The wedding industry is a billion-dollar business, with more restaurants opening their doors to play host. But the big dollar signs of the wedding budgets can come at a price
There is good reason why the wedding industry has earned the reputation for being shockproof, with many claiming that taking a slice out of the wedding cake is a sure-fire way to make money.
Over the past few years as the Global Financial Crisis took a devastating toll across the economy, the Australian wedding industry instead registered a ripple—a drop of $0.2 billion, according to business research company IBIS World Australia.
What that decrease meant in real dollars is the budget of the average Australian wedding in 2008 was just over $33,000, with that figure dropping last year to $31,948. Sure enough, the figure bounced back this year to the $33k mark.
Of that average $33k budget, about 33-50 per cent is spent on the wedding reception. That figure, not to mention the continued strength of the wedding industry, is very good news for those in the restaurant business.
The restaurants that have turned to hosting weddings say their balance sheets report the good profits from doing so. According to Arnya Tait of the Frasers group in Perth, which includes five restaurants, their business is kept busy with as many as 500 weddings a year. Indiana’s, one of the groups premier locations, hosted 30 weddings in 2009.
“I am seeing the trend that more people are turning towards restaurants rather than function centres for weddings,” Tait says. “They don’t want the four-wall weddings in a function centre, they want unique food experiences and to feel like they are at a restaurant. They are after food of restaurant quality, not mass-produced function food.”
Zoe Ladyman of Libertine believes this is why her establishment has been in demand for wedding bookings since the day they opened in North Melbourne in 2005. She says the wedding business came to them from satisfied customers, rather than through specific marketing.
“The people we see are getting married later in life, and so their expectations are a little higher,” Ladyman says. “They want food and wine to be top of the list of priorities on the day, so they are now coming to restaurants—that is how it happened to us. The business came our way. We never chased it.”
Lee Cass of NSW wedding and event consultancy LenoreK has noted an increase in clients now requesting weddings receptions to be held at favourite restaurants. Sometimes, it is for an event of 100 people, other times it is one table in a quiet corner for the immediate bridal party and closest friends.
“They would make up about 10 per cent of my business these days,” Cass says. “And there are more people out there now trying to get a slice of this market, as it is such a strong market.”
The benefits of hosting a wedding reception appear to make perfect business sense. There are fewer variables to deal with than opening for regular à la carte dining. The menu is set and the numbers are confirmed, so precise purchasing of supplies can be made.
In terms of staffing, while less kitchen staff may be required due to a fixed menu, a wedding could require more staff in the front of house. With the knowledge of the set numbers, the hiring of personnel can then be done accordingly. “It really is much simpler to do a wedding—you know what you are dealing with,” Alessandro Pavoni of Ormeggio at The Spit claims. The Sydney business hosts up to 20 weddings a year.
“Weddings are always profitable for us, as you know how many people you are cooking for, and that means there is much less wastage at the end of the night, so that does not cut into the profits.”
“They don’t want the four-wall weddings in a function centre, they want unique food experiences and to feel like they are at a restaurant. They are after food of restaurant quality.” Arnya Tait, Frasers group, Perth.
It was the years he spent working at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo, where the one kitchen would often cater for 14 weddings in a single day, that Pavoni says taught him the secret to hosting weddings.
“It is about organisation, and perfection in doing that, with no room for anything but that,” he says. “When you are organised in advance, everything goes smoothly, 99 per cent of the time.”
As any business owner would agree, organisation is the key to success for the staging of a function. The many levels of emotional components invested in a wedding can, however, put such an event into a category all of their own.
Libertine’s Zoe Ladyman says with the highly charged emotional nature of wedding participants, there is no room for error in the planning of a reception. It is a booking that has to be taken in hand from the start.
“You are dealing with a once-in-a- lifetime event, so they must be spot on—you can’t take your eye off the ball at any stage,” Ladyman says.
“What I find really important when dealing with a wedding is that I remain the point of contact for the couple—from the very first meeting to when they wave goodbye at the end of their night. If it gets out of control, it means you are not doing your job properly.”
Adds Aryna Tait from Indianas: “I believe they are purchasing the wedding co-ordinator as much as they are purchasing the meal. If you can’t offer that kind of attention all the way down the line, then don’t even think about going into weddings.”
Those who have ventured onto this playing field agree that hosting a wedding is not for the faint-hearted, the ill-prepared and definitely not suited to every business. While the industry professionals spoken to for this story were not forthcoming with any horror stories about ‘Bridezillas’—apart from the bride who insisted a place be set at a table for her cat, and the groom who appeared later in the night just wearing chaps—all agreed there are crucial factors to be evaluated to determine if a restaurant is suitable to host such an event.
The numbers that can be accommodated in the building and the size of the dining room dictate the scale of weddings that can be offered, while the location, decor and outlook also need to be evaluated in terms of the appeal of the setting for such an event.
Staff experienced with large functions, as well as training in the formal protocols of wedding ceremonies, are also non-negotiable essentials.
“You cannot be everything to everyone,” consultant Michael Fisher of Fest & Fest says. “You must be well aware of your strengths and weaknesses. If you are going to do a wedding reception at a restaurant, then you have to be prepared to separate the function from the rest of the diners—and never allow the two to mix. Trying to mix an event with speeches and formalities next to general diners trying to have a romantic diner is like mixing oil and water. It does not work.”
Serious financial consideration must also go into closing a restaurant for the day or evening for a private function. Budgets need to be examined closely and then pricing set to ensure all costs are covered. “You have to work out what a spend equivalent of doing the whole night in à la carte style would be, and make sure the private event will cover that basic cost of closing the doors,” Fisher adds.
“Some people rush in and grab a wedding booking, and then realise they have lost money as they didn’t charge the appropriate rate to cover the cost of closing the doors to the public. It happens.”
Weddings can also prove to be the best marketing exercise a restaurant can embark on. With a full house of new guests, it presents the perfect opportunity to impress and attract them back as future diners. And a bad experience can create just as strong an impression.
“Put quality first—always,” says Alessandro Pavoni. “Never rip people off, as that will make such a bad name for your business. When you have a full house of people experiencing that, don’t underestimate what cost that could have.
“Make sure the people you have in your place for that wedding will come back again as they were so impressed with the job you did.”