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A La Carte Weddings: From Seed to Ceremony
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A La Carte Weddings: From Seed to Ceremony


Scott and Jennifer Joray of Eastern River Farm have been growing flowers sustainably since 2018 in Pittston, Maine with their two daughters, Violette and Chloe. They practice regenerative farming methods, use zero harmful chemicals on their farm (not even organic-approved ones) and involve animals in their daily rotation. Their main market is weddings, and they grow nearly 100% of the material used in their designs.

The Jorays are in their sixth farming season and fifth season of wedding design, working in growing zone 5 on heavy, wet clay. First frost can be anywhere from mid-September through mid-October, and last frost is anywhere from the end of May to the middle of June. They grow in two fields, three tunnels and a greenhouse. Two barn coolers get used all season for either holding blooms, forcing tubers/corms, or starting seeds. Wet years are particularly challenging, so they are always working at adding organic material and growing in raised beds.


A La Carte Weddings:

A Look at Three Key Stressors
by Scott and Jennifer Joray


A la carte weddings have been gaining popularity and are frequently a topic of discussion among flower growers. We have found a la carte weddings to be a good fit for our family here on the farm, so we wanted to share some of our major lessons learned and best practices with you so a la carte weddings can eventually be fun and profitable for you, too. Here are our answers to some key questions we get asked all the time.

Who is your ideal customer?

This is the question to ask ourselves as we plan each new flower season. First, let’s define that client: What is the client’s design aesthetic? Does their overall flower budget support this aesthetic? What marketing strategies do we need to reach these prospective clients? Answering these questions will create a successful approach to a la carte weddings on your farm and will help you land that ideal client time and time again.

Most clients come into the wedding planning process with more questions than answers, and every farm presents their wedding portfolio differently. We focus on choices for our clients, and we lead with color. Our ideal client isn’t that $20,000 wedding flower client, nor is it that “under $2,000 client,” although we fill in several weekends with those to help the overall financial picture. Our ideal client falls in between those ranges and wants to support the family farming enterprise and local small business. They are searching for seasonal, locally-grown flowers, and the fact that we don’t use any harmful chemicals is always a nice surprise.

Our ideal client is typically receiving other quotes from local farms and florists as well. I suspect that our ability to communicate what we do passionately, confidently, and our ability to set boundaries helps our client to feel comfortable using our farm for their wedding flowers. We welcome questions, offer advice, and show lots of images of our work and our flowers. We frequently remind our clients that we cannot promise specific varieties for specific dates. As Mother Nature is ultimately in charge, we stress that to be successful at what we offer, we must work within a given color palette, never specific blooms, and grow several back-ups for a variety in case a crop fails.

Our clients frequently request specific colors and flowers, but don’t often know what to ask for in terms of items and sizes. Our a la carte menu is quite diverse, offering many sizes of the most frequently requested personal and ceremony arrangements, such as bouquets and centerpieces, with special extras like edible blooms and foliage, trailing silk ribbon, and petal pails. We offer the option to add DIY loose stems and foliage as well, but we do not offer a bulk bucket price. If potential clients ask, we say that we do offer loose flowers and foliage (but we charge appropriately by the stem or bunch, and always charge at least double the wholesale cost for those stems).

Our ideal clients often ask for “wildflower colorful,” “loose and boho,” or “natural and elegant.” We also frequently get requests for “light and airy” and “lush and textural.” All these descriptors fit our farm-grown blooms wonderfully, so we can work with that! When a client asks for red roses and baby’s breath, which sometimes happens, we know that’s probably not our client. We can either spend the time educating them on the alternative of local flowers and how that can fit into their look (which we sometimes do, depending upon how receptive they are) or spend that same amount of time marketing colorful wedding arrangements to find clients who are more in line with our design aesthetic and are a much easier booking. The choice is ours on where to spend our time. Your time is the most important commodity that can’t be outsourced.

We make our clients feel special and feel like they have choices. Although we have a battery of email templates ready to go, we more frequently make that initial interaction tailored to the individual. We use phrases like “get the most flowers for your budget” and “work with you,” while still outlining what we do, and highlighting upfront that we grow nearly 100% of our own seasonal material. Clients want to feel like they have a choice, yet simultaneously get burdened by too much choice. This is where a menu helps!

You can create your own ideal client base through photographs of your work. The first step is to start building your brand. You can start with a simple website, Pinterest and Instagram account. If you start posting your own farm-grown, hand-created pieces in your design aesthetic, people will come to you and request that same look. Your photos will attract your ideal client right to you. Posting only photos of work you love to do and are proud to repeat will help you target the couples that will be a good fit for your business.

What is the budget?

This a broad topic and encompasses many aspects of the wedding design process. First, what is the client’s floral budget? Yes, you need to ask this up front. It is not wise to spend a lot of time working with a couple and give quotes for their “must-haves” list when their floral budget doesn’t align with this list. Client education is key. Years ago, we learned that the way we want to make flower crowns takes several hours (not to mention painful fingertips). Rather than opt for a less labor-intensive style and compromise our design aesthetic, we simply charge appropriately for our time and material, and educate the client as to how we hand-craft each piece. We are happier because the quality of the finished product is extremely high and one of a kind, and the clients understand what they are paying for: an exquisite, custom-grown piece styled for their most important day.
Second, what is the styling time budget? This is where it gets tricky because so many things go into the time spent styling a wedding.

The first consideration should be to have a cooler to hold flowers and styled pieces. This affects how much time you have available to style with those flowers from harvest to ceremony. As you can imagine, a cooler adds precious time during this period. How long will it take you to make each piece for the wedding? Knowing this is key. If it takes you an hour to style a table centerpiece and the client orders 30 centerpieces plus many personal flowers, well, you can do the math.

Once you have the styling times down for each piece then the question becomes: can you style more than one wedding in a weekend? We have found that several a la carte weddings often yield a greater profit margin than one large wedding. This is due to last minute add-ons like extra flowers for the bar, charcuterie board, or that aunt that came in from out of town at the last moment.

Third, what is your cost-of-goods sold for each piece you’re creating? Knowing what it costs you to produce each piece is critical; especially the flower cost. This is where so many flower farmers get into trouble. The cost of the flowers one uses to calculate the price for their pieces should never be below the local wholesale flower cost for that same flower. If it is, the farmer-florist is flirting with danger. Let’s say you have booked a wedding on the early side for your flower season and it was a cold and wet spring. Your flowers are almost ready to bloom, but not in time for the wedding. So, you turn to your flower farmer neighbor, and they sell you flowers at wholesale cost. Right there you start decreasing your profit. There are too many ways for things to go wrong on a farm than to start out by putting yourself at a disadvantage with flower price.


What makes smaller a la carte weddings more lucrative for us is that we’ve refined our process for booking, planning, and styling to be time efficient. We use self-calculating invoices that allow updating to be quick, contracts with clear expectations, email templates that get scheduled for certain intervals of time leading up to a final payment due date, and a similar pricing strategy for all clients when adding DIY items like additional loose stems of flowers and foliage. We use time-in-motion studies to refine our process and properly price every piece on our a la Carte menu.

To stay profitable and to help the client understand how to use their budget effectively, we follow an adaptation of the management triangle: cost, convenience (time) and quality/scope. The higher the quality or the larger the scope of the project, the more costly it becomes. Conversely, if a client wants to save on budget, they will inevitably be adding some elements of DIY into their wedding to achieve their desired look. We do our best to be flexible with the client, explaining this easy-to-understand triangle, which simultaneously shows the client we are willing to work within their budget constraints to help them achieve their overall desired aesthetic. In the end, they just want beautiful, seasonal blooms, and we just want to sell them those flowers, so we can keep on farming here as a family. If we look at each potential relationship with the client as a win-win situation like this, everyone is happy. There aren’t emotions involved in this process, simply numbers, material, and a vision. When we work with a client, we stay as positive as possible within those confines. It doesn’t always work out, because some clients have a vision that is simply too expensive for their overall budget, but most of the time we can reach a healthy balance together and book that wedding.

A frequent request from couples and a potential pitfall for new farmer-florists is when clients ask for specific flower varieties for their wedding. This can be problematic in two ways: first, in terms of color availability and seasonality, and second, in terms of aesthetic. Growing orange calla lilies for an a la Carte wedding in July is potentially not cost effective for a farm, because it isn’t likely that the cost of those lily bulbs, potting mix, care and greenhouse space (also holding time, overhead, etc.) will be useful for additional clients at that same period of bloom time.

Aesthetically, the flower variety the client is requesting may not be easy to incorporate with the other seasonal blooms that are being grown. For instance, although several farms around us grow eucalyptus in tunnels for spring use, we don’t enjoy the look of eucalyptus with tulips, narcissus and Iceland Poppies. For us, bupleurum and mint seem to be more natural. A happy medium is reached by offering commonly requested seasonally-appropriate color palettes. Instead of orange calla lilies in early spring, hyacinth and tulips might be a better fit. If the couple absolutely must have certain varieties of blooms, then their wedding date should ideally fit. This is all about client education again, and is not unlike expecting to eat fresh, locally grown strawberries in New England in February. In rare cases where a client absolutely has to have those orange calla lilies on their a la carte budget, I sometimes offer them the option of paying extra for the price of those bulbs and all those other expenses associated with growing those lilies out of season that we mentioned above. With a little education, they quickly realize it isn’t cost effective for them, either! The client will ultimately understand that they will get the most beautiful and freshest flowers for their wedding using this a la Carte menu approach. We steer clear of specific varieties and never promise blooms for certain dates.

Another way to tackle the wish list of the client and the needs of the grower is to remain flexible by offering color palette choices. After years of growing for weddings in our area, we know the handful of most requested color palettes. Those are the palettes we offer on our a la carte menu, which allows us to grow in bulk lots of material to fit those palettes throughout the seasons. If specific colors are requested, we refer the client to full service, so we get compensated for our additional time planning and growing these varieties. Full service is where we offer an almost complete customization of the wedding.

How do a la carte pieces get transported to the wedding?

Though this is usually the last step in the process it should be considered before you start pricing out your pieces. Packing floral pieces can be a nightmare. After spending all that time seeding, planting, growing, harvesting, and styling it can all be destroyed by careless packing. After years of piece-mealing together recycled boxes, recycled newspaper and switching up vase sizes, we decided that the process would be more efficient by standardizing glassware and packing materials. We now purchase a bulk amount of everything we use throughout the season, including the same full garden centerpiece, statement piece, focal arrangement, bud vase and bouquet glassware and the same boxes to fit each of those pieces. Bridal bouquets get their own box, centerpieces are multiples per box, and then closed boxes hold items like wrist corsages and flower crowns.

One last thought about packing: to streamline the process further, and so your packer isn’t twiddling his thumbs and pressuring you to finish designing (ahem) we pre-pack each piece. To do this, we use a blank of the identical glassware item being styled, then we wrap Kraft paper tightly around that blank and lift it away, so the prepared boxes already have tightly-formed holes of Kraft paper, ready for the finished arrangements to be lowered into those holes and the boxes placed into the cooler. Nobody has to wait around for anyone, and the pile of boxes decreases quickly as arrangements fill the holes and look ready for transport.

We hope you found some really great tips by reading about three key stressors for our a la carte wedding business, here on our family farm. Have a great time taking notes on your processes, refining the systems you have in place already, and planning for your upcoming a la carte wedding season! By focusing your marketing on finding your ideal client, working within the confines of a budget (your client’s budget and a budget for your time) and by developing and streamlining your packing and transport system, you will end up with a fun and profitable a la Carte wedding business! Although these things take time to figure out, each improvement will benefit the whole process immensely.

When all is said and done, remember that it’s “only flowers.” As crazy as all this work is, it’s not brain surgery. If something doesn’t work out perfectly, nobody dies. All flowers are beautiful. Your client is choosing to take part in a life woven together of care for the land, care for each other, and is supporting your local business. This makes them feel good already, and the flowers are icing on the cake (or is it flowers on the icing??)

Watch Simplify and Streamline Your Wedding Season

a educational webinar created for farmer-florists on saving your sanity, reclaiming your weekends, and delivering superlative wedding florals.


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