Monday, September 15, 2008

Deck the Halls

At a recent upsherin a cousin, who is making a wedding in a few months, was talking about the halls and their prices. If my mind was boggled when thinking about Jewish wedding costs before, it's whatever is above boggled now.

There seems to be an assumption that if a hall is in Brooklyn then it falls in the "very cheap" category, and if a hall is used by chassidim it definitely falls in that category. Time to take the blinkers off. A very popular Williamsburg hall that has the reputation for "being cheap" is sure not cheap. Let's call it "BB" (close enough in the alphabet). The charge for the hall comes out to $120 per couple, with a 400 and something minimum for the number of people. Say what? And then there is that hall in the Flatbush area, the one that sounds like chink or hink. Their charge, including the service fee, is $77 per couple, but there is a 520 person minimum.
The charges above are for the hall, service fee and a set menu meal alone. They do not include anything else. Liquor is a separate charge. Forget about photographers, flowers and bands and the rest. In the first hall the charge to walk in is approximately $24,600. In the second hall the charge to walk in is $20,020. And keep in mind the person minimum. You don't have to have that many people at your wedding but you'll pay that minimum regardless of how few people you have. If you "only" invite 400 people to the second hall you are still paying the $20,020 but your actual cost per couple to you is now $100 per couple.

Compare this to a more expensive hall whose minimum is 100 people. At $150 per couple, 320 people will "only" cost you $24,000, around the same price as the first cheaper hall above.

The cousin who shared the figures that were quoted to her said that you might as well invite the 520 people, since you were paying for them anyway. Youch. Makes me wonder if the halls are not in collusion with the other wedding service suppliers. Go from 400 to 520 people and you are adding 12 more floral centerpieces, 120 more bentchers, at least 60 more invitations plus their postage etc. The devil is in the details.

Anyone rob a good bank lately? I've been calling all year for a change in the way that weddings are made in the frum community. Given the figures above--and these are supposed to be cheap halls--I'd say that we have passed beyond the point of just talking about the high cost of a chasuneh and have reached the point of actually doing something about it.


mother in israel said...

Let's not forget the extra guests who might feel obligated to come, pay a babysitter, buy a gift, and invite the parents/couple to their next simcha(s).
You're not necessarily doing people a favor by inviting them to a simcha. Unfortunately, some people get offended easily.
ProfK, did you get my reply to your email?

Orthonomics said...

No bargain unless you would actually end up *serving* that many people.

A bare bones wedding format is certainly not going to be introduced by the vendors. If one really wants to save, they will have to go it alone.

SuperRaizy said...

That is seriously nuts. A 520 person minimum? Do people really make weddings with that many guests? What a monumental mis-use of money.

mother in israel said...

In Israel, big weddings are more common than in the US. A friend told me that the hosts actually told her she was invited because they had a minimum anyway. And then they hardly stay because the weddings go on for so long and are so loud.

Anonymous said...

A frum wedding planner once told me that the rule of thumb formula for how much a wedding is going to cost is to take the cost of the hall and double it, to cover all the other things like the band etc. That does not cover the cost of household goods that may be purchased for the choson and kallah. So a wedding at AA in Williamsburg (assume that's the place you meant) will run parents around $50,000. And the planner pointed out to me that a set meal in these places does not include a hot smorg or colored tablecloths or beef at the dinner or any of the things that people routinely add to the basic cost. So that wedding could be closer to $60,000.

Terrifying thought for young parents. Pay $30 thousand plus tuition bills every year while still saving up $150-$180 thousand dollars for three weddings, never mind if you have more then three kids. I agree that something has to change radically about frum weddings.

Anonymous said...

My personal gripe is those who send back that they are coming to the whole wedding and don't show without bothering to let me know they have changed their minds. I pay for them anyway once the caterer has my numbers. And also the ones who sit down and eat the salad and then leave. Look around at the benching and see how many people have stayed for the whole wedding.

Lion of Zion said...

as i've said before, this is one of the reasons i think people should not get married until they can make their own wedding. wedding expenses take on a different priority when it suddenly becomes your own money that is being wasted.


agree 100%. i was really pissed at our wedding when people didn't come or they came without spouses. (although i have to admit that i once did forget about a wedding and missed it.)

personally, unless i know i can stay for most of the wedding i respond that i will only be coming for the huppah. i'll stay longer and dance, but why should they pay for for a seat for me?

mother in israel said...

Dorit: Yes, it is rude to RSVP and not show up. However, there are a few things hosts can do. 1. Assume that there will be no-shows, and deduct them from your final number. This makes seating arrangements difficult. Caterers can always accommodate extras. 2. Start and end on time; save the dancing for after bentching. 3. Don't invite people who may not really want to be there, or just invite them to the chuppah. 4. Take a deep breath. You can't con`trol the actions of others.

mother in israel said...

I meant to say, take off a percentage of your final numbers for no-shows (perhaps this is why caterers prefer minimums?). And don't count anyone who says they will "try" to come.

Anonymous said...

A percentage of those people who don't stay for the whole wedding might stay longer if there really was a wedding they were at. I'm referring to the photography after the chupah. You can't leave people sitting around for almost an hour if not more after the chupah and expect them to think they are having a good time and should stay.

We were at a wedding last week where the smorg started at 6:30 (my peeve here--don't these people ever think that some people work and can't make an early start like that?) It went overtime because people were late arriving. We first finished the chupah around 9:00ish. Choson and kallah walked in after 10:00. We left at 11:00 after the first rikkud--make a wedding on a Tuesday night when people have to still travel to get home and then go to work the next day and this is going to happen. Never did get to eat the main dish. More people would have been there for more of the wedding if the photographer didn't take up so much time. The parents paid for an awful lot of wedding that the guests were not around to enjoy.

Anonymous said...

We looked at all those Brooklyn halls and the minimums were ridiculous. Our wedding was only 300 people invited total--my husband and I got 100 people between us to invite that we paid for and each set of parents got 100 people to invite that they each paid for. (269 people actually came.) We ended up in NJ at a smaller hall not usually used for frum weddings but they let us bring in our own caterer. No smorg--it started at 3:00 in the afternoon--pictures before the chupah--Baltimore yeshi8va allows it--dinner served straight through until after the main and then there was a big dance. Then dessert and benching--everyone was still there--and then another big dance. We made our wedding, including the pictures and flowers and all the other things, for less then the cost that the hall that has the 520 person minimum charges just for the hall. When we were faced with what those Brooklyn halls charge and what having hundreds of extra people at the wedding would cost we all got practical.

Lion of Zion said...


"my peeve here--don't these people ever think that some people work and can't make an early start like that?)"

not everyone can afford a sunday wedding. if you have it during the week, you need to start by a certain time otherwise it will too late. 6:30 is not unreasonable, especially since the important part (i.e., the huppah) won't be for at least another hour. also, you seem to be complaining both that weddings start too early and that they end too late?

"Never did get to eat the main dish"

you probably didn't miss much. even in the better halls, the main dish usually isn't worth it. (i know, that's why the shmorg is so important)

"if the photographer didn't take up so much time"

it's not the photographer's fault. he is just accommodating a favored practice of the bride and groom not taking pictures together until after the huppah. if you have a problem with this, complain to the couple and their families, not the photographer.

at our wedding i was insistent that it didn't go into overtime and i instructed the caterer to do whatever necessary to keep things moving. at one point he confronted the photographer and told him to move on. it's all in the couple's (or whoever is paying) hands.

we personally took pictures before hand (this is not an issue in my circle). i'm curious from the more experienced commenters it all those pictures after the huppah was always de regeur or is it a more recent innovation?

Anonymous said...

These hall prices are ridiculous especially the required minimum people which raises the price. Even those who say that 520 people are a bargain at only $77 per couple aren't figuring in all the other wedding expenses and they aren't for sure figuring in all the expenses that come before and after the wedding, like the vort and the showers and the aufruf and all the sheva brochos. Our parents were willing to only spend a set amount of money, about $35K between them to cover all the parties and the wedding and the sheva brochos. And yes we not only didn't spend more but we came in a little under budget and our parents gave us the difference as a gift to buy ourselves something we wouldn't otherwise afford. It wasn't easy but we started thinking out of the box and found many places where the cost could be cut a lot.

Anonymous said...

Lion, I'm one of those people who think that the weddings start too early and end too late. Not a contradiction. If there wasn't so much wasted time in the middle a weekday wedding could or maybe should be shorter then a wedding on a Sunday. If I push it I can get home from work between 6-6:30. If a wedding is on a weekday we barely make the chupah, never mind a smorg. Soda and some snacks should be all that is required before the chupah given that I'm not an exception to the getting there for the chupah. Serve the dinner straight through and you could cut a lot of wasted time. Do something about the photography and you could cut time also.

I'd also like to know why weddings on a Sunday have to have a smorg. People are coming from home mostly and it's not like they had no chance to eat something to hold them over until the dinner.

Anonymous said...

"At a recent upsherin"

What was that about ? Another excuse to make an expensive party promoted by the simcha industry ?

Was that done years ago (leaving aside the issue that that haircutting thing is a Chassidishe custom, not the minhag of various non-Chassidic groups) ?

ProfK said...

Your assumption is that it was catered and was an expensive party. Was not the case. The family all brought dishes, the mother of the little boy did all the rest of the cooking herself. The rest of the cost was for paper goods. It was milchigs, since it was a late breakfast/brunch. And yes, it was done years back, especially for those of us coming out of chassidishe backgrounds, even if we aren't chassidim today. Some minhagim we still hold.

Anonymous said...

From the figures you gave this is all boiling down to a business decision on the part of the halls. Price per couple and minimum number of people are adjusted and manipulated so that the hall is going to meet what they set as a minimum profit for opening up their doors. If you are having a big wedding anyway then the hall with the higher minimum but lower per couple charge is a better deal for you. If you are having a wedding under 400 then neither of these halls is a good buy for you.

People could save themselves a lot of shlepping around if they called and asked a hall they are interested in what their minimum and price per couple is and then look at how many people they really want and what they want to spend.

Anonymous said...

I may be missing something but the price may be expensive looking to us but are the halls really making all that much of a profit on that price? I took a date to a medium priced fleishig restaurant. We both had chicken dishes, an appetizer, a dessert and a soda. A 15% gratuity was automatically put on the bill. And there was tax also. The bill was $68 before the tax and gratuity. Add in another $15 and the total was $83. So either restaurants are making a really big profit or halls are making a small profit or we need a lot better information on why some halls can charge so much less and some so much more when they are basically offering the same thing.

Lion of Zion said...


i hope i'm not butting into your personal business, but i think you're spending too much on your dates.

Anonymous said...

One of the nicest weddings I was at was served buffet style in a shule social hall--inflating up to today's prices I would imagine the whole thing was about $8K for about 120 people including music, photography and the rest.

Batya said...

In Israel, some of the Roshei Yeshiva have insisted on a max wedding price or they won't show. Yes, they have ways of checking. So there are a great variety of prices.

I've been to some very modest ones.

Think of it. How many meals can you eat in one evening? I've been to weddings which have served 4! The smorg, a plate of food waiting at the seat, a first course--big enough for a full meal and the main course.

Anonymous said...

jewtoo - I may be missing something but the price may be expensive looking to us but are the halls really making all that much of a profit on that price? I took a date to a medium priced fleishig restaurant. We both had chicken dishes, an appetizer, a dessert and a soda. A 15% gratuity was automatically put on the bill. And there was tax also. The bill was $68 before the tax and gratuity. Add in another $15 and the total was $83. So either restaurants are making a really big profit or halls are making a small profit or we need a lot better information on why some halls can charge so much less and some so much more when they are basically offering the same thing.

One difference is that the restaurant can have 2 seatings every evening while the hall can only have 1.

Also, the restaurants are usually in locations where the rent is very high, while the halls not always.


mother in israel said...

Not only that, a restaurant has to be prepared to serve a variety of meals at different times, keep them hot, and accommodate special requests. They also risk empty tables a good deal of the time. The hall serves a set menu to a specific number of people at the same time.

SubWife said...

I honestly don't think there is a problem in finding a smaller hall in Brooklyn, unless things drastically changed in the five years I have been married. When we were looking for a hall, I have found at least three places that catered to small weddings at very modest prices. Yes, those halls were not as fancy as the more expensive ones (still, very decent and pretty), but guess what? We were on a budget and knew we couldn't have everything. And I have been to quite a few very modest weddings, where people spent even less money than we did.

So I personally don't think there is a problem with wedding costs, unless one absolutely MUST invite 600 people, is trying to outdo the neighbors or is creating a dream wedding. Can one do something about wedding costs? Sure. Shop around and stick to budget.

Lion of Zion said...

washinhton hotel ז"ל

Anonymous said...

You are so right Lion about the Washington Hotel. I have yet to eat food from any other caterer that was as delicious as what they put out. And they were the friendliest nicest people to have to work with. My brothers' bar mitzvahs were all there and I remember going with my mom and having them tell her that she is supposed to be a guest at her own simcha and not have to worry, that they would take care of everything, and they did. But just not to romantacize them too much, they were not the cheapest hall in town back then.

Lion of Zion said...

not the cheapest, but it was definately reasonable for what they gave you (in terms of product and service) when compared to other halls. my brother had his bar mitzvah there and my sister-in-law got married there not long before before they closed. we considered it for ourselves, but ended up using a hall in brooklyn that gave us a pretty comparable deal.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for getting married in my backyard, and considering that I'm in Brooklyn, that really means driveway.

In anycase, I wrote two posts talking a bit about the amount of guests and who gets invited

"Wimpy Wedding Woes" and "Whose Wedding is it Anyway".

I think that's where half the problem lies, not with the prices. Look out into the secular world, a wedding is just as expensive.

Anonymous said...

That's why I'd rather get married in my backyard. But we know that ain't happenin.