The Business of Weddings
By Heidi Nye - Contributing Writer
October 22, 2013 - An uptick in the general economy coupled with marriage equality for same-sex couples have boosted the wedding business, according to local photographers, bakers, jewelers, caterers and reception venue managers.
“Weddings have been stronger this year than they were during the last two years,” says Lana Farfán, co-owner with her photographer husband, Salvador, of Caught in the Moment Photography. “I see two reasons for that: improvement in the overall economy and same-sex marriages. In the past six months, about 20 percent of our weddings have been gay couples. That has really made a difference, especially since half our business is weddings.”
Business Is Alive Again
Charles Feder, owner of Rossmoor Pastries, said his wedding business is up 20 percent over last year. He, too, cites “Prop 8 going away” and the fact that “the economy has changed considerably” as reasons why he’s seeing orders for more and bigger wedding cakes.
“Before, those who had money were unwilling to spend it” because they were concerned about losing their jobs or drawing attention to their good fortune during hard times for others, Feder said. “Now, instead of running away to Vegas for a quickie wedding, couples are having their celebrations here with more guests and spending more money.”
Rossmoor Pastries, located on Redondo Avenue in the City of Signal Hill, creates 70-80 wedding cakes a week. “Weddings are a big part of our business,” said Feder, whose operations include a wedding cake studio where couples can taste-test before making a decision.
“People are watching cake shows on TV and online,” Feder said, “seeing what bakeries across the world are doing and coming in with big ideas.
“When I was married, everything was white – white cake, white borders, white frosting. A rubber stamp across the country. But now you see extreme colors, extreme shapes, and the toppers are more fun. It’s exciting. The business is alive again.”
Recycling Family Jewels
Janis Krantz, owner of J&L Jewelry at the Traffic Circle, said her wedding business is up about 10 percent over last year. J&L, which opened in 1991, has “been consistent over the years,” with about 25 percent of its revenue wedding-related.
“There’s a lot of recycling going on,” said Krantz, who restyles family jewels into rings for today’s brides. “A lot of mothers and grandmothers are donating their old gold and old diamonds.”
2014 Booking Fast
Kit Gutierrez, special events sales manager for SAVOR Catering, said the convention center just began booking weddings this April, but that next year already looks “very promising.” Her counterpart at the Aquarium of the Pacific, SAVOR Senior Catering Sales Manager Tamera Schulz, said the number of weddings increased 24 percent this year over 2012, for a revenue increase of 10 percent.
All the Saturdays in June and October are already booked for 2014, with an average of two major weddings every weekend. SAVOR has been at the Aquarium since it opened its doors in 1998, but has had an exclusive contract for more than 10 years. Weddings comprised 19 percent of SAVOR’s total event revenue in 2013, with 2014 bookings up slightly compared with where they were in October of last year for 2013 business.
Schulz attributes SAVOR’s success to advertising and a resurgence in the economy. “Many people in the community are oblivious to the fact that any type of event, including weddings, can happen here,” she said. “We’ve made a real effort to let the public know” the Aquarium is for more than a family outing.
An improving job market, she said, “helps a lot too. Committing a year in advance to a venue is much easier when you feel more secure about your own financial situation.”
Fewer Guests More Cost Per Guest
One trend Schulz sees going forward is the inclusion of more food and beverage items but a reduction in the number of guests: “Couples may opt to have a bar or include appetizers as well as a sit-down dinner, but they’ll keep the guest count to 100. We don’t have a lot of 250- to-300-[guest] weddings.”
Schulz, who was married at the Aquarium in August, knows firsthand that having a wedding there is “stunning,” with “so many things that make it different than anywhere else,” including an eight-screen projection system, specialty lighting, a sea otter show and animal handlers who welcome guests, live critters in hand. Besides, the tanks in the Grand Hall are so huge that you have “the feeling of being out in nature but protected from the elements.”
This “awe” factor also attracts brides to the rooftop venue at Hyatt The Pike, said catering coordinator Melanie Aurelio. “This is a prime venue with a 360-degree view of the harbor and downtown.”
The Hyatt chain acquired the former Avia hotel in February of last year. Aurelio said that already weddings account for an estimated 25 percent of the hotel’s event revenue. “We’re working at bumping that up,” she said. The rooftop works especially well for “cocktail-and-appetizer-type receptions that can accommodate 80 guests. For seated receptions, about 50 guests max.”
Targeting LGBT Community
Aurelio said the Hyatt is “targeting the LGBT community, and we’ve had several gay weddings in the past month.” Moreover, she sees an expansion of the hotel’s wedding business in 2014, with changes in the wedding menu that includes more options and fresh, locally grown, organic items.
Melissa Piñon, sales specialist at Courtyard Downtown Long Beach by Marriott, said the hotel is positioned for brides-to-be who consider quality food when choosing a venue. Courtyard recently opened James Republic restaurant, with James Beard Award nominee Chef Dean James Max serving sustainable, locally sourced items from a seasonably changing menu – the same menu from which couples can make selections.
Piñon said that the hotel receives a lot of inquiries about weddings and other private events after customers have eaten at James Republic and enjoyed the fare. Though receptions can’t be held in the restaurant itself, one of the hotel’s ballrooms can accommodate 200 guests, while the other can seat about 100.
Playing off the success of the restaurant, the hotel is seeing wedding bookings increase for 2014.
Good-Bye To Do-It-Yourself Weddings
Bette Bloom, general manager of the Long Beach Petroleum Club, said wedding receptions account for approximately 55 percent of event revenue. That has been pretty consistent over the club’s 58 years, except for 2006 and 2007, which were “record years for weddings, and budgets were much higher.”
Though nothing can compare to the club’s heyday in the late ’50s and early ’60s, “a time of living large with extravagant events, when Etta James was a regular performer,” Bloom said there has been a shift from the “do-it-yourself” budget weddings of 2011 and 2012, when “the wedding business was down. We’re now seeing an increase in bookings for 2014, and brides who are more interested in a higher-end look.”