Money can’t buy you love, but it can buy you an enviable wedding celebration.
Over the past decade as Vermont has become an increasingly popular wedding destination, the number of high-end weddings costing upwards of $100,000 has skyrocketed. Couples from New York and Boston, as well as from such far afield locations as New Zealand and Ireland, are sparing no expense to have their nuptials performed in the Green Mountain state.
“Stowe is becoming a mecca for beautiful weddings because we have so much to offer here,” said Nancy Jeffries-Dwyer, owner of NJOY Event Planning.
She’s fulfilled over-the-top wedding requests for everything from an elephant for an Indian wedding to a “Midsummer’s Night Dream” themed reception spread out over three unique locations.
One bride wanted to be driven over a field in the bucket of a tractor to meet her groom at the ceremony.
“It was an extremely elegant wedding,” Jeffries-Dwyer said. “It was a lot of fun.”
While the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is $26,000, the couples who turn to Janet Dunnington to help plan their upscale receptions typically spend at least $80,000.
Indeed, it’s not unusual for her clients to spend upwards of $20,000 for a tent large enough to hold 300 guests.
Dunnington, who lives in Manchester, Vt., owns Janet Dunnington Destination Weddings. Last year, all of her clients were from outside of Vermont.
She’s worked with couples from Australia, Scotland, the United Kingdom, and Germany. While the biggest influx of U.S. clients hail from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, others have come from as far away as California.
“People love to come to Vermont for the grass and the flowers and getting away from the metro area,” Dunnington said.
Dunnington estimates that most of her clients are in their early 30s. They are no longer living in their hometowns and see a Vermont wedding as a way to bring all of their guests to a neutral place to celebrate.
Planning for a six-figure wedding usually starts a year to a year and a half in advance.
“Brides have caught on that Vermont is a popular area, and if they want to get the venue and date they want, they need to book early,” Dunnington said.
Clients with higher budgets have more options, especially when it comes to hiring others to perform planning services other couples might take care of themselves, Jeffries-Dwyer said.
They generally host larger weddings with 250 to 300 guests, and they can afford vendors in a higher price bracket, she said.
“My clients are very discerning,” Jeffries-Dwyer said. “There might be one waiter at each table watching to serve the needs of each guest. If a glass is empty, it gets refilled. If a plate is empty, it’s taken away.”
While couples may have different priorities, everyone wants to make sure their guests receive excellent service and have a good time.
“It’s about trying to make it an unforgettable day, not just for the bride and groom but for everyone who is invited,” Jeffries-Dwyer said.
Dunnington asks couples about their priorities and uses that information as a starting point.
“Even if it’s a high-end wedding, one of my jobs is to keep them within their budget,” Dunnington said. “If a band is really important and there’s a great band for $15,000, we might take away from what they spend on flowers to balance it out.”
Dunnington has taken care of many bridezillas and bridezilla mothers of the bride over the years. If, during an interview with a prospective client, she suspects that the bride might be unreasonably difficult to please, “that date might not be available,” she said.
“One bride was nasty,” Dunnington said. “I was never treated so disrespectfully in my life. They weren’t that way during the planning. A switch went off the week of the wedding.
“They get here and even though there’s no reason to be stressed out, it’s just their type-A personality,” she said. “One bride treated every vendor terribly. Come the wedding week she just snapped. But, you march forward and do your job and make everything as flawless as possible.”
A multi-day feast
Food plays a central role in upscale weddings, and the feasting typically starts with a casual gathering for out-of-town guests on the Thursday before the wedding. A Friday rehearsal dinner could include 50 to 80 people and additional guests might be invited for dessert.
The wedding reception might commence with a signature cocktail created especially for the couple. In addition to passed hors d’oeuvres, cocktail hour could include a raw bar, a sushi station, and Vermont cheeses.
Most couples choose to have a sit-down dinner with an appetizer, salad, main course, and a full bar. Locally produced food is popular, as are Vermont microbrews and liquors.
“Desserts are really big,” Dunnington said. “Not only the wedding cake, but bringing in a lot of mini desserts.”
Dessert isn’t necessarily the final course. An increasing number of couples are choosing to have an after party, especially if the reception must end at 10 p.m. due to local noise ordinances.
“They come from cities where people don’t go out until 10,” Dunnington said.
The after parties usually feature casual and comfort food like nachos, pizza, wings, and grilled-cheese sandwiches.
At your service
When couples are spending $100,000 or more on a wedding, they want everything to be just right.
A couple Jeffries-Dwyer once worked with requested that the ribbons on their menus be cut to a specific length, within one-sixteenth of an inch.
“As far as unusual requests, one couple wanted to bring all of their animals, including their bird, to the venue,” Dunnington recalls.
The venue had a no-pet policy, but Dunnington sweet-talked them into allowing them for the occasion. The couple drove across the country with their animals in tow.
“Pets are a big thing,” Dunnington said. “It’s not unusual for people to request to have their dogs in the wedding, but to have two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and a parrot is kind of funny.”
Jeffries-Dwyer also has had her share of animal-related requests.
“I have a bride this summer who wants to ride in on a horse, so I have to find the appropriate horse and figure out what to do with it during the ceremony,” Jeffries-Dwyer said.
Jeffries-Dwyer recalls one wedding that was simply magical.
The couple planned to get married on their property in Wolcott, which is set on a ravine over a meadow, and they wanted a “Midsummer’s Night Dream” theme.
“They got married in the woods,” Jeffries-Dwyer said. “There were bell ringers and notes on trees telling guests how to find the ceremony. After that, guests were invited to find their way down to the ravine.”
Along the way to the ravine, guests participated in a scavenger hunt that wound through the woods and led them to picnic stations with food and drink. The reception dinner was set up on tables and under tents. Afterward, guests walked to the meadow for a bonfire, dessert, and bluegrass music.
Dunnington describes a wedding that took place the weekend following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, as “the perfect wedding.”
The couple lived in the New York City area and many of their 300 guests were affected by the attacks. They wavered back and forth for a few days about whether to postpone their wedding before deciding to move forward.
“I had to call vendors as everything moved back and forth and everyone rallied together,” Dunnington said.
Their band was flying in from Nashville, but its flight had been cancelled. Most of the wedding party members were traveling from Chicago and likewise found themselves grounded.
The band rented a tour bus and arrived on time. The wedding party members drove and arrived just before the rehearsal dinner.
“The day of the wedding was beautiful and the ceremony was held outside in the field,” Dunnington said. “It was so celebratory and so much fun. Everyone bonded together because of 9/11.
“Knowing there would be empty seats, they gave tribute to the victims and encouraged people to join each other at empty tables,” she said. “It was the perfect union, the perfect marriage, and the perfect celebration.”