June 18, 2019

The Price of the Perfect Wedding

“I was expecting to experience a lot of things at the Great Bridal Expo in Washington, D.C.: the sound of hundreds of people milling about the Grand Hyatt Hotel’s 8,500-square-foot ballroom, the smell of a thousand wedding-cake samples, the feel of polyester-blend bridesmaids’ gowns, the sight of dozens of vendors’ booths lined up on patterned carpet. I was not, however, expecting an open bar, or a booth raffling off a free boudoir photo shoot, or a free bottle of barbecue sauce from a catering restaurant.

The vendors I spoke with (when they weren’t inundated by bridal parties) told me that companies give away lots of free things at these kinds of events—some, like cake samples, that make sense, and others, like barbecue sauce, whose relevance for wedding planning is less clear. For their $10 entrance fee, couples get bags filled with wedding magazines and coupons at the front door, but also access to free samples, dance lessons, and even stays in hotel rooms from vendors. Geren Gatling, a marketer who was representing a vacation-rental company at the expo, said he goes to bridal expos all over the D.C. area. “They didn’t have these when I was getting married,” he said. “But I would definitely come to one of these to gather information.”

He cut off our conversation to flag down a couple passing by. “Excuse me, miss, when’s the big day? I’ve got something for you!” he shouted, shepherding them to his company’s table. “Sorry about that,” he said. “I get paid whenever they stop by. I can’t let them get away.””

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