Lavish weddings featuring guest lists upward of 500 people were seemingly de rigueur in Southern California’s Iranian-Jewish community just five years ago. But the growth of six-figure simchas strained middle-class families, leading some couples to either call off a wedding or divorce a few months after getting married.
Religious leaders rallied around the issue, and now a growing number of Iranian-Jewish couples and their parents are curtailing the sky’s-the-limit spending of the past.
Whether it is live entertainment, kosher catering, décor and design, flower arrangements, or photography and videography, wedding vendors say that families are embracing cost-conscious budgeting. Today’s young couples are also more hands-on when it comes to planning, and the vendors say they are actively sharing insights to ensure that families don’t get shortchanged on quality as they seek out better deals.
“L.A.‘s Persian-Jewish community is very savvy, and they demand the very best for their weddings,” said Alen Nazarian, founder and musical director of the popular Kasha Ensemble and the band Vibe. “It is really critical for couples to choose vendors that can work well together to make things work smoothly on the day of the wedding and allow for everyone to have an incredible experience.”
Entertainment is an important factor in most Iranian-Jewish weddings. The costs range from $1,500 to $30,000 depending on whether a DJ, live band or a popular Iranian singer is hired for the event.
Nazarian, an Iranian-Armenian musician, said couples should watch videos of the band they’re considering or take note of the band’s performance as they attend other people’s weddings.
“Check to see whether the band has a vast repertoire of music that they play,” he said. “Also check if you can hear each and every single musical instrument played clearly at the venue or if they are using prerecorded computer-generated music, and make sure the band has a proper accompaniment of the music with the vocals.”
Nazarian said he encourages his clients to coordinate different aspects of the wedding closely with his band to create the most memorable experience.
“You should coordinate your floor plan to make sure the bars are situated close to the band, because most times when your guests are drinking near the music they will bring their energy to the dance floor and have a
more pleasurable experience,” Nazarian said.
With the average number of guests for an Iranian-Jewish wedding in Southern California ranging from 250 to 500 people, the cost for kosher catering alone can often vary from $10,000 on the low end to more than $50,000.
David Javaheri, owner of Pico-Robertson-based Sason Catering and Nana Catering, says his younger clients are increasingly tough on negotiating price.
“What I really love about the Persian-Jewish community is that they truly appreciate great food and amazing design and presentation of food,” he said. “Despite the fact that they negotiate hard on the pricing, they still want the best, and that has been positive for us because it has made my catering businesses push for excellence.”
However, Javaheri says that cutting corners on food can backfire as a budget strategy.
“Couples have to realize that while they may get a lower price for food at their wedding, at the same time that caterer may be cutting down on the quality of food, or offering a poor presentation of the food, or hiring employees who are not certified to properly handle food that meets the health code regulations,” Javaheri said.
Another area where couples should splurge a little is wedding invitations, said Ferial Senehi, the Iranian-Jewish owner of Beverly Hills-based Invitations By Ferial.
“No special occasion is complete without the appropriate introduction,” Senehi said. “I believe that for a wedding or any other event, everything from the envelopes to the response cards, colors and fonts used are very important because they make a special impression on every guest for the tone of the wedding.”
To accommodate the large number of guests, Iranian-Jewish couples are increasingly turning away from hotels and looking to banquet halls at local Iranian synagogues as a wedding venue. Locations such as the Iranian American Jewish Federation’s synagogue Temple Beth El in West Hollywood, the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and the Eretz Cultural Center in Tarzana are less costly than local hotels, saving anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 in venue costs.
Capturing the special day with photos and video is a must, and photographers who work with the Iranian-Jewish community are offering cost-friendly package deals.
“Every couple is different when it comes to their desires and budgets — so most photographers are now providing packages that can fit how much the couple wants to spend,” said Vahik Rostamian, owner of Vahik Photography in Glendale.
Rostamian says he likes to share the intricate details of the costs involved, time required for editing photos and video as well as important facts regarding the quality of finished products he offers in order to develop long-term relationships with his clients.
“You really have to ask around about your photographer from other couples and get referrals,” Rostamian said. “Some photographers will quote you a price that may seem lower — but they may not share the fact that they will be using a lower grade of printing for the photos that may not retain its colors for as long, or they may not tell you that you should incorporate certain special lighting in your ballroom to enhance the quality of your wedding video.”
Despite some couples’ tight budgets, many vendors working with the local Iranian-Jewish community say they are willing to work with what resources are made available to them because they realize the importance of weddings to their clients.
“For me, the biggest compliment is having clients who are happy with the décor or lighting even though the budget they gave me was very tight,” said Hovik Mehrabian, owner of North Hollywood’s L.A. Event & Design, which provides lighting, décor, table settings, chairs, wall coverings and dance floors.
Even after attending to numerous details just prior to the start of each wedding, Mehrabian says the right vendor will stay behind to ensure a smooth ceremony and celebration.
“By and large, couples getting married are really unaware of all the small details that I go through to make their venue look incredible for that day,” he said. “A good wedding vendor should stick around after his work is completed, even for the ceremony in case something should go wrong for whatever reason. Clients remember things that I’ve done to help them out when something did go wrong.”
For more tips from vendors handling Iranian-Jewish weddings, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog.
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