A Shifting Wedding Landscape: A Q&A with The Wedding Report

What conventions are falling out of favor, which are here to stay, and how will things look for in a few years for those in wedding marketing?

Wedding season is winding down, which is a reason to celebrate – but the next one is already just around the corner. So, we thought it’d be a good time to see what’s on the horizon in the world of weddings so venues can better prepare for the wants and needs of the next generation of brides and grooms.

In 2001, Shane McMurray and his wife started a paper business, and he sought to understand the wedding marketing space because invitations were such a big slice of his business. There was very little research available; Conde Nast was publishing the American Wedding Survey, but that had its own limitations. In the end, Shane decided to scratch his own itch, dive deep and do his own research, and start The Wedding Report, now a treasured industry source for wedding statistics and facts. He mines multiple resources – from publicly available data to wedding industry professionals to couples themselves – in an effort to compile as comprehensive and unbiased a data set as possible.

We spoke with McMurray about the latest wedding trends and what forces are driving these changes for those in wedding venue marketing.

Are you seeing a shift in terms of where people are getting married?

The biggest change that sticks out to me is the shift away from the church scene. There’s a societal factor there, because fewer people are religious and ceremonies tend to be a little more neutral. So, I’m seeing a lot of people move to a single location for their entire event. Seven years ago, it was probably 60 percent ceremony and reception at different places, and now it’s dipped to about 40 percent, and will continue to slide. More people are looking to have their wedding and reception in the same space.

What are some of the shifts you’ve seen in the types of wedding venues couples are using?

I used to have a list of the 10 to 15 main types of places that people would get married at, but that’s grown. Couples are coming up with new, unique places to get married. As an example, one of my nieces got married at one of the mountains just south of here with only 10 guests, and she’ll have a little reception on another day. That’s becoming more common. Traditional venues know that they can’t focus only on weddings anymore. They have to fill their space with corporate events and other milestone events, like anniversary parties.

What trends do you see in terms of who is paying for the wedding?

Couples are strapped with more debt than they used be, and on top of that, they’re paying for more of the wedding than they used to. Right now, 70 percent of couples are paying for all of their wedding. This obviously varies greatly, and sometimes there’s a large purchase that a family will contribute to instead, but those are the numbers I see. I like to understand what economic factors impact their ability to spend, and when you start poring through the numbers, you realize couples mostly dig into cash on hand – fewer than 30 percent are using credit, debt, or loans to pay for it. So if you look at future savings rates and disposable incomes, you’ll have a pretty good sense of how people will spend in the future. College debt is also a big one. I started asking people how college debt will impact their spending. Last year it was about 27 percent, and this year it’s a third of couples who said “I’m going to spend less because of my college debt.” There’s less change with couples whose parents contribute quite a bit.

How are meals evolving at weddings?

I’m seeing more and more buffets in place of sit-down dinners. It’s just less expensive to put a spread out and let people eat. It’s also less time-consuming, and guests are able to go eat when they want to. That’s a trend I see continuing.

Are destination weddings on the rise?

I don’t see the rise. I know The Knot says it’s a quarter of the business, but to be honest with you, I’ve asked this question to couples twenty different ways, trying to figure out how The Knot reached that figure. I literally can’t get it over 13 to 15 percent. The reality is, from the numbers I look at, people end up spending more by having a destination wedding. One of the selling points is that it’s supposed to be less expensive, but in most cases, that’s not true.

Are there other traditions or conventions you expect to be gradually dropped?

I think they’ll continue to evolve, and be inspired by the influences people see at The Knot, Wedding Wire, and Pinterest. Those are really influencing couples’ ideas right now and play a big part in the whole process. Older conventions like tossing the garter belt and the bouquet are already less of a focus. Weddings and bridal parties will be smaller. There used to be a huge thing around all the accessories you had to buy for the ceremony and reception, and I think we’ll start to see that less often. It’ll depend on the geographic area you’re in and the cultural influences in your life. And as couples’ cultures continue to blend, you’ll see more and more people doing their own thing.

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