Wedding banquets are passe: Now, millennials want Instagram-worthy nuptials

Ms Jessica Goutama, who had her solemnisation at the Disneyland Hotel in Los Angeles, was brought to the ceremony in Cinderella’s carriage. PHOTO: AXIOO, WRITTEN BY: Anika Varma, SOURCE: The Straits Times

Social media-savvy millennials want weddings that are fun and Instagram-friendly

When marketing manager Monica Mah’s boyfriend of five years, Mr James Goh, proposed to her in January this year, she already had an Instagram hashtag figured out and ready to go: #GohingofftheMahket.

The punny one-liner, which incorporates their surnames, was used to announce her engagement on social media.

It will also be printed on her wedding invitation cards and guests are encouraged to tag photos taken during the banquet with it.

She wants her wedding, which is slated for next February, to be held outdoors with a garden party theme because the couple met at such an event.

On her wishlist is a pick-and-mix candy bar, live-stations for barbecued food, customised fruity cocktails and personalised umbrellas and shades for guests.

“Weddings are not just about having a boring 10-course dinner anymore,” says Ms Mah, 29. Her husband-to-be, 31, is a graphic designer.

 Because people live in a connected age, she adds that they “subconsciously consider how their wedding will look like in pictures”.

Social media’s constant documentation and its tendency to promote one-upmanship has birthed a new phenomenon: The Cool Millennial Wedding.

Quirky, photogenic and hashtagged, this new celebration is miles away from traditional cookie- cutter ceremonies held more to appease relatives than to reflect the couple’s personality.

What is in vogue now?

Custom everything.

Forget photo booths with jokey props. Think artisanal coffee booths, cigar bars and organic cotton-candy stands – all of which four-year-old wedding planning agency Our Fairytale Wedding has provided.

For a botanical-themed wedding, the company decorated the venue with fruit such as lemons and oranges instead of conventional flower arrangements.

The agency’s co-owner Olivia Low, 30, says: “Five to eight years ago, weddings were just a dinner or lunch. But now, couples are willing to spend between $10,000 and $100,000 on decor alone.”

Five-year-old wedding planning company Inside The Knot has also done its fair share of eclectic wedding styling.

For a ceremony with a campfire theme, the couple, who were both scouts in school, had a S’mores table, where guests could assemble the marshmallow, chocolate and Graham cracker treat and toast them over the campfire they had set up.

For wedding after-parties, clients have requested post-clubbing staples such as doughnut counters, prata stations and even ones serving chicken nuggets and chips.

Besides customised weddings, Inside The Knot’s founder Rubina Tiya, 34, also highlighted another wedding trend of having two ceremonies: a more intimate solemnisation for close friends and a larger banquet dinner for parents and extended family.

The intimate party, which is extensively photographed and shared on social media, is where wedding styling services are most in demand.

Her firm provides these services, which include coming up with thematic decor, stage design and bespoke signages.

Prices start at $1,500, but couples spend about $6,000 on average.

Nowadays, wedding bashes are not just about the experience, says consumer researcher Brendon Png, 32, who looks at how brands react to younger consumers.

“It is also about the optics.”

Optics, the term often used in politics to describe the perception of an event more than its substance, does not come cheap.

And this is on top of the general rising cost of weddings.

A study released last month by consumer research-focused site showed that the average price of a banquet table at a weekend wedding is $1,536 this year.

This is up 49 per cent from $1,033 in 2011.

The survey was done across 47 banquet locations in Singapore.

The wedding price hike has outstripped personal income growth over the same period. The median income for Singaporeans, excluding CPF contribution, increased by only 22 per cent.

A Sunday Times check with 10 hotels and restaurants here confirms that prices have indeed risen, though hotels have also upgraded their facilities and packages.

At Capella Singapore in Sentosa, prices will be raised by $100 a table to between $1,688++ and $2,480++ next year, depending on the menu.

Ms Pricilla Chua, 50, the hotel’s senior director of catering and conference services, says this is the first price increase since 2014.

“We would rather do that than have hidden costs or charge unnecessary top-ups for small things,” she adds.

At the Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre, the wedding team says hikes of between $50 and $80 a table over the past two years reflected “increases in the market and to cover costs including food, decor, manpower and settings”.

On its end, it offers an on-trend decor package using mood lighting and chandeliers to create a dreamy, pixel-perfect dinner setting.

For the sake of Instagrammable, one-of-a-kind experiences, some young couples are willing to bite the bullet.

Take Ms Mah, who has set aside a budget of $50,000 for her garden-themed wedding, nearly a full year’s pay for her.

“Nowadays, everyone wants their guests to have fun and are willing to splurge on things that will make the event unique. For me, it’s money well spent.”

Public relations director Gidania Wong, 32, threw a Great Gatsby- themed bash at Capella Singapore for 300 guests in 2015.

She also had a smaller wedding ceremony in Bali for 40 close friends and family. She declines to reveal the total cost. Her husband Jamie Yap, 33, works in finance.

For her Singapore do, she had a cigar and vintage whisky bar and a mixologist who made cocktails.

The navy-and-gold colour scheme was brought to life with vintage gramophones, candelabra and flower centrepieces decorated with pearls and feathers.

The piece de resistance was a five-tier gold and ivory cake, designed with an art deco vibe.

She says: “As someone who plans events for a living, I enjoyed seeing the details come to life.”

IT engineer Sushila Chandra, 32, spent $150,000 on a three-day Hindu wedding in a Phuket resort last September, when she got married to her childhood sweetheart. He works in finance.

She added her own personal touches, such as a basket of flip- flops on the side of the dancefloor for guests who wanted more comfortable footwear. Each pair cost less than $1.50 from Chinese wholesale site Taobao.

Guests also got a welcome basket in their room that came with a booklet telling a fun story behind the couple’s favourite snacks and drinks.

These small, thoughtful details were a big hit with her friends and family.

“What I wanted was to throw a wedding that I would want to attend,” she says. “It sometimes costs a pretty penny but it’s worth it. After all, it happens only once in a lifetime right?”