By Beth Erickson

Elopements of the past were done secretly and in a hurry with little thought given to the trimmings of traditional weddings. Couples eloped because they couldn’t afford a proper wedding or because their families didn’t approve—leading them to long lines at the courthouse or saying “I do” in front of an Elvis impersonator in Vegas.

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Times Have Changed, So Have Elopements
If this is still your idea of elopements, think again. Like all things, elopements have evolved, worn smooth by the changing demands of time. “Today’s elopement couples want the romance and promise of a large wedding with none of the headaches, expense, stress, or hassles,” says Carla Pryor, St. Simons Elopements in St. Simons Island, Ga. What’s more, they aren’t in a hurry to wed. “I love the spontaneity and romanticism of escaping to get married in such an intimate fashion. That said, I often get requests for elopements 12-24 months in advance,” says Heather Jerue of Rendez-vous in Paris located in Paris, France.

Another difference is who attends. Today’s “elopements can be just the bride and groom, but most are defined by including 20 guests or less,” says Carolyn Burke, ABC™, Wedding Liaison, Kirkwood, Mo. For second marriages, says Pryor, some couples even include their children in the ceremony. But the main difference is the size. Elopement ceremonies are quiet, romantic, intimate events. The reception? If there is one, it’s in a restaurant, not a ballroom, or, perhaps, catered by a private chef in the hotel suite. “Romantic is the key,” says JoAnn Moore, ABC™, Mountains and Meadows, Vail, Colo.

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A Natural Complement to Wedding Planning
Elopement planning requires the same skills required of planners who focus on traditional nuptials. “You have to give the brides the same care, focus, and attention,” says Pryor. Jerue agrees. “It’s basically the same process on a smaller scale, and a shorter timeline,” she says. Jerue’s company handles around 20 elopements a year alongside five to seven larger events.

Elopement planning fits nicely into a traditional planner’s schedule. Moore says she only offers elopement services on weekdays, saving her weekends for larger, more traditional events. “Any one of my wedding consultants can run the elopement day, and the couple will receive less expensive fees from vendors, anxious to work during the week,” she explains. Rendez-vous in Paris also does weekday elopements. “It allows us to fill in gaps, or have some weekends free during wedding season,” says Jerue. Should you decide to add elopement services to your wedding planning business, it’s important to know the laws of your country, state, and/or the state in which the elopement will occur. “Each state is different in determining whether or not you need to have two witnesses. My state requires two, but you do not have to know them,” says Burke.

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How to Price the Service
For the budget-conscious couple, elopements are a good deal. According to a recent survey by The Knot and WeddingChannel.com, the average cost of a wedding in the United States was just over $27,000. Elopements come with a much smaller price tag—from just a few hundred to thousands. “Depending on the size of the elopement and the time of year, my average budget is around $5,000 or less. In a small town or city, the cost can be much less,” says Moore, who handles about six elopements per year.

For some planners, this may seem like small potatoes, until they consider that elopements require less work than a traditional wedding. Pryor estimates that 85 percent of her business is elopements, but that the 15 percent that are traditional weddings take up about half of her time. Typical elopement planning involves five to six hours, but can average higher depending on the scope of the elopement. Services must be priced accordingly. “It’s easiest to work off of a package, otherwise totally customized services will take up too much time for too little gain,” says Jerue, whose company offers elopement packages that start at 4,250 Euros (over $5,000 U.S.D.) and include the ceremony, a vintage car, bouquet, and boutonnière, plus coordination of the ceremony. “Couples generally add a photographer plus a photo shoot around the city and a private room in a restaurant for dinner. Some couples add a musician and hair and makeup services as well,” adds Jerue. Pryor suggests interested planners partner with florists, officiants, photographers, and other vendors who see the value in elopement services. “You need vendors that do an excellent job and won’t cancel for a larger potential booking,” Pryor says.

Planning fees also depend on the location. “I’m located in a resort town, so my fee ranges from $1,500 to $2,500 for the event. This is just my fee and does not include the cost of the photographer, flowers, officiant, dinner, etc.,” says Moore. In the end, pricing is “a simple matter of determining value versus cost for the elopement brides and what you want to make for your time and going from there,” says Pryor. “I believe in pricing by supply and demand,” says Burke. “If the demand for my services is high, then my fees increase. Set your fee structure based on the day of the week, how soon they booked you, whether or not it is a holiday, and the distance it takes to get there.”

Do What You Love, Love What You Do
Should you decide to open up your business to new, creative revenue streams like elopement planning, be sure to embrace it fully to reap the rewards. “Couples marrying is emotionally rewarding for me. I get to set my own hours, schedule my own days, weeks, and months, and work when I want to. I get to choose whom I work with and the clients I take. There is nothing about this situation, not to love,” says Pryor.

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