Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wedding Belle

Hear the mellow wedding bells, Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!

Megan McArdle can't resist talking about herself, especially if she can make herself look elite in the process. Therefore it was utterly predictable that she would be utterly incapable of not blogging about her wedding to up-and-coming astroturfer P. Suderman. She probably has a faint inkling that it will not reflect well on her professionalism, but her desire to stroke her ego is far too strong.
I know I said I wasn't going to blog about wedding planning. It turns out that this was a lie. The economics of the thing are just fascinating.

First rule: there are no awesome bargains, particularly in DC. If you want to save money on the catering, you have to rent a venue . . . and the venues price accordingly. No one in DC has a back yard which serves as reasonable competition for a wedding, and hello, price inflation!

(Why are you getting married in that pricey hellhole, I hear you cry. My hometown is Manhattan. Peter's hometown is on Florida's Emerald Coast. These are not noticeable price improvements, particularly when you factor in travel to, like, meet vendors and taste the food. Now, if one of us had been born in Topeka, we could have a slammin' hometown wedding on a thin budget, but there you are.)

Remember when Megan whined that she couldn't find Louis Vuitton luggage on sale? Heh, that was funny. So close to being elite, yet unable to fit in because she is too poor to be one of them. And petulant because a market that depends on its image of exclusivity and fine, expensive quality won't knock down their prices just for her benefit. She sees no relation at all to what she preaches as a libertarian and what she actually experiences in real life--the marketplace at work, trying to get as much money out of the customer as it can.
Second rule: transparency is not at a premium in the industry. They strenuously try to hide their prices from you until you they can get you into the shop and strenuously imply that a wedding without 4,000 calla lilies won't make you feel really married.

Since Peter and I are a) journalists and b) in agreement with each other and our families that we are not going to spend any sum that might reasonably function as the downpayment on a house, I don't want to waste time talking to vendors who cannot deliver on our budget. So especially in the case of caterers, if you don't have a menu--with prices--on your website, you don't get a call from us.

Doesn't it occur to McArdle that the catering companies left off prices because they don't want her business, or the business of anyone looking to get out of there cheap? McArdle knows that a high-end caterer will cost a great deal of money for good reason, and expecting a high-end caterer to advertise to a lower-end market is illogical and bad business.
I am wondering whether this is leading to greater transparency--and thus price competition--in the industry.

Obviously not. The prices aren't there, are they? So not putting prices on menus is not leading to greater transparency. Was she drunk on tiny samples of wine when she wrote this?
I suspect that it's probably just segmenting the market. High end caterers who don't want to listen to Peter and I whine that we really can't afford to pay one squillion dollars a head even if it is hand-picked Argentinian moss in the garnish, will continue to rely on word of mouth and the society pages. The ones who cater to a more, er, thrifty audience, will put up packages and prices . . . and probably see their margins competed downward.

It's "Peter and me," sweetie. It's something most English majors manage to master during school. "I" when the subject, "me" when the object.* Just leave out the "Peter" and you'll see. "Caterers don't want to listen to me whine." Not "Caterers don't want to listen to I whine." Having heard McArdle's nasal drawl on bloggingheads, I'm quite sure she's correct on that point, at least. And let's just ignore "competed downward" altogether.
Which is rough. Most brides feel that the caterer must be raking it in . . . $100 a head for a few itty-bitty hors d'oeuvres and a piece of steak? But my mother was a caterer for a while, and once you've factored in things like staff, insurance, inventory, spoilage, downtime, and so forth, those margins start to look pitifully thin.

So by not advertising [prices], caterers will be forced into transparency except they won't because they are doing what they must. That was a fascinating excuse to blog about your wedding economic discussion.
All that said, the one thing I actually have bought so far, the wedding dress, turned out to be a joy. I read all the horror stories about bridal salons, and the way they thwart competition and exploit you at every turn for "extras" like fittings, alterations, and ironing the dress. Labels (illegally) scissored out of dresses and photos forbidden so you can't comparison shop. Industry mags that tell them how to manipulate you into a sale. No one allowed to look at the dresses, which have to be pulled by a "consultant" to insure that you don't spy one cheaper than your budget that you might like.

Then while I was at my family reuinion in western New York, I stopped in at this shop, which is run by my first cousin once removed. It's friendly rather than fancy. The racks are open, the dresses are reasonably priced, and all the alterations are included. I tried on half the dresses in the store, and bought the one that Janice picked out--which was one of the mid-priced dresses. I slept on the purchase with no hassle.

I have no idea whether this experience is typical, but I'm not quite as suspicious of wedding vendors as I was a few weeks ago. I suspect this may cost me somewhere down the road . . .

McArdle wonders if everyone who goes to bridal shops where their cousin works have pleasant experiences and don't feel like they're being ripped off. By their cousin. This pleasant experience has made her less distrustful of vendors, although she just wrote a post complaining about her distrust of wedding vendors. But this rumination did allow her to advertise her cousin's shop in the "pages" of The Atlantic, which has high traffic. I just hope she received a good discount on her wedding dress in return for the endorsement. I'd be ashamed of a libertarian who gave away something for free.

*The blog I linked to has a very good explanation why people do this: "Somehow "I" appeals more to the common man and sounds superior to the mundane "me".


clever pseudonym said...

I knew she wasn't going to be able to resist wedding blogging. I'm glad. It's amusing watching her completely eat up all those stupid industry-generated myths about playing princess for a day.

I can't wait for her post about registering for gifts.

ChicagoEd said...

How the hell is Megan ever going to figure out how to get a marriage license? She's going to have to actually deal with the hated bureaucrats again. Will hilarity ensue?

Dillon said...

The part where she admits she was lying about not blogging about her wedding is so telling. As you say, it was obvious to anyone who is even a casual reader of her blog that Megan was incapable of keeping this promise. The only person McArdle was really lying to was herself.

On another topic, I have started a new drinking game where I take a drink every time Megan calls herself a journalist. Hopefully Megan's buy-organs-from-poor-people plan comes to fruition in the near future, because I expect I will need a new liver very soon.

Clever Pseudonym said...

I'll sell you one. Meet me in Mumbai.

Dillon said...

See you there, CP.

blivet said...

I don't think the marriage is going to last, either. I'm not being snarky, and I hope I'm wrong, but when she announced the engagement my first thought was that they've only been dating a few months.

Sometimes people really are just perfect for each other and there's no point in dragging things out, but that's pretty rare. Generally it's better to wait until the initial infatuation wears off.

zeppo said...

Wait, Megan is a "journalist"?!? When did that happen?

Susan of Texas said...

Clever P, yes, the registering for gifts should be fun. Especially when her commenters start complaining about being required to spend money on someone else.

Getting a wedding license in DC looks pretty easy. Unless she forgets it altogether she should be fine, although I'm sure she'll complain anyway.

McArdle and Suderman seem to be identical ideologically, so maybe they'll be fine. She'll just spend the rest of their lives telling him that she could have done much better.

Mr. Wonderful said...

"She'll just spend the rest of their lives telling him that she could have done much better."

This--not to curry favor with the proprietor or anything--is brilliant.

I, too, look forward to MM registering, and "taking advantage of the opportunity" to think deep libertarian thoughts about why it's a good thing. Something, perhaps, justifying the extortion, out of some poor schmuck relative, of a hundred-dollar pair of grape shears.

clever pseudonym said...

The purpose of registering used to be to help a young couple equip a new household with things they needed. For someone Megan's age, she presumably already owns most of what she needs (and more. If I'm recalling correctly, this is a person that owns an electric potato peeler, for goodness' sake). So they'll basically be asking for high-end but otherwise useless stuff like crystal and fancy china. You know, the things Megan once scolded us lesser beings for consuming when they don't make us happy.

Susan of Texas said...

And high-end electronics. Or they'll ask for cash "for the honeymoon."