Author: Jacobs, Melissa
Date published: January 28, 2010
The wedding war? It's on. New hotels, new renovations and new economic realities are heating up the competition for wedding reception business. And when Le Mérithen's Philadelphia outpost opens in March, the battle for wedding business will really get fierce. This is all good news for brides and grooms, and the families who love (and pay for) them. Why? Because hotels are offering deals and incentives to bridal couples, and sometimes their parents. Ask, and ye shall receive perk-alicious packages.
The current prince of perk packages might be the Hotel Palomar. After a 20-month, $92.5 million renovation, the Palomar opened in October 2009 in the former Architects' Building at 17th and Sansom Streets in Center City. The 1929 Art Deco building is now a luxurious and modern boutique hotel, and Philadelphia's first eco-friendly hotel with LEED certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design; it's a movement run by the U.S. Green Building Council. Palomar's green efforts include low-flow toilets, showers and faucets, eco-friendly laundry and cleaning products, and recycling containers in guest rooms. Drive a Prius? Palomar extends parking discounts to hybrid cars.
The top floor of the 25-story Palomar is home to the Burnham Ballroom, where Jim Weber, director of catering, creates wedding receptions. Palomar's ballroom holds 100 people, seated. Cocktail parties of up to 200 can be accommodated. "We only do one event at a time," Weber said, "so the bride gets all of our attention. As it should be."
To introduce Palomar onto the bridal scene, Weber created "Passion ... Panache ... Palomar," an impressive incentive package. Couples who reserve their wedding date by March 31, 2010 and have a food and beverage minimum of $12,000 can select two of five perks. The Palomar wedding package is $130 per person, so a 100-guest wedding would easily meet that minimum. The perk options? They include a complimentary engagement party of up to 25 guests for two hours. That includes buttered wine and Champagne, six hors d'oeuvres, and cheese and grilled veggies tables. Or, the Palomar will throw a wedding after-party with Champagne and gourmet chocolates. Or, the hotel will host what Weber calls a "hangover helper" buffet brunch for 25 guests the morning after the wedding. Included in the package is a complimentary suite for the bride and groom.
Opposite the Palomar, on the other side of 17th and Sansom, sits Hotel Sofitel, the boutique French hotel that opened in 2000. Melody Duffy, social catering director, said that the Sofitel's Paris Ballroom is getting a makeover- new draping, carpets and lights - that will be unveiled in February. Duffy has arranged for a Sofitel bridal event on March 28, from noon to 4 p.m. There will be a fashion show, vendors, food tastings and tours of the suites. "And of course, we're going to showcase the new look of the ballroom," Duffy said.
She'll also tell bridal couples about the Sofitel's two wedding packages: Paris and Versailles. Have a wedding on a Friday or Sunday and get the Paris package, which includes: cocktail hour with butlered hors d'oeuvres and one station, four-course dinner, top-shelf bar, and wedding cake - plus a bridal suite and two additional rooms for parents of the bride and groom. The cost, with tax and service, is $154 per person. The Versailles package includes the same components but is for weddings held on Saturdays at a cost of $180 per person.
"Both are discounted to go with the economy and fit everyone's budget," Duffy said. "Everything can be customized to lower pricing."
That same bridal beneficence is in evidence at The Doubletree Hotel, on Broad Street in Center City. "Though we give out a wedding package of ideas for customers to follow, we also customize packages to make sure we can accommodate as many budgets and wants as possible," explained Lisa DeLuca, senior catering manager and wedding specialist at The Doubletree, 'everything is flexible here and helping the client to spend their money in the wisest way with the most dramatic effect is always kept in mind."
Is The Doubletree doing anything differently for 2010? "WeU, we're not raising our prices," DeLuca said. "And, we've made our packages easier to digest. We're not nickel-and-diming our wedding clients. We're saying, tell us what you want your wedding to be, and we'll make it happen."
Renovations are another way that hotels are keeping their ballrooms in the wedding wars. The Rittenhouse recently renovated its ballroom, which seats up to 250 guests. The AAA fivediamond hotel offers a complimentary suite to the bride and groom. The Rittenhouse is on the plus side of posh, as is the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington. The DuPont Wedding Collection includes three properties: the Hotel du Pont, the DuPont Country Club and Brantwyn Estate.
Back in Pennsylvania, newly renovated hotels are adding shine and sparkle to wedding receptions. The former Hilton on City Line Avenue underwent a $7 million renovation and emerged as a Crowne Plaza. The new hotel debuted in September 2009 with a new restaurant and lounge, improved guest rooms and suites, a pool, and a wedding space that seats 220 people.
To attract wedding receptions, Crowne Plaza is offering perks to bridal couples. Megan Miller, catering sales manager, explained that couples who book their weddings at a Crowne Plaza before December 31, 2010 will receive a Honeymoon On Us® American Express lodging card worth up to $1,250. The card can be used at any Crowne Plaza in the world. The dollar amount of the lodging card is based on the food and beverage total of the wedding. A $5,000 wedding results in a $250 lodging card. A $25,000 wedding produces the $1,250 card, and other prices range between those. The bride and groom also get 5,000 frequent flyer points.
"The average cost of a wedding at our hotel is $9,000," Miller said. That includes a cocktail hour with butlered hors d'oeuvres, dinner, wedding cake, a five-hour beverage package and a bridal suite for the evening.
"We also create a signature bride-and-groom drink that we serve at cocktail hour," Miller said. "When guests arrive, they can be greeted with butlered Champagne or that cocktail. And, we offer a suite for the bridal party to have a private reception during the cocktail hour."
To show off its new look, the Crowne Plaza is having a complimentary showcase on January 31 from noon to 5 p.m. Held in conjunction with EBE, the event will offer food, beverages, bands and a look at the new ballroom.
The Dolce Valley Forge Hotel in King of Prussia recently underwent a $20 million renovation. The property now has nine acres with the option of an outdoor cocktail hour, and a 7,200 square foot ballroom.
The Radisson Valley Forge completed a $1.5 million renovation of guest rooms in March 2009. The bi-level ballroom is called The Waterford. The large, main room seats 240, and the balcony seats 170. The Waterford also features modern technology. Three giant screens are positioned at the front of the room. Two 12-foot screens flank a 14-foot screen in the center of the stage. All of the screens operate with a 4,500-lumen High Definition DLP LCD projector. And, the balcony has five 42-inch plasma TVs.
What do brides and grooms use the screens for? "They show old photos of the couple as kids or family photos," explained Jen McGuire, marketing assistant. "Sometimes the couple has made a pre-wedding movie and they will show that. Or, the screens can display the wedding logo."
The wedding wars will continue to wage. Up next: Le Mérithen, opening in March, 2010 at the former YMCA at 1421 Arch Street. The Starwood-owned hotel will be housed in a 10-story, Georgian revival-style building. The ballroom will hold up to 200 people. What will Le Mérithen offer bridal couples? Stay tuned.
Melissa Jacobs is in favor of turning more gyms into luxury hotels.