Weddings are back in full throttle for the season in the Mad River Valley, according to local venue operators and others associated with the industry.
However, vendors are also facing the same staffing, supply chain and inflation issues that everyone else is.
“I understand that the wedding industry has rebounded well and is looking good for this season. I also know that Sugarbush's wedding season is pretty well booked as well. I think the wedding world has changed since the pandemic trend-wise, but that might be a positive thing for the Mad River Valley. I know that Valley venues and vendors have been very active in statewide wedding marketing too,” said Eric Friedman, executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce.
INN AT THE ROUND BARN
At the Inn at the Round Barn, owner Kim Donahue said that by January her spring/summer/fall wedding season was fully booked with a wedding each weekend.
“But that is true of every year. At least seven of those are weddings which had been booked for 2020 and 2021. As we progress into the season, we have had two weddings cancel because they now have other priorities like buying a home or starting a family. We are not hopeful to rebook those dates with weddings of the same size because of short notice and also because of fears that other vendors like florists, DJs, bands, photographers, rentals, and hair and makeup artists will not be available,” Donahue said.
COVID is still impacting guest counts and she’s finding that guests drop out as events draw closer which decreases revenue.
“More importantly, we are still trying to protect our team from contracting COVID. With guests not being focused on spread and with the relaxation of all restrictions or guidelines, it is up to us to put procedures into place to protect our faithful team. If a team member tests positive, they are unable to work and that has downstream impact on their family and perhaps their school or work schedule and we want to protect them from disruption as much as possible,” Donahue explained.
And in addition to higher costs for food and the supply chain issues, she and her husband, Jim Donahue, are most cahllenged by staffing issues.
“There simply aren't enough participants in the labor pool to draw from, even with hourly rates in excess of $20, flexible working hours and the opportunity to be part of a hospitality team that is supporting one of the happiest day of our guests' lives. Our Mad River Valley hospitality community and the Vermont Association of Wedding Professionals (VAWP) has been incredible, with properties and businesses assisting each other by filling in for missing staff, loaning staff members as well as supplies when needed,” she added.
BARRIE FISHER PHOTO
Barrie Fisher of Barrie Fisher Photo, Waitsfield, says she’ll be about as busy with weddings and events this summer as in previous years, though, after the past two years of the pandemic, most events she’s photographing are smaller than events she worked at pre-pandemic. She said the biggest change for her at this stage in the pandemic is rising gas prices. She photographs events all over Vermont and the price of travel has increased. “I’ve had to add a little bit [to the cost] for gas prices to make sure I cover cost,” she said. She has not had to change prices she’d already quoted to clients.
“It’s all about my clients and giving them the best service I can with a smile, happiness and love,” she said.
At the Skinner Barn in Waitsfield owner Peter Boynton said his season was going full speed ahead.
“We’re a little above our usual average of 16 with 18 weddings on the calendar this year,” Boynton said.
At the 1824 House in Waitsfield, co-owner Sean Kramer said that he and his wife Farrell Leo, had gotten caught up on all of their COVID wedding cancellations and postponements.
“We got them all done last year. We do have a few openings this year if people are looking for last-minute events. We’ve definitely transitioned into the small/micro-wedding packages. They are the majority of our events this year,” Kramer said.
Small weddings (40 people) allow Kramer and Leo to manage the events by themselves for the most part. They can manage the catering with the help of just a couple of people.
Kramer said that while they’ve been seeing supply chain issues, they have not been super critical.
“When you source locally for a lot of stuff, that does help,” he said.
So far, they have not had to add inflation surcharges to their contracts but he said it could be a possibility in the future.
Lareau Farm in Waitsfield (home of American Flatbread) is fully booked for weddings this summer and has only one spot left in 2023 according to spokesperson Helen Borelli. Its events are back to pre-pandemic sizes. While inflation has affected prices of future events at the farm, couples that had already booked weddings will pay the price they were previously quoted, she said.
Adrienne Cady, wedding and events manager at the Mad River Barn in Fayston reports that the facility is fully booked from May through October including the rescheduling of the final few COVID-delayed weddings.
“We are in the process of booking for the 2023 season and only have open dates remaining for next year. We are booking out faster than we have in the past and my feeling is other venues are likely seeing the same thing. We will begin booking for the 2024 season in the next month,” Cady said.
Cady said that while prices have gone up, Mad River Barn is honoring the pricing in the menus sent to couples when they are planning their weddings. For those couples that are rescheduled from 2020 they require them to order from the 2022 menus.
Cady said labor costs and shortages have changed the business model at the Mad River Barn such that during the summer season the barn is predominantly an event venue with the restaurant closed except for Thursday nights when it will open with a limited menu and live music.
"As inflation continues to go up the cost of every ingredient is being increased, making my profit margins smaller and smaller," said Sarah Auger of Goose Chase Cake Design in Waitsfield. "I luckily so far haven’t had too much trouble with supply chain issues and am hoping to continue to be lucky with that in the future!"