Thursday, February 28, 2008

Getting What You Are Paying and Paying and Paying For

You think that wedding halls are making all their money off the food they provide for you? Think again. There are two items that that are not included in the meal price and that halls regularly charge for. First up for grabs is the chupah.

Yup, the chupah. You know, that piece of fabric attached to four poles that you stand under? Somewhere out there are people whose life ambition was to design chupahs. Some are plain vanilla velvet with an embroidered flap in the front, usually saying "Kol Soson V'kol Simcha." Some go a step further and don't just have gold-painted poles but have poles wrapped in a bit of tulle. Some have billowing mounds of tulle to give off a cloud-like effect. Some have fresh flowers intertwined on the polls and forming the front flap. Some are made completely from a blanket of flowers. One I saw was carved from wood to look like a cloud. The poles go from smooth and plain to elaborate reproductions of Roman and Greek pillars.

All the halls under frum auspices have a chupah that belongs to them, sometimes more than one, and in the NYC area even the non-frum halls keep a chupah on the premises. And for an additional fee they will even let you use it. If not, your florist can provide a chupah for you--also for a fee. So what does it cost to use the hall's chupah? How much do you have. The cheapest price I've heard of is $300 for the plain vanilla chupah--$500 is the average for this type. Anything more elaborate and the price climbs way up.

Next up are those raised platform/pillars that hold the floral centerpieces on the tables. Those, too, the hall charges for. The price runs from $25 for the simplest to you-would-not-believe for the fancier ones--you know, the glass towers with flowers and butterflies embedded in them.

Bear with me while I do the math. Let's work with the plain vanilla chupah--gilded poles and a velvet top. Let's be l'chav z'chus and say that it cost the hall $300 to buy, and that they are only going to charge you $300 to use it. And let's say that the hall "only" makes 200 weddings a year. Ready? That's a profit of of $59,700 on that itsy, bitsy chupah. Now let's take those centerpiece holders. Let's make the wedding a fairly "small" one at only 300 people. And let's put 10 people at a table. That gives us 30 tables that will need the holders. (Note: I'm not even going to count the holders used at the smorg.) Now let's say that the hall purchased the fairly nice holders for $50 each but they are giving you a bargain and are only charging you $25 for the rental. Initial cost for the holders: $1500. Your cost for one wedding: $750. Remember those 200 weddings? Profit for the flower holders at 200 weddings per year:$148,500.00. And if you choose the more "expensive looking" holders, which may have cost the hall the same $50 each? Total profit of $298, 500.

I'll be fair and say that wear and tear is going to mean replacing these two items every three years. Total initial expenditures for the two items: $2000. Three-year profit on the two items: $628, 200.00 to $955,200.00. Know of any banks that are offering this rate of return?

It actually doesn't matter what the initial cost of the items was; given the number of weddings they will be used at, the profit margin is incredible. And there are plenty of weddings where the number of guests far exceeds 300. And plenty of people who pay more to rent the elaborate chupahs.

Caterers like to say that they work on a very small profit margin--food is expensive to buy, prepare and serve. You might want to take a look, however, at all the other "hidden" extras when you are making a simcha. Things like renting a chupah that has been paid for hundreds of times over, and renting flower pedestals that are the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs.


Anonymous said...

Another good one.

Actually, the canopy on poles is not really what the chupah of kiddushin meant traditionally, going back to ancient times, but rather is a more recent Eastern European development. Draping a tallis over the chosson and kallah, physically touching them, is, and that is the ancient minhag maintained to this day by some, including Yekkes and Sephardim (cf. Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz III).

Alternatively, for those who want the canopy with poles, can they not bring their own ? Or do the halls not allow that ?

Perhaps we should go even further and have weddings in places other than rented halls. What did they do in the old days in the old country ? Were there halls like we have today ? I don't think so. Some - if not all - people got married from/in houses. I recall hearing of weddings in backyards, one that I read of was circa seventy years ago in Brooklyn. I think some weddings were done in the courtyard of the Shul as well, in some places and times. At other times in the past weddings were done at Rabbis houses.

Wedding halls and funeral homes/chapels seem to be a modern thing.

Anonymous said...

Our shul has a chupah that they rent out to members at whatever you want to give the shul. It's the velvet and pole type. Most people give $18-36. Worked just as well as the same chupah the caterer wanted $350 for. The way the caterer explained it to us, the charge is there for setting up and taking apart the chupah. Took a few of my friends about 10 minutes in total to put it up and take it down. We skipped the flower stands. Not getting these things from the caterer paid for about 40 guests at the wedding.

Anonymous said...

d,any of the shuls big enough to hold a wedding in here in NY--space for the chupah, the meal and the dancing--have in house caterers who have a contract with the shul to rent the space. They aren't cheaper then going to the wedding halls. The really small shuls would only work if your wedding was about 25 people in size.

Then there is is problem--the weather. NYC gets either too hot or too cold to hold an outdoor wedding. That leaves most people with no choice but to head indoors to one of the halls.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so you don't have to have the flower holders to have a wedding and so you'll pay for them if you want them. But a chupah? I would think you can't have a wedding without it,and they bill themselves as wedding halls and then you have to pay extra?

Looking Forward said...

so get married out of town!

in my town, like kalman said, the shul has the chuppa, and charges little, if anything for its use.


(not only that but the entire cost of the wedding plummets if you get it done out of town. here i'm told its like half to a third what the same wedding would be in NYC.)

Anonymous said...

It's all those extras the caterers charge for that add up to way too much money being spent on chasonehs. You missed one though. We wanted wine on the tables for the dinner. The caterer gave us a price. We asked if we could bring in our own wine. They said yes as long as it was from their okayed list. And then they said there would be a $6 per bottle corkage fee. 80 bottles of wine times the fee==$480 charge because their people opened the bottles. They aren't in business to let you win.

And just why is a chupah considered something extra at a wedding?

Anonymous said...

My brother made extra money while he was in yeshiva by being a mashgiach at simchas for a local caterer. It was decent money for him but what he complained about was that the caterer charged the people making the simcha a lot more then what he actually got. Yes, there is a charge that is extra for having the mashgiach that is also a profit for the caterer. I still don't understand why having a mashgiach isn't a business expense when you advertise yourself as a strictly glatt kosher caterer.

Anonymous said...

I'm seeing a pattern in these last postings. At least $1500 extra to the caterer, triple the money if you use a gemach and serving two meals instead of one during the wedding. Frum weddings cost too much because we are letting ourselves get rooked. We're paying for things we don't need or shouldn't have to pay extra for because we're not thinking things through and we're buying into the idea that "everyone does it this way." I guess we have no one to blame but ourselves if we let people take advantage of us.

Anonymous said...

"d,any of the shuls big enough to hold a wedding in here in NY--space for the chupah, the meal and the dancing--have in house caterers who have a contract with the shul to rent the space. They aren't cheaper then going to the wedding halls. The really small shuls would only work if your wedding was about 25 people in size.

Then there is is problem--the weather. NYC gets either too hot or too cold to hold an outdoor wedding. That leaves most people with no choice but to head indoors to one of the halls."

A) Valid point, however, I was referring to an old minhag of holding the ceremony in the courtyard of the Shul, (the seudah, etc., may have been elsewhere), not holding a meal inside.

B) Re the weather - I don't think that the weather in Ashkenazic Europe was that much different than that of NYC, yet the people managed without the hall system we have today.

Re the savings out of town - interesting. Maybe that would be an incentive for people to do out of town shidduchim/chassunahs ? Travel expenses are a factor too however.

Then there are the Haredi or Hassidic halls that I believe cost considerably less, which have drawn some customers who are not otherwise part of those groups.

Anonymous said...

I have been at many weddings where the chuppah was a tallis on poles. I have even held the poles on occasion. Also weddings where there were no centerpieces. And where the meal was purchased from a caterer and set up buffet style by the families. And weddings (well, a wedding)where friends of the families did the cooking. There is nothing in Torah or any custom that goes back more than 30 years requiring Jews to get married at lavish affairs with 400 people at a minimum. You need a minyan, not everyone you ever met in attendance.

And you can get married in an ordinary suit and dress if you want to. It just takes enough stomach to resist the social pressure and to ignore the "but your other kids will never get a shidduch" narishkeit.

Of course, one can take this too far. I "attended" one wedding where the father was only willing to rent half a restaurant (probably seating about 40 in toto) daring the owner to seat customers at the other half, which the owner did. My family, along with some friends, were among the unsuspecting customers. It was very hard to keep a straight face when the waiters were serving a course to us about 2 feet from where they had just started the chuppah. It was awkward for a few moments, but the story has lasted well for a couple of decades now.

Anonymous said...

I have at least part of the answer to d for why the outdoor chupahs in Europe. Many hold that a wedding has to be " tachas ha'shomayim." They take that to mean literally open to the sky. In Europe there were no choices but outside. Here all the frum halls and lots of the non-Jewish halls and hotels that want a frum clientele have an opening to the sky over where the chupah is.

Anonymous said...

So we're gertting ripped off big time. Great. But knowing that is not enough. Is there some way to stop it from happening to begin with?

Anonymous said...

Sure there is a way to not get ripped off. First, before we went to see any hall we made a list of everything we could think of that we had every seen at a wedding. We put a mark next to those we wanted and those we didn't want.

At the hall we asked for a detailed break down of all the expenses. What was included in the per person charge? What else would we be charged? Then we asked if we could eliminate some of the things the hall had included. Not every hall would eliminate every charge. We asked about things like the chupah. We asked what the minimum nuimber of people was.

When we saw all the halls we were interested in we compared their charges, looked at what they were giving us and made our decision based on what we wanted to pay, not on what they said was customary. We ended up choosing the hall that fit our budget, not fitting our budget to a hall.

You have to do all the investigating before you sign a contract, not after.

Anonymous said...

Just a suggestion profK or anyone who is interessted in doing it. Maybe someone should post a complete list of hall charges and what they are so that people would have something to compare to what the halls are charging.

Anonymous said...

Watch out for one thing in particular. You get the hall before you send out your invitations. The hall we used had a good price and a minimum 400 people requirement. 467 people invited to the wedding but only 371 actually responded they were coming. Then at the wedding only 366 came. We still had to pay for the 400 minimum.