we've fixed because they bought a gown online and it's the wrong size or color, or it doesn't fit them, and they are on a budget and who's going to help them?"

She said Bancroft is always willing to help, "but it costs a little more in the long run than if they just came to a full-service bridal shop [in the first place]."

This year, Bancroft will be helping brides to choose gowns that reflect their personality and have "a bit of sass" and are "out of the box and creative," she said.

"Color is very in, and I'm not saying gowns in black or red, but gowns trimmed in black or red," Blackman said. "People are also matching their maids — sashes are big in pink or blue to match the girls' dresses."

Gown styles, she noted, are trending toward "form-fitting mermaid styles with lines very close to the body; very sophisticated," she noted.

In terms of price ranges, Blackman said salons such as hers can work with anyone to find a gown that will reflect their style.

"It's funny, it's either people have a very low budget — which we can work with — or an extreme budget," she said. "We have gowns in all price ranges."

In keeping with that budget conscious trend, Blackman said she's also seen a trend toward brides trying to choose attendants' gowns that their maids will be more likely to re-use in the future.

"Girls are going short, hoping they can wear them again," Blackman said. "And a lot of brides are letting girls pick their own gowns; [the bride] picks a [designer's] line and a color and lets the girls pick their own style.

"I think that's great," she continued, "It allows the girls to be comfortable in their own gown."

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