Wedding industry struggles to meet pent-up demand
Weddings and events were heavily restricted throughout the pandemic, putting the life milestones of many on pause. Now, celebrations are back with a bang.
Patti Welch, co-owner of Food Hedz Catering in Frisco, saw this firsthand. Welch said the size of some weddings on the books last year were significantly reduced. Guest lists of 100 to 150 people were reduced to small groups of only close family and friends. In all, Food Hedz Catering had about 20 couples cancel or postpone their weddings amid pandemic restrictions.
This wedding season paints a very different picture. Welch said couples and event planners are ready to host big celebrations once again.
“This summer is crazy because everybody wants to get out and socialize and celebrate so … we’re sold out on quite a few dates already,” Welch said.
Cautious planning last year is contributing to this year’s busy season. Welch said many of her customers assumed people would still be hesitant to venture out this summer, but that hasn’t been the case.
“People thought they would still have a smaller wedding, and we’ve had weddings and other events double in size that now, all of a sudden, everyone wants to come to their wedding or their venue,” Welch said. “Maybe they thought there would be 30 (people) and now there’s 70. We have other events where there were 100 (people) and now there are 200.”
Welch said this short lead time makes it difficult to keep up with demand, especially because she, like many businesses in the county, is operating with a reduced staff. Supply chain issues aren’t helping; many vendors are struggling to keep up with consumer demand, making it difficult to order certain items and respond to the quick change. Welch said she and her husband and co-owner, David Welch, have increased some of their prices on items that are especially hard to come by, including some meats.
“It just makes it more stressful for sure because in addition to that, (there’s) food shortages and you can’t get things and it’s made it more complicated too,” Welch said. “For example, in 2019, you could handle more short leads because you knew you could still order products. Now with short leads, you can’t get that kind of beef or you can’t get whatever it is you’re trying to locate food-wise.”
Welch said a normal season is anywhere from 36 to 38 weddings. This year, she said about 15% to 20% of her business includes postponed events from last year, and that she’s had to turn down business due to pent-up demand.
Phil Gallagher, a wedding officiant, is experiencing the same surge in requests for service. Gallagher said he usually officiates 100 to 130 weddings and that last year, that number was cut in half due to shutdowns. The result, Gallagher said, is a backlog effect where postponed weddings and events still need to happen in addition to the need that’s accumulated since.
Because some people waited to plan, it’s pushed events farther out into 2022, which Gallagher is seeing firsthand. He said he’s never booked so many weddings for the following year so far in advance.
“People were late to the game and so a lot of people postponed all the way to 2022,” Gallagher said. “It’s just created this backlog effect. But wedding season is, I would say, hyper crazy at the moment.”
Gallagher said this year, he’s having a normal season, mostly because he is able to be choosier with his clients. Though he does travel for work, he prefers to stay in and around Summit County and is much more likely to take on clients who are nearby. Plus, he’s more likely to take on clients with bigger weddings on high-demand weekends than smaller elopements. Gallagher also raised his prices recently.
Kelsey Booth, owner of Kelsey Booth Photography, also plans to raise her prices for 2022 and has been more selective of the type of work she takes on. Recently, she decided to stop photographing family portraits so she could focus on wedding and small business photography.
Booth said this season is completely different than last season for her. Last year, half of Booth’s weddings were either canceled or postponed. This year, she’s as busy as ever.
“It feels insane … usually the wedding summer is chaotic and busy and it felt like we had none of that,” Booth said. “All of a sudden it pops right up in June and we just trucked right through. It’s been super busy this year for the summer season, just with everything cramming in.”
Booth said she typically books 15 to 20 weddings. She currently has 16 weddings on the books.
The volume isn’t just impacting local businesses but also those looking to book services for events and weddings. One such local is Mindy Mahaffey, a Silverthorne resident. Mahaffey and her fiance got engaged in April 2020 and planned a September wedding as best they could while restrictions were in place. Now, most of the details are solidified, except for the couple’s rehearsal dinner.
“I think the hardest thing we’ve been finding this spring (and) summer is trying to find a rehearsal dinner venue or caterer,” Mahaffey said. “A lot of businesses are telling us that they cannot support or host a rehearsal dinner because of staffing issues. Other places haven’t been getting back to us or responding at all. Another thing that’s been a little bit challenging is that if they do respond, they can’t give us pricing, stating that food prices have been fluctuating. That’s a challenge because obviously we don’t want to book anything not knowing if we can afford it.”
As the wedding season continues, Welch said she doesn’t see the demand slowing down any time soon.
“I think the volume of business out there this year is bigger,” Welch said. “There is more business to be had because I think after last year of not traveling and not gathering, and that type of thing, I think people are overly excited to plan a wedding or an event or any sort of get together, so I just feel like the volume of catering business in Summit County now has increased.”
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