wedding planner fluffs cathedral length train

Bellwether Events Reflects on 2021 Weddings

Holy Rosary Catholic Church DC wedding

This annual recap of all our 2021 real weddings is months overdue. But I am still writing it because I love writing these round-up posts. Why I decided to do this as I launch a stretch of 7 weddings in 6 weeks, I will never know.

What’s up with the postponements?

In 2021 we had 18 total weddings. Four were postponed from 2020. One originally had a May 2021 date and they pushed it to November 2021. We also had a hotel cancel on a client due to the pandemic, so with 3 months to go, we moved the entire event to a special event venue. Not the first time this has happened to me. Our NYE wedding lost 50 guests in the last two weeks due to the explosion of the original Omicron variant. The silver lining was that we got those details two weeks out so that we could lower the guaranteed headcount at the hotel, and the client got a $10,000 refund after the event.

2021 Real Wedding Locations

New venues we worked at included L’Auberge Chez Francois, the Red Fox Inn, Iron Gate restaurant, Shadow Creek barn, the International Spy Museum, the Line Hotel (finally!), and the Park Hyatt.

Red Fox Inn Wedding Virginia ceremony
Red Fox Inn | Gabriele Stonyte
iron gate dc wedding chuppah
Iron Gate | Eli Turner Studios
Spy Museum DC wedding rooftop
Spy Museum | Andrew Morrell Photography
the line hotel dc wedding rooftop
The Line Hotel | Kurstin Roe Photography
The Park Hyatt DC gold winter wedding chuppah with white and green flowers
The Park Hyatt | Kurstin Roe Photography

And wedding venue favorites we revisited included Dumbarton House, Decatur House, National Museum for Women in the Arts (currently closed for renovations), District Winery, The Alexandrian, Riverside on the Potomac and Hotel Monaco. We also worked at two private home weddings – one where we had a micro wedding before and one that was new to us. So, nearly half of all the venues we worked at in 2021 were brand new to us. A little more than half of the weddings were in DC, and a little less than half were in Virginia. One was in Maryland.

hilltop outdoor private farm wedding ceremony lavender
Family Farm in Virginia | Ken Pak Photography
Sperry tent brunch wedding
Waterfront Home in Maryland | Tim Riddick Photography

2021 Wedding Data: Guest List RSVP Rates

2021 DC wedding RSVP acceptance rates

Our largest wedding had 205 guests. The smallest wedding had 65 guests (we missed 10 guests last minute to positive Covid tests.) And our five micro weddings had 25, 28, 40, 53, and 56 guests. Despite the unpredictability of the pandemic effects (some people refusing to travel, others dying to get out of their houses), we still reliably saw 20% of the guest list declining the wedding invitation. As we already knew, the smaller the guest list, the more likely a yes reply, and the larger the guest list, the more that RSVP rate swings down. The average acceptance rate was 76%, with a high of 100% and a low of 55%.

Setting aside the five micro weddings, the average acceptance rate falls to 70%, and the average guest count was 121. This is a bit smaller than in past years. Our five micro weddings had an acceptance rate average of 92%.

riverside on the potomac wedding ceremony
Maddy Williams Photography
Dumbarton House DC wedding ceremony
Love Life Images

2021 Wedding Data: Real Wedding Costs

2021 DC wedding spend per guest

Spending per guest was all over the map in 2021. We had micro weddings with a lot of splurges, and we had large weddings that were making every penny count – and everything in between. But overall you can see that the smaller weddings had a higher spend per guest than the larger ones. The average spending per guest was $810, and the budgets averaged out to $80,005. Yes, my eyes are popping out of my head too.

Setting aside the five micro weddings, the average spending per guest was $780, and the budgets averaged $86,840. Why is the spend per guest lower when I remove the micro weddings? Because micro weddings have a higher per-person spend – their average was $832 (with an average budget of $32,417.) With micro weddings, the larger fixed costs (DJ, photographer, venue) are spread over a few dozen guests instead of over a hundred. This drives up the average spending per guest.

As a reminder, these figures are undercounted for sure. I rarely know the attire expenses, sometimes, I don’t know the stationery expenses, and certainly, there are small items such as hotel rooms that are also unaccounted for in my documentation.

2021 wedding services and booking cycle

In 2021 we celebrated 18 marriages. Seven were management clients, seven were partial planning clients (booking 2 of my 3 services), and four were full planning clients (booking all 3 services.) The management clients booked us an average of 6.5 months in advance. Partial planning clients booked us an average of 7.3 months in advance. These booking cycles seemed a little shorter, possibly due to couples not knowing when their weddings would happen. The full planning clients booked us 13.8 months in advance. The full planning clients showed a longer booking cycle because dates were limited due to the rescheduled 2020 couples.

When it came to accounting for the five weddings that had an original wedding date that was different than their actual wedding date, I applied the original booking cycle to these figures. I did not include the actual time we spent planning together.

Dumbarton House wedding DC outdoor ceremony
Kate Headley Photography

2021 Wedding Data: All the Details

Our 2021 wedding parties were a blast – no two were alike. Four couples had no wedding party, and one couple simply had a matron of honor. Three wedding parties included children. Five weddings did not have even numbers on each side.

Fourteen of our eighteen couples did a first look before the ceremony. Ten couples got married outside. Two couples got married outside but did install a tent over the ceremony area to be safe – I do not recall there being any rain. Four couples got married indoors at their venues as we originally planned, and two couples got married in a house of worship. Seven couples hired a professional officiant.

At these wedding receptions, five couples sat at a guest table, five couples had head tables, and eight couples sat at a sweetheart table. Six couples hired a DJ, eleven couples hired a band, and one couple had a DJ and a band. Twelve couples served wedding cake; some also served other desserts. Mini assorted desserts were the popular alternative to serving wedding cake in 2021. Five couples hired a videographer, and I just adore those wedding films so very much. Please hire filmmakers for your wedding – you will not regret it.

Nine of our couples gave out party favors. Usually, this was cookies or chocolates, but pashminas and matchbooks were also big hits. And of course, our NYE couple gave out the hats, crowns, beads, and noise makers to their guests at 11:45 pm.

Alexandria Virginia wedding couple
Jenna Leigh Photography

2021 Bellwether Events Highlights

We were featured in seventeen press items in 2021, thanks to our PR Firm, OFD Consulting. We’re thrilled to be in BRIDES, Wedding Chicks, Brooklyn Bride, Carats & Cake, Ruffled, The Knot, and Wedding Wire, among others.

When one of our couples mentioned how much they love to do the New York Times Sunday Crossword together, and they even incorporated it into their engagement photos, I knew we had to do something with this concept. So I pitched them on creating an actual newspaper during the day of the wedding and printing it overnight so that we could give it to guests at the Sunday brunch. The couple loved the idea. But how to execute? First, we hired a UVA journalism student to attend the wedding day and write the story. To supplement her work, we got the text of the toasts/speeches in advance (under the guide of me checking them for length.) I also hired a friend to make them a custom crossword puzzle. Second, we got the wedding photographer to agree to send us a few photosas soon as he got home from the wedding. Third, I learned the tiniest amount of InDesign to make an Etsy template work. Fourth, I begged the owner of a local UPS Store to open early and print it for me on Sunday. It was a very time consuming project, but the guests were truly wowed by it, and I’m so thrilled with that.

custom wedding newspaper crossword

Planning an NYE wedding was truly a bucket list item for me. I love NYE so much, and I think it can be the absolute best night to host a wedding (if you have the budget for it.)

Park Hyatt DC NYE wedding confetti cannon bride and groom
Kurstin Roe Photography

For our wedding at The Line, the couple told me they felt like they were the best version of themselves as a couple when they were visiting museums. So I worked with Social Supply, and we created a museum-inspired installation for the cocktail hour on the roof. I think it was one of my best-ever ideas, and it came to life exactly how I imagined it.

The Hotel DC rooftop wedding museum art cocktails
Kurstin Roe Photography
The Hotel DC rooftop wedding museum art cocktails
Kurstin Roe Photography

I am also super thrilled with how this ceremony in the Long Gallery of Riverside on the Potomac turned out. It was a true light bulb moment while we were doing our final meeting with LynnVale Studios, and the clients leaned into the moody sunset ceremony vibes.

winter outdoor sunset ceremony fireplace colorful edison lights
Procopio Photography

Oh yeah, and Courtney and I got new headshots.

Nats Park headshots photos red white and blue
Deb Lindsey Photography

Lessons Learned in 2021

Over-communicate and over-explain. Stay hydrated. Eat protein. It’s ok to cry in relief when the fireworks finally go off. Make sure the bartenders have the correct alcohol on the bar. Know the dimensions of the decor pieces you’re ordering in advance.

Coming in 2022 for Bellwether Event

Twenty-one weddings were on the books for 2022 – I think that is our most ever. As of this writing, sixteen of them are completed, and it has been an amazing year so far. (But also, no wonder I’m so tired!) We have the sweetest couples ever, who have been so kind to us during this wedding boom. We have been working at many venues that are like a second home to us and learning a few new ones too! 2023 isn’t looking too bad either. We still have open dates, so please reach out if you would like to schedule a chat.

If you liked this type of post, good news, I did one in 2020 and 2019 too.

If you want to see more from our 2021 weddings, we already have bouquets, cakes and fashion posted. Check back for a few more in the coming week or so!