The decision received mixed reactions from family — and even herself. “I’m resigned to it and a little ticked off. We’ll save a lot of money. My fiancee loves a big party and he’ll miss the big wedding, but he understands. My father will miss walking me down the aisle; we’ll integrate that when we do the reception later.”
COVID-19 has really changed the wedding scene, says Gail Johnson of Tucker-based Gail Johnson Weddings. “When people started to really realize that this is serious we had a lot of cancellations. Everyone had to pivot, keep on top of things and know the latest COVID protocols and policies. It used to be brides planned weddings a year or two in advance. No one is planning more than six months out.”
“COVID weddings are like a flower,” says caterer Dick Eydt, owner of Bites by Eydt. “It just evolves, grows and changes. First, everyone cancelled or postponed. I’d say 50 percent, plus or minus 10 percent. Then people decided to forge ahead and do the best they can. I had one couple who was going to India for a wedding of thousands and celebrate for a week or two. They cancelled, had an outdoor lunch, no band nor dancing, and streamed it into India.”
Ahmad Alzoukani and his wife, Marianna, own Mint Coffee, a mobile espresso bar, and often catered weddings. His business took a dive. “It affected us a lot. We were doing like 90 weddings or so in 2019. In 2020 we did 20 or 30 and in 2021, we did two.”
Madelynne Ross married Brian Boykin on Dec. 18. “I really didn’t know how to plan. Should we call it off or keep going? It was scary and caused a lot of anxiety,” she said. “We decided to go through with it because COVID seemed to be winding down. We were comfortable. Then omicron changed things again.”
She cut back the guest list, and out of the 130 invitees, 120 came. Several elderly relatives stayed home rather than fly and another sat alone at a table in the corner. They streamed the wedding for no-shows.
For venues, keeping the guests and employees safe is paramount. Hotels, like The Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravina, told prospective brides about their safety and cleanliness policies to instill confidence, says Julie Bilecky, senior catering sales manager. At the hotel, masks were required and temperature checks given at the door.
Ross did not require her guests be vaccinated, but encouraged it. All but about a dozen complied. “I didn’t want to alienate my guests but I hoped they would understand that you don’t want to risk your loved ones. It’s a choice you make.”
Eydt offers COVID-19 rapid testing at all catering events. A client has a COVID-19 testing machine that detects it with 95.7 percent accuracy in five minutes. “I did her party and we had people come into her home office, get the test and a glass of champagne. No one had it, so there were no masks. Everyone knew that no one had COVID. It’s amazing when there’s no fear.”
The machine can be rented out for events ($500 minimum). “I would have bet that 100 percent of people planning weddings or large events would use it. Not even 25 percent (do). Human behavior is interesting.”
He has, however, catered parties where being vaccinated was required. “If you weren’t vaccinated, you were weren’t invited. Some clients were adamant.”
Venue and Food
There was a definite increase in outdoor weddings. For stand-alone buildings, all the doors and windows often were opened to increase cross ventilation. Space between tables was increased and families sat together. The number of people per table was also reduced.
Venues saw more requests for plated dinners rather than buffets. If there were buffet lines guests were often served by staff. Constellation, a “culturally diverse shared work space,” didn’t do weddings pre-pandemic, but rented out space for tenant gatherings. During COVID-19, they’ve received wedding requests. “We got creative and pivoted to hosting micro-weddings,” says Brooke Rasheed, director of events.
Couples shelved the big wedding in favor of a few people, she says. “They had cake and champagne and that was it. We’ve done grazing tables where people were given individual cheese plates and bottles of individual champagne instead of a traditional buffet. We’ve had couples who didn’t do any catering. They had the ceremony and gave to-go bags from their favorite restaurant.”
Like Carroll, some actually preferred a (generally) less stressful smaller event. “It takes the pressure off. They begin to see that it can be a joyful experience, letting go of things they didn’t care about. One groom was glad he didn’t have to dance,” says Rasheed.
Like most of the country, the wedding scene is not immune to supply chain issues and suppliers going out of business. Johnson, who has planned weddings for 18 years, advises to only use insured suppliers. “Look at all kinds of insurance, including vendor cancellations. I’ve had a few go out of business. Get travel insurance with COVID protection. I’ve also had restaurants who didn’t have enough staff and had to close.”
Eydt says it’s challenging. “You never know what’s going to happen and what food will or will not be available. But I tell them we’ll make it work and not to worry.”
Ross was proactive. She bought her own linens rather than renting and did do-it-yourself projects, such as the flowers.
Anne Barge, an internationally known bridal dress designer, said that while the wedding plans may have been downsized, the dress still reigns supreme. “Personally I thought they would cut down on the dress, maybe be a bit more informal or tea length, because of venue changes. That’s not the case. They want the cathedral train, the whole nine yards,” she says.
Entering 2022, there may be a slow return to galas. “We’ll see what happens,” says Eydt. “I think parties will get bigger again. I’m seeing weddings grow in size.”
Whether that happens or couples will stick to smaller weddings, Rasheed notes that, in the end, “People just want to get married.”