One cold February morning last year, my girlfriend and I woke up and spent the morning in bed drinking coffee and talking about how glad we were to be together. So around our third cup of coffee, we both decided to get married. I remember saying: "If we don't buy into all of the fairy tale nonsense of 'our special day,' how expensive can it be to throw a raucous destination wedding with a sitdown meal, great booze and a live band for around 100 people in Cape Cod, anyway? Like 10 grand?"
If you've actually paid for a wedding, I know what you're thinking: "Ha ha ha ha ha!" And you're right to laugh. A year later, the budget of our wedding has tripled, and yet we consider ourselves lucky for it, because it could be far, far worse: that budget only makes us an "average" wedding in the eyes of the wedding industry. If more people understood what weddings actually cost when they got engaged, I'm convinced there'd be a lot more elopements.
I wish when I had gotten engaged that there was an easy-to-understand site like The Hitch, a venue searching site by Brooklyn based design firm Casserole Labs that is like the Airbnb of wedding venue search engines. It won't totally budget out your wedding for you, but it will give you a pretty good idea of what your wedding will cost, and help you find a venue in your price range. And that's a godsend, because before The Hitch, prospective newlyweds were doing what I was doing: cold calling venues and trying to get estimates blind.
Like me, over Labor Day, Casserole's Steve Lynch got engaged to his girlfriend, and started looking for venues. He quickly made the same discovery that many Internet-savvy people make when trying to research weddings online: it's a nightmare.
"I found it insanely difficult to find locations, decent pictures, and most importantly information without having to email the venue directly," Lynch says. "Being an avid HomeAway and Airbnb user I couldn't help but think that this was a vertical that could use a similar product--simple vertical search with a clean and visually engaging UI."
So Lynch decided to build the tool himself. Over the next two months, his colleagues at Casserole helped him develop The Hitch into an attractive, simple website with an equally attractive iOS app. Soon-to-be-newlyweds can use The Hitch to find information about venues and see pictures of the premises. Want to know if a venue has space for a band or has a liquor license, or what maximum capacity or curfew is? The Hitch makes it all easy to find, with information about a given venue presented in a simple table that includes stats for guest capacity, cost of food and drink per person, suggested gratuity, and more.
The Hitch launched in beta December 1, and has managed to recruit 105 venues across 30 states at the moment, largely through word of mouth. But in coming months, Casserole Labs will be undertaking a heavy marketing push to lure more venues. You'd think there would be a lot of incentive for venues to sign up: the service makes it extremely easy for a venue to create a compelling, informative web presence.
But the question The Hitch ultimately prompts is this: are most wedding venue websites bad by design? Do they obfuscate pricing information on purpose? If so, The Hitch might be too clean and informative for its own good. The Hitch assumes that, given an easy-to-use alternative, wedding venues would rather their web presences look like this than this. But is that true? Certainly, anyone looking for hard numbers on how much a wedding venue costs would prefer the clarity of The Hitch, but at the same time, that clarity could just as easily lead to quite a few prospective newlyweds getting such a case of sticker shock that they just jump in a Cadillac and head to Vegas. Maybe that's what the wedding industry's been afraid of all along.