With careful planning and a dose of panache, the wedding industry has paved the way for successful events despite the pandemic
By Sara Perez Webber
No one in the wedding industry will forget this year anytime soon. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted couples everywhere to change their 2020 wedding plans. Approximately 50 percent of weddings scheduled for this year have been postponed to 2021, estimates Richard Markel, president of the Association for Wedding Professionals International.
For those who don’t want to wait, however, industry pros have come to the rescue, despite guest count restrictions and increased safety regulations. We’ve rounded up strategies savvy caterers and event planners are employing to help their bridal clients celebrate their big day—perhaps in a smaller way—and noted some of the resulting trends.
And while no one knows what 2021 may bring, many predict the delayed nuptials of this year will translate into a wedding boom next year. “We have weddings booked for 200, 250 and 300 [guests] next summer,” says Joann Roth-Oseary, president of Someone’s in the Kitchen in Tarzana, Calif., who’s currently catering weddings with about 25 guests—primarily in private homes and backyards. Pent-up demand, she predicts, will be “very strong.”
Like a marriage itself, business has its ups and downs—for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer. Here’s to a 2021 wedding season with many happy returns.
To help wedding guests keep their distance, caterers and event planners are getting creative with the seating arrangements at ceremonies and receptions. “Something to note when planning a COVID-friendly ceremony is to reconsider what the overall layout will look like,” says Eddie Zaratsian, owner of Los Angeles-based Eddie Zaratsian Lifestyle & Design. Rather than the traditional row formation, “we’ve opted for a more circular setup or something staggered that allows for social distancing, as well as giving guests a better view of the ceremony itself.”
Merrily Rocco, owner and head designer of Merrily Wed in Tahoe City, Calif., suggests creating a modern ceremony layout, “grouping your guests’ chairs into little pods of known cohorts.” The spaced-out groupings could include three or four chairs, and a bench or couch mixed in. “These groups would also share a table at dinner by varying the table sizes to accommodate each household,” she says. Rocco is also making sure additional dining tables and seating options are available, set back from the groupings, for anyone who wants even more space.
Outdoor receptions especially lend themselves to creative solutions, says Kylie Carlson, owner of The Wedding Academy, which offers online certification courses in wedding planning. “The idea of ‘picnic’ style seating has really been a hit,” she says. “Spreading out luxe blankets and chairs (even ornate rugs!) gives guests the freedom to mingle as they please and space out comfortably from one another without worry. To take it a step further, everyone can wrap up the evening with a romantic firework display or enjoy live music under the stars!”
Roth-Oseary of Someone’s in the Kitchen (SITK) creates tables based on guests’ level of comfort sitting with people outside of their immediate family. A recent small wedding had five tables of two and two tables of six. “We want everyone to be completely comfortable and happy,” she says.
In addition to keeping guests distanced while seated, wedding pros are finding clever ways to create distance elsewhere.
Rocco calls the floor markers indicating where to stand “a design opportunity to seize.” When creating markers to ensure socially distanced lines at the bar or photo booth, for example, Rocco suggests matching the color of the vinyl to the wedding palette, or replacing the standard “X” with a custom monogram or fun message.
Maintaining space on the dance floor can be tricky, but Rocco has a solution: Create multiple dance floors if the space allows. “Be sure to have extra speakers and sub-woofers to keep the music experience close,” she suggests.
Playa Largo Resort & Spa in Key Largo, Fla., is recommending that couples use their color-coded bracelet system to indicate guests’ comfort level when interacting with others at the wedding. Guests can receive bracelets in one of three colors, indicating if they’re “comfortable,” “less comfortable” or “not comfortable” about being approached during the event. Couples can opt to personalize the bracelets with their names and wedding date, giving them out as favors.
Caterers have adjusted to the post-COVID world by making sure events are sanitary and taking steps to prevent the spread of germs. Guests arriving to a wedding catered by Heidi’s Events & Catering in Tempe, Ariz., for example, may be greeted with a customized mask or personalized hand sanitizer favor.
Like catering teams across the country, staffers at SITK adhere to social distancing guidelines; wear gloves, face masks and face shields; and sanitize all surfaces throughout an event. Hand sanitizer and additional gloves are available at all service locations. Both guests and staff are checked for a temperature upon arrival and must be COVID-tested before the event; Roth-Oseary advises her clients to make provisions for testing their guests. In fact, at a recent wedding catered by SITK, the host sent testers to her guests’ homes the day before and had a tester on site with six machines. “Nobody wants to get sick, but they still want to live and enjoy,” says Roth-Oseary.
Caterers have also come up with safe ways for guests to dine. At Heidi’s Events & Catering, “plated dinners are on the rise and recommended most” for weddings, says Jillian Zeeb, senior event specialist. Silverware is rolled in linen napkins and distributed to guests upon finding their seats. “However, if a buffet or station is chosen, they still have the same fabulous décor, but our chefs will serve from behind creative and protective shields,” she says. Heidi’s staff members hand-pass hors d’oeuvres in individual covered vessels or from shadow-box trays with clear sliding lids, crafted in-house.
Similarly, at SITK, “everything is contained in its own vessel,” says Roth-Oseary. All table settings remain in their original packaging until just before use. Bento boxes are one way Butler’s Pantry in St. Louis serves meals that are safely compartmentalized for each guest.
“Weddings are going virtual in one way or another, and we’ll continue to see tech being used as a tool in future weddings—even after the pandemic comes to a close,” predicts Kevin Dennis, owner of Fantasy Sound Event Services in Livermore, Calif. “Many family members or friends can no longer make it to the couple’s wedding, so live-streaming and Zoom meetings are helping to include them from afar.”
The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), for example, began offering virtual wedding ceremony packages after the onset of the pandemic, and will continue doing so through Dec. 31. A couple can choose various sites within the museum for the ceremony, which is livestreamed to guests, and the museum takes care of all the technical details. One package includes a hosting platform in which the couple can interact with guests in real time. PAMM, which features exclusive catering by the Constellation Culinary Group, will continue offering the live-streaming feature as an add-on to its traditional wedding packages in the new year.
Specializing in virtual weddings, San Francisco-based Let’s “I Do” This! offers packages that can include up to 200 virtual guests, providing the technical equipment needed to livestream as well as the services of a “tech guru.” Jamie Chang, the company’s founder and wedding planner, says the virtual celebrations sometimes include nods to the couple’s original destination wedding plans, such as themed food and drink, décor, goodies sent to guests and virtual photo booth frames. “And these details really transport guests, giving them a chance to travel without traveling,” says Chang.
Many couples are compensating for fewer guests by spending more on certain aspects of their weddings than they would have otherwise.
“With smaller guest counts, couples can invest more in a keepsake for their guests,” says Jordan Kentris, founder and creative director of A Good Day, a Toronto-based design firm specializing in invitations and stationery. He’s seeing clients increasingly request personalized menus. “Each menu is customized to the guest’s meal choices and includes their name to act as a place card, reducing the number of pieces the guest needs to interact with, but also tying in the design of the event,” he says.
Furthermore, many couples are spending more than they would have otherwise on gifts and favors. “Gifting has seen an increase for guests who are attending and those who aren’t able to attend,” says Kentris. “Working with our catering partners, we’ve been able to craft elaborate welcome packages, keepsakes, takeaway bags and even party packs for those remote guests. Bringing in elements of foods the couple loves, we create custom packaging, labels and bags that tie everything together.”
According to The Wedding Academy’s Carlson, more room in the budget is allowing couples to splurge on “breathtaking, original rental pieces” that previously may have been out of reach.
Zaratsian says his firm aims to “engage all five senses” when planning a wedding. “With couples paring down their guest lists considerably, this has been especially important with recent COVID weddings,” he notes. “To achieve this, we recommend pulling in some exciting touches to elevate the experience—whether that’s hiring mixologists, adding larger-than-life floral installations or calling in some creative late-night snacks.”
For More Information
Eddie Zaratsian Lifestyle & Design
Fantasy Sound Event Services
A Good Day
Heidi’s Events & Catering
Let’s “I Do” This! Intimate and Virtual Weddings
Pérez Art Museum Miami
Playa Largo Resort & Spa
Someone’s in the Kitchen
The Wedding Academy