When Wedding Planning Is More Like Online Shopping

When Wedding Planning Is More Like Online Shopping

When Wedding Planning Is More Like Online Shopping

For those who crave efficiency, some websites tackle wedding planning with an add-to-cart approach.

It wasn’t long after Samantha Tully and Colton Sykes began planning their nuptials before the process became overwhelming.

The couple, who live in Washtenaw County, Mich., wanted a wedding that combined the simplicity of a civil union with some of the elements of more elaborate affairs, or “the experience of getting dressed up and having a ceremony without the reception,” as Ms. Tully, 27, put it.

For the cost of $2,000, she and Mr. Sykes, 24, more or less arranged just that, booking an officiant, a photographer and venue with just a few clicks of a mouse. The price also included a bouquet for Ms. Tully, who coordinates mentoring and match support at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County; a boutonniere for Mr. Sykes, an anesthesia technician at the University of Michigan Hospital; a small cake and sparkling wine, for a toast; and even a personalized keepsake.

Their July 14 wedding at Zingerman’s Cornman Farms, a venue on 27 acres in Dexter, Mich., lasted 90 minutes. Wanting to keep it intimate, they invited only their parents, Ms. Tully’s two siblings and their partners, which cost them an extra $300. But the surcharge was a small price to pay.

“I felt so relieved I didn’t have to make any decisions and was able to have a wonderful ceremony with our families,” Ms. Tully said, “and then go home with my spouse.”

Before the day had ended, four other couples had been married in identical ceremonies at Cornman Farms. Five more were wed there the day before, and another five the day after.

Among them were Kellie Sawdy, a 31-year-old branch manager at North Central Area Credit Union, and Rick Leblanc, a 33-year-old programmer at Moeller Aerospace. The two, who live in Roscommon, Mich., were married at Cornman Farms on July 13.

“I’m a millennial so anything I can do online that doesn’t have to be in person is appealing,” Ms. Sawdy said. “I clicked on the site, looked at the pictures and information, and then bought the package.”

The venue has been hosting these back-to-back “tiny wedding” ceremonies a few times a year since 2019. The next series is planned for January 2023. Tabitha Mason, a managing partner at Cornman Farms, said the ease of booking is a big part of their appeal.

“There’s something great to be said for I planned my wedding, checked off my boxes and didn’t have to talk to anyone or go on a tour,” Ms. Mason said. “People love not making decisions or having planning take them away from work and life.”

Another draw is the cost. A tiny wedding’s starting price of $2,000 includes two guests, and couples can invite up to six more for $50 a person. (Children under 2 are free.) Hosting a wedding at Cornman Farms with 150 guests can cost more than $40,000, Ms. Mason said.

“We generally cater to a high price point clientele, but wanted to offer something more affordable to couples,” she said. “It’s an evaluated, personal experience which has all the elements that traditional weddings offer.”

Gretchen Culver, a wedding planner since 2002, started offering events that are just as easy to book online in April 2020, when she debuted Minnie Weddings. Its website gives couples the option to marry on roughly 10 different dates each year, at different venues in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. Each date can accommodate four or five couples, who can choose from either a 90-minute celebration or, at certain times on most dates, a longer three-and-a-half-hour event. Prices, which vary based on factors including date and location, start at $5,000 to $7,000.

At a minimum, the price for each wedding covers fees for the venue, an officiant, a photographer, a videographer, décor, a cake, a champagne toast and digital invitations for up to 30 guests. (Children under 3 are free). For additional fees, couples can invite more guests and organize light catering; the longer three-and-a-half-hour weddings also cost extra.

“Couples go on our site, find the dates that works for them or venue they want, hit reserve now, fill out their contract, and pay a deposit,” Ms. Culver said. “It’s that easy.”

This year, she expanded her business to include Windy Mini Weddings, through which people can book events in the Chicago area via the same add-to-cart format. Prices for Windy Mini Weddings start at $8,000 to $10,000.

Most couples who book the mini weddings are digital natives who appreciate the efficiency of getting everything done in as few steps as possible. “They have always been online,” Ms. Culver said. “They make large purchases all the time from their phone, like a handbag or vacation, so it’s a natural progression to purchase your wedding there, too.”

Jason Brown-Hoesing, 44, the director of hospitality at the Walker Art Center, and Kevin Berg, 37, the fitness desk lead manager at a Jewish community center, were married in a mini wedding ceremony in August 2020 at Loring Social, an industrial venue in Minneapolis, where they live. Though one of five couples who were wed there that day, Mr. Brown-Hoesing said it felt as if they and their 30 guests had the place to themselves.

“It wasn’t like we were all in a line waiting,” he said. “We never saw another couple’s wedding.”

Cadence & Eli Photography
Cadence & Eli Photography

While events booked online at Cornman Farms or through the Mini Weddings websites are limited to a specific venue or city, other companies like Simply Eloped offer more variety. Through its website, couples can plan nuptials at locations in 19 states, including Hawaii, and in cities including New York, New Orleans and Seattle.

“We’ve chosen the top 34 destinations in the United States to get married,” said Janessa White, an owner of Simply Eloped and the chief executive of the company, which started in 2016.

After users complete an online questionnaire that asks for their desired location and guest count, the website presents a selection of venues and booking packages. At a minimum, packages typically include an officiant, a photographer for one hour and the ability to invite up to 20 guests. For an additional cost, couples can invite more guests and purchase other services, including videography and on-site hair and makeup. Those who would rather book a venue on their own can still use the website to arrange vendors.

As part of any package, Simply Eloped also helps navigate the process of getting a marriage license in whatever state a couple chooses to wed. “Maneuvering through all the rules and regulations in a spot you’re unfamiliar with can be complicated,” Ms. White said.

The service has a human element, too, in the form of a point person who is assigned to each couple and introduces them to their vendors and officiant ahead of the wedding, to ensure the day unfolds as desired. “We organize and personalize anything that’s part of your ceremony,” she said.

Laurel Anderson, 35, a case manager at an environmental services company, and Matthew Dalley, 44, a senior I.T. director at Major League Fishing, used Simply Eloped to plan their nuptials, which took place June 9 at the Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs.

“It’s such an interesting way to do a wedding,” Ms. Anderson said of planning with Simply Eloped.

The couple, who live in Paducah, Ky., went with a basic package but added an extra hour of photography, for a total cost of roughly $2,000. Though their package allowed them to invite guests, they chose to marry before just their officiant and photographer.

“We wanted something that was just us,” Ms. Anderson said, “that was stress free.”

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