On September 24, 2022, high school sweethearts Ariel Fugon, 28, and Josue Rosales, 30, stood in front of an officiant and violinist as they exchanged their vows. Sunlight filtered through the tree branches suspended over the Summerhouse at the Dene, a popular spot embedded in a small mountain of rocks in New York’s Central Park. Fugon wore a soft-colored, pleated flower dress; Rosales donned a simple gray suit. Their 16 guests preserved the celebratory event with their smartphones while a hired photographer captured the moments from various angles.
This could have been any wedding, for any couple, organized a year in advance, but it didn’t come together that way. The bride and groom never met the officiant, previewed a venue, or tasted a cake. They held no conversations with planners, musicians, florists, or other vendors. They just purchased the entire event online a month beforehand — including the park permit.
After searching “how to get married in Central Park,” the couple had landed on Simply Eloped, a website that offers curated wedding and elopement packages with a limited number of guest options and a menu of add-ons. Essentially, Fugon and Rosales planned a wedding the way you might a kids’ birthday party: choose a date, location, and venue, answer a few questions, pay a deposit, and book an event without speaking to another person — at a fraction of a wedding’s usual cost. Fugon and Rosales’ bill with Simply Eloped was $1,248, not including the photographer, booked separately.
“Doing our wedding online was simple and stress-free. I didn’t get overwhelmed with steps and people and obligations,” said Fugon, the bride. “Not everyone knows a good hairstylist, photographer, or a violinist that’s going to know the songs you’re requesting. The website did. It made everything really easy.”
These “click, purchase, and show up” weddings are only a fraction of the roughly 2 million weddings per year in the U.S. But they’ve grown in popularity in the wake of the pandemic, when lockdown-driven delays created a massive demand and venues and dates became scarce, leading some couples to seek out creative options.
And something else happened during the pandemic: either out of necessity or risk aversion, people started making complicated purchases online. Some even bought houses based only on photos or virtual tours, says Mark Sivak, a professor of engineering at Northeastern University who teaches courses in design and technology. Why not weddings, too?
“These wedding sites offer a cohesive element, good design and locations, and a positive track record,” Sivak says of wedding sites like Simply Eloped. “And there’s an element of online trust between the user and the sites — a ‘leave it to us and we will make sure that your wedding is beautiful and great.’” Generational traits may also be at play, he says. “Millennials have a higher level of trust in online services like Airbnb and Uber, and maybe that trend has trickled into weddings.”
Since it launched in 2016, Simply Eloped, based in Boise, Idaho, has created weddings in 36 destinations across the U.S., working with over 600 vendors and marrying 2,500 to 3,000 couples a year, says co-founder and CEO Janessa White. A beach ceremony in Hawaii, an epic cliffside setting in Yosemite National Park, and the Neon Museum in Las Vegas are some of her more requested spots.
“We organize and personalize anything that’s part of your ceremony,” White says. “You don’t have to find vendors, figure out the marriage license laws, or coordinate venues and park permits. We do all of that.”
Depending on the destination, an average Simply Eloped package with 20 guests, an officiant, one hour of a photographer’s time, and the help of a “customer experience representative” runs about $1,500. Flowers, a videographer, and on-site hair and makeup are extra. On the company’s website, customers can browse through photos and videos of previous ceremonies to get ideas for their own wedding packages.
“They don’t want to wait a year or two to marry. They want something easy, intimate, and personal.”Gretchen Culver, owner of Minne Weddings
Other companies provide limited options in exchange for huge cost savings. Minne Weddings, which launched in 2020, offers micro-weddings 10 times a year in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, says owner Gretchen Culver. The company typically holds five weddings a day at the same location, uses the same eight to 10 vendors for each ceremony, and usually books on Sundays because, Culver says, “it’s a great way to get top-tier venues and vendors at more affordable prices.” Each couple has a 90-minute, self-contained event for 20 to 32 people, at a cost of $5,000 to $7,000 per couple — which covers venue, planning, flowers, décor, rentals, digital invitation, photography, videography, an officiant, cake, and bubbles. This year, using the same format, Culver added venues in Chicago (she calls them Windy Mini Weddings), which can run $8,000 to $10,000.
The standard-wedding template is also key to the Tiny Wedding, a feature offered at Zingerman’s Cornman Farms, a 27-acre farmhouse and event space in Dexter, Michigan, 50 miles west of Detroit. Since 2019, Tabitha Mason, a managing partner at the farm, has orchestrated three-day marathon events that are held midweek, three or four times per year: five couples married each day, in 90-minute ceremonies, with packages that start at $2,000 for four people. (Each additional person is $50.) That price is a steal: Cornman Farms also hosts about 130 standard weddings every year, with 150-plus guests, which cost more than $40,000 each.
Built into the 90-minute timeline is 30 minutes to get ready, a 15-minute customized ceremony, a cake cutting and toast, and 30 minutes for photos and clean-up, Mason says.
At Minne Weddings events, customers don’t seem to mind, or sometimes even know, that another group might be arriving before and after them, having precisely the same wedding experience, Culver says. “The wedding industry is ripe for innovation and technology,” she says. “Plus, the consumer is changing. They don’t want to wait a year or two to marry. They want something easy, intimate, and personal that is about them rather than the party.”
At least a dozen wedding platforms across the U.S. offer click-and-choose services, holding couples’ hands through the planning process. Some ask relationship questions or request that couples fill out a questionnaire so the officiant can personalize the ceremony. Some assign a point person to help manage decisions. Simply Eloped has a customer experience team. “Someone from that team is in charge of crafting the entire ceremony and bringing all the vendors together and making the timeline for the day of booking,” White says.
Most of the booking activity on Simply Eloped’s website occurs on Friday night — pay day — and on Sunday, when couples have time to look together, discuss, fill their cart, and send a deposit. Culver says her customers often browse the site first, then return days later to purchase. Her clients are digital natives, she says, who are happy to avoid interacting with another person.
“You don’t have to wait for anyone to email or phone you back, or wait for confirmation about dates,” she says. “People are buying their weddings on their mobile device while they are waiting in the doctor’s office. They’re enjoying the process and the immediacy.”
These sites limit options, but that’s the point, Sivak says: They give people welcomed parameters, allowing them to order up a complex event without feeling overwhelmed.
“People like having a list of limited choices paired with specifications, but still feeling in control,” he says. And a cookie-cutter venue “doesn’t exclude couples from having a say in other meaningful areas, like what they will wear, what will the rings look like, and what directions do they want to give the officiant.”
More than just saving time and money, White says, these customers are challenging the modern idea of what a wedding needs to be. “Couples no longer want to have their aunt’s best friend or spend $35,000,” she says. “The values of a wedding have changed. It’s no longer about the big show. It’s about the love between two people and getting married the way the couple want.”
Miranda Domenguez and Mary Dany, who live in Ferndale, Michigan, were married at Cornman Farms on October 8, 2020, along with four other couples that day (not to mention five on the 6th and five on the 7th). They say they have fond memories of the experience. “What Cornman gave us was this beautiful, affordable experience that became about our love, commitment and union, and our future together as a family,” says Domenguez, 32, who was surprised the concept existed. “I loved how it was a one-stop shop and that you just show up.”
In Central Park this past September, Fugon and Rosales, the bride and groom, seemed equally pleased. Once vows were exchanged, the couple were enveloped by bubbles, courtesy of two sizable bubble guns shot by two small flower girls. Everyone was all smiles, including the onlookers who didn’t expect to stumble upon a wedding while experiencing the park.
Once hugs and congratulations were given, and the nerves had subsided for everyone, the couple and their families moved the festivities to a restaurant in Huntington, New York, near where the couple live, to continue the celebration.
“This was simple but special, instead of being in a huge ballroom filled with people you don’t really know,” said Rosales, the groom. “Weddings can easily be about work, stress, and money. I didn’t want that. What we had was an intimate moment. It was just me and her with our families.”
His wife agreed.
“Coming to the site and deciding what we wanted and needed really grounded us,” she said. “It’s been less of the details and more about us.”