Weddings on residential estates
Capturing and keeping the marriage market18th Jul 2022
How can estate managers best lure the lucrative wedding trade? An old hand in the game shares pearls of wisdom to guide newbies as well as nuptial fundis, so ensuring return business while preventing the loss of customers to other wedding venues.
Plettenberg Bay resident Julie Smith has been in the hospitality industry for 36+ years – 30 of these as part of the famous Hunter Hotels Group, serving as GM and group operations/human resources ace during that time. Now owner of Pippa’s Flowers & Co, she has been involved with ‘literally hundreds of weddings’.
Smith says anyone interested in entering this sphere must know that, as much as plans, amenities and menus should work, your good reputation hinges on understanding that it’s essentially a ‘people/heart/passion thing’.
‘If your estate already hosts weddings, you’ll know it’s a fickle industry. Everything has changed over the past years in the broader context of tourism and hospitality. So it’s more critical than ever to think on your feet while maintaining consistency.’
Estates with conference facilities that could double as banquet hall, an onsite restaurant, and overnight accommodation, start ahead of the pack, safety and practicalities being a priority for wedding planners.
‘Advantages of a single venue for the ceremony and reception, rehearsal dinners and after-parties, cannot be overstated. Service providers such as hair and make-up come to the venue so the bride doesn’t have to travel. When a singular venue is involved, there are no issues with driving under the influence, or getting lost on unfamiliar roads twixt church and reception.’
Smith says the option of onsite accommodation also helps. ‘Spending the night there, enjoying an intimate pre-wedding dinner, means you’re familiar with the venue when the big day arrives.’
Chapel or church no more
Previously, it was the norm to get married in a church but trends are changing. Many couples today are happy to exchange vows on the river deck at Emily Moon’s, overlooking the ocean at Forest Hall, the mountains at Lombard Villa, or the vineyards at Kay & Monty.
‘Offering a one-stop package trumps many other considerations, so find the best venue and then compile a package involving tried-and-tested vendors,’ says Smith.
Most importantly, according to Smith, is that management is 1,000% on board. ‘Don’t put your faith in inexperienced planners who believe they know all about eventing.
‘When months before the wedding, a bride sends an email to Joan, she doesn’t want to hear back from Mary. Consistency of management, one designated person who understands the wedding business, is essential.
‘This person must be able to offer advice, see the bigger picture, understand family dynamics, and foresee pre-wedding sundries. Will babysitters or a kiddies menu be required? Can the bride have breakfast in her room, has the order of service or speeches been carefully considered?’
She says estates are in a good position since such a person, constantly available onsite, could be a member of staff who understands the property – preferable to using the services of an outside coordinator who may be available sporadically.
‘Estate managers must take note that it’s not just a case of putting out flowers or setting out the tables and chairs. There’s a certain psychology behind the perfect wedding. This is an incredibly important day for the couple and their families, who often pay a lot of money for you to make it work, while counting on you to make memories and fulfil dreams.’
Small things can make a big difference, and Smith emphasises the importance of quality control throughout the estate: working light bulbs, lawns freshly mowed, a sparking pool, clear signage, clean windows and correct dress code.
‘It doesn’t further your cause when the food is great but the pool is green! This is a showcase of your estate, with many people sharing their thoughts via word of mouth or social media. The last thing you want is the bridesmaid telling friends: I’ll never get married there!’
Pick your lane
Smith recommends sticking to specialities when marketing your estate as wedding venue. ‘Are you child-friendly? What are your menu options for lunch or dinner? What are the rules relating to décor? What is provided by the venue? Is there a poor-weather plan?
‘Consider the culture of the property and then stick to it. Don’t try doing bits of everything, such as offering a fine-dining menu when your chef doesn’t have the skills. An inexperienced coordinator may not be able to assess the situation in pre-wedding plans, having dire consequences for your estate. There’s no coming back from messing up a wedding day.
‘But if you can guide your market with a single responsible person, who even ensures that the sun sets at the right angle, you’ve got a shot at success.’